Looking for Dien Bien Phu

It was hot
     and more
than that, we jinked around
sidewalk partials giant
broken dentures
donít look too closely
in the maw, under the street
youíll dream Jonah
in the belly of Saigon;
torpid tourists inventing
purpose between iced coffees,
we let hours slither off under
the tamarinds and bougainvillea
with just a hiss, an exhalation
a hint of snakes almost encountered,
losing minutes like
shimmery raw silk metered
through a hawkerís hand
we asked everywhere to buy
the round, red pins proclaiming
40th Dien Bien Phu ?
our Vietnamese in equal measure
to their English,
they shrugged and offered
flags to mark
the liberation date of Ho Chi Minh City,
twenty minus one
coming upon us soon:
busy year for victory, forty years since
the Viet Minh spooned
our strange bed-fellow
out of a little green
way north:
bamboozled by rice balls
and bicycles
we brought the lot,
the guns the planes the bullets
little boats, swift boats
and slow boats to the South China Sea;
all the while,
under Lilliputian tables
by noodle soup stalls
mongrel dogs scratching poxy hides
in blissful, squinting concentration,
and their mongrel mamas and great-grandmamas
too, ceding hot pink flesh
to fleas and mange unceasingly -
they could have told us
just what to expect.

Constance Lee Menefee
Copyright 2000