Vietnam I: Courage

Think of a child who goes out
into the new neighborhood,
cap at an angle, and offers to lend
a baseball glove. He knows
how many traps there are–
his accent or his clothes, the club
already formed.

November 6 | Saigon

Wake up 6am, sweat. A neighbor rummages for trash and clothes near my head, or, another life. The shower sprays water across the room, drip drops splattering the toilet seat while hot dark air climbs through hostel doors and I eat bread on eggs, hop on a tour bus to stare at Agent Orange faces with a keen taste for mutiny. The old man sits too close, displays photos of Thai girls as we head into Chinatown. Is this the part where I feel more alive? More alone? Large beer for lunch, dinner for dessert, wandering through palace bunkers I’m found by an American and lost by my tour group. Map my way back home, already half asleep.

Think of a pregnant woman
whose first child died–
her history of blood.
Or your friend whose father
locked her in basements, closets,
cars. Now when she speaks
to strangers, she must have
all the windows open.

November 7 | Saigon

Wake up 6am, scanning a dark skyline for the city’s best food. Here I am cautious — or lazy — venturing only where I have to walk, never think. Spotting a few unforgettable faces on the Mekong Delta, mail order brides, daddies, children holding crisps. The sky is gray and water drip drops onto my bag, onto my body. I’m chased, I sway, I eat half a meal and stare through the trees, black, into the muddy reeds. At night on Bui Vien a new friend and I share blue cocktails, sugar on the rim, and talk about ex-lovers. What to tell a stranger about a stranger. Trash laps against my feet, open sores.

She forces herself indoors each day,
sheer will makes her climb the stairs.
And love. Imagine it. After all
those years in the circus, that last
bad fall when the net didn’t hold.

November 8 | Saigon to Hanoi

Wake up 6am, ready to head north or already heading home? But I feel good. Book a rooftop serenade where, standing on my own, I ask for a light and mixed accents mumble names — I’m Molly, not the canine, not the drug — and spilling my cards on the table I learn the capital of South Australia, connect with a strange pair of eyes maybe green, maybe golden. Seven beers and a hug goodnight: I feel I’ve finally arrived in Vietnam, heartstrings vibrating.

Think of the ladder to the wire,
spotlights moving as you move,
then how you used to see yourself
balanced on the shiny air.
Think of doing it again.

— “Some Notes on Courage,” Susan Ludvigson

I of IV

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