red poinciana

living under the spread

of royal flamboyant

orange red flowers

a childhood tree

in another life

boys and girls

in school uniform

blue and white

shade to play in

root buttresses to climb over

cicadas hours under

the tropic sun

we ran hard

and out played

teacher’s scorns

arithmetic on hard benches

cheap purple ink

pen scratched words

and stained fingers

hot and drenched

boys’ vigor

we ran

and ran more

thirty four years

rolled and rolled

until I am dropped off

under this royal poinciana



red flowers rain

fell without wind

straight down

a girl walks slowly

in twilight fragrance

of blooming mock orange

and lingering white plumeria

she waves

A calm evening

waits for a breath of wind

on moist skin

i waved

she is on the phone


paradise is hot

if not for breaths

to sway trees

and ruffle waves


breathe in

breathe out



sunshine is heart

ocean is  body

and wind…

wind makes joy

Palms play

and waves sing

breathe in

breath out




The following is an excerpt from a body of work in progress that relates my family’s personal experience during the events that occurred in Saigon, Viet Nam, on April 28th through the 30th, in 1975. Saigon fell to the communists on April 29th. I was eleven years old at the time.

Noise and wind from the helicopter made our approach difficult; I followed my two sisters up the ramp at the rear of the helicopter and tightened my grip on our luggage as we struggled to keep our footings against the wind and dust that came from all different directions.

I was not familiar with these larger helicopters with white “marine” letters painted on the sides of their olives bodies. I knew all the other types that flew in our sky day and night like the fast Hueys and the slower and more awkward, twin propellers, Sikorsky. I could tell by the sounds they made, coming and going some where, sometimes they flew with urgency or other times so slow as to enjoy the thrill of being aloof while stationary.

We started our walk from the tennis courts, with only luggage that our hands could carry, stopping to rest where we could along the way on a very long walk in the hot afternoon sun. To make matters worse, we all wore two layers of clothes because we were restricted to what we could fit into our small hand carry luggage, and my parents thought we would need our clothes. Hindsight told me that clothes were the least valuable items to save in a situation such as this. No one was aware of how long we must walk or where. We just followed the line of people ahead of us until we reached a large clearing of paved asphalt, shiny and black. I had ridden my bike past this same area only two weeks before and was curious to find that the softball fields with green and well-maintained grass were paved over by black tar. I never could have guessed that a landing field would be created in anticipation of the final days.

The main airport runways were destroyed in last night’s shelling and mortar attacks, so the C130s could no longer land and take off. For all I know, the helicopters we saw as we approached the landing field could have been the very first wave to arrive. Despite all that was going around us, I could not detain the excitement of getting to ride in one of those mechanical birds that so often frequented our childhood skies.

Preceded by their sounds, the helicopters arrived in pairs, flew low over the houses framing the landing field, then slowed almost to a standstill overhead as the world below erupted, whirling wind and sending dust into the air. Incredible flying machine generating small hurricanes, pushing against the ground to stay aloof and making unbearable noises in rushed beat, chopping up the quiet afternoon. At each pulse and each passing of the rotor blades, my body vibrated and my heart beat faster and faster. Heat from their engines pressed downward by the rotors forming a wavering and shimmering hot air curtain that distorted the human fence that was stretching away for miles behind us. Everyone within their flight path was bent low to the ground, clutching their belongings and holding on to each other. The helicopters hovered briefly over the black tar, and then settled down lightly one after another in a skirt of dust. Even before the landing wheels took the full weight of the helicopters, their rear hatches begun to lower. Marines poured out in their battle gear, flax jackets and M-16s, bending forward and spreading out to form an outer perimeter to the line of people and the landing field. Their presence here, though so few in numbers, provided comfort and security. Their arrival was the first time in the last two days that would assure me that, though we lacked information, directions and the knowledge of what was to become of everyone here and those outside the airport gates, there was still order to today’s events. To see Americans, after their absence from the streets of Saigon since 1972, was a welcome sight. I was too young to understand the reason for the United States’ departure from Viet Nam, but I knew very well it meant instability. It was general knowledge at the time that our government in the south was not capable of holding back the will of the people from the north with out the help of the Americans.

Groups of sixty or so people were counted off ahead of us; they were motioned forward and staggered against the wind making their way to the helicopters. Each helicopter swallowed its allotted human cargo, raised its hatch, then sprung into the air, nose tilted down and pulling upward. They were out of sight within minutes, taking with them the storm of wind and noise. The sky emptied and the silence returned to a seemingly ordinary hot afternoon. My ears rang and my heart filled with doubt. What if they did not return? I kept the thought to myself, but I am certain the anxiety of being left behind was mutual between all of us. Our faces must have shown what we dared not express in words for fear that to speak of the possibility would somehow give reason for it to become a reality. My parents were wise not to convey their fears, and we were good kids for keeping our mouths shut. We waited in silence.

