How to Cross a Street in Saigon by Tina Hacker

vietnam tero hakala licensed

How to Cross a Street in Saigon
by Tina Hacker

Streets, sidewalks,
hotel courtyards,
storefront verandas,
grassy swaths of park,
any unoccupied spaces
become stages
for vehicles.

Walk in a straight line,
avoid swerving or stopping.
Maintain an even tempo,
a ballerina dancing
to a baroque fugue,
exact steps from one
side to the other.

Seven million motorcycles
perform with the agility
of primas. Their turns
and changing cadences
mime twists and spins
as they miss you

by an inch.

The corps de ballet
of taxis, tuk tuks,
bicycles and rickshaws
execute practiced movements
to avoid hitting you
if your course is predictable.

Always stop
for trucks or buses.
Their roles, while vital,
ring gongs of danger.
If they could brake
with the strength of water,
turn with the speed of wind,

they would still hit you.
traffic signals.
Signs and lights.
The local population
sees them as annoying
intrusions on their routines.

You are never a target,
simply part of the dance
of progress.

Previously published in Lost River Review, 2016.

PHOTO: Traffic and pedestrians in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam. Photo by Tero Hakala, used by permission.

NOTE: Ho Chi Minh City, also commonly referred to as Saigon, is the largest city of Vietnam, with a population of over 8.9 million within city proper and over 21 million within the metropolitan area. Located in southeastern Vietnam, the city surrounds the Saigon River and covers about 796 square miles. Colonized by France and Spain in 1859, and ceded to France by the 1862 Treaty of Saigon, the city was influenced by the French during their colonization of Vietnam. South Vietnam achieved independence from France in 1955. The conflict between the Communist North and Democratic South began in late 1955 and raged for 20 years. Saigon was the capital of South Vietnam until the end of the Vietnam War with the North Vietnamese victory in 1975. In 1976, the government of a unified Vietnam renamed Saigon to its current official name in honor of the communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When the tour guide told us how to “cross the street,” he received a tour-load of skeptical stares. But this poem shows how we crossed many streets, and resisted the impulse to close our eyes—anything to block out the countless vehicles that raced past us. I used Saigon instead of Ho Chi Minh City because all the guides and people we met used that term unless they thought someone from the government might be listening.

Tina in Saigon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tina Hacker, a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, was a finalist in New Letters and George F. Wedge competitions. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, both online and in print, including the Whirlybird Anthology of Kansas City Writers, San Pedro River Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, I-70 Review, The Fib Review, and Quantum Fairy Tales.  She has a full-length poetry book, Listening to Night Whistles, and a chapbook, Cutting It.  Since 1976, she has edited poetry for Veterans’ Voices, a national magazine of writing by military veterans.

PHOTO: The author in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

2 thoughts on “How to Cross a Street in Saigon by Tina Hacker

  1. Having visited Saigon in November 2019 – you captured the experience perfectly! Terrifying – and our city guide gave us the same instructions, Thanks for the memories.


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