Some Burmese Poems, Part 1 of 2
…a sample of poems written by young Burmese Poets
All poems translated into English by Maung Day
Tha Kount Tharr
Tha Kount Tharr is a poet, translator and musician living and working in Yangon. His poems have been published in local magazines and poetry anthologies such as Nje and Revo Cat.
An old woman is sitting in an armchair. She’s sitting and staring ahead. In front of her is a table on which there’s a glass terrarium with a big snake inside. The woman knows whether the snake is a python or a boa, and she continues staring. A dream of snakes means good luck; you may win the lottery. Staring at a snake before bed helps you dream about snakes. The lottery ticket that you have in your hand may become the winning ticket. The woman continues staring. The snake wriggles behind the glass. I must dream about it, the woman tells herself. In the dream, she will let the snake do whatever it wants. Bite her. Swallow her. Anything. Now she feels sleepy. The dream is just around the corner.
An old man is playing a piano. He is playing the piano because he lost his left arm. He is playing to his dentures that he has put on the piano. He is playing to a canon shell vase on the shrine. Pressing the black and white keys with his numb and feeble right hand, he is playing to a snake lying stiff and full of aches in a glass terrarium, to an old woman who is forgetting to blink and to a girl who walks past him every now and then — he can’t remember if she’s his maid, or his daughter, or his nurse. He is playing because he’s been told that music lives forever. He is playing hoping his left arm grows back. And thanks to the music, he can already feel that his arm is about to grow back.
The maid/ daughter/ nurse/ blurry image goes about her work. She washes the canon shell with a wet towel, feeds the snake, lifts the lid of the terrarium and leaves it open, gives medicine to the snake, puts cotton in her ear to block the noise from the piano music, spits on the sickly piano tune, has sex with a postman in the library just like in the pulps (mind you, the postman didn’t bring any letter), crushes two old sluggish cockroaches, curses the rats, fixes the clock hands that never keep the correct time, checks her armpits in front of the mirror and chooses a name for the child in her womb.
Now, the maid/ daughter/ nurse/ blurry image writhes her body in the glass terrarium, the old woman starts to bleed from all over her body because she wins the lottery, and the old man stares at the snake sprouting out of his stump.
I will do you.
I will do all of you.
I will blindfold you and do you.
I will do you in the kitchen with pots clanking.
I will do you with words.
I will do you with cameras, lights and reflectors.
I will do you with stories.
If I feel doing it alone isn’t enough for me,
I will invite other people too.
I will play loud music and do you.
I will open a book and do you.
I will do you in splashing water.
I will do you by pointing a knife and pulling your hair tightly.
I will do you while pressing the piano keys with my left hand.
I will do you in the middle of a meeting and while watching a film.
I will do you across from the dhamma house behind the brier bush.
I will do you in whatever way my wild imaginations dictate.
I will do you in September until you become many colors.
I will do you to burn my calories.
I will do you during a class.
I will rub you with olive oil and do you.
I will do you whenever I get a minute.
I will torture you, pound you and do you.
I will do you with a big smile.
I will curse and scream.
I will do you until the whole neighborhood knows I am doing you.
I will do you after everybody goes to sleep.
I will do you using all kinds of theatrics.
I will hang my portrait on the wall and do you.
I will stuff you like a pie.
I will stop the car on the way, fill the tank and do you.
I will do you, rain or shine.
I will do you as if I were climbing a mountain.
I will do you until people get shocked and awed.
I will rub you with ice, put cream on you and do you.
I will do you with a masked gang.
Yes, you are right.
I will be doing what you think I will be doing.
Nge Nge (Kyaukse) (b. 1985)
Nge Nge (Kyaukse) was born in Kyaukse District, Mandalay Region. Her poems have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation and local magazines. She is a teacher at a local school.
Every Wall Should Say “Stop”
When I Start Talking About Myself
I accidentally deleted some data from my memory.
Slight traces of your laughter were also gone.
I took a glance at the old ghost on the wall
Before I said something really important.
Some of the lines in my poem are dedicated to him
And some other lines are dedicated to myself.