I felt relieved from the heat now that we were sitting still. The sun donned its hazy reddish cloth in preparation for its evening rest, heat subsided, the air tinted amber, leaves rustled lightly, shadows lengthened, peoples’ faces reddened by the setting sun. Never in my young life had I experienced events such as these. I was certain that even this nation, which knew nothing more than one war after another, with a long history of foreign dominations and the rebellions to get rid of those foreigners, our national anthem told of a thousand years of domination by the Chinese, one hundred years under the French and twenty years of daily fighting, was not prepared for what we were to embark upon. We were part of a long silent procession of people from all walks of life that had one thing in common, all of us were here because we were related to someone who worked for the Americans and our lives would be at risk if we were left behind. We filed behind one another and walked through the heat of the afternoon to arrive at an empty lot paved over in black tar, no monuments or edifices to pay respect to, no priests to lead us in prayers, just a black top that opened to the amber sky. Nevertheless, it was a holy site for our pilgrimage. We were there to wait for deliverance.

Time passes slowly when one waits. Twenty minutes crawled by; there was a slight murmur amongst those waiting, then two more helicopters appeared over the houses, and again the noises unfurled along with the dust and the world was once again in chaos. They touched down quickly and my family was given the go ahead. Ten, twenty, thirty and so on the soldiers counted and waved us on. All ten of us headed for the nearest helicopter. We braced ourselves against the wind and raced ahead of the adults. My thirteen-year-old brother, who shouldered the heaviest luggage, was on one side of my grandpa and Dad was on the other; together they steadied him against the propeller wash and walked up the ramp. My frail and forgetful grandpa had already fallen on the way here when the helicopters passed over us the first time. He sat on the ground and resisted my father’s help to get him back on his feet. He wanted to stay and saw no reason to leave his home. His wife, my grandma, whom I had never known except through photographs and the story of how she died, was buried in a small town by a muddy river full of leeches that clung to our legs and arms when we swam in it during our occasional visits. My dad had to make him leave because all the brothers and sisters in his family had made plans to depart the country, and to leave an old man behind with no one to care for him was not an option.

My mom, her mother, and my great aunt holding my baby brother brought up the rear. The little guy, now almost two and a half, who just bravely walked almost the entire way from the tennis courts on his own power, had became so frightened by the noise and wind from the helicopter that he turned and darted in the opposite direction. Luckily my great aunt stepped in his way and scooped him up. I learned of his attempted escape later and was sickened at the thought of him standing there by himself as the helicopter departed. He was at an age when his favorite game was to run away on unstable legs and on his toes as fast as he could the moment you let him onto the ground. He wanted to be chased and mostly, it was to anyone’s guess on how he knew, toward the street and traffic. We caught the little runaway each time, but with each escape he gained more and more distance before he was detected. This time we were lucky and he was caught quickly and brought on board frightened and teary-eyed. Once inside the helicopter, we sat on the right against the padded sidewall facing inward and quickly stowed our gear under the bench seat. Yellow light streamed through small side windows directly overhead. Surrounded by tremendous sounds, smell of machine oil and exhaust, I stared out the back, anxious for people to finish boarding so we could get into the air. My family nudged up tight against each other. We all made it aboard. As the last ones settled in, the crewman at the back hatch spoke into his flight helmet headset then gave a hand signal to his flight crew confirming that they were ready for flight. The hatch pulled closed. The helicopter leaped into the air as my stomach dropped. The floor tilted forward then to the left as it climbed and banked. We were off and safe, so I thought.

Light through those small widows slanted crazily as it righted itself on the pitching helicopter floor. Our feet swung from the bench. Up higher and higher. The noise was too much to shout over, I looked at my family and smiled. We knew from the smiles that were starting to show on strangers’ faces across from us that anxiety and fear had subsided. Our moods changed, and we all knew that the worst was over. I wriggled out of my seat and reached up for the window to look down. It was probably the last time to see to our country rushing away below. I wanted a last glimpse. The helicopter raced east toward the ocean. I turned to check on my little brother; he seemed fine, a little frightened of the noise but otherwise fine. The kid was very good and brave; he could sense that all was well with his family. Suddenly, the helicopter shook, dropped and climbed, and then the door gunner let fly with his machine guns rattling off rounds toward the ground. This got the passengers’ attention quickly; maybe it was too soon to celebrate our safety. The flight crew was dodging whoever was firing from below. As long as we remained over land, the helicopter was still a very slow and easy target for ground troops from either side to open fire. The helicopter tossed several more times as the gunner exchanged fire, then up ahead the horizon changed from brown and green to blue green. Land gave way to beaches, waves, then ocean as the helicopter headed toward the Seventh Fleet waiting offshore. I had not a notion of where we were heading and did not care, but once the ocean appeared, I knew we were done with Viet Nam and danger for a while.

