Poetry from Thailand

Original poetry written in and about rural Thailand.

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Location: Chong Khae, Nakhonsawan, Thailand

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

In Columbia, SC

In Columbia, SC there is a monolith erected
to “The Last Editor Worth Shooting.”
In 1903 a State Newspaper editor
and southern sympathizers was shot in
broad daylight by a Union man.  The Union
man got off after the “Trial of the Century.”
This was forty years after the Civil War. 

When I moved my family to Columba
over 100 years after the same war for fear
that my kids might freeze to death for all
the open doors a forty-five year old man
could find in New Hampshire, I was confronted
by bumper stickers that said “We Don’t Care
How You Did IT Up North.”

Moving to SC was, I suppose a mistake,
but I did get to meet Katherine Gray, an
editor at The State, who besides being
fun to talk to tried to help, but to no avail.

Katherine got me a job teaching as an adjunct.
I loved the job, but after a couple of semesters
I realized that I couldn’t pay the rent, feed the kids,
of even afford gas to get to work.  When I hear
adjuncts with PhDs bitching about burger flipping
wages today, I can only say, been there, done that.

Without work, I began giving blood for twenty
dollars a visit.  When I got a hematoma that ran
from my wrist to my armpit, the chief nurse said
they couldn’t accept me anymore because the
phlebotomist said I smelled bad.  It was a
desperate time for me – one of the two times
in my life I considered suicide.

Neighbors on the cul-de-sac where we lived
stayed indoors, almost as if they were hiding.
There were plenty of shade trees, but they
just stayed inside as being seen in the open
was inappropriate in Columbia.  I took to
taking long walks, something I still do today.

Outside the football stadium in Columbia
 is a line of tony cabooses which serve as
alumni club houses during the games. 
It’s a clever idea but the red cars are stationary
and going nowhere.  They almost seem a metaphor. 
It’s time to move on, but no one locked in
by history, at the end of a murderous war,
seems to know how.

We are all complicated people, driven by
forces we cannot put a name to.  We savor
the irony in erecting a monument to the
last editor worth shooting.  Somewhere in the
world there’s probably a stone honoring the
last poet worth shooting, but not here.
Not in Columbia, SC.

FG           9/13/2016

There are many things to like about Columbia.  They have a wonderful zoo they like to call world-class which I expect it is for whatever world-class means.  There are other things too, but it was a schizophrenic society when I was there in 1991.  I taught for three days in an all-black high school when less than five miles away there was a white high school of some 4,000 students that was making headlines because it couldn’t meet the quota for minority students.  The school where I was at had no doors on the bathrooms or stalls because of violent acts.  And the classroom doors were equipped with additional locks and policemen roamed the halls.  During my first and only meeting with the principal, he read from his Bible while asking me questions.

The only job I could find was in Saudi Arabia.  Cultures have a hard time moving on, of getting off the spot they think of as home, but I had no choice.  I had to go.  Now, at 71, I live in rural Thailand.  My older sister asked me what the hell are you doing in Thailand (she knows I have been here for ten years living with my Thai wife and her family), but she still asks.  She lives in Wyoming and complains about the weather, just bought a new house less than two miles from where she lived for thirty years, and has no family around to help her.  I’m tempted to reply as Thoreau reportedly did when Emerson asked him why he was in Jail:  Why aren’t you here?