Author Archives: Linh Dinh

A young Frenchman reflects

I gave a reading, slide talk in Leipzig. You can’t count on too many people coming to such an event. It is said that a favorite line at any poetry reading is, “And this is my last poem.” Around 40 people actually showed up, however, with some even having to sit on the floor. They were students, academics, American expats and at least one man who had seen me on Iran’s Press TV. Filmmaker Elisa Kotmair came down from Berlin. Continue reading

Prized Singapore

Recently, I flew to Singapore to participate in its Writers’ Festival. The Lufthansa captain bade us goodbye, “We wish you a successful stay in Singapore.” Continue reading

Germany against itself

Though American dissidents are often branded as “anti-American,” many if not most see themselves as opposed only to their government, not their nation or people. At the Occupy camps, for example, the American flag flew freely. Continue reading

Flagless Germany

October 3 was the anniversary of the Reunification of Germany. Having arrived in Leipzig just days earlier, I decided to take a long walk with my friend Olliver Wichmann. Though we covered nearly 20 miles that day, we saw no national flag on display, only an East German one in Grünau, a neighborhood of huge, Communist-era apartment blocks. Continue reading

Pope Francis in Philadelphia

A pope zone cut Philly in two. Hundreds of soldiers poured in. Throughout downtown and Old City, they manned every intersection, including alleys. Since 9/11, Americans have been conditioned to see soldiers in battle fatigues on their sidewalks, but this is unprecedented for peacetime Philadelphia. At least these troops were not armed. Only the cops were. Concrete barriers, heavy steel fences and security check points hindered both car and foot traffics. Hearing movie-acclimated blades rotating overhead, citizens looked up to gawk at choppers. Pope Francis would not arrive until the next day. Continue reading

Our refugee future

During the current refugee crisis in Europe, it is said that there are many imposters among genuine refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen, all countries, incidentally, that America and its allies have destroyed. Too many of them are men, it is pointed out, and they’re generally not dressed badly enough. Many have smart phones. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Silicon Valley

Decades ago, I’d show up weekly to clean the Philadelphia apartment of a California transplant. Daughter of a Hollywood executive, Jacqueline confessed she had to escape California because “California women are too beautiful.” To save her self-esteem, she had to flee to Philadelphia. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Champ Ali in Camden, New Jersey

Going from Philly to Camden, I take a train across the Ben Franklin Bridge, then get off at Broadway. In 1969 and 1971, fire bombs were thrown, shop windows smashed and businesses burnt and looted all around this area. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Don Hensley in Huntingburg, Indiana

I’ve prowled around Gary, relaxed in New Harmony and explored downtown Indianapolis after midnight. There is a bronze statue of John Wooden. Kneeling and suited, the basketball coach is surrounded by five young pairs of male legs, their bodies disappearing above the pelvis. It is very creepy and gay. One of these days, I must barge into the dismal looking Whistle Stop, just across the street from Indianapolis’ Greyhound station. I need to see more of Indiana, that’s for sure. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Woodbury, NJ

The first recorded race riot in Camden, NJ, occurred on September 12, 1864.—The Philadelphia Inquirer: “A riot, which threatened serious consequences, took place on Friday night in South Camden [ . . . ] In an ale house on Spruce-street, a party of men were drinking in the early part of the evening, when some colored men came in and called for drinks. The white men raised objection against the negroes being allowed to drink at the same bar with them, and a fight followed. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Jack’s Famous Bar in Philadelphia

I’ve depicted Jack’s in a Kensington Postcard, two poems and even a Vietnamese article. In business since the end of Prohibition, Jack’s is the last bastion of a Kensington that existed before all the factories moved out and the heroin came in. Old timers on a shrunken budget can mosey in to get buzzed for under five bucks. Though a pitcher of Yuengling is only $3.75, I once saw a woman sit for at least an hour drinking nothing. She just lifted an empty mug to her lips every few minutes. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Ashley, Pennsylvania

