Poetry from Thailand

Original poetry written in and about rural Thailand.

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Location: Chong Khae, Nakhonsawan, Thailand

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Past Perfect

To realize that you have lived more years than
the years given to your father is an eerie feeling.
It ushers in a time when your mind starts short-
circuiting and memories that never belonged
together now seem to fit.

All his life, my father lived in one town, worked
one job, but I have moved around a lot, and had
many jobs.  For the past twenty years I haven’t
even lived in the hemisphere of my birth.

Today, I’m teaching English to a Thai college girl
who comes back from Bangkok on the weekend and
to a young man who is in the army and, I’m guessing,
is her boyfriend. 

In Sri Lanka, on the corniche in Colombo, couples
use to sit for hours on the back walls in front of the
wide esplanade, looking out to sea while total strangers
walked by. They didn’t neck or even touch, they just
sat together. It was a formal announcement, something
like a picture in a newspaper of their intent to marry. 
I wonder if I’m not seeing the same scene here
with these two.

We are working on the past perfect and as an example
I say, “By 1962 my school had installed a Coke machine.”
I don’t think they understand Coke machine. 

I want to say:
It was larger than a refrigerator, stood in a hallway
near the gym. It faced a wall beyond which was
a room that had a giant slide rule over the blackboard. 
Inside were crude plastic hoses and electrical relays
the size of your fist, for god’s sake. Understand that
this was seven years before man walked on the moon.
It was the newest thing in the school building, and 
after basketball practice it stood humming in the dark
hallway like a sentry, like a mute parent,  with an eerie
glow from its plastic faceplate, while I huffed by
wrung-out and sweating down to the locker room.
And this was years before my father died.

But instead I say:

A vending machine for Coke-a-Cola.  I write
It and she looks in her pocket dictionary,
for v-e-n-d-i-n-g, he types it in on his smart phone.
She gets it first and shows him.

But I’ve lost my train of thought.

The moon rises, clouds sweep by,
the north wind blows the stars around.
I wait while the plasticity of my mind morphs
the image my father, who was barely 5’ 5”
into a brooding, silent, vending machine.

The two don’t know what to make of my
silence.  Finally I say, “And this is the past
perfect using the verb to have.”

FG 9/14/2013