Poetry from Thailand

Original poetry written in and about rural Thailand.

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Location: Chong Khae, Nakhonsawan, Thailand

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Po Tree

The Po tree is not one but many trees
whose roots and trunks twine together
and give support to the group as a whole.
These trees are the symbol of strength
for the Thais and most wats have a Po tree
usually belted with a sacred, yellow, ribbon.
The Po is as big as an elm, if not bigger,
and its high canopy  provides shade for
a large area, maybe two tennis court’s worth.

It’s the day my wife, her mother and several
fiends bring food to a sort of lawn party
for this wat, which itself looks as if it is on
life support compared to nearby prosperous wats.
This giving food is all done to bring good luck,
which to a Christian sounds pagan and crass.
On the other hand the withering body
of Christ’s passion on the cross evokes
wonder in Thais at such an overt depiction of
violence in a religious context.  Religion is never
an insult, but to gentle Thai sensibilities more
accustomed to images of serene Lord Buddha or
the graceful Apsarasa, crucifixion seems unworthy
of depiction.

Under the Po tree around two o’clock a Bod Pat
cart begins to announce its presence to Lord Buddha
with outrageously loud music. The cart holds truck
batteries for amps which power guitars, keyboards,
mikes and enormous speakers.  A small crowd
of middle-aged women begin dancing
            – unapologetically –
and leading the group slowly around the Po tree.
There are two men.  A tall slim man who dances
in little mincing steps and looks like a field goal
judge with his arms straight up.  His hands take wing,
though, in graceful little flapping gestures.  The other
man zips backward, crouching like a figure skater
cutting out groups of females as he is about to leap
into some impossible jump. Most are drunk of course
but in a Thai wat the sacred, the profane, the childish,
the senile, the misbegotten, and the traveler all
mesh and intertwine and hold the human condition.

I’m sitting in a plastic chair.  My wife is standing
behind massaging my shoulders. She can feel the tension
in my body, but how can I explain that the cart
which has just appeared in front of me circling the
Po tree is the same size of the hand pumpers of
the fireman’s muster of my youth. I can’t.
In equal parts of joy and loss, and after
all I these years and worlds away I am weeping,
and I can’t explain this either. 

FG 12 05 2013

Oddly enough, I've recently seen a photo of the D. A. Taggart on the We Grew Up In Goffstown (NH) website

Apsarasa is the girl bringing water – you see her all over Asia. 


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