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Friday, May 29, 2015



On the southern edge of San Jose's new and very beautiful city hall, there's a small homeless encampment. I approached this woman who turned out to be Maria. Since she could speak only a few words of English, we had to communicate in Spanish.

"I don't speak English."

Grinning stupidly, I asked, "You, Mexico?"

"No, Nicaragua!"

"Ah, how long? This country?" My pidgin confused her. I pressed, "This country. Five years?"

"No, no. Thirty-two years! And I'm a citizen."

"How come no English? Work?"

"Yes, I worked, worked and worked. I never learnt English."

Grinning stupidly, I asked, "Relatives here?"


"Ah, no help you?"

She looked confused. "I'm happy. I need nothing."


"Yes, I'm happy, and serene. I come here to sit. No one bothers me."

"Ah, you don't return to Nicaragua?"


"Relatives in Nicaragua?"

"Yes, and I have two houses in Nicaragua."

"Two houses! Here, you nothing!"

"No, no, I'm not homeless," and she took out her ID card to show me her street address. "I live on William Street with my son. I live near here."

"This," I pointed to the shopping cart. "Not you?"

"No, no!"

It turned out that Maria just likes to sit there every day. It's one of her spots. Since she did have a baby carriage with all kinds of stuff on it, you'd probably think she was homeless too. Seventy-years-old, Maria's in good health. Sensibly, she said she'd rather sit outside among people than at home in front of the television.

"No one bothers you?"



"No. They speak English, so I cannot talk with them, but no one bothers me."

With animation, Maria told me about the new canal being built in her native country by the Chinese. There are lots of Chinese there, engineers and workers, and Chinese restaurants are popping up all over, she said. She thinks this enormous project is a good development, and she's not worrying about the huge displacement of people or environmental impacts. It will be completed in five years, she said.


1 comment:

Ian Keenan said...

I am against the canal, but going through the river on the Costa Rican border rather than through the jungle may have damaged a more diverse ecosystem, and fortunately Costa Rica would have tried to stall it any way they could. What is being traversed E of Lake Nicaragua is perceived by few other than the indigenous people and the jaguars, and tribal leaders are appealing to international organizations which are ineffective at assuring indigenous land rights in pro-US places like Colombia.


About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.