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  1. jakecaller

    saigon poems

    Seeing Ghosts I walk around the streets Of old Saigon Seeing sensing the undead The ghosts of the war That haunted life So many years ago So many people died For a war That never should have been fought For reasons that are still not clear A great tragedy unfolded In a land half away Around the world The ghosts smile at me And then they disappear Leaving me in the present Life goes on Old Ghosts Old ghosts wandering the streets of old Saigon Lost spirits of the dead Died during the endless wars Ghostly apparitions around every corner Here was Kilroy and his gang of soldiers Over there were the Viet Cong Waiting to kill them Saigon is filled with memories like that Terrible times were had here in Old Saigon Silently the ghosts parade the city streets As the tourists drink in the bars Mastering the Saigon Shuffle When I first visited Saigon Learning the Saigon Shuffle Was difficult And now 24 years later It all seems to be coming back There is an art to crossing the street Dodging the motorcyclists, the taxis, the private cars The bikes and other pedestrians and the buses The art consists of letting the big guys go first Then walk between the motorcycles and cyclists Trusting that they will get out of your way And they being masters of the Saigon shuffle Always find a way In my two visits I was struck By how it all flows together Without a central authority And with almost no planning Lights or cops Somehow it just is And somehow it works And it is still a mystery to me 24 years after first Encountering the Saigon shuffle Coffee Lady Every morning I have gone out for Vietnamese coffee At a sidewalk café Down the ally from our AIRBNB The owner is a pleasant middle age woman Who for some reason likes us She smiles at us Greets us in Vietnamese She does not understand English Or Korean And I wonder why Why was there this connection Between us It dawned on me Perhaps in a prior life She knew an American or two And I remind her of someone Or perhaps she is found Of Korean K drama And Angela reminds her Of her favorite K Drama star Or perhaps it is both Or another reason entirely But I moved today And will miss her Might go back for a final cup Of coffee To say good bye To my Vietnamese coffee lady Old Lady in the Alley There is an old Vietnamese lady In the neighborhood Obviously senile But everyone knows her And watches over her To make sure She stays out of traffic And out of trouble She talks to everyone But no one seems to understand What she is babbling on about They smile at her And she smiles back And she for some reason She likes us And like my Vietnamese Coffee lady I wonder why Why was there this connection Between us It dawned on me Perhaps in a prior life She knew an American or two And I remind her of someone Or perhaps she is found Of Korean K drama And Angela reminds her Of her favorite K Drama star Or perhaps it is both Or another reason entirely But in any event I look forward To seeing her smiling face Every time I walk Down my ally way Avoiding the War Due to Two Birthdays I avoided being drafted Due to a fluke in my birth certificate In 1974 the last draft was held And some people were drafted But no one went to Vietnam The war was ending by then I avoided the draft though To no effort on my own My number came up on the draft list My real birthday was in the zone But then my mother pointed out That my legal birthday was different When I was born at 4 am The night clerk typed up My birth certificate With the wrong date My father pointed that out She said Once I typed it That is it His birthday will be What I typed Get use to it My father gave up And so, 18 years later That saved me From the last draft Never made it to Vietnam Many years latter I visited Vietnam Right after we opened relations Glad I finally got to see The country That so many Americans visited so many decades ago Buddha In Vietnam In Saigon, I saw the Buddha Buddha images are everywhere Temples are scattered about Here and there and everywhere Buddha lives on In the hearts and minds Of the Vietnamese soul The communists tried To get rid of Buddhism And other religious traditions But they failed And Buddhism has come back Still speaks to the Vietnamese people A different style A different vibe Than Korean Buddhism But still Buddhist thought Prevails in the tropical lands Of the South Mekong Dreams Traveling along the Mekong Back in time Seeing the river The people Imagining life on the river Imagining the war The past in the Mekong delta And the present tourist boom Yet life goes on With its own laid back rhythm As we traversed the river We were transported back To an earlier time Following the ancient rhythms Of the Mekong Delta Down and Out in Saigon Southeast Asia, and Mexico has always attracted A certain type of westerner The down and out On a down word spiral Why? Relatively cheap to live Lots of part time gigs Teaching English Or other things Booze, drugs, sex Readily available And cheap Places to stay Dirt cheap And no one needs To sleep outdoors Easy to disappear Into the foreigner's backpackers ghettos And escape From whatever you are running from The locals are somewhat tolerant The police usually look the other way And there are lots of people In your shoes I was surprised to find That Saigon has become The latest place For the down and outer crowd To gather together In Bangkok, one sees them a lot In Cambodia as well In the Philippines In Nepal And south of the border In Mexico as well In India not so much In Japan and