I know it has to be a joke coming from a siege mentality
When someone says they will start living for themselves.
Your future, a crowded street, is my guide map.
When I really need someone, I find no one around me.
Now I have resorted to laughing at my own misfortunes.
The allusions in my poem have become actual things.
My index fingers stare at me bewilderedly.
To Whisper About You With My Dry Lips
Here I am, summer.
I don’t do selfies with lush landscapes.
And I don’t need your water
To enjoy the coolness for one fleeting second.
You will just try to cut my branches
And sever my limbs at the time of a heat wave.
Just go, this climate isn’t for you.
Han Lynn (b. 1986)
Han Lynn is a poet and translator living in Yangon. He is the author of three poetry collections and translates international poetry into Burmese. He edits Be Untexed, an online journal of new writings and visual arts.
Arms Hanging out of Car Windows,
One at Each Door
If I decide to live like a ghost, most people will not see me any more. No, they won’t. They won’t see me. Someone must have smoked in the elevator. The mountain goat will be hopping around on the edge of the mountain. Sometimes a crocodile may come out of the lake backwards, and without having caught any fish. Is there a cat in a tree? A cat climbs a tree. There are giant sumos on TV. They are pushing each other out of the ring. Have you, by any chance, seen a cat climbing down a tree?
When I finish speaking, people at other tables turn their heads and look at me. Some don’t. Obviously, foreigners don’t understand my language. I wish they did. That’s why I take a glance at them. A waiter closes the window. The curtain stops blowing. Perfectly still now. A gecko tries to cross the curtain. Go, gecko, go! I roll down my sleeves because I start to feel a bit cold. A bit chilly. What is she doing over there?
My voice goes into the microphone, but the voice that comes out isn’t mine. It has changed somehow. I haven’t expected it. I don’t want my voice to change like that. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear my voice any more. People try to comfort me by saying there’s nothing wrong with my voice. It’s true those are my words, but it isn’t my voice. Bootleg liquor was sold here before. The place was crammed with people because food was cheap. Also very noisy. I am not saying it’s the same restaurant. The same place, but different restaurants. The food and liquors at the present-day restaurant are expensive. But not many customers. Just some people. The place is quiet and peaceful. It will remain so only until some noisy customers arrive. The longer they sit, the noisier they become. You won’t hear your own voice when you speak. Your voice will be drowned in noises coming from other tables. Some people don’t really like noise. When people get noisy, even cats get upset. You can make some adjustments to your voice on the amplifier. You know. It reminds me of a friend who fell into a well. People are still singing in the bathrooms.
There are arms hanging out of car windows, one at each door. Both short and long sleeves. Cars are like people. There are noisy cars and there are quiet ones. People are not always inside those cars. Someone who gets in a car must get out at some point. In junkyards, there are only cars. Nobody gets in or out. But some people live in those cars. Now our car is going really fast. Are you trying to jump off? We get power blackouts frequently. We have to open the windows and roll up the curtains. The wind is hot because the weather is hot outside. The hot wind comes into the house carrying dust. This dust mixes with the dust in the house. Cars speed up in front of the house. The cars must also be very hot. As I am about to operate the robot toy that I received from someone as a gift the other day, and the phone rings. I pick up the phone holding the toy with my other hand. Its legs are already moving.
What went wrong?
A train ran over the people
Who were fixing the railroad.
Camera from My Past Life
They put masts and sails on flip-flops.
Now they have so many flip-flop sailboats.
Everyone, at some point in their lives, thinks about robbing a bank.
The exhibition space becomes so graceful
After they removed all the paintings and sculptures.
In the park, swings are moving on their own.
It just so happens that we end up wearing military jackets
Without any particular reason.
Nobody looks at the camera including the cat.
But the dog is looking. It’s looking at the camera.
People put on their t-shirts in different ways.
You can’t guess how many hands they have.
I have come to look for the camera from my past life.
But it is nowhere to be found.
My flip-flops are bigger than my hat.
It is only natural that villages move.
So villages are moving right now.
The sculptor is grinning cheerfully.
