Bio Note: I'm a New Mexico poet; been published or accepted for publication by: The Wild Word, Shark Reef, Noctua Review, and others. I write in the thin air of the southern Rockies where I'm putting together a first manuscript.
Ko Lan Island She clears her throat. Wakes me. Brown plaid sarong and white blouse. The round field hat sits up on her head, backdrop to a weathered face. She’s paused as if just walking by, face turned this way. Where did she come from? I’m on the beach; no idea what time it is. The other boat in the cove is gone; Suphit’s is still canted on its side, anchor exposed in the white sand, waiting for the tide to return. Other boat must have belonged to the food hut where I had lunch. No one else on this little island. Turning toward me she sets her shoulder baskets and bamboo pole on the sand. Her face crinkles up to her eyes with her smile; no front teeth. Speaking slowly and loudly in Thai, she points to one of the baskets. Do I want to buy kanohm—a sweet rice desert? There’s nothing so universal as street food, but here? I sit up. Not hungry. Curious. How Much? Tauwrai Krahp. In the tradition of street vendors, she says special price for me because I speak Thai: five baht; holds up five fingers. Too much for a Thai to pay, but too low for a farang to bargain over. And it happens to be what’s in my pocket—my change from lunch. I nod. Tohklohng Krahp. It’s good manners to sit with your head level or below the head of the person you’re speaking with. She kneels on the sand, and from one basket, draws a wood block and a rusty hatchet; from the other a length of fire-singed bamboo. Three blows and it splits open. It’s stuffed with sticky rice sweetened with coconut milk, and a small purple berry. I pick it out with my fingers; tell her I like it. Worth the five baht. It’s a small island; she lingers to talk. You’ve not been here before, she says. Tells me she makes her kanohm in her son’s kitchen; roasts it in the bamboo on a fire outside. He lives in a village between Bang Saray and Rayong. She used to live in Pattaya, but too crowded now. Before I can ask how she got to this island, she begins telling me about her grandchildren. As she talks, palm shadows appear on the sand, slip toward the water. A slight breeze teases the cove. Her eyes follow mine to the anchor. It’s beginning to submerge. Abruptly, she thanks me, presses her palms together in her wai, and shouldering her baskets and adjusting the load, swings the pole around like a sail boom on a new tack. She resumes her course up the beach, arm moving with choppy strokes as she heels over against the strain, sarong skimming the sand, feet kicking up spray. Suphit appears by the anchor; gestures to me. Time to return to the mainland.
Chonburi Province Central Thailand In procession, thunderheads saffron in the going-home light, leave the silver thinning clouds on monsoon flooded fields. On my left, below the road, a white egret on one leg— right-side up on the mirror— separates sky and water. I move between two worlds: Where I work, people long for the plastic one they had to leave behind. ____________________________________ My skin prickles with too much salt and wind and sun. I’m leaving a Gulf weekend. I always hire Suphit and his aqua-painted fishing boat to take me among the islands where dark green foliage tumbles down to salt-crusted gray stone rising to it through high tide mark. There’s a place where purple starfish on the bottom slip beneath white sand as my shadow swims across. And when I tire, I go to a remote cove where a young couple has set up a palm leaf hut with low table and slab bench to serve roast red snapper on bamboo skewers, freshly steamed crab with yellow curry sauce, and cold Singha from the ice chest. And when the breeze stops, I nap on the slight give of warm sand in the shade of a young palm while I wait for the milky green tide to refloat the boat. Weekends have their own color. __________________________________ As I drive, the thunderheads—flat on the bottom like pieces on a glass chess board-— scud north toward Bangkok, leaning into the work ahead. Rain at home tonight. Soon the road will lift me where it crosses the Bang Pakong. I’ll get a glimpse of the Gulf water. Weekend light is leaving. Takes the color. Windshields on oncoming cars are dark. I switch on the headlights. __________________________________ Street’s dark when I return. As I latch my gate, the porch light shows the new orchid has a bloom.
Song of India
I’m playing London Symphony’s “Song of India,” as I did on my record player one evening fifty years ago while our apartment cooled in Bangkok’s hot season. I’d opened the doors for air. On the driveway, more than twenty large frogs gathered in a circle of yard light, bugs, and hot concrete. Little Yoko from flat #2 ran frog to frog in her squeaker shoes, but they kept one hop away. Palm trees spaced along our compound’s wall were lit like columns along the walls of a concert hall— disappearing into darkness at the rear where I’m listening: Song of the Indian Guest, gentle, haunting, and far away.
©2023 John Hicks
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