Smoking Opium in Tam Ky, by John Akins


Adrenalin floods linger long after combat.
The rush blends fear with thrill –
Grooving on the excitement, the challenge.
In the bush, recreation is nil.
Hookers and Philippine rock bands
thrive near base camps.

I stumble onto the cure in Tam Ky –
a frontier boom town in 1968.
The main drag is a dusty stretch of Highway One.
Up North, Marines called it “Street Without Joy.”
I ask a boy about tuc fin, marijuana.
He takes me to a house by the river.
Brown, twisted vines fence the yard.
I pause at the gate –
check for booby traps.

An old man leads me to a dim room.
In the shadows, he lights a candle,
trims the wick with scissors.
The flame must be the perfect size and shape.
The old man dips a broom stalk into some brown goo
and rolls it against the bowl of a pipe.
The cone-shaped plug of opium
must be the perfect size and shape.
The ritual gets me high.
I lay on my side as he guides the pipe above the flame –
gestures for me to pull long and deep.
A stream of dopamine gushes through my brain.
I ride an elevator to the 30th floor.
The trip is surreal, smooth and gentle.
I float on a cushion of bliss.

When I leave, an old woman struggles
with an empty 55-gallon barrel.
I hand her my M16 –
Happy to give her a hand.
The sun glistens on the Tam Ky River.
I tip the barrel on edge –
rolling it easy on soft dust.


John Akins served with the Marines in 1st Combined Action Group in ’68-’69. Visit his website to learn more about John’s poetry and prose.  On this site, read his account of smoking pot in Vietnam.