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Khao San

Khao San

There is bliss in losing oneself in Khao San,
Within the streets and alleys of anonymous lives:
The sum of everything worldly, insistent and driven,
Hankering for what is beyond ordinary time,
Beyond common way of sensing,
The collision of fates and resolution of desires.
I weave through these passages of pleasures
Without so much as thinking of their undercurrent,
Since they’re bound to come to surface
And make themselves manifest
As the time I read in a guesthouse room
A book on mysticism well deep into the night,
And in between sleep and wakefulness
I am roused by the quirky sex
Of a Thai couple in the next room.
Love life, love life… the mantra
That’s faintly drumming my head as I wake
To a morning of lambent light,
Hear a crow’s squawk rip through
The cool air, persistent and sad.
From the window while still lying in bed,
I see the solitary pilgrim land on the rooftop
Of an ochre building, regarding the silence
After its cry, my somber breathless gaze
From a far distance.

March 2003
Bangkok, Thailand

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In A New Light

In A New Light

Past a year of ruin, of love that didn’t hold,
A life that almost broke, I’m taking a new chance
Before the temple of fate.
I have dropped old names of sorrow,
Long crushed the butt of cigarette into a pulp,
And risen to the inequities of the world.

Running over some monsoon months now
I have so much recovered my lost parts
In a country I have never thought
Of finding myself one day in.
A country the world knows that also
Went to her knees from unspeakable woes.

Rising up this morning from bed
I padded down the living room of my wooden house
And opened the screened windows and side door
To let the light stream to the core of existence.
I stepped out into the veranda, breathed easily
As I herded in my gaze the neighboring trees
And Khmer houses under the pale blue sky.
Clusters of purple and white bougainvillea frame
The middle front view and the interplay of light
And flowers tells me that I have reined in the beast.

04 November 2000
Pursat, Cambodia

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Here, Now

Here, Now

The quality of wakefulness
Here, now,
Is beyond breaths.
Rain is pouring
Down so hard and I’m picking
Out very fine
Rhythm beneath
The surface of things.
And it is flowing
Towards within the heart
Of Pursat.
There is immense
Beauty in the dark
Heaving of a gray
Funereal sky.
The leaves are vivid
Like a lingering dream;
Wooden Khmer houses
Stand quiet
In the gust of cold
Wind.

16 September 2001
Pursat, Cambodia

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Pink Moon, Light Moon

Pink Moon, Light Moon

A rabbit gone confused in the middle
Of the road, whether it would dart past
Or leap back to where it came from:
A split second call of judgment, or face
The dark snatch of sacrifice.
Rattled by moon-toned lights of our truck,
The rabbit goes for the crossing and almost
Got struck: some working of fine mercy.

And black clouds are etched against the sky,
Made graspable by the wandering moon,
The road like sheer crack of violation
On the vast mound of Koh Kong forest.
My tipsiness from sheer beauty and beer
At a Sre Ambel restaurant searches for
A road trip music that I could not place
While standing at the open back of the truck.
But somewhere in the expanse of dark fields
And small lives of the Khmers now tucked
In quiet sleep, maybe it is Nick Drake’s
Pink moon trying to connect to this lightness.

23 September 2004
Koh Kong, Cambodia

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September

September

It has come. The weather shifts
magically from rain to dry
and fortunes trickle down our lives
like rolling stones.
A Khmer fashions his name
to Odom Rolex for auspicious times,
expansive as the stirrings of September.
My farmer neighbor rants through
his intoxication on a calm evening;
yet in the glare of sun or glaze of rain
he holds the earth in his firm hand
and mutters hope and desire.

There is something about September
that we feel movements
even beyond emotions and ideas;
a sense of raising the tempo of our dance
with life, catching exhilarations
from scents, scanning the sky
where a beautiful swan may come
soaring high.

02 September 2010
Koh Kong, Cambodia

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Why Are They No Back Yet?

Why Are They Not Back