Michael Philips


No Hands Restaurant, Hanoi - Poem by Michael Philips

You were not fishing for hookers, more like killing
minutes in the time capsule, chatting with the hotel
manager, tilting in towards you as if cargo had shifted,
his European head and fat hands and eyes that drooped
to the lobby floor, novocain eyebrows cemented to his
forehead like a novelty gag, never to be raised

because nothing was a surprise anymore. Instead, his
mouth formed a smirk as slight as they come, and he
mentioned the No Hands Restaurant, first asking if
you’d heard of it. A whiff of illicit sex pistons through
your veins. You said no, but became that eleven year
old boy standing at the teacher’s side as she red-
penciled your composition and you gazed at those legs
under her desk, and you inhaled the pungent smell of
adventure, while her lips formed a stream of consonants
and vowels, and her voice could not escape the gravity
of Pluto.

The hotel manager whispered the women at the No
Hands Restaurant feed their guest, place food in his
mouth while his hands are free to go elsewhere. You
imagined elsewhere and you imagined strangers feeding
you, operating on your face with chopsticks and
napkins. Had anyone fed you since you were little? Not
just a pre-meal taste from the pan, but actually
monitored your chewing and swallowing like a mother
robin, ready with the next bite?

Certainly not while you were caressing two Asian
beauties you didn’t know and did not want to know
their life story and their kids with sores and animal
pangs and condensate of filth on cement walls, sitting
amid the stench of car fumes, cigarettes, and pho,
waiting for their mothers to return from work.

You wanted only to caress them and feel the finest
embroidered silk of their hair fall like velour love notes
on your bare chest. No, you did want to know them but
you wanted to know them from your erotic Asian comic
book. You wanted them to love feeding you and adore
your caress, like a gift from heaven, as you unlocked
the secret box under their beds and made the façade of
phony sighs and fake orgasms give way to true desire.
You would be their Moses, leading them from bondage,
and still they would continue to feed you, only now out
of madness, and their hands would arouse the desires
even a savior has.

But abruptly the heavy drapes open to reveal a harsh
white glare rolling through the streets like giant
pinballs, and it becomes impossible to chew and caress
at the same time, because one distracts from the other,
and they start to cancel each other out. You had filled in
two answers on the standardized test - are you hungry
or are you hungry? And it was a standoff and you
wondered why you hadn’t thought of such interference
from the start, and you wondered who the hell would
invent such a place, because

who really wants to eat with no hands? Who wants to
awkwardly fondle breasts and vaginas while they’re
having their face stuffed? And in that moment, all the
mysteries of Asia, all the lotus gardens, all the dragons
and mist-shrouded mountains and demure eyes behind
fans, vanished like roaches surprised by the kitchen
light. In that moment you felt like the guy who uses a
discount coupon and then finds he could have gotten
the same deal without the coupon, and even if he’s had
it with Stanley & Livingston fantasies and wants to
hang up his pith helmet, even if he never actually
ventured beyond caresses, there is still the matter of the
bill.


Comments about No Hands Restaurant, Hanoi by Michael Philips

  • (11/30/2005 2:09:00 AM)


    i'm in awe. that's it. just awe. i'll get back to you with more...

    Jake
    (Report) Reply

    0 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • (11/28/2005 6:06:00 PM)


    This reads like Coming of Age in Hanoi...and the sensual images that at last 'vanish like roaches surprised by the kitchen light' are fantasy gone wild, then gone back to the underworld where they belong. The writing here moves slowly through the scene, feeding the reader with those chopsticks, allowing the reader to feel the sensuous scene, see the bizarre offerings, and at last see them with new eyes knowing no good thing could come out of this. Without ever condemning the girls for hire, the poet shows the action or what it was: i.e. phony sighs and fake orgasms, a dream at best, a nightmare at worst. What a poem! (Report) Reply

  • (11/28/2005 10:23:00 AM)


    you do a good job here in deconstructing a lot of phony orientalism that has crept into western consciousness since pound, lines such as 'condensate of filth on cement walls, sitting / amid the stench of car fumes, cigarettes' and 'vanished like roaches surprised by the kitchen / light'. you're never afraid to write a poem that raises ethical/cultural/economic undercurrents and do so in a fashion that negates easy answers or often even the necessity of an answer at all. favourite lines in the poem: 'Who wants to / awkwardly fondle breasts and vaginas while they’re / having their face stuffed? ' (Report) Reply

  • (11/28/2005 10:03:00 AM)


    Michael...this is one of the best poems I've read in awhile here. Each stanza is full of wonderful, fresh imagery. It is very rich and I enjoyed the second read more than the first. It is long, but I think it justifies its length. If this were my poem, however, I would try to work the last line, the end, into a larger idea spinning off the 'no hands' image; the bill always comes at the end, so it is a convenient way to end, but maybe not the best. Having read this, I feel gratified. I've had a full glass. (Report) Reply

  • (11/28/2005 6:59:00 AM)


    A joyous romp with serious underpinning - could we ask for anything better? ! I enjoy the way it changes gear from stanza to stanza.

    I'm still one standing by teacher's desk learning about free verse, but I do question the enjambment, which sometimes I think could be more anticipatory and also smoother... but that barely detracts from the fun and not-so-fun!

    I hope there really is more to come.. just say a poetic novel length...

    I've given up rating... but OK, where's the 11 button?
    (Report) Reply

Read all 5 comments »



Read this poem in other languages

This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.

I would like to translate this poem »

word flags

What do you think this poem is about?



Poem Submitted: Monday, November 28, 2005

Poem Edited: Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Famous Poems

  1. Still I Rise
    Maya Angelou
  2. The Road Not Taken
    Robert Frost
  3. If You Forget Me
    Pablo Neruda
  4. Dreams
    Langston Hughes
  5. Annabel Lee
    Edgar Allan Poe
  6. Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
    Robert Frost
  7. If
    Rudyard Kipling
  8. Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
    Mary Elizabeth Frye
  9. I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You
    Pablo Neruda
  10. Television
    Roald Dahl
[Report Error]