His eyes are closed but his teeth are showing.
They are all gold teeth.
Ghosts Don’t Need to Open the Doors
Ghosts can enter houses and rooms
Without opening the doors.
I wish I could do that too.
Then I would just walk right through the doors.
But even if I were a ghost,
There could still be some kind of door that I can’t walk into.
Tall grass has devoured an old car
Which is pretty much just a rusting metal skeleton.
A night bird flies over my head and away.
I know it’s a night bird because of its nocturnal call.
It’s only because of its nocturnal call that I know it has flown away.
Most of the piano keys are broken.
I have to avoid those broken keys, with much difficulty,
While pressing the good ones quickly.
I can’t see the view because of the fog.
When the fog finally thins out, I am able to see the view.
It’s only when the fog thins out that I am able to see the view.
They have brought a very big box from afar.
But they have to keep holding it
Because they don’t know where to put it.
My long coat is blowing in the wind.
My tie is blowing in the wind.
If I hadn’t used the chinstrap, my hat would have blown away.
The leaves on the trees and the leaves on the ground
Are also blowing away.
Dlugalay (b. 1986)
Dlugalay is a poet, translator and lawyer. He has also been organizing poetry readings in Yangon for some years. In 2014, his poems were published in a poetry collection called Biological Perversions along with four other poets.
You get into your car and drive off.
That stirs up dust in another part of the world.
Nobody can tell you why this happens.
You get upset and knock over a cup of coffee.
You get drunk and you are itching to curse.
You begin to curse. You curse everyone.
You curse the president.
The next day, you are a revolutionist.
Two days later, you are a prisoner.
You evolve from one thing into another.
Crows build a nest on your roof.
A branch breaks for no reason.
You think about all this before you start your car.
Your head is filled with dust.
Your brain needs a wash.
You start to question every possible linkage between
What happens here and what happens there.
You abandon your belief in black-and-white thinking.
You go fishing with a bundle of flowers —
The same bundle you have had with you since your birth.
You wrestle with yourself in front of your life-size mirror.
The sorcerer parks his rickety truck and gets out.
After he walks away from his truck,
People draw a sacred circle of protection around it.
The night wears my shoes and stands on a mountaintop.
My bone-dryness rises in the sky like the moon.
Revolution is a personal thing.
When I stumble and fall on my face, you will watch.
You and your angry crowd will spit in my face.
Your angry crowd has always been like this, hasn’t it?
I am alone and that makes you happy, doesn’t it?
I take a ride in the sorcerer’s truck.
When I get to another city, I will try to forget about this one.
But I know I can’t get away from your angry crowd.
They will be waiting for me in the new place.
I will tell them the roach dying under my tongue is a tree.
If I can lie to them, maybe they will start loving me.
You and your crowd are too many. I am only one.
I must make sure I won’t get crushed under your bodies.
The sorcerer’s truck shoots off to a new moon in a cinema.
A group of fighter jets enter my lungs
And come out again as smoke and military police.
Holding Barbie dolls in their hands,
The police officers run across a field.
Red roses fill the whole landscape.
My bed that screeches like a hunted flamingo
And tastes like chocolate most of the time
Lies on the floor like a fallen coffee cup.
And the floor is such a mess.
If she claims I have been unfair to her,
It means I have loved her more than she does me.
It’s the only unfairness I am responsible for in our relationship.
Life is shrinking at an unusual speed.
If it keeps shrinking at this rate,
Sooner or later, it will be trapped in a triangle.
It will burn and smoke and screech.
Everything the existence of which we have denied
Transforms into rings of fire and overruns the whole city.
Sone (b. 1990)
We have no photo of this Burmese poet. Sorry. JT.
