Prison Poems


A Comrade’s Paper Blanket

New books, old books,

the leaves all piled together.

A paper blanket

is better than no blanket.

You who sleep like princes,

sheltered from the cold,

Do you know how many men in prison

cannot sleep all night?

Autumn Night

Before the gate, a guard

with a rifle on his shoulder.

In the sky, the moon flees

through clouds.

Swarming bed bugs,

like black army tanks in the night.

Squadrons of mosquitoes,

like waves of attacking planes.

I think of my homeland.

I dream I can fly far away.

I dream I wander trapped

in webs of sorrow.

A year has come to an end here.

What crime did I commit?

In tears I write

another prison poem.

Clear Morning

The morning sun

shines over the prison wall,

and drives away the shadows

and miasma of hopelessness.

A life-giving breeze

blows across the earth.

A hundred imprisoned faces

smile once more.

Cold Night

Autumn night.

No mattress.  No covers.
No sleep.  Body and legs
huddle up and cramp.

The moon shines
on the frost-covered banana leaves.

Beyond my bars
the Great Bear swings on the Pole.

Good Days Coming

Everything changes,
the wheel of the law turns
without pause.

After the rain, good weather.

In the wink of an eye
the universe throws off
its muddy cloths.

For ten thousand miles
the landscape
spreads out like
a beautiful brocade.

Gentle sunshine.
Light breezes.  Smiling flowers.

High in the trees,
amongst the sparkling leaves,
all the birds sing at once.

Men and animals rise up reborn.
What could be more natural?

After sorrow comes happiness.
And one after being released from prison.

Free, I Walk on the Mountain
And Enjoy the View

Mountains.  Clouds.
More mountains.  More clouds.

Far below a river gleams,
bright and unspotted.

Alone, with beating heart,
I walk on the Western Range,
and gaze far off towards the South
and think of my comrades.

Ewan MacColl, “The Ballad of Ho Chi Minh”

Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnamese communist revolutionary, died on 2 September 1969, before the victory of the Vietnamese Communists on 30 April 1975.  Translation by Kenneth Rexroth.