The Old City
(Old Sukothai, Thailand)
Late monsoon thunder particles
condense the air,
night hangs in the balance,
the tin roof sings for rain.
And here it comes - asthma,
the straw you breathe through
when you can’t breathe,
the toad that struggles
out of the swamp of your lungs,
the screen door rattling in the wind.
Quick. Fix the latch. Fetch a nurse.
Listen. Is that the steady hiss
of a hospital nebuliser?
Mai mii, no have, no have.
In the bamboo rocker
on the dark veranda
Doi chews durian sweets.
The old city drives a hard bargain.
You hear the siren
of your other life wailing.
You see the future
without agreeing to it.
On a long distance bus
in a far off country
a stranger once confided
that his wife had left him for his father.
One touch of the old man’s wand
and she turned into the wicked
bloody stepmother; it’s not decent,
he complained, an ex-wife
should remain an ex-wife forever.
Today on the train
a man is about to expose
his burns from a factory accident.
He rolls up his sleeves,
turns his arms to the window
so the stretched, irregular patches
of alien skin catch the light,
tells me he’s been in pain so long
that sometimes he no longer feels it,
wonders if the pain has reduced
or if he’s just getting used to it.
I want to know more about pain
that can’t be felt, and sure enough
he’s explaining now (his words
merge with the sound of the train
distant pain, distant pain)
that if you forget to attend to the pain
it will wander away to bug someone else.
Like the flu, he concludes, the way you
still have it after giving it to a friend.