Poetry from Thailand

Original poetry written in and about rural Thailand.

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Location: Chong Khae, Nakhonsawan, Thailand

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Funeral Band

Dressed in white and black
like formal bartenders,
the seven-man funeral band
blares, bleats, thumps and pings
its way through an ageless dirge.

They sit around a seven foot
square table - made more
to sit upon than at - in the middle
of an open dirt space that serves
as driveway and grassless yard.

At 10 am the heat is building.

A PA microphone, dead-center
on the table, adds distortion to
the discordance . . . yet there
is a lumbering, imperial pace
of a Royal Siamese Chang
marching through this wretched
squalor to a place, still within the
Kingdom, but in another land.

FG Jan 29, 2012

All rights reserved by the author Forrest Greenwood.

Chang is the Thai word for elephant.

You can see a video at: http://youtu.be/qqJFl7X-fjs

Background information for the video:

In the video, it is not a coffin the men are struggling to move.  It is a refrigerator and the coffin, made out of something like cardboard, is inside.  The Thais wake the dead for a week or more.  Every day and night during this period, the monks come to offer prayers at the home in the morning and at night.  Of course, everyone who comes has to be fed which is a big expense for the family.  And, no, they don’t send out to Kentucky Fried for food.

The dead die at home (usually) without a doctor in attendance.  The old man in one of Chunky’s fashion hats in the video is 103.  He lives with us and works making baskets everyday.  It was his younger (97) sister who died.  She had been in a type of coma for ten years and, of course, taken care of at home. 

The actual cardboard coffin you can see being walked around the Wat crematorium on the cart.  They walk around in a counterclockwise direction (to turn back time, I guess, like Superman did in one movie).   When they have a Bod Pot (my transliteration) and a new monk goes into the Wat – and all young men here do – they walk in a clockwise direction.  Neat, no?

If you look carefully, you may be able to see the monk has a string tied to the refrigerator and later to the coffin.  It’s how he leads the parade.  When the monks pray at a funeral,  at some point all the monks – and there may be a dozen or more – are linked by string.  I take it that this is the high point of the service, but I always look for it as it comes near the end.  When, before the floods, the nine-story condo we lived in wanted a blessing of some kind, the staff had to run a piece of string around the entire building which was an all-day affair.

The cardboard coffins come in a few colors, red, gold, blue, green.  When Chunky gets mad at me she simply asks, “What color (do I want for the coffin)?  I say polka dot.

I assumed all this information was common knowledge, but . . .