We recently came across this poem by Stephen Nguyen, a member of a 99-person group rescued from their sinking boat by the HMAS Melbourne in 1981. Nguyen, one of the leaders of the Melbourne Group 99 (MG99), wrote the following poem in honor of his sister, a Catholic nun who died at sea while fleeing Vietnam. The poem is so moving, and it mesmerized us both by its rhythm, its imagery, its expression of devastating loss. It sheds light not only on the incredibly difficult journey so many Boat People had to undertake, but also on the power of poetry.
Painful are the memories of those who perished out at sea,
Desperate for a better fate,
In search of freedom where the sea await,
As darkness hides the tiny boat
full of people filled with hope.
It seems to be such an endless night,
With freedom nowhere in sight.
With the raging storms springs the wildest winds,
As it throws the boat and the waves crashed in
And the rain pelts down, mixed with babies tears,
Whilst the women prayed to escape their fears,
So the tiny boat struggles through the night,
As it battles all, to reach daylight,
And dawn approaches, a new day begun,
It’s the last time they, get to see the sun,
When freedom comes at such a cost,
When the boat and pirates, paths did cross,
While the innocent they killed and raped,
Where death awaits, with no escape,
And the boat’s in chaos, as the lady’s screamed,
And the hopes all crushed, with all her dreams,
As their laughter drowns out her tortured cries,
While her life departs as she closed her eyes,
And their bodies scattered on the ocean floor,
Where they searched for freedom but never reached the shore,
As the spirits roamed across the seas at night,
You can hear them cry,
Goodbye people, no more freedom, no more light.
- Written by Stephen Nguyen, Translated from Vietnamese by Tuyen Nguyen
For more information about Stephen Nguyen and MG99, please click here.