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Where are you,
My beautiful

At this time of the year when
The leaves are falling down
The trees are turning into this
Orange, red and brown color

It is getting a little bit,
Just a little bit colder
In the capital of the United Kingdom

I already see you putting your jacket on
Wearing the scarf I offered to you
Last autumn do you remember

At this time of the year when
Winter is right across the Thames river
You wish it could snow this December
I wish I could be there with you
Having a hot chocolate when it's
Freezing outside
Playing with the snow with you
Getting you cold before warming you up
Cooking with you as Christmas is coming

I love you

I love you from where I live now
I miss you from where I live now and
I blow you a kiss from the Vietnamese coast
Hoping it will cross the oceans
And reach to your sweet lips
Before you sleep,
My beautiful
Mark Sep 10
This far divided land

Where the rice grows free

Has always had corrupt men

Stopping their life's dreams

It's in their veins

It's not that easy

To make it flow on out

For a thousand years

The same has been

Even when a million men

Wearing blue denim jeans

Came marching in

To change our ways

It's not what this is all about

While the people we trust

Pop out of man-made holes

And look like they've been

Tunnelling like moles

Where the enemy lines

Have stood for a thousand years

During the day

We're all so polite

But in the night

We all have to go and fight

The un-invited western men

Always seem to lose sight

Their communist fears

Were ingrained in their mothers womb

And will always end in tears

Where the streets smell of Pho

As you pass on by

And if looks could ****

If you dare to say hi

The aromatic love incense

Wafts in the fog filled air

Where the market crowds come

And traders buy and sell

The lonely planet guides

Write of this unusual smell

The local giggles should tell you

That you don't really belong there

So goodbye Hanoi

This time we can't ignore the flack

I'm going home

And I ain't ever coming back

My wife is waiting

To mend me back in one piece

We've had that awful feeling

Since it all became so fierce

I want to head home so bad

Now they've invaded our embassy

When they don't want our help for a truce

And it doesn't bring the change

That the westerners wanted to produce

So just leave it in the hands of ones own chosen destiny.
Nathan Box Jul 20
You’re eighteen-years-old.

This role is not yours to be had.

If it were, you would challenge the direction of your country.

College isn’t beyond the summer.

Draft cards don’t burn easily.

Enlistment is the only choice; at least you get a choice.

All, because your country called so loudly.

Soon, you will be on a boat halfway around the world.

To get there, you will travel the path of least resistance.

Any attempt to object would be futile.

Sailors do as they are told.

Pain, both mental and physical, are in store for you.

But, for now, you are nervous and excited.

This torment will last you a lifetime.

It will only be known to a select few.

I am proud to be in that group.
Nathan Box May 12
How did you get here?

A boy from Frederick…

A life defined by a cell.

These moments are meant to crush normal men.

You aren’t a normal man.

No, you’re a caged bird meant to fly.

And soon you’ll make your greatest escape.

As you do, lives will be forever changed.

Each decision will alter the timeline.

Space and time will bend.

Men will be left on the battlefield.

Lives will be saved.

Boots and blood; blood all around.

Crimson shines brightest in the moonlight.

Years from this moment, you’ll blame yourself.

The night will be filled with terror.

Please remember though, all you could do was run.

You still had wars to fight.
lara Apr 23
This world keeps disappointing me
and I realize now how
lucky I was to have met you,
such a fateful night ago.
Of all the ships and stars
and silly obligations,
we were two fools walking
barefoot down the streets
of a lantern-lit overripe spring night.
God, the night never ended,
and you
never answered my questions.
You were perfect that way,
always let me think
you were infinite and
I, the cleverest thing you'd ever met.
You loved me so easily and
it scared me to no end
that I knew you'd left.
It was noon, sometime in mid-July;
Imagine the road, a twisting highway to my grave.
The bus, a roller coaster ride unhinged from the tracks.
Dodging missiles with headlights, horns rattling my nerves.
Just another three hours.

It was midnight, somewhere out at sea,
Somewhere in the universe, the Milky Way, another galaxy.
A shallow heartbeat, a distant echo of a Chinese Karaoke show, but all else was still.
The stars never seemed so vast, and I remembered that they were bigger than me,
I was just a speck.

It rained on the way back to ** Chi Minh,
The roads turned to rivers, the scooters grew ponchos; under them a family of three.
The city brought chaos; sad, tired faces, begging for one thousand ****; a cent.
The children danced in the downpour, jumping over sticks
Like hopscotch.

I thought of Ha Long Bay, just the night before,
I couldn’t hear the silence; I couldn’t see the stars; a dingy hostel ceiling, grumbling strangers snores.
I went to sleep dreaming of peaceful valleys, fresh spring waters, trees as far as the eye could see,
For tomorrow was a new day,
The next part of my journey.
Michael Apr 7
Time Expired and thus Unfettered

Like dusty files unopened on their shelves - serene and calm;
Behind locked doors these memories of war lived in my mind.
Distant images, long archived, evolved in Vietnam
But buried ‘neath the present of a very different kind.

But now those dusty files have tumbled to the ground.
Upended by the vigour of this fine new freedom I have found.
Without the shackles of that other life I find
The memories fresh and sometimes pleasant to my mind.

And so I take them up and dust them off these files long hidden.
Peruse each ancient, tattered memory page by page.
And let their content to my mind project unbidden
The flickering image of a long lost distant, youthful age.

And with these verses I have made for you, shaped by my pen, a light.
That you too might view the shadowed contents of my new found files.
Described between the lines of each is what it was to fight
A war, the grim visage of which was seldom wreathed with smiles.

But I conjure you look closely at these careful, recent woven lines of mine.
This tapestry conceals ideas that oft’ belie the written word.
Look underneath to seek the reason why my thoughts sometimes repine
Against a patterned camouflage which sometimes makes them seem absurd

Chimerical these hidden images that tumble on the edge of time?
Yes, but if you use the mirror of your own reality to construe,
To grasp the presence of that conflict these days almost always called a crime
Then might you judge these portions that I gladly offer you.
Written in 1988 when suddenly I realised that no longer being a soldier I could speak my mind.
jake aller Apr 3
Ode to Vietnamese Coffee

Vietnam has the best coffee
In the **** world
Just perfect

Hot as hell
Sweet as heaven

With a kick my *** 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 back stories
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?
more saigon theme poems
jake aller Apr 3
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 **** 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 motor cyclists, 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

Mostly Harmless 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

Reminds me of the phrase
From the hitchiker’s guide to the galaxy
Mostly harmless

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

*****, drugs, ***
Readily available
And cheap

Places to stay
Dirt cheap
And no one needs
To sleep out doors

Easy to disappear
Into the foreigners 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 **** 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
***** and drugs expensive
Rent is prohibitive
Commercial *** is expensive

And no one loves you
If you are down and out
No one knows your name
You are just another homeless ***

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 ****** 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 hopes 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 in to 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
poems inspired by my second trip to Saigon in 24 years
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