Posts Tagged 'poetry'

Thai Beach Resort Pool Deck Flashback

I was sitting in a lounge chair of a cheesy beach resort, sipping a fruity drink with a twisty straw and a flower AND a friggin umbrella, resting my sun-scorched skin and listening to my ipod and generally doing everything one ought to do in a Thai beach town, when I looked across the pool deck and saw this father and daughter. Real pink, real British, having a conversation straight off the Friends and Family ESL book companion CD: “Have you got on your sun cream?” “Yes, I put it on this morning.” “You ought to reapply; ask mum for the bottle.”

And I kinda smiled to myself, staring out and thinking about nothing really, watching this dad rub sun block across his daughter’s shoulders and back, when I had a flash of, “Man, I remember that.” So I wrote this—which is far more introduction than one ought to ever give a poem, let alone one written on an iPhone.

Can you remember the feel
of your father’s hands?—
When you were young,
they’d close around yours,
their massiveness a cave
of callouses and rough patches
that turned dark
when you flew inside.

You could live there,
you’d thought,
blind against that rock
when you crossed the street,
when he’d reach behind the driver’s seat
of that tin-drum car
and click your seatbelt shut;
when he’d rub on the sun block,
all those hardened places
scratching against
your smooth
unblemished
in the summertime,
on the swim deck,
where you’d laid on your belly
with your friends and he’d said,
“These are the happiest days of your life,”

You’d felt something small
and crushing coming.

And it’s not so smooth now, is it?
It’s sun-spotted and speckled
with moles they want to scrap off
and biopsy;
it’s red and wrinkled
like deep drought ditches
in the morning,
in the mirror,
all of the mirrors of the world,
all the cheap hotel rooms
that have become your homeland
and you can’t believe it was ever smooth,
that you were ever young.

You can’t remember the last time
you held your father’s hand
and felt like you could get lost inside—
a bat flapping
its song against the rock.

It’s Too Easy (Cheating in Hanoi)

At the altar,
old ash curled
like fingernails.
A funeral pours into the street.
Bouquets of lychee,
electrical wires
like black nests,
the way his old Russian motorbike
coughs down the alley—
it’s too easy
to write poetry
in this city
where nothing else is easy,
where the air is thick
and my eyes sting,
where fishermen rise from arsenic waters,
gleaming as buffalo
while I drink coffee.

See?
It feels like cheating,
stealing
images the city wrote
when it wasn’t even trying
(when all I ever do is try)—

when it was looking the way other,
when it was waiting for the light to change,

revving its engine or else
leaning a head
against a back:
arms wrapped
eyes closed

Writing poetry in its sleep

Naked Like That (Kep Bungalow)

Tonight I miss America
at night.

Tonight I miss tambourines and harmonicas.
I miss the low whistle
of a train through the dark.
I miss fog-soggy sidewalks
and boys with stubbly beards
smoking cigarettes,
windshield shards
glittering beneath their sneakers
like that:
stars.

I miss driving home—
Bay Bridge jaundice,
hungry tunnel howling,
ears ringing
and headlights
like a lonesome pair of eyes.

I missed cracked windows
and cup holders,
the arch of 580
to 24,
the moment before
the highways touch

And I miss that city
laid out beneath me
and glittering

For one still moment

Like that
Like how I miss that—
Something I could almost touch
At night.

Tonight I’ve got the jungle.
Tonight I’ve got
Cambodia’s muggy black
of birds crying and geckos belching,
the low drone of insects
trying to get in.
Tonight I’ve got the world
behind a mosquito net
and the sea somewhere—
I can hear it.

I’ve got sheets and the shape
of some still body;
I’ve got a lonesome pair of eyes
probing in the dark
and all the goddamn stars in the world,
glittering like that

Naked like that

Like how I’ve always been—
Splayed and waiting

And breathing in the dark.

A Poem Walked Past My Balcony Last Night

Teenagers

walk down the median,
streetlamp light
laughing.

Boy pauses
reaches
to a branch.

He pulls it down
picks
one, two

mangoes off the tree.
Hands one
to each of the girls.

They keep walking
and disappear.

Pillow Talk, Tirana (Well, Don’t Make Me Beg)

Tirana, I want to lay
my head on your naked chest,
one ear to the heartbeat, hear
the ragged breath,
1000 cars wheezing,
careening,
screaming—
a cough
like smoking meat.

