UPRIVER FROM HOI AN
If there's a river, I thought, there must be villages,
if there are boats, there must be a way
to reach them. If they are not on the map,
not in the guidebook, if the police
and the tourist office insist they know nothing
about villages not on the map,
then I had to see them. So I hired a boat—
with a terrible diesel engine
that belched black clouds all day,
but with beautiful white eyes
on its prow, and, an hour later
on an empty shore I'd pointed to,
children were everywhere, singing
their chorus: How-are-you?
How-are-you? as though it were the start
of a nursery rhyme. Twenty led me
to a shrine where a goddess walked on waves
bearing a lantern
to rescue drowning sailors.
One god can hear a thousand miles,
an older boy labored in English,
One god can see a thousand miles.
Together they guard the temple.
Now there were forty children,
and some adults watching, shyly. Then
Huynh Le Phuong, who was beautiful,
asked me to her home for tea,
and as we walked boys grabbed my arms,
pulled hard as they could, pulled
the hairs and laughed,
and she told me, They like you,
they never before touch American man, and tried
to smile. I walked with my hands above my head
so they could not reach them. At her home
her father placed a thermos of tea
before me and another by the photos
of her mother and brother and grandparents,
so they would not become thirsty or sick
in the next world. You like
Vietnamese girls? she wanted to know.
Do you fall for me? Will you take me
to the Himalayas? The big, big mountains? When you go
back to New York, will you remember me?
Will you write a poem for me, just for me,
and send it?