I served for the Air Force training South Vietnamese soldiers during the war there. I went on to become a high school English teacher best known for a philosophy class I created. After I retired from teaching, I had a burst of writing energy and immersed myself in the New Hampshire poetry community. Some of the online journals I have been published in are Atticus Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and War, Literature and the Arts.
I sat with my buddy who had a decision
to make. I'm thinking of marrying her,
man. We looked across at his girlfriend.
I don't blame you, man. She's the second
best looking bar girl in all of Saigon. He
laughed, knowing I referred to my own
girl friend. Yeah, but can you imagine the first
time I introduce her to my parents. Suppose
she squats down on her haunches? We contemplated
this. She saw us looking at her and smiled. Then
she reached her right leg out, picked up a grape
with her toes, and popped it in her mouth. This
added a whole new dimension to the problem.
It took us a while for it to sink in. At last
I looked at him and said, Well I guess that about
ices it, man. He nodded his head, but he was still
befuddled. Yeah, man, but . . . in what direction?
(First published in Boston Literary Magazine.)
Sunday Dinner with the Loc Family on the Mekong River
Sergeant Loc invited me to Sunday dinner on the Mekong River
with his parents and siblings. They lived in wooden shacks
among a cluster of homes raised above the water on poles.
A three-foot wide pathway of slatted boards interlaced
this mini-village. For the first time in Saigon, I was afraid.
I had been prepared to get shot or blown up, but drowning
was never on my radar. It seemed somehow inappropriate.
I pictured myself falling off and complaining all the way down.
I saw children, and I wondered how many others had already
fallen to their deaths playing some childhood game.
When we arrived at his residence, the father showed me
a chicken coop made of wire mesh. I watched the birds shit
right into the river. I made the decision to wait until I left
rather than do the same. The father killed a chicken for me.
I felt guilty, both for the animal and for the family's loss. We ate
well, shoveling rice and meat into our mouths with chopsticks.
I was sated in the middle of such lack. For that one day, we were
filled with familial love, and I became their son and brother.
The next day in a tent city surrounded by a minefield, I would
again teach their son about killing things other than chickens.
(First published in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.)
English Language School Inspection: Saigon Style
—Are the ARVN soldiers we are training succeeding in technical school, sir?
—The leisure areas were all free of butts, men.
—How is the program going at other schools, sir?
—There was no broken glass around the soda stand, men.
—So you feel that Vietnamization is working, sir?
—The classrooms were spotless, men.
—What were your general impressions of our teaching techniques, sir?
—Every one of you looks very well-groomed, men.
—Can anything be done to improve the living conditions of our Vietnamese students, sir?
—I was unable to check the latrines, men.
The stench of urine kept me back.
We'll have to see what we can do about the plumbing.
—Can we start turning over the teaching to qualified ARVN soldiers, sir?
—We'll make sure you get to watch the Super Bowl live this year, men.
—When are we going home, sir?
—Keep up the good work, men.
©2016 Jimmy Pappas