Can we lay like that?—
in the morning,
between the mountains,
sun through no curtain,
this bedroom of a city
and everything that contains us—

You cut a river
through the middle,
build your bridges
likes slits across wrists—
Stare at the soggy trash
they’ve thrown there and say
“It’s a real river in the winter.”

Tell me how you’re better
at 4am,
when the wheezing unrattles itself
and the city falls silent,
each dog a lonesome bark
and we climb to the top
of that tattooed pyramid
and look at it all,
laid out there
blinking
naked
smoldering trash

and the police will chase us up
and cough at the top,
place their hands on their knees,
ask for our documents
and I’ll be too scared—you’ll laugh:
“You were scared, scared.”

Tirana, I want this:
your bone
against my ear,
hearing your organs groan,
black breath rattle
between those mountains,
your breastplate—

where you keep it,
you keep it.

Train

Struck me as though
we were all just trying
to hold it together—
our whole lives
accumulated
into pinched expressions,
hands on the knees,
the bit of hair
dented from sleep.

Fumbling for the phone
as it buzzes
in pockets
we can’t reach,
the bowels of purse
we carry like a cave
under ourselves—
“I don’t know what half this shit is anymore”
we’ll say with a half-laugh

as the semis circle
and the train bullets on.

Hello Oakland

Hello taco trucks and Priuses,
Hello hyphy dreads and flannel shirts.

Hello berry season.
Hello farmers market.
Hello Blue Bottle, hello Strauss milk from a glass bottle.
Hello expensive cigarettes and cheap muesli.

Hello Muay Thai.
Hello jump rope, hello downward dog.
Hello pit bulls.

Hello Victorians and sky scrapers
of San Francisco in the distance.
Hello sound of trains at night.

Hello sound of kids playing
beneath my bedroom window.

Hello rock n roll shows and dance parties,
Hello art openings and literary magazines.

Hello back porch.
Hello leaves on the tree
and dead plants in the pots.
Hello Mick in pajama pants.

Hello vanity,
Hello bathrobe.
Hello stripped apron and wine notes.

Hello driving,
Hello seat belts,
Hello potholes on 880, arching
up the overpass past the railroad tracks—
Hello building
I’ve got tattooed on my arm.

Hello fog in the morning and fog at night,
Hello fog breaking
in the afternoon light.

And, why not: heading-home jam I can’t get out of my head…

Goodbye Southeast Asia

Goodbye motorbikes droning and motorbikes honking.
Goodbye face masks and flesh-colored socks,
Goodbye pajama suits.

Goodbye dragon fruit, goodbye jack fruit,
green mango with chili salt from a push-cart.
Goodbye cane juice in a plastic bag.

Goodbye cows in road and chickens on the bus,
Goodbye water buffalo rising
from puddles in the rice paddies.

Goodbye orange robes and incense,
clusters of bananas
fanning open at the altar.

Goodbye karaoke
and pop music videos on the bus.
Goodbye wedding tents.

Goodbye mosquito nets.
Goodbye heat rash and swamp bra.
Goodbye hand-washed underpants hung to dry.
Goodbye cheap cigarettes and expensive muesli.

Goodbye “cheap cheap,” goodbye “same same,”
Goodbye mile-long mole hair,
Goodbye aerobic dancing at dusk,
Goodbye tissues under the table,
plastic stools and street stalls.
Goodbye haggling with fingers and haggling with calculators,
Goodbye maze of the market,
sleeping on top a pile of clothes—
Goodbye tubs of flopping fish and plucked limp birds
hanging from hooks.

Goodbye currency conversions and foreign transaction fees.
Goodbye photocopied US money
half-burnt on the sidewalk.
Goodbye no sidewalk,
walking in the street.
Goodbye bootleg guidebooks with cheap spines,
bootleg DVDs with blurry casings.

Goodbye thunderstorms,
Goodbye heat.

Goodbye widows with shaved heads,
Goodbye schoolgirls in sarongs.
Goodbye children begging and children waving,
children perched
between their parents on a motorbike
sleeping amid the fury.

Born Into This: Inheriting War in SE Asia

It was really not the time to be thinking of Charles Bukowski.

I stood staring at a display of UXO casings at a Phonsavan tour company. I was thinking of the documentary I’d seen the night before (see previous post), which followed a group of impoverished Lao children as they harvested UXOs for scrap metal.

Something panged in me, and I thought of the poem.

It was the same something I’d felt at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. I stood before pictures of children born with mutations from Agent Orange—small and crippled and bubble-skinned—children who’d been born after the war, hadn’t lived through the war, but who had it in them, possessed it in their DNA. If the images hadn’t been so brutal, I’d thought, they’d have been a metaphor for the intergenerational transmission of trauma.

