Jimmy Pappas

Saigon Tears

Tear gas drove my friend and me
into an isolated area of Saigon.

We passed through gates
where South Vietnamese
guards urged caution.

Half blinded by the fumes,
we sought refuge in a small hotel
where we washed out our eyes.

Long past curfew,
we decided to stay for the night.

A man came into our room
with a line of young women
and asked us each to pick one.

Their eyes looked down.
The weight of countless men
fucking them like killing chickens
had turned them into things.

Laughing that he
beat me to her,
my friend made his choice
of the prettiest one.
His loud groans would end
in an even louder sleep.

I made my choice
of the saddest one.
My quiet voice would
be a pathetic attempt
to soothe her pain.

I wanted her life to end
with me holding her.
I wanted to take her away
before the man came back
for her the next morning.
I wanted to free her from this life
that stole her humanity.

I cradled her in my arms
to protect her from
the rampaging engine
of suffering roaring
down at her,
while my tears
dripped down her back
like holy water
spilled over an altar
to a godless world.


Jimmy Pappas served in Vietnam during the war training South Vietnamese soldiers by teaching them English so they could work with American helicopter pilots. He retired from teaching at Somersworth High School in New Hampshire where he created the greatest accomplishment of his life: a popular philosophy class.  Jimmy Pappas won the Rattle Chapbook Contest with Falling off the Empire State Building, won the Rattle Readers Choice Award for “Bobby’s Story,” and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Rattle for “The Gray Man.” He now moderates a weekly themed Zoom event called “A Conversation with Jimmy and Friends” that encourages audience participation.

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