Cha Tôi Ngủ: My Father Sleeps

— Vuong Vu

My father sleeps early now.
By the first hours of evening,
when twilight is ash settling into the garden,
he is already sweetly in slumber.
He sleep-talks in whispers.

The year my father turned seventy-five,
he began to cry in his sleep, murmuring—
Đừng đùa tôi về! Đừng đùa tôi về!

He kept having the same dream
of a young boy leading him
by the hand down the dirt
path towards his village. He begs
the child to not take him home—
Đừng đùa tôi về!

Yet the child drags him through fields
overgrown, tall as reeds, through orchards
ripe with peaches, heavy as stones .
The child drags him into the village,
its thatch houses as he remembers them,
simple as woven baskets and bird nests.

As my father comes closer
to his childhood home,
on the banks of a river, he wrestles
his hand from the child’s grip—
Đừng đùa tôi về!

The child looks up at him, and the face
my father sees is his very own, haggard
and gray, so knowing and sad.

Cha tôi ngủ. My father sleeps
peacefully now. He knows
every furrow of his face,
but for me, it is in the gray
of twilight that I see
how old my father is—
the droop of his eyes, shadows
deepening every wrinkle,
and I worry, but my father has begun
to smile in his sleep. His breathing
rumbles like distant thunder.

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