White Flag

Baby-blue thin almost
see-through blue ao dai
and long hair, heavy
and black,
wind wouldn't it feel like
across your cheeks
if you could move that
close, tresses sliding
across the silk
backs of two young ladies
claiming our passports and
granting room keys
in a ritual of hostage
exchange well-known at the hotel
with its glass wall into the restaurant
full of green and red-starred
Da Nang cops,
measuring
the fuss and mess
of pink-hot former soldiers
drinking obligatory cups
of tiny tea,
hunched at too low tables
spread-legged around knapsacks
all caught in listening
to the slip-suck of
laundry -- sheets, shirts, rough
towels -- against wet concrete floors
right off the lobby
hunkered splay-toed women never looked
it was the girls
for looking
and those girls, faces smooth
as rubbed church pews
watched and ran for bottled water,
remedies for tender stomachs,
ginger candy
out the door, swinging
sighing hair so different
from the black-shoed
sullen girls with full lips
painted dark
forming words of arch disgust
over remembered tomato soup
at this Cincinnati restaurant --
it was so sweet,
so, too sweet, spicy
like you know what I mean: barbecue sauce,
sneering around their matching
cigarettes,
exhaling smug words
until I
just had to retreat.

Constance Lee Menefee
Copyright 2000