Sone was born and raised in Aunglan, Magway Region. He is a seaman by profession.
coffee-flavored candies — little things that I loved when I was little —
whenever I crossed the road — candies and euphoria —
if only candies could talk — they’ve been silent for a good part of my life — anxiously —
remember nothing — remember something — kindly look — a mental surgery table —
pocket knife — goes into the stomach — fragments are still fragmentary —
a poison bottle like a coffee-flavored candy — that I like very much —
a foxy lady — who likes ladies —
if you want to destroy the world — why let it rain —
let me apologize like a child — let me remain drowsy —
incoherent — yawning — all alone — that
nobody except me can see it — me in a space in motion —
going crazy — subtly — hear nothing — all alone —
I came alone — high as a kite — if you know how to breathe — it tastes better —
drift with the flow — the lights are too bright — does everything still exist —
no, nothing exists any more — the brick walls are no more — the floors are no more —
and the ceilings — and the stairs —
and the telecommunications cables — and the trains that are forever far away —
and the lovers’ lanes — and the wishful thinking for the hereafter reunions —
and the colorful raindrops — and the greenish blue stars —
and the distances — and the temperatures below zero — and the mad dreams —
and you — no more — these are no more —
bruises and cuts like my favorite coffee-flavored candies — when I kneel —
my jeans touch the bridge — I haven’t heard from her for two years —
just stay away — don’t move — don’t make a sound — don’t do anything —
I want to not stare any more — I close my little window —
now when I cross the road — I try to forget about my favorite coffee-flavored candies —
yes, it’s like that
a star burned out with a bang, but nobody heard anything
balloons and umbrellas — when I need them —
will force their way out of my spine —
the train has flown away — over my head —
up the kite string — I will crawl —
I know what I need — casual and light-hearted —
should I be held responsible — for the things you don’t know — about me —
take off your mouths — yes you, and you too —
white pianos rain down on us —
so that you may understand — art —
pick them up — take them home — adopt them like children —
so that you may understand art —
I hang a wind chime called silence
— at the door —
when someone comes in — it moves and swings —
without making any sound — of course I know —
I know it’s my laughing — that opens the door —
in a box — in which smoke secretly melts —
I live — I sit calmly —
I haven’t put life — into my art —
you won’t see me — an invisible corpse —
I have taken out — out of my body — the beating of my heart —
I am of no use anymore —
I also took off — my face — long ago —
to hide from sight — tissues growing on the wounded dreams —
I scratch off the scabs — with a shard of glass — conscious scabs —
even when the pain is completely gone —
we will still hurt each other — with guilt —
when people make marks on each other — with red-hot flat iron bars —
we call that — love —
your will to be free is in fetters — too many compromises —
what are you doing in those dark chambers — of the river —
you have no idea — what you are dealing with —
my fingers run on the colorful piano keys — holding back their urge —
to laugh — my fingers —
you cannot even save yourselves — you prisoners —
you can get out of my face now —
I fly a kite — to take a close-up photo of the flying train —
up the kite string — I will crawl —
even if I only had a minute left —
I wouldn’t have given it to you, Yin Wai Oo
Nay A D (b. 1990)
Nay A D is a poet and publisher based in Yangon. She manages 90/91 Press with her poet friend Mae Yway. Her poems have appeared in local magazines and poetry anthologies.
In this universe, all things depend on each other.
If you ever try to hurt me, I will never forget that.
Now everything is clear: mom is done with you.
She is worried about me all the time.
I am trying to kill you, dad.
I pray that you die a terrible death.
After you die, I will sit on your grave and eat my birthday cake.
Mom, I think I have done something wrong.
Actually, dad may become a tree or an insect.
I don’t know. He can become anything.
Let there be peace even though it may be insignificant
After the peace we have now gets destroyed.
It is so sad to see them leaving.
In the end everything becomes really quiet.
Hello dad, I am a tiny shred of peace in this universe.
You Should Be Glad These Women Are Snakes
Over the past few years, I have been back and forth
Between home and the psychiatric hospital.
Spending nights with my mother at the hospital,
I almost became a patient too.
I heard someone laughing behind the locked iron doors.
I saw, when they switched off the lights, eyes gleaming in the dark.
I encouraged myself not to be scared
But my own hands, cold as ice, frightened me to death.
A woman was always staring into the dark through a window.
Another woman was always walking, covering every spot in the ward.
A young woman approached me as if she had something to tell.
