I wrote this poem after eating lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, and thinking about what it all meant. The lunch. The war. America. Substitute Kabul for Saigon and change a few ingredients, and you have a poem in the making (hold onto it for a decade or so, then send it out for publication).
Lunch Hour at Pho Saigon
A pair of chromed figures, winged and bearded,
The size of mastiffs--but rather small for dragons--
Crouch beside the doors to this converted
Filling station, extending their exotic,
And misapprehended brand of luck
And protection to the mid-day diners at Pho Saigon.
Saigon! As if the name itself is gesture enough
To will the customers into blissful defiance of the past.
Lunch is politics by other means.
To the man on a tight schedule, propped against the counter
While taking phone calls between the mouthfuls
Of the translucent noodles, his noon meal has no agenda
Beyond efficiency: it’s cheap and it’s quick.
He breathes in this air, rich with the scent of lemon,
Ginger, anise, and cardamom, cinnamon,
Mint, coriander and nuoc mam. And so the wisdom
Of generations is devoured without a care.
It seems so easy--until the pepper sauce,
Or the collapse of a paper-tiger regime,
Or the hand-lettered sign above the doorway
Causes one to rediscover the eternal verity:
You must always pay as you leave.
And the dragons’ ambiguous gaze
Is an unsettling reminder that one man’s angel
Is another’s demon.
From my book, "General Discharge" (Fomite Press)