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Black fog
Author: eL (Phương Lan)
Published on: 3/3/2016 9:15:21 AM

Now it has swallowed me up to the neck
Rendered my long-time weakened limbs and body wholly useless,
Transparent, drifting, disappearing into the fog
Only my head remains as I try to rise for sporadic gulps of breath before dropping myself down to the bottom


I first saw it when I was 21 years old
In the midnight-panic eyes of a man hunted all over his own country as he returned after many tumultuous years
That was the shadow of a giant beast pitch-dark and enlarged to the point of suffocation, which shook and laughed savagely
One that used to wait in ambush under the eyelids of sick children
And for the first time, there, I was shocked to see myself clearly: my feet entirely eaten by transparency


And I rid myself of 21 innocent believing years

On that remote summit of raging wind and fog
An ever-believing world having collapsed into a heap of deceitful dust
With half a body still bobbing above the fog
I held my head up in defiance, threw out my chest and looked down into the deep valley with worn-out sadness
Knowing any beginning was already too late for an escape


Down there
Under the roof of fog tighly covering one’s head, that nebulous air accumulated for generations
Someone like myself
In her 7th year, fell unconscious in the yard after inhaling a full load of earth efflux
The kind of misty air exuded from a wet crazy satisfaction after days of drying heat and hunger
Of an infuriating red color from layers of bruises which kept piling up for ages, the blood of which is seeping and boiling


Someone like myself, a child who many nights screamed uncontrollably in nightmares of running from a herd of thick quivering arms growing out of the fog

Then she nagged, bit her cushion, scratched herself to erase from her young body those dirty marks of violation

Someone who got lost in her vast childhood with her smile confiscated, her call for help muffled, who was silently poisoned here and there in the dense fog which turned ears deaf and eyes blind

Who was flocked by a muscular crowd discharging malignant venoms
Someone whose framed picture of youth was torn, slashed into pieces, bitterly nailed inside a room of the vaguest memories

Hungry, thirsty, utterly alone and cold, she wandered on feet exhausted and frozen for many seasons
Shivered on a snowy summit
Surrounded in a bleached abyss calling her name ceaselessly from somewhere beneath the soles of her feet
There, amidst the fog, a remote shelter—a deep tomb was built
To where I could drift when exhausted and into which I could pour all my secrets
It would be a dark, heavy musical rest symbol dropped silently so no one could find


Down there, dull in the fog
Myself and so many human figures transparent, constricted, stupefied
Making tangled, broken speech

Wobbly walking down indistinguishable paths
Saying always yes, absolute obedience
A herd which hid their faces in the fog while fearfully advancing in rhyming sweet odes
They never saw themselves, never saw each other, never had relatives, breathed only bitterness

They believed firmly in oracles about the bright and orderly scenes on revolving lanterns, a circling forest of singly-molded mindsets

A feeble herd intoxicated by illusions of paradise, injected with venoms and sucked clean of all vitality in exchange for deceitful dreams

Men soaked in water careening, waiting to fade mid-slope
Women livid, dejected, carrying burdens on broken backs

Children—a herd of numb larvae growing up in tight cavities teeming with excrement
—birthed in waning light

I grew crazy unable to contain such a thought the first time cradling the child in my arms
He struggled and kicked, cried and went blue not wanting to breathe
He was bracing against the invasion of fog which thickly polluted the air
He grew faint in my arms which were transparent, incapacitated and useless, until he had to surrender
“Dear child, we all have to surrender, get used to and try to forget while enduring it
And prolonging the flickering of our lives in dim hope”


Could we do anything differently?

