From the hotel balcony we could see
The ferries crossing Saigon River,
And the flat boats with sand and the sampans
With their gold fans catching the wind and floating by,
And the harbor in the distance,
Losing itself in the blue haze,
And the cyclos racing up and down
Dong Khoi Street.
And from the terraces of the Rex,
The Caravelle and the Continental,
We reported the ghosts of Somerset Maugham,
André Malraux and Graham Greene.
Hotel Majestic, Saigon, Viet Nam, July 22, 2009
Whether pertaining to statues or temples,
Or the populace itself, decapitation
And strangulation, whether by fig trees or soldiers
Or common thieves,
Seem to describe the order of history
And nature itself.
And where armless and legless antiquities
Do not describe the order of the day,
Land mines and leprosy and STDs do –
A kind of generic limblessness
Seems to have taken hold,
A dark corruption of the soul.
And yet, still you build
Your wooden houses and huts
On slender bamboo stilts
On rivers that disappear into history,
And celestial nymphs like reclining buddhas
Or odalisques unfold beneath thatched roofs.
And in the thickest forest and jungle
The faint song of the palm leaf rises up.
Here the auspicious white crocodile
Lingers at the edge
Of the golden grass in Kymerian fields
And laps at the moon.
Victoria Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia, July 23, 2009
It was a lane off Yaowarat Rd.
In Chinatown, years ago,
Too long ago for me to remember
Or want to remember –
I was a young man then,
Handsome but timid and unknowing,
And she was simply too splendid
To be there,
A lotus blossom amid the bamboo,
And no one knew why or anything about her.
She was silent,
Not just about her history,
The silence was in every part of her,
Her hair, her eyes, her skin,
And even in the way she spoke,
And in the way she touched you.
I did not even know where she was from –
She was too dark to be Vietnamese,
Too light to be Cambodian,
Too silent even to be Siamese.
The sadness of the world hung all over her,
Like those waiting in line
To see her, to hold her in their arms
In the hope that this sadness might fall away.
The war had not yet begun, again,
And when it did,
The time in between visits seemed like an eternity –
And it was not too long after
That she disappeared from the house,
From the Green Lantern.
I returned to that place with the dance floor,
The slow-moving fans and the stairs to paradise
Many times over, in the hope of her return,
For there were many things
I realized later I wanted to ask her
And to tell her. But she never returned.
Now where there is only silence –
Even in the raging crowds,
Here, on Canal St. – I see only her in it,
So many years later.
Dusit Thani, Bangkok, Thailand, July 30, 2009