Forty minutes after our departure, the helicopter descended onto a carrier’s flight deck. We were led off the deck after the landing and down many flights of stairs two or three levels below as the sun begun to set behind hazy clouds and darkness gathered. We gathered our belongings together in a pile and stayed clustered in our group as we did in between moving from one place to another the last couple of days. . Down there, in the helicopter hanger, the space was cavernous, metallic, empty and drafty. The sides were open at places with only railings and guard posts to separate us from the sea below. I watched the waves get darker and more silhouetted against the grayish and pink horizon. Just another sunset like thousands or millions of times before. The ocean and the clouds changed colors as they have always done, but west of us toward where the sun slipped into the water, a small country was on the verge of chaos and was hemorrhaging its sons and daughters to the air and to the sea. Darkness was falling on the most desperate time for many who wanted to flee. History was about to close its chapter on an ugly war that pitted brothers against brothers and brought shame and suffering to all those who were involved. As in closing time at an theatrical event, the participants often depart a bit saddened that time had come to pass. The actors left the stage and the lights were brightened then dimmed once everyone was gone. Surely there were moments of joy, for some the last act was a triumphant scene of heroes crashing down gates and hoisting their flag declaring victory. Ideology faded quickly when families were separated and promises of last minute miracles never occurred. The helicopters, for them, did not return.

Hardly any words were exchanged between my family. I could only remember the sounds of waves and wind and the helicopters coming and going. I looked around at my brothers and sisters then searched my parents’ faces for clues on how to react or what to do, but their quietness only assured me that they were as unprepared and vulnerable as their children. Still no instruction about where to go so we waited amongst our things and looked out into the darkness.

An American sailor came by and offered M&Ms, Hershey bars and chewing gum. All us kids took some. I was not hungry and not even candy was appealing, but the gesture from the sailor was comforting. His action, though surely by order, or it could just have been out of his kindness, was true to our stereotype of the GIs. The kids in Viet Nam rarely allow an American soldier to pass without begging in broken English but with correctly pronounced words for chewing gum or a cigarette.

Hey GI, number one, chewing gum?

That simple gesture meant we were not forgotten. Their generosity was consistent.

The chaos and the logistic nightmare continued to occur through the night as helicopter pilots flew unrelieved, 10 to 12 hours continuously, back and forth from carriers to Saigon to pull out more people. From where we sat, we were oblivious to the effort of thousands of men and women who were performing the miraculous work of evacuating what appeared to be the entire city. Yet all was quiet down where we were, except for an occasional exchange over the intercom in a language that was familiar but meaningless.

Where are we going?

What is going to happen to the country?

When are we going back?

There was no going back, my parents had known months before.

More and more families arrived and clustered in their groups varying in number. Lost, confused, overwhelmed yet glad and mostly quiet. My youngest brother and sister were already curled up on top of the pile of suitcases and fast asleep. Rocket attacks early that morning combined with sleeping on the hard floor of the bowling alley amid strangers in a strange place robbed us of our needed rest. I drifted off until awaken by commotion. We were moving again.

Get your things and get up.

Wake up.

Grab the baby’s things there. Help your grandpa.

More sailors arrived and led us down more stairs to an area where people were disembarking over the side of the ship. Down below, a troop landing craft shaped like a narrow scoop with high-sided walls was bobbing in the black water. Spotlights from the carrier flooded the cargo net that spanned a watery gap, which narrowed and widened with each wave. The distance from where we stood in relation to the landing craft was only meters, but my dad was worried at the thought of his frail father, the women and the kids with belongings scaling down a net designed for able-bodied soldiers and sailors. We watched others climb down before it was our turn, so with the sailors’ help, the climb down was a cinch. We settled in front of the craft, as it was filled to capacity with its human cargo. The carrier loomed over us briefly, lights shined then disappeared behind the landing craft’s sidewalls as we pulled away. The flood of yellowish lights was replaced by the much dimmer green florescent sticks that were hung like Christmas lights for the entire length of the craft. A hundred or more people on the floor of the craft were all engulfed in darkness, as we pulled further away from the carrier. Nighttime on the ocean without a moon, inky darkness reigned. Once my eyes adjusted, darkness revealed its treasure: millions of blinking stars shone brightly above, so abundant that they formed a blinking dome over the entire world. So many stars danced and waltzed to the bobbing and weaving of the craft on invisible waves. We were invited to a dance on this dark ocean, but there was no music — just the loud droning of the engine. The invited guests were too frightened and too tired to get up the courage to celebrate, instead they chose to sit and let the ocean waltz with the craft.