I’d been surprised in Vietnam, to discover how much of the war I’d carried in me, without knowing it. I hadn’t realized how much a part of American culture the Vietnam War is—in our books, our films, our movies and our freeway exits, cardboard signs and thousand-yard stares. I’d remembered, suddenly, visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC as a teenager—muggy-skied and sweating, watching the grown-ups trace hands along the reflective stone, place flowers and cry—not understanding it. I’d turned; my mom had been one of them, the name of her cousin under her fingers.

And I’d suddenly remembered the poem.

It’s more muddled in Cambodia and Laos, places were the American activity was “secret”—it’s less a part of your consciousness, more a part of something else that you can’t quite name.

“People from my province,” the Cambodian boy looked sheepish as he told me, “they still hate Americans. For the bombings.”

I nodded one, two, three times. “And you know what? America bombed Cambodia in secret. And most Americans still don’t know about those bombings.”

We sat beside each other waiting for our numbers to be called at the cell phone shop. Neither of us had been alive during the 70s.

I’d wondered, as I looked at bomb ponds beside pre-Angkorian temples in Cambodia, how one goes about being American in all this. “‘I wasn’t born yet,'” I wrote, “doesn’t seem good enough.”

And looking at the pile of UXOs in Phonsavan, I had the same thought rise. Because the kids out there harvesting these bombs, they weren’t born yet either. Neither of us asked for this, did this, witnessed this, lived through this. We were born into this, are left to figure out what to do with this, dig through the dirt of this.

And that’s when I thought of the poem again.

I’ve been composing some kind of essay in the back of my head about all this. I don’t know exactly what I have to say about it yet, or if there is anything to say about it. But in the meantime, I’m thinking of a poem that seems fitting. And, in the light of the recent string of natural and political disasters, doesn’t seem so dramatic or fanciful as it once did. It doesn’t feel so hopeless either—it just feels accurate.

Fragmentary Thoughts at the Killing Fields

Late afternoon sun through the trees, dusty lot and birds singing, the stillness of a temple. I slide off my shoes and the tiles are hot on my feet as I walk slowly around the pagoda, a tower of skulls.

And it isn’t the skulls that get me—sorted by age and gender, piles that are missing jaws and teeth, holes where the smashing happened, the jagged line were the cranium stitched itself together—lines that were hidden, kept under hair and skin, kept a secret from them, themselves for as long as they lived—and laid bare here now, with nothing to disguise it anymore: This is how you were sewn together, and this is where the wound occurred, and this is what is left.

But the skulls aren’t what gets me, because the skulls don’t seem real. It’s the piles of clothes on the bottom shelf. Shirts and shorts, dusty and tattered and vacant now, a limp pile—this is what is left.

We walk through the field, where the earth dips down into ditches (it’s not rain or erosion that made these), trees that stand stoicly, silently by. We come to stand beside an exhumed grave (but “grave” is too good a word—there’s no word for what this was). A sign says that teeth and bits of bones and scraps of clothes continue to come up, out of the earth, after it rains or floods.

Sometimes the earth write the metaphors for you, I think. Sometimes the ground itself is a poem—this place a poem you couldn’t possibly ever write, no one could write, just walk through—the stillness; the birds; the smell of incense and smoke; someone burning off wild grasses somewhere, behind the fence; schoolkids singing somewhere in the wind. Two monks walking, orange robes, reading the signs with impassive faces, round faces, young young faces.

There’s scraps of clothes everywhere. “Are these…?” we begin to ask each other, but don’t finish the question. (There is no question for what this was.) Surely someone would have gathered these scraps, dusted them off, “deordorized” them as the sign said, added them to the pile of All That Is Left.

But we keep walking and I realize there’s too many, too much—scraps of clothes existing like ghosts, or souls that haven’t quite made it up out of the earth, out of what there aren’t words for, poems for—this.

The trees all saw this, I think. These same trees, noble and twisted and standing here still. Some were forced to take part, and I imagine something in them weeping, their trunks dulled and bloodied. These same trees, bearing witness, the same way they bear witness now—silent, petrified in their places, the way parts of our brains are, the way parts of our brains bear witness (secret stitching, secret from ourselves)—roots tangling and rising out of the earth, with the teeth and bones and scraps of clothing and all the things there aren’t metaphors for: a dusty field in the afternoon sun.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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