But she would just stare at me and then turn around.
There was a six-year-old girl, always chewing on a plastic doll.
I started to realize that one doesn’t need a reason to be crazy.
An old woman with scruffy hair was looking for a comb that didn’t exist.
When my eyes met hers, I gave her a big smile.
I called these women ‘snakes’. Snake is a fitting name for snakes, I think.
In those days, I witnessed with my own eyes
The souls that were immune to sleeping pills.
I don’t think I will easily forget the woman
Who explained with gestures that she once lost her arms and legs.
There was also a woman who liked to eat her own hair.
And one day, a nurse came and shaved her head.
The woman whispered to me
She would let nobody know when her hair grew again.
These women shelled out sunflower seeds and put them in my hand.
They were definitely snakes and they drove me crazy.
I think I contracted from them a disease
Which makes me think about keys all the time.
One of those snakes was planning to bite an iron bed.
I almost suggested her that she swallowed it instead of biting.
Spellbound, I ate food, drank water and slept among the snakes.
In my sleep, I walked back to where all these things started.
And when I needed someone to talk to, I hurried back home.
I tried to laugh, and smiled at people.
With kindly eyes, this person in my mirror asked me who I was.
Write Down Questions You Might Want to Ask
Before We Go on Our First Date
The morning kisses the pieces of me
That I have vomited up.
I make a paper bird
And let it fly in a glass bottle.
Are those your lips
Or do they belong to a girl I know?
The beach is making fun of me
Because I am building a sand castle in the sea.
I am losing patience with time
And that hurts my stomach.
When I received your phone call,
I was having all my periods in one day.
After putting on my skirt backwards,
I take out my uterus and leave it on the table.
I am still trying to figure out
Which could be the right place for it.
Hell reeks of Lucifer.
He is breathing anxiously.
I leave home with bloodstains on my skirt.
People are checking on me.
Some of them come to me and take photos.
I think about taking all this with a smile.
Then I decide not to go to the temple
Because I don’t want to be judged for my body.
I take a walk around town counting pigeons.
I also feed them, but crows are a different story.
I can’t hold eye contact with them for long.
I wonder if they have ever eaten women’s uteri.
Maybe I should give mine to them.
So I leave them my address and come back home.
Mae Yway (b. 1991)
Mae Yway was born in Myeik, Tanintharyi Region. Her poems regularly appear in local magazines and poetry collections. Her first poetry book was published in 2013. She gave a reading at Rotterdam Poetry Festival 2017.
We Are An Unmistakable Fusion
You and I are an unmistakable fusion
It’s like I crawled under your fence and entered you
At first I only wanted a small piece of your territory
Then my desire to make you my colony grew
A rose that blooms from childhood traumas
Drying leaves and smoldering pleasure
A happy family only in the frozen moment of a photograph
Problems, they found me and she did too
I put a wall between them
So I wouldn’t hear any more noise
Problems, they start to learn to talk
The child living in blood may stutter but his words have meanings
Sunglasses that I ordered came on the first day of rain
The numbers at the traffic lights go backward
The bridges crack on the day of their opening
A cracking relationship and I became twenty-five
They snipped my hemorrhoid with scissors
You may say she’s a stain that can’t be removed
Crazy, crazy rainbows
Their differences are colorful
Sex treats me like a sick patient
The needle penetrates my bone
It started with a skin-deep and now the length of the whole finger
They were still going on about other people even after you left
‘That’s the daughter-in-law of…’ ‘She’s the mother of…’ they say
My relationship with them is like a surface with curves
The kind of relationship that can dive underwater till it touches the bottom
Or it is a sea that ends at the arc of the horizon
I know I haven’t told you about the clouds pressing down
It’s Like You Avoid Eating Chicken
When You Get a New Tattoo
It’s like you avoid eating chicken when you get a new tattoo
The map of excitement is underarm sweat
The two of us burn to ashes while screaming “peaceful love”
When I cry, you tear tissues from your body and give them to me
But we have to look up the word ‘body’ in the dictionary first
So that we spell it right
It just so happens that we have omitted some realities
From our memories of coincidences, for instance, our ex-lovers