Shortly, the engine slowed as we neared a ship. It loomed to the side of us closer and taller.

There was no more room; they could not take us.

The landing craft engine revved, we turned way and again the larger ship and its lights disappeared, blocked by the sides of the landing craft. The stars took over and the dancing recommenced at once as we headed for another ship somewhere out there in the darkness. Three hours of changing horizon, bobbing and weaving as we ferried from ship to ship. The waves took their toll on the old and young alike on that shifting floor. A chain reaction started once someone succumbed to seasickness and the odor reached other passengers.

Good news, someone mentioned; it would only happen once on a trip, we would all be used to the waves tomorrow. I hoped to God that was true.

The landing craft found its way back to the carrier where this evening’s cruise had begun. What had been a pleasant adventure into the night under the stars had turned out to be a slow torture. We were so glad to be off that landing craft. Everyone’s faces were drained of color and the stench left behind was unbearable. All I wanted to do was to lie down; they could leave without me, I was so nauseated, I just wanted to find a place on the carrier’s floor and close my eyes.

There were a great many more people huddled in small groups than when we left. The carrier, as big as it was, even on a gentle sea, was not immune to the dark swells below, but its motion only rocked us to sleep. Another night of restless sleep out in the open in another strange place with stranger loud noises from equipment and engines. The intercom crackled as men called to each other. I closed my eyes briefly to be roused awake again and again by people moving back and forth, talking, or crying.

Morning came, signaled by a pencil line of pink just above the water line, a slight blemish in otherwise perfect darkness. Helicopter hanger lights stayed on all night and apparently sailors never slept, judging from the intercom exchanges. As day approached, more and more activities could be heard as men prepared for another day of intensity.

Morning lights washed over the ocean. Pink, reds, oranges and blue gray gave way to hazy yellow. I love the ocean, I was named after it, and in daylight it was friendly and familiar, its mystery receded under the surface. The cool air drifting off the water surface and that rich smell of life at that early hour was no different than at the beach during our holidays. My brothers, sisters, and I often went crazy at the mention of us going to Vung Tau, a coastal town west of Saigon. Going to the ocean was everything to us. It was a magical place. We would carry sand from the beach home in containers so that we could touch its silky smooth coolness later and imagine that we were there.

Blue green waves below surged and receded against the dignified gray side of the carrier. Each time a little higher but they could never quite free themselves from some other forces that held them in a slow rhythm. The deck under my feet rose and fell slightly over each swell. Out here the water was clear and vibrant; but closer to shore as it tumbled on the beaches where we often played, the water turned sandy brown. The Mekong, which carries nutrients and silt from such far away places as the Himalayas and empties into the ocean just south of Vung Tau, probably had to do with clouding up the ocean near its mouth.

I felt fine; there was only a slight impression of last night’s seasickness left in me. Standing there against the railing, watching another landing craft nudge up to the side of the carrier where the cargo net hung partially in the water, I was not sure I would last half an hour this time around without seasickness. Mom grumbled about how we were going to endure another trip so soon. If seasickness had a memory, I was about to find out.

It seemed we waited among new faces. How could one tell from the darkness last night? I thought. Families, who climbed back on the carrier with us last night settled nearby, but were gone when I awoke. A sense of urgency prevailed. I knew Dad wanted to go earlier that morning. Even though the destination and the length of time to get there were complete mysteries, the desire to go on and to reach safety wherever it was occupied his mind. These were first time experiences for all of us and with our fear behind us, along with everything else that had happened in the last three days, I was ready for what would come.

lazy i

i am fine
doing the same
tomorrow was yesterday
more tomorrows less than

an afternoon nap
messed me up
felt old and retarded
sliding slipping
while staring into
hours rolled around
on a clock
winding or unwinding?

what am i doing?
someone else needs
the time i am losing.
wish and desire
used up by this
lazy i

wiliwili tree

red dirt twin ruts
lead lazy turns
through lion fur
grass waving
up to the pu u
where blue sky
tussles its blond top

lonely cactus knee deep
in the velvet sea
miming to each other
with ridiculous poses

a grand naked
orange tree
branches busy
trunk twisted
stand divided
back to its
younger flirtatious
flowering kind


I missed the last south bound bus. Just one more thing she wanted me to do. I wanted to scream at her to let me go, let me leave. But I am afraid, I am afraid of everything. She came to me at the last minute because she knows that I have no life outside of these four walls. Why would I stay at my desk on a Friday night? I did not want to go home to face the dingy walls of an empty apartment that smelled like second hand smoke. I am scared to face myself at home, a loner having a one way conversation about how someday when I win a lottery everything will change. Being alone and time to myself I have plenty of and I am just ready to trade it all for a black and white television , some bad sitcoms and car commercials only if I can get receptions.

