A Tennis Racquet from Vietnam

For two summers in the late 1970s, I played tennis every week with a much older player named Van Nguyen–a refugee from Vietnam who played with his shirt off and had the exact same body as the man in the picture above. He was a devilishly good tennis player who never missed and moved the ball all over the court. We fought for hours in long three set matches in the California sun. I always hugged his sweaty body afterwards. No idea if he’s still alive. No idea where he is now.

Lucky to be born too late for the war, My Vietnam story’s much different than his:

Toy Store, ‘75

One tank wandered
the entire store.

It kept getting lost
like that Japanese soldier
on Okinawa
who believed the war
was still on.

It remained in hiding
until row after row
of GI Joes
might return to salute
its service.

It was small enough
to fit in your palm.
We would wind it up,
listen to it purr,
toss it back and forth
like a hand grenade.

Not a single customer
asked for soldiers.
Not a single customer
seemed to care.
So we followed suit,
and forgot to register
for the draft that year.

This poem first published in War Stories.

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Image from Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm on SONGNGUTAITRAM

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