It doesn’t get any better than this. Luxuriating in Dunkin’ Donuts, Chuck Orloski and I each have our own cup of coffee and, yes, our individual donut. Shrewd, I have ordered one without a hole since you get more donut for your bucks that way. Biting into a jelly filled, deep fried piece of dough, I, too, am fulfilled. Momentarily forgetting about his utility bills and the onrushing due date for next month’s rent, Chuck smiles goofily as he gazes into the half-filled parking lot. Across the street is a cemetery. Life is good. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Invited to give a reading at Dickinson College, I came to Carlisle, a town of 19,000 people 30 miles from Harrisburg. Arriving by train, I passed Amish country and saw plows being pulled by horses. On extremely long clotheslines, single-colored clothes fluttered in the wintry wind. Rising high and lithographed against the pale sky, they resembled subdued prayer flags. A white bearded man under a straw hat waved. Lancaster, Elizabethtown, Middletown. Had I sat on the opposite side, I would have been browbeaten by the looming nuclear reactors of Three Miles Island. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Washington, D.C.

For nearly four years, I lived just 20 miles from Washington, in Annandale, VA, and I worked in D.C. for 9 months. From my home in Philadelphia, I’ve also gone down to Washington at least a hundred times, so this metropolis should not be alien to me, and yet no American city is more off-putting, more unwelcoming, more impenetrable, and this, in spite of its obvious physical attractiveness, and here, I’m talking mostly about its Northwest quadrant, the only part visitors are familiar with, and where commuters from Virginia and Maryland arrive daily to work. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Center City, Philadelphia

Ah, to be in perfect health, good looking, with all the possibilities in the world spread out like an extravagant buffet, begging for your attention! Should I become a recording star, the next Obama (or Hillary) or precocious billionaire? Maybe I’ll marry a rich yet good looking one and see the world before I turn 22? Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Bridesburg, Philadelphia

Wait till you hear this one. So an Italian, a Pole and an Irish woman were sitting in a bar when a Vietnamese walked in. Continue reading

Escape from America

In the totalitarian state there are no rights only privileges

Lin Yutang wrote, “What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?” Born in Fujian, Lin also lived in the U.S., France, Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, where he’s buried. Whatever attachment Lin had to his childhood stews, fish balls, snails, clams and tofu, it didn’t prevent this remarkable author and inventor of the first Chinese typewriter from globetrotting to improve his mind then, finally, to save his own ass, as his favored Kuomintang and got routed by bad-assed Mao. Continue reading

Lonesome Yanks

I was sitting in the Friendly Lounge, one block from my Philly apartment. Next to me was a 59-year-old man, Robert. Seeing my wedding band, he confided, “You’re lucky to have somebody to go home to. I always had a lover, a boyfriend, but I haven’t had anybody in ten years. And it’s not the,” and he suddenly dipped his head down near my crotch, “but the support, you know. I can’t just go home and say to somebody, ‘Bitch, I love you!’” Continue reading

Talking to a Palestinian about Israel, American dissent, brainwashing and hijacked protests

In 1948, Israel had its strange birth, and the newborn was greeted immediately by soldiers from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as they tried to snuff out the monster in its crib. They failed spectacularly, and an ink-drawn Star of David flag was raised on the shore of the Red Sea. Screw you, Arabs! Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Passyunk Square, Philadelphia

Writing this piece, I didn’t have to get on any bus or train, but only walk five minutes to see Beth, someone I first met 28 years ago. Most lives are improbable, I know, but when I listen to Beth talk, I often find myself thinking, That can’t possibly be true, but her facts have always checked out, and her stories consistent, even on a retelling many years later. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Taylor, Pennsylvania

The sixteen-year-old’s consciousness was percussive with recorded music, as usual, when the train slammed into him, and it’s not clear, even now, if it was suicide or merely absentmindedness that killed this boy. (To have your inner life constantly stunted or suffocated is already a form of death, but had he lived, this incipient man may have eventually outgrown his three-chord addiction.) Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: New Orleans

This time, I got to New Orleans on a bus named Mega, and it also dropped me off at Elysian Fields. In Nola, there’s a street called Arts, so of course there has to be one named Desire, and Tennessee Williams clearly saw the two as intertwined, thrusting and plunging their bodies against each other. Of course, death will interrupt this coupling not just finally but every step of the way. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Osceola, Iowa

The American presidential election is a drawn out, byzantine process that involves precinct meetings, regional caucuses, state primaries and national conventions, all to give citizens the impression that their participation matters, for in the end, the lying buffoon who gets to stride into the White House has long been vetted and preselected by the banks, death merchants and brainwashing media that run our infernally corrupt and murderous country. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Jackson, Mississippi

