The Ferry

Vendors at the My Thuan Ferry (if I remember correctly) on a branch of the Mekong River. In QL 4, the ferry is recast as the My Linh Ferry and Vinh Long is replaced by Van Loc, to avoid having geographical limitations on the descriptions in the book.

A bridge, completed in 2000, has replaced the ferry. Also, the road known as QL 4 is no longer. Instead, it is National Highway 1.

On the ferry—greeting the passengers. The MP relationship with the Vietnamese public was generally quite friendly, although there were some rough moments, some of which are described in QL 4. Unpleasant contacts included confrontations with Vietnamese soldiers (involving firearms and grenades) and terrible traffic accidents, such as a boy being bisected by a deuce-and-a-half.

More photos from the ferry, taken with a small Brownie Instamatic from an MP patrol jeep.

Street toughs at the ferry, my guess about ten years old. It wasn’t unusual for one of them to tell you, “GI, tomorrow you die,” or some equally encouraging remark.

Race Relations

A Black Panther newspaper that I brought home from Vietnam. Racial tensions were high in 1970, both in the States and in Vietnam. Black soldiers viewed their oppression as exacerbated by being sent to fight in a war to keep the Vietnamese “free” when they did not have many basic freedoms at home. Slave bracelets and segregated cliques were common. The “race riot” in QL 4 is described pretty much as it happened, although there probably wasn’t the critical mass for a real “riot.” The author did witness a real riot while a law student at Duke University the year before: phalanxes of police in riot gear, clouds of tear gas, and flying rocks. It made the front page of The New York Times (Feb. 14, 1969).

Vinh Long at Dusk

A lost memory
imbued with yellow
Superimposed on white stucco buildings
and red tile roofs,
Yellow dusk reverberating with the staccato
of Japanese and Italian labor
brought by Americans,
Echoing in a cacophony of horns and voices
choked with exhaust fumes.

No trees,
Concrete streets, broken sidewalks,
A water-filled gutter
with a crying, bare-assed child squatting on a plank
leading to the bar with a bright blue gate
Under a sky suffused with yellow,
lost in yellow,
swallowed in yellow,
In the deceptive
somnambulant grip of twilight,
A hiatus between the human clamor of day
And the artillery rung, fog-seized silence of night.

Sunrise at Boot Camp (excerpt)

Last week in the field, after chow,
The quiet kid from Indiana got a letter from his wife
and slit his wrists with a P-38 army issue can opener;
That night, 50 push-ups and blood seeping through the bandages.
“You fail, you’re fucked!” yells the drill sergeant.

The sun’s slanting rays rest on the top of the pine.
“Fall in,” the voice calls;
Not moving, I dream
of different places and better times,
Of your body
breaking the sparkling surface of the pool.

A Dangerous World (Houston Writers Guild Press contest – honorable mention April 28, 2017)

To see the world through another’s eyes
is a dangerous thing:
the loneliness of a widowed mother
as the child slips away,
the desperation of a child
when a parent blinks out
or flees
or just doesn’t understand.

To own their sorrows
and know their secrets
is despair and fear.

How can we care
if we do not know?
How can we know
if we do not see,
when we avert our eyes,
Since we are not …
we are not?

I am not a refugee in a leaky boat,
waiting to sink;
I am not hungry,
rooting through garbage;
I am not black or brown
living in a ghetto forsaken by hope;
I am not an unwanted immigrant
seeking a better life;
I am not an angry white man
watching Fox News;
I am not a black man
fleeing a uniform;
I am not a cop’s spouse
starting at each knock on the door;
I am not a single mother
watching her child off to school;
I am not a soldier
facing an unseen enemy;
I am not a veiled bride
seeing death rain from the sky;
I am not a breast-cancer survivor
facing a mirror;
I am not disabled,
struggling through a door;
I am not a debt-ridden farmer,
tilling dead fields;
I am not oppressed for my religion or race;
I am not gay afraid to come out;
I am not a teenage girl pregnant and alone;
I am not poor and working two jobs;
I am not homeless.
Homeless …

He watches the cars
go past,
the drivers stopped,
staring at anything but him—
gaunt, wasted,
time and drink and fate ravaged—
and his cardboard sign
with its crayon-scrawled letters
that ask for …
and we look away
or hand a folded bill out the window
and drive on,
that we have seen ourselves
in the rear-view mirror,
as he waves farewell
with a raised
middle finger.

A Rising Tide (Winner first place – poetry Houston Writers Guild Press contest – April 28, 2017)

  • I feel the tide rising,
      I see faces all around,
      different shapes
      and shades of hair
      and colors of skin.
  • In a Budapest museum, homage is paid to those who fled
      —inventors, theorists, thinkers
      —artists, musicians, writers
  • Welcomed in another place,
      and what they brought with them:
      television, laser, computer,
      paint, piano, and pen,
      and the eighth dimension unstrung.
  • They, the celebrated,
      are only the froth,
      the effervescence of the movement of peoples,
  • Not the essence.
  • Yet another wave comes—
      short, dark men,
      digging, hammering, sweating, straining,
      building houses, mending roofs.
  • Imagine their struggles, their strivings,
      their sorrows, their fears,
      their loneliness

    Now that they are here.

  • Small dark women with straight black hair
      push strollers with blond, blue-eyed babies
      and stop in the park to talk in a lyrical tongue,
      staving off loneliness and fear of what will come,

    What will happen tomorrow—here.

  • There is a past—for them and for this place,
      of those welcomed and those turned away
      —some into the maw of their enemies;

    A past of some dragged here in chains;
    A past of all those who came any way they could.

  • I am part of it—
      a great movement of peoples—
      peripatetic tribes,
      seekers of freedom or fortune,
      refugees from evils,
      or responsibilities;
  • Some who prospered, some who did not;
    All lived and died, loved and sorrowed,
    • in this new place.
  • I see the tide rising,
      and I welcome it,
  • I go with it in exultation and praise:
    WE are the tide,
    • we are the tide, rising,
      every one of us.
  • As we followed others,
      so too
      shall others follow us
      to these shores,
  • A rising tide
      until death comes
      and sweeps us aside,
      leaving this ground we walk
      and air we breathe
      to others
      who follow,
  • Each and every one,
      rising, ebbing, flowing,
      like the tide.