Saigon Hands

I took a shortcut on a moonless Saigon night, long after curfew,
to elude MPs who would arrest me and cuff my hands.

I smiled remembering the prostitute I was with, the sweet
smell of her skin, and how she told me I had nice hands.

Refugees sleeping on the street rose like zombies begging
for food or money crying G.I.! G.I.! with outstretched hands.

I lived Catherine Deneuve's nightmare corridor walk in Repulsion
by Roman Polanski when out of the walls came reaching hands.

No faces, no bodies, just animated brown gloves on a green
screen, floating in the air with a mind of their own. Living hands.

I shouted at them to Back off! Get away from me! No! I made
my way through by pushing and punching with my hands.

I still told myself later, I had no choice. What else could I have done?
Yet I remain unconvinced and still hear voices from those hands.

I take a pill each evening when I go to bed to clear my head.
But all the thoughts come back at night, especially those hands.


Jimmy Pappas served for the Air Force in Saigon from 1969 to 1970 as an English language instructor for South Vietnamese soldiers preparing to fly with American helicopter pilots. After his service, Jimmy received a Master's degree in English literature from Rivier University. He is a retired teacher whose poems have been published in several journals, including Atticus Review, Misfit Magazine, Kentucky Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Off the Coast, Boston Literary Magazine, and War, Literature and the Arts. He was a recent winner of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire's national contest. He is completing his first book of poetry based on his wartime experiences and those of fellow veterans who have shared their stories with him.