Korea Just too damn expensive And too cold to be outdoors Back in the day I used to work The citizen services gig And saw lots of the down and outer set The old song comes to mind No one remembers you When you are down and out And in the States Being down and out Means living on the mean streets As it is very difficult To live with almost no money And the various side hustles Don’t give you much money Unless you are dealing drugs And teaching ESL Is not an option Food is expensive Transportation is expensive Booze and drugs expensive Rent is prohibitive Commercial sex is expensive And no one loves you If you are down and out No one knows your name You are just another homeless bum Invisible to all As you try to make do Much better to be down and out In Southeast Asia Than on the mean streets Of the USA Ghosts of Chu Chi Crawling down the tunnels Of Chu Chi I could almost imagine The Viet Kong guerillas Hiding deep under the tunnels As the land above is turned Into a temporary dessert With the vegetation burned off By napalm and agent orange The Viet Kong creep out at night Stealing onto the bases Stealing weapons, food, supplies And occasionally killing soldiers In their sleep The US soldiers Stay on base at night Terrified of the mosquitos And of the Viet Kong the ghosts Surround me Telling me their stories And at last I fled Through the emergency escape tunnel Declaring victory Profoundly shaken up By the ghosts of the Chu Chi tunnels Saigon 2019 Saigon 2019 Vibrant, vivid, exciting A city on the move Becoming a world class city Yet still with a Saigon swagger Wandering the streets Dodging the traffic Admiring the women Enjoying the food Saigon enters my heart And I know that I will be back This city is growing on me Reminds me of Korea back in the 1990’s One opes that as it develops It will not become a carbon copy Of other big Asian cities Obliterating its past In search of a false modern image I hope it can retain What makes Saigon Saigon And not become another Gangnam Hope it does it with Saigon style And the people will evolve The country will emerge And become what it should be The Paris of the East This is my vision Saigon 2019 Saigon 1995 Saigon 1995 In 1995 I was one of the first tourists Allowed into Vietnam To freely wander about Tourism was at its infancy And Saigon was chaotic Wild and crazy Traffic was insane There were few tourism sites Few hotels Few guest houses And not too many restaurants The food was good We saw the war memorial The re-unification palace And the big market But we felt we were being monitored Beggars were everywhere There were scams everywhere And it was not that pleasant an experience But Saigon grew up Became a much more tourist friendly place And these problems we encountered A thing of the place Saigon is so much better So much more developed That it has captured our soul And we will be back Ode to Vietnamese Coffee Vietnam has the best coffee In the damn world Just perfect Hot as hell Sweet as heaven With a kick my ass attitude To boot Can’t resist it Even thought it means I can’t sleep Must Have My Damn Vietnam Coffee Right Now VC2 In Saigon One meets All sorts of strange characters VCQ VCQ he called himself He was filled with stories From the war And the revolution afterwards VC2 Was a young man In Danang During the war 15 years old Recruited into the VC Infiltrated into the base Just another street urchin Stole away at night Hiding on the big air base Stealing things To sell at the black market Just one of the army Of street urchins That became friendly With the enemy They called him VCQ And the nickname stuck That is what he called himself Said that he had become A VC Seal known as the VCQ Learned his English From his black marketing days He perfect the art Of wheeling and dealing As a street urchin In the mean streets of Danang After the war he rose through the ranks Retired as a general Became a college professor Later opened his own business An interior design business When Saigon became Saigon Once again Wheeling and dealing Around the world Always one step ahead Of the semi-communist authorities One day he came back with 25 bottles Of wine The customs guy said That is too much He said but I can’t drink them all And gave him 5 bottles Problem solved And VCQ laughed and laughed As the wine washed over us And we became drunk With his endless stories From the mouth of VCQ Just another night In Saigon Drinking the Night Away With the VCQ Future VC Saigon is filled with interesting characters Filled with fascinating backstories One could write hundreds of stories About the people one encounters In a nail shop That caters to mostly Korean visitors We met a boy of 8 years old Who was a natural born hustler He had wonderful English Wonderful French And even some Korean And he wanted to show us around He spoke English Without an accent In an upper class British style As if he were born to the manor How and why he learned English so well Would be an interesting story His Mother was also An interesting character Been running the store For five years Amused it had become the Korean To Go place In Saigon Just one of those mysterious things They had another shop nearby A smoothie place And he offered to guide us there But were in a hurry As we left I thought to myself Here is a future VCQ The fascinating character That had wined and dined us Late into the night Beguiling us with his tales From his time in the VC Wonder what this future VCQ Will tell his future friends About his past life Living in a beauty saloon?
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