Two Spoken Word Poems by Bao Tran Tran
Winner of the Third Prize in the 2018 Amherst College LitFest Poetry Slam


Being an international student feels like
being a word translated
from one language to another,
When “mày” “cậu” “ấy” “bạn” “đằng ấy” “bạn gì ơi” are all
cramped into the one-dimensional translation of “you”
their musical tone muted, their social roots erased, their familiarity
dissolved on the tip of the mother tongue.
They get lost in translation, the same way
when a Vietnamese girl studies abroad halfway across the globe
her vietnamese self gets uprooted, distanced from
its history and culture and intimacy,
leaving only its accent
the deep footprints on the foreign land of
English, where her brain takes refuge in
intellectual talks and academic conversations,
only to distract her heart from
desiring a language where she could feel enough,
because everyday, whether home or here,
neither her English-sprinkled Vietnamese
not her Vietnamese-accented English
feels enough
to tie her homeland norms with her abroad freedom,
to bring together her emotional voice and her critical mind.

In that empty space between Vietnamese and English
she is lost
in translation.


“Ăn chưa?”
Did you eat yet?
Mom would begin our Skype call
with that two-word question
I taste yesterday: a surge of longing
for the oily fragrance of her fried fish, mixed
with the juiciness of her bún bò huế, rolled
into the sweetness of her gỏi cuốn,
crossing oceans
and continents
and the unstable wifi network
to fill my homesick stomach.

“Hôm nay muốn ăn gì?”
What do you want to eat today?
Mom would start every day I was at
home with that mouth-watering question
I tasted today: a surge of longing
to embrace her in my hungry soul
to soak in the oily fragrance of her hair, entangled
with the juiciness of her sweat under
kitchen heat, absorbing the sweetness of her
kisses, as she seasoned her day with salt and
oil and ginger and fish sauce and pepper
to cook me all my favorite dishes.

Mom never ask me “what is your major?”
or “What’s your grade this semester?”
or even “Do you find a boyfriend yet?”

she only asks

“Ngày mai tính ăn gì?”
What are you going to eat tomorrow?
Mom would end our Skype call
with that loving question
I taste tomorrow: a surge of longing
to be home
to be full

Author’s Note

Bao Tran Tran. Tran prides herself on being a Vietnamese, a Sociology major, a traveler and explorer. While she still sometimes feels foreign to both English and Vietnamese as a means of self-expression, she hopes to venture more into multilingual creative writing spaces to reconstruct her sense of self, share her stories and connect with other voices. Having translated “LOST IN TRANSLATION” into Vietnamese herself for Confluences, she writes: “This translation definitely does not fit any traditional poetic forms in Vietnamese, I guess the same way my English version does not fall into any traditional rules in an English poem, but who cares, right?, as long as it speaks to my experiences and captures my reflections. After all, poetry for me is a channel of self-expression, and in trying to translate this poem I felt like I have taken another, albeit super tiny, step towards reconciling between my English and my Vietnamese self, towards defying any fear of rigid linguistic structures in order to define my own in-between status as a Vietnamese with a US education.

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