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June 2017

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Born in Việt Nam, LêPhạm Lê graduated from the University of Pedagogy in Sàigòn with a B.A. in Vietnamese Literature. After teaching in high school for five years, she left her country with her husband and young son due to the fall of South Việt Nam. In 1979, Lê and her family resettled in America, where she raised three children. Lê worked for more than two decades in the California community college system until her retirement in 2011.


Two collections of poems: GióThổiPhươngNào/From Where The Wind Blows with Nancy Arbuthnot (published by VIPS, USA, 2003) and TrùngDươngSóngVỗ/Waves Beyond Waves/荒波を越えてwith Nancy Arbuthnot and Noriko Mizusaki (published by Chikurintan, Japan, 2013).

Magical Voice in the Forest, Guava Hill, and The Baby Sparrow Song–Children Books. Published by TATE Publishing, USA, 2015-16.


“Peace Poetry Golden Medallion” (Japan, 2013) and “Distinguished Services” (USA, 2016) awarded by UPLI/WCP.

“Special Prize”/Writing On America (USA, 2016) awarded by Viet Bao Magazine.

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Twilight off the coast of Malaysia.

A threatening storm. The coast guard fires

A warning and the refugees dive

To the deck. Holding her baby tight

A lone woman rises. Her cry

For help echoes through the night.

The guards cease firing.

The boat lands on the free island.

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When the Last Leaf Falls

Are you calling, father, from the invisible world?

Father, I feel you, still alive.

Your diary―is it real or only a dream?

My filled heart overflows.

Your words echo on my mind.

I see the last leaf falling,

A soul sailing toward the ancestors,

Body still anchored to this shore.

In the same dream my sister appears.

I show her your words, then close the diary.

She squeezes a ripe plum tight in her palm.

Outside, wind blows, rain falls.

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California: Kim-Son Temple

Mountains beyond mountains.

Misty fog settling on palms.

Tranquility of sky and cloud

On top of the mountain shaped like a dragon.

Kim Son temple: incense

And holy water, scent of dusk.

My heart, free from worries

On this path toward peace.

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Grapefruit Flowers

A sparrow, perched on a spear of bamboo.

A chameleon, clicking its tongue.

In the neighbor’s front yard, someone appears, disappears

Behind the grapefruit tree with snow-white flowers

That could flavor green tea instead of bitter melon brew.

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Night Wind

The moon’s shadows flood the porch.

Behind the shades, a young girl lost in thought.

All the doors have been shut, she thinks.

But a strange wind still sneaks into her room.

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Spring sky: a white curtain flowing―

A rider on horseback riding, riding,

Snow falling,

Still falling on the road.

All sound muffled in mist.

How many rivers flow between our two shores?

Like waves crashing against rock, love explodes.

A quiet cry sinks to the bottom

Of the heart.

How the wind cries! How the wind howls!

Exhausted, my horse stops, turning his head away.

My heart, like a churning wind. . .

Snow falling,

Still falling on the empty road.

Your smile cracks.

Love becomes myth.

Oh, spring,

That whitens my life forever. . .

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The Forest

Your voice in the quiet night

Lifts me from dreaming.

Yet the notes of regret

In your poems stir up a melancholy.

Do you hear in my singing

The centuries of emotion a friend once found?

Do you feel the beauty of the language

I’ve loved since infancy, when I knew nothing?

How lyrical Vietnamese is,

Wide as the sky, sweet as bananas,

Fragrant as the palm tree’s white flowers!

But listen!

Can you hear

At the bottom of the well

Deep in the earth

The echoing drops of sorrow

And recognize

My hidden self?

In your poems, familiar sounds:

Quiet tears at night,

Someone’s laughter

And a playful

Babbling brook.

And look! Dusk’s shadows

Fall through the leafy branches.

I can almost hear the whispered words,

Light as an autumn breeze.

I can see the moon, vague on the far horizon.

Who could be indifferent,

Lost in this forest of poems?

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A Call from Afar

Midnight. The phone rings

and my heart squeezes shut.

Another leaf about to fall. . .


as if it were yesterday,

here you are, swinging in your hammock

singing lullabies in the shade

of the coffee tree. “Such a green paradise!”

you say, “My place of peace.”

The summer afternoon breeze

releases perfume

from the white aramica flowers.

Your long hair flows with the wind.

I fall asleep in your arms.

I hear you call the chickens

to their rice and cornfeed meal,

and like a chicken plucking grains

I pick up ripe plums

from the ground after rain,

breathing the fresh earth

and gazing at the rainbow

hung in the sky.


in your Vietnamese dress,

burning incense,

paying respects to our ancestors,

theInvisibles, asking those sacred souls

to accept your prayers for me

at my exam in ÐàLḁt, how you calmed

my fevers those war-torn years!

The phone rings: a call

from the other side of the Pacific.

Mother, forgive me.

I cannot go home this time.

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Running River

Her footsteps echo far far away.

No more singing in the house.

A man sits alone in an iron chair on the deck

Almost every dusk and dawn,

drinking tea, smoking cigarettes.

He stares at the quiet pond.

The koi, black and gold,

hide themselves at the bottom.

Maple bonsai have dropped their leaves.

This is the coldest and longest winter

since he’s been in this new land.

The master bedroom is vacant.

The children’s rooms empty too.

He wanders back and forth inside the house,

looking at the living room,

recently redesigned in contemporary style,

finding no comfort.

Trying to avoid the cold kitchen stove,

he lies down on a sofa

near the dark fireplace in the family room,

staring at the ceiling.

Hands on his forehead, he considers,

reconsiders, and revises his opinion

about things they’ve said over the many years.

Please with his first apologizes to her

last night, he realizes those magic words

in the poems he wrote

a long time ago are nothing

but myth.

Like the muffled slapping of waves on the high seas

Her footsteps echo far far away.

No one sweeps the dry leaves and flowers

from the doorway.

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