Hanoi Girls


Hanoi most sensible of cities—
at night the traffic finally does stop
and a great hush of sleeping
descends: a curtain drawn
down by good spirits
and ghosts about to start work.
Not a sound for kilometres
except a cough deep in a house
a lonely bicycle bell, a word called
out from a dream, a stray bird drunk.
It’s dark on the pavement
but the sky glows with smog.
Quiet all night until a rooster crows
sunrise somewhere in the rice fields
behind the rebuilt suburbs
north of the river.
The people who sleep
in the street hammocks are first up
and busy.  Everyone’s going to work
in an office, school, a sweatshop
or a street stall, hot days get louder
with all the talking it’s as if everyone’s shouting.
Slow rivers of traffic meander.
Suddenly the girls are there, dozens
then hundreds riding motor scooters
braking gently at the traffic light in Ly Thai To Street
now the traffic flows like waves on a quiet lake.
Cyclo drivers and labourers
might stop for a moment, consider
the day’s hot slog is almost worth it,
to see their city’s young women growing beautiful
and rich.  They remember to be kind to strangers
who try to compare their less cultivated worlds.
What greater joy could there be than to see
Hanoi girls ride motor scooters,
pillion sisters sitting side saddle.
When the traffic slows they gossip
like tigresses with girls on the other scooters.
Silks and nylon made sure the war
was won by the mini-skirt allied with knee-high
leather boots or diaphanous sandals.
Hanoi girls out-glamour the Italians
they fit imitation Gucci so much better
and bring a sense of reticence to leather.
Their mobile phones ring urgently—
lightning strikes Hanoi’s holy mountain
friendly rain clouds gather.
Dial an ancestor—mothers and grandmothers
were the bravest women warriors
Vietnam had seen for centuries.
They fought the invaders and lost husbands,
brothers and sons, sisters and daughters. 
Everyone lost somebody 
when the heartless and stupid ruled America
sent over soldiers and bombers.
The war ended, and lots of granddaughters,
lots of grandsons came into the world.
Over time the hard times got better
there was food for almost everyone.
The population skyrocketed, as they say, and
Hanoi’s granddaughters grew up and dressed to kill.
Commuting on their scooters they chatter: are love poems
more romantic more sincere than a gift of flowers,
or just cheaper? there’s the wicked past of a Government
Minister who used to be a Saigon pop singer—
too wicked to mention.  French football stars
are heading to Vietnam to help improve the local game
ha ha it won’t work – the boom in Hanoi’s real estate
goes through the roof, So-and-so is starting up
a new business,  the new style of Hué cooking
is not so new, those horoscopes in Sport and Culture
magazine are so vague to be nearly always right
and the interview with David Beckham
is almost the same as last month’s.
To ensure good daughters have everything their mothers
and fathers missed, the sacrifices made are tougher
than to much loved ancestors—
money to buy a good scooter comes harder
than fake banknotes burnt at an altar.
Hanoi girls pull up at the traffic light
knee high boots and sheer sandals
rest on the road, mobile phones ring in
a business deal, an old apartment to renovate,
lunch at West Lake.  As grandma said,
‘when no bombs fall on the polity
it’s fine to indulge frivolity’.
Hanoi girls are serious, study and work
their way to the top if that’s where life leads.
And by magic, motor scooter and miniskirt
they make the city truly powerful.



The family will sit together
and speak not, just bathe
in the television’s healing light.
Maniac fantasies make you
want to push the right buttons
push with sincerity
understand your heart will hasten
you to sweet doom and taste

the pleasure that is in sorrow.
When the party’s over seriousness
doesn’t feel that much like fun.
Fun?  of course—there’s Fun waving
goodbye through the taxi’s rear window.
Was that a tear meeting her sly smile?
Pick up the card that fell from her purse
and, overwhelmed by feelings,
stagger backwards still craving her

craving all that fun. 
Something pithy and Latin for the world
Are you ready for the foot dance?
But then you always found sexy
those scantily clad vamps
playing guitars in ancient rock
videos for example, The Kramps—
the dreadful singer a youngish man
on drugs caterwauls ‘Can Your Pussy
Do The Dog?’ catlike, doglike.
And the girls on guitars are hot
and attractively sleazy.  There goes the plot.
Sweetest the pleasure that is in sorrow.




Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion.
— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.


The twenty-second century’s doorbell rings—
Catching a plane to Paradise.
All aboard jovial terrorists relax in first class
no mouth goes hungry as the bikini atoll
rushes beneath the airliner’s shadow.
Touch down: bright lights at the shining place.
No problems in Paradise—you can
have wild stormy nights, finest days
all day at the beach, night by the pool
‘just as long as the guitar is playing. . .
life in the world was only a beginning
but be glad there’s a walking machine.
The classics roar. The more you give
the more you take and you will enter Heaven
through the eye of a needle.  Free drinks
forever, the lion and lamb lie down together in love
after the thrilling chase.  For quiet folks heaven’s
a quiet place: soft rain on a tin roof—rocky road
leads to a brand new episode of modern Paradise.
Punk are rewarded sex, drugs, rock & roll
forever and duty means soldiers can kill
and still check in to a celestial room
enjoy the pious glow and burnished
blush on wingéd television, volunteer
to serve the Lord and Valhalla.
All the things a soul craves in life
but didn’t know how to ask:
fresh mountain stream: the sad end
finding big smoke concrete
after a lifetime of greenery
now you’ll spend eternity
window-shopping through the Milky Way.
The mansion is yours! your wish
come true floating garden and jungle—
over the pale desert in a balloon
above walled cities shrouded in mist
the moon howls—that boat on the harbour
seems a mighty fine place, now
mind each step—see beyond
where the walking machine takes you—
beyond this it’s a oneness all oneness
then you forget everything.


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