Riding the train from Chicago to New Orleans, I impulsively got off in Jackson, Mississippi. I had never thought about visiting Jackson, never even saw a photo of it, so I had no idea what I’d encounter. In the train’s lounge car, however, a boisterous game of dominoes, with much laughter and trash talking, already told me I was in the Deep South, and the towns glimpsed along the way, Tchula, Eden, Bentonia, spoke of a quietly dignified world that’s also besieged and crumbling. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Wisconsin

Before we start, I must admit that I didn’t set foot in Wisconsin this time, but only saw it from the train as I crossed it going West, then East. (I had been to Madison and Milwaukee before.) This, then, is really a train postcard, but the long distance train is a community in itself. In fact, Americans seldom have such thorough conversations as when they’re trapped on a long distance train. If only more of us could be confined that way, we would relate to each other a whole lot better, but such a wish also conjures up citizens being packed into boxcars as they’re sent to hard labor, or much worse. How many Americans will cross this country without seeing any of it? Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Portland, Oregon

Our train was hugging the Columbia River. Sitting in the lounge car, a father looked at that huge, snaking ribbon of silvery water and said to his young son, “I’m just jonesing to go fishing. That’s the first thing we’re going to do when we get home!” Then, “That Colts shirt really looks great on you, Jack!” Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Tri-Cities, Washington

Though this may sound like a joke, it’s certainly no joke, for I’m not a joking type: When I came to the US in 1975, the very first American song I learnt was “Old McDonald Had a Farm.” Though I could not properly pronounce any of the words, and understood only half of them, at most, I sang along with all the other kids in Miss Dogen’s class at McKinley Elementary in Tacoma, Washington. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Wolf Point, Montana

It always amazes me how many people get on a train just to play cards, for outside their windows, a most amazing world is constantly unfurling. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Southwest Desert, Northern Plains, Cascades or Rocky Mountains, they don’t look up from their miserably dealt hands to notice that Eden is just a glass barrier away, but that’s how it is with the uber domesticated. They prefer a shrunken, airless civilization, as contained in 52 puny pieces of laminated cardboard, to the unscripted richness they’re entitled to at all times. Although it’s free, they don’t take it. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Williston, North Dakota

Oil made this America-dominated, futuristic world and with its increasing scarcity, will unravel it. Most pampered yet most disappointed, we’re living in the age of peak oil, water, gold, copper, wheat, rice, cabbage, porn, greed and banking shenanigans, etc., for with more mouths than ever going after a shrinking donut hole, the ugliness is just getting started, and let us not forget, this age of oil has also been an era of mass carnage, a century of resource wars that have wiped out hundreds of millions, but for the survivors, us grubby schmucks, what a cool ride, eh? Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Levittown, Pennsylvania

In 1947, the first Levittown was built in New York State, then in 1952, an even bigger one was erected in Pennsylvania. Marketed as “THE MOST PERFECTLY PLANNED COMMUNITY IN AMERICA,” Levittown was the prototypical American suburb. For only $10,990, or $100 down then $67 a month, you could own three bedrooms, two bathrooms, front lawn, back yard and garage, plus access to five Olympic-sized pools, with free swimming and diving lessons thrown in. Most soothingly, you no longer had to deal with strangers above, below or abutting you, or dark skinned neighbors who may alarm or irk you as you went about your white routines. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Manhattan

Getting off the Greyhound bus at the Port Authority Terminal, I immediately saw a man in his mid-50s digging through a garbage can. With his right hand, he held a plastic tray on which were placed whatever edible scraps he could find. Lickable flecks clung to his ample brown beard. Chewing while scavenging, he was quite leisurely with his task and no one among the many people sitting or standing nearby paid him any attention. Done with one trash can, he moved to the next, and since there were so many in this huge building, I imagined his daily buffet to be quite ample and varied. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Bensalem, Pennsylvania

When I told my friend, Anwar, of my plan to traverse Bensalem by foot, he laughed, “You can’t even walk there. There are no sidewalks!” Though this is not quite true, I did find myself mostly schlepping on edges of roads or people’s lawns. To not get splattered by SUVs, sometimes I had to hop puddles or even step in mud. Continue reading