During the war in 1971-72, John Balaban traveled the countryside in South Vietnam tape-recording the sung poetry known as ca dao, an oral tradition in which Vietnamese have been composing for hundreds of years. Sung by ordinary individuals without accompaniment, about 5000 ca dao are thought to exist at any one time. The poems in this group are part of a bilingual collection called Ca Dao Vietnam: Vietnamese Folk Poetry to be published by Copper Canyon Press in 2003. The poems here can be heard in the original at www.johnbalaban.com. where the background noises sometimes include a battle and a pagoda bell.
Complaining About the Second Wife
A breeze stirs banana leaves behind the house.
You’re crazy about your second wife and neglect our children.
The children–well, with one on each arm,
how should I draw the water or rinse the rice?
Hatred for Diem-Americans will last a thousand years.
Seven years now of laying waste our southern land.
So I must shoulder a gun and head for the fighting.
Your fate is a girl’s: house, garden, and fields.