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saigon poems


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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



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













In Saigon

One meets

All sorts of strange characters



VCQ he called himself

He was filled with stories

From the war

And the revolution afterwards



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


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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I especially love the Saigon shuffle. For a while there, I thought you were drawing parallelism of soldiers crossing territory visible to enemy lines or hidden enemies. I thought that you were reliving that moment. But, in the end, I found it funny. It was all just traffic shuffle. You should try Manila 🙂

"Words are not things, and yet they are not non-things either." - Ann Lauterbach

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