On my third time around a dark city block, buying time, waiting for a miracle. Maybe a dark skin girl will stop to offer me a ride and somehow she knows from the way I shuffle down the street that I am waiting for my chance at saving the world with her in it. Aren’t we all miracles? I have all the time to think and dream, because that all I have. My thinking will only get me back to my thoughts where I left off soon after I forget what I am to do. I have to get home. No, I do not want to go home. My apartment stinks. No, I will walk. Walking is good it will give me time to… no I do not want to think. I want a miracle.

Cars passed, boys yelling. An empty can hit me squarely in the back of my head. I hope you fuckers go out in a flaming wreck, and if I come upon your wreck. I will personally pull you out of that burning vehicle and stomp on your faces then I will pee in your mouths as you gasp for air. I imagined many other more violent ends to wish upon those sons of bitches who yelled out their car windows. Yelling at people to scare the shit out of them how is that fun?

I shuffle onward staring at my feet. A car pulls up quietly besides me. I jump and cover my head. How long has it been following me? An older woman looks up, smiles and asks if I needed help. She saw the can bounced of my head and double back to see if I was alright. I waved her on.

“Leave me alone lady.”

Now, I know there are coincidences and then there are coincidences. She is older but she does have darker skin. It was her smile. A slight crook of a very happy person’s smile , half hidden as if she is ashamed of a smile that is not perfect. I like her.

I get in beside her and apologize for my foul mood and mention that she is already making my evening better. She warns me about the dangers especially in these parts. She smells nice. I am suddenly conscious of how I present myself.

“It is dangerous to pick up a stranger.” I said.

She smiles.

I blurt out “how do you…?”

A thought tells me I am not a stranger to her surprises me. Now I am scared.

“You are a loner with time to think and talk to yourself. I know I am one too.” She assures me.

“Maybe we have met each other already in another time” she adds. I look to see where the door latch is in case I have to cut our conversation short by way of diving for the pavement.

She senses my discomfort and smiles. Everything is fine. I am all good now. I like her smile.

“I know who you are and I am here to help you. Who I am is not important as long as you get your wishes.”

If I can imagine it then I can do it, she is probably lonely and needs some company. I can do her.

“So you stalked me.” I smile wide, proud of myself and looking forward to our evening together.

“You can believe that. You are not so bad looking. You just have to work on your mood and attitude.”

“Oh yeah thanks mom…” Strange, she looks younger now and a little hurt.

“You are not attracted to me?”

“Now I am.”

The city came into view spreading out before us as we round a turn.

“I am Dillon.”


Her hand is soft. She gives my hand a firm squeeze and holds on to it a little longer. Yes, it is definitely on, I thought. I am getting a more excited.

“Dillon, if you are granted a wish what would you wished for?”

“Like Aladdin?”

“Like Aladdin.”

“I would wish for more wishes.” I am no fool. Aladdin was stupid not to ask for more wishes.

“Somehow, I know you were going to say that” she smiled brightly, getting even younger by the minute. Her skin is silky and smooth.

“What would you give me for those wishes?” she asked.

She must try to build me up for something. Who does she think she is?

“You can have my crummy job and apartment.” I said, feeling smug and witty.

“Those seem hardly worth while, unless you want me to be just as miserable as you are.”

“What? You want my soul?” I laughed out loud, coughing, catching my breath.

She laughs for the first time, a clear girl like laughter. I am turned on now. I may have to jump her while she is driving.

She stares straight ahead, smiling slightly.

“Do you have a soul?”

“I do not believe in a soul. I have awareness. No Christian soul for damn sure. Even if I have one, it is probably isn’t worth much. Look at the way I look, look at my life, look at my … Do you want to see my apartment?”

“Slow down cowboy, I am no school girl”

I swear she looks in her twenties now, only her eyes are wiser.

“I would give my soul to save the world. Seriously, I thought about it a great deal. If I meet the Devil, I would suggest that straight off to him. ”

Bella turns, looks straight in my eyes and smiles that crooked smile of hers. Her smile says I am her hero. Her eyes are soft and adoring.

“You are right. Your soul is not worth it to me.”