In reality, nothing could kill me
And in the end we went different ways
I go shopping and cook something
When the kitchen knife decides to attack, I get cut into pieces
Then there are wounds that heal in fire
When scabs peel off, the tattoo comes into view as a new scent of hunger
One’s ultimate right is the midnight, making love
In the kitchen or in the living room or on the verandah
Shortcomings are so tedious
Light rises from the mountains
Light looks down at me
Vines attempt to seduce me with their grapes
“How should we carry on?” I shout and shout
My voice doesn’t come forward, but goes backward and crawls on the ground
You messed me up and now I am little pieces scattered and destroyed
My hands go under the bed, but the feet don’t know what to do
The brain rolls and bumps into the dustbin standing in a corner
The scalp glows in the dark
A new door has found me at the age of twenty-five
This is the color blue going to the sea
Or the yellow of afternoon that constricts pupils
Or traffic lights in Yangon, that shows red light and green light simultaneously
Otherwise bullet-riddled bodies will come floating from the border
Otherwise Nwe and I will just be playing checkers
Or it may just be Ponyo swimming among whales in the city flooded at the doors
Or the year 2016, which I lived through by curling up in a piece of luggage
Or please just take our watches and give time in return
Or I may just be sitting on two stools at the same time, sweetheart
Or Mae Yway may just be mumbling “nothing’s important in life” in her sleep
When did the sense of self-importance enter my body and from where?
Zeyar Lynn wrote a phrase “a fire engine catching fire” in one of his poems
Well, I am that fire engine
It just so happens that I go into that poem and catch fire
It just so happens that you won’t sing a loud siren like that fire engine
Note: Ponyo is a fish character in the
Japanese animated fantasy film of the same name
written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
And So, January
White sheets of paper take flight together
Will they be blown away if I open the window?
Will I need to glue the fragments together later?
And what would lovers think about it?
The conflict between ‘seeing’ and ‘believing’ has to end
And I would love some red meat after that, baby
Something boils and spills on the stove every month
Who’s hitting the switch?
Lifeless eggs melt and spread through cotton
A child called NEW MADNESS is born
Now I can see the mole in your eye
Come take my nose and brows
Every insect died the day I was born
Sorry I didn’t bring any living things with me
The worst yet is there aren’t any trees in that
green field. Not a single tree
For the crows. Little wonder they have flown elsewhere.
A starry night means
A night full of stars
That are about to fall
My longing for you will finally make you miss me
Hopes drive round the corner and come into my street
It’s time for the long wait to end, time to take the chair inside
Then comes January, and I have forgotten to lock the room
When I came around, I found two holes in my brows
Everything has become ash
Where does fear come from? I wonder and keep wondering
Give me inhalers…inhalers, please
Trees, so strong and unwavering, skin me alive
Nay Thit (b. 1992)
Nay Thit is a translator, poet and essayist. His writings have appeared in local magazines and poetry anthologies.
No One Knows the Names of Those Windows
You may not see in the dark
But you see the darkness. My cat
These days looks at me
As if there was someone standing next to me.
Memory never dies.
My grandma with impaired memory
Calls her grandchildren the names of deceased people.
When I was little, someone told me
If I looked at the mirror everyday before bed
I would go to heaven when I die.
Now I’ve grown up
And I stand and stare at reinforcing iron bars
Pointing upwards from construction sites.
He finally found himself
On shards of glass
At a train station.
The Man With Rounded Shoulders
Some people hope when they wake up
They could suddenly speak several languages.
Some hope they don’t wake up at all.
Things that we don’t realize we don’t know during the day
And things that we don’t want to know we don’t know at night.
Gravity is a beautiful but deceptive thing.
When night gets late,
I look down into the darkness of an empty box
And make different sounds.
Doing that, I feel proud.
I know there’s another word for it, that kind of feeling.
But it’s been long forgotten.
Even though time has no special power in reality,
I have become used to the idea it just might.
For instance, I might wake up tomorrow
With a pair of wings on my shoulders. Who knows?