The neon on the Tan Dinh restaurant reads OPEN at 9 AM
when she stumbles in. Ho Chi Minh City around her,
the accents of the Mekong, young bulletproof faces, a waiter
steps up, offers beef soup. She hesitates, this woman
who believes she can trespass, who eats too fast. Forty years before
she never paused to wonder how a plastic flame could simmer on the skin,
or smell the mildew, bar-b-que and cannabis, the second language
of marines who came of age too big and sweaty for their war,
that tight squeeze, green shock in the tunnel of their throats.
She didn’t concentrate when her man showed off snapshots
of the enemies he couldn’t tell from friends, their hair blown back,
their tipped up smiles as soldiers chopped away. What he sought
in the jungle, he kept to himself. She never bit a mango,
never begged him to confess. He brought her home a dragon, taught her silence
in the morning, how to bolt her food with chopsticks, told her not to ask.
Some stories, he says, soldiers never tell. She says, you’re not the same.
He says, shut up! so he can listen for the hissing
from the tunnels, for the soft pad-pad of sandals, so he can croon
Da Nang, Ke Sanh, Hue, Tet, Tet, Tet, Saigon, those charms
he used to soothe himself. She never heard the red noise
he heard all around the bed; she never questioned how they all squeezed in-
the soldiers, women, children, the old men who smelled of soài–
until today. She reaches out to take the soup that she will hardly taste, a bowl
that she will hurry through, that she will surely spill.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle is an accidental Texan. Her second book of poems, Discount Fireworks, winner of the Blackgrove Award, is forthcoming from Jacaranda Press. Most recently read her poems on-line at Salt River Review, Ghoti Magazine and Arkansas Literary Forum.