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Poetry and Medicine
March 5, 2003

Dreaming Vietnam

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2003;289(9):1080. doi:10.1001/jama.289.9.1080

for Jean-Pierre

You were dreaming Vietnam when I came into your room.
All rice paddies and ca phe phin and rose,
you were gill and torn
freshwater fish, and you wanted that girl from outside Hanoi.
You were dreaming Vietnam,
a place where grief swam through you like cod through the Mekong
treacherous and warm.
In the clinics today a man with a five-chambered heart.
He was from El Salvador and his wife wanted to know if that's why he
hit her
there was ventricle, atria, and a hole where the blood swam through
and around,
salmon dodging net or brine.
In your room there was a Doisneau photograph that I had as a child
in the bedroom
there was a book of Stevens I had never seen before
a lens from an old microscope.
Aware of my presence as a stranger while you sat at your desk looking at
landscapes I imagined the Red River delta, or Hoi An.
I touched your books, each shelf, the dishes in the sink.
This is not that river delta, not the tasting of three-seed cherry and water apple
on the tongue
not the bleeding of that man's heart
its inflamed channels and muscle spilling out into the cavity of his chest
making its own red river, pulsing.
And this is not you and I, together in that river town clearing fish from net,
swimming upstream and feeling the pull of the current in the North.
Only the longing.