When frustrated people who showed disobedience were evaporated overnight as if they never existed
Were swallowed whole suddenly by a cluster of thick, dark and stinking fog

Then the bodies of the unfortunate ones would be found without scar
When examined, emitting an endless stream of fog
We were small, weak and humble
We would not be able to carry the harsh and accidentally logical punishments

Like suddenly stabbed to death by a chanting, insane fellow in the streets
Or slipping, falling and drowning in the river while sleep-walking at night
Or having our cell-mate in his midnight boredom put a nail through our ears
Or being freshly slaughtered in a common classic jealousy fight
Or hallucinating a killer in pursuit and getting lost forever in the fog of panic
We had been figures partly or wholly transparent
Drifting in the cold of indifference
We are objects useless, formless, controlled, vulnerable
What could we do, a throng of hellish troops living cowardly?


Even as a child I was always stiffly afraid of transparent creatures
Albeit, in filtering light, they are indeed beautiful spectacles
Like the scene of a sea throbbing with jelly-fish, reaching up to drink sunlight, serenely exposing the soft drapery of their bodies with gracefully dexterous tentacles
They glided as if there while not there
Hovering like ghosts of themselves
Wiggling a forest of invisible traps that tied up and broke down other creatures
They swam in crowds around our nightmares and constantly laid clouds of festering eggs everywhere like black fog


In my bone-weary escape on dizzying slopes
I went astray beyond the door of truth in this country of suffocating fog
Swam in search til my breath ran out yet I saw no deities
Only a drove of plump worms their furious partying and gleeful game of transmitting oracles via loudspeakers
So that was them
Who conspired, plotted, incited, tipped off, concealed, lied, hushed up their accomplices for all contemptible deeds
Who conjured trash and called up snakes, worms, bugs and maggots to rise into humans
Who whispered into ears murderous verbal orders
Who wiped dirty hands clean
Who turned laughable, stupid stories into stately, elated truths vindicated by shiny and grandiose words
Who was the Almighty sitting imposingly somewhere above the sea of fog
Who was the one and only sun blazing way too brightly


I am not a leaf sticking my whole life to a tree

I have to run from this area of heavy, idiotic fog
Even if what is left of me is just a miserable and frail figure

Even if sometimes the narrow path is surrounded, turned into a sea of fuzzy clouds at the very next bend
Each step forward is an exploration entrusted to luck
Even if we are born in the middle of an abyss of fog
Its slippery walls pull down those who try to crawl up with hopes of escape
A murky abyss of boundless black fog and winds laden with cries of grievance
Is the underworld of exile in which eternally lost souls wander aimlessly without finding the door of light
Another underworld
A cauldron boiling so much flesh and bone down in preparation for a bloody feast

Sometimes I think at last I have escaped
When the ground sinks and the sky draws higher the twisting road extends towards the sea
I cry happily only to curse wildly as I discover countless layers of fog above
A thick, black atmosphere of death endlessly spreads
In high winds, amidst patches of fog drifting from afar
Sometimes the burnt smell of a sunny desert and cracked dry cries under a veiled face
At times from the mountains, trails of pure dew crawl down and long like gushing blood carrying the scent of a thousand years snowy summit and green fields
Once it is the odor of burning flesh from dried throats and drained eye sockets
Many times it is the disgusting smell of living corpses, obese and showing off, promising dangers
They, a species of violent and cruel black fog, have joined hands in surrounding and poisoning all humanity with stupidity
Claiming their shares on living bodies
Forever painting over the same blatant clumsy comedy


I pour all of myself into a secret escape which always reverberates haunting echos:

“Born in the fog, you won’t ever escape the black
Fog surrounding your blood, occupying your flesh, infiltrating your breath…”

Even though it has now swallowed me up to my neck
Leaving only my head while I try to rise up for sporadic gulps of breath before droppping
myself down to the bottom

Just the thought of soaring under a certain patch of translucent tall sky is enough to suffocate me
Even though all escapes from fog over so many years have led to the same tragic ending
I have to pay with blood, by leaving the abyss


Nowhere to run
I land on the edge of the abyss
Strain to elevate my child
Towards the other side where the sky is clear
And begin to stretch, flatten, relentlessly become the runway.

-- Saigon, March 2014

-- Lê Đình Nhất Lang dịch
-- photos from the poetry film, Black fog, by Dino Trung