“Saigon to Saskatchewan” by Maxwell Tran3 min read

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The organizer said, “Okay,

everyone gather at this place

at this timepretend

it’s a birthday party. Then head over

to the creek when it turns dark;

there will be a small boat

to take you to the Big Boat

waiting by the coast.”


That’s how it worked.


And that’s how I ended up in prison

about 100 kilometers from Saigon.


I remember being barefoot

when I got out. All I was wearing

was a shirt and a pair of shorts.

I was given spare cash–enough

to take a cargo truck to Saigon.

The driver knew.


Because I was barefoot

and jumping on his cargo truck.


He knew I was coming from the prison.



The Difference a Month can Make


sunset comes, and with it

the mugginess of summer

nights in Saigon

–and the mosquitoes!

when you can no longer

see the sun, you can no longer

see the hundreds of tiny blood-sucking vampires

gnawing at sweet-scented skin.

nets can only do so much.

the only solace is before sleep

when a splash of water

offers some icy comfort.



i stick out my tongue

curling the pink fleshy mass

around an ice crystal

–an ice crystal!

crystallized hope

descended from the sky

like a bird,

like the plane I arrived on;

but no, this

is an honest to god


i hear mutters, complaints:

It’s snowing again.

snow in september? well,

i quite like it, i think

to myself, refreshing

my tongue (and soul) with

another splash of ice.

i could get used to this, i say

curling my tongue

around the name


my new home.



Strangers, again


The second hand on the grandfather clock

rotates, moves, ticks

on. and on. and on;

providing a rhythmic backdrop

for a casual conversation

between my father and I.


We talk…

…and talk

about childhood, growing up,

family, friends,

having pets, not having pets,

school, dreams, letting go of



We talk casually, because my dad

–he’s a casual person, he has a beer

now and then with dinner.

He has never worn a tie to work,

because why?

He wears socks in the house

and sometimes–if he feels like it–

he goes barefoot.

I know this about him.


Casually, my dad mentions

that he served time in prison

–six months.

Casually, he explains

that he was caught while trying

to escape a communist regime.


He was on a boat

and he jumped

overboard, but the patrols

–they had training dogs,

and dogs have a very acute

sense of smell, my dad elaborates,

eyeing the grandfather clock,

avoiding my eyes. Casually.


I stare at the man in front of me,

54 years old. Maybe it’s the light,

but the wrinkles on his face

seem more defined than before;

his movements are tired, they tick

like a grandfather clock.


My dad was in jail.

–I did not know this about him.

And for the first time since I

was born and my dad

picked me up, we are suddenly




Maxwell Tran is a 22-year-old writer and storyteller. He often finds inspiration from the experiences of his parents, both Vietnamese refugees, and his own experiences as a first-generation Viet-Canadian. Max’s poetry and prose have previously appeared in the Claremont Review and Toronto Prose Mill. He also attends medical school at the University of Toronto, where he has the privilege of witnessing human stories unfold everyday.


1 comment

Aileen Tran Mapletoft 31 July, 2018 - 11:02 pm

Sharply poignant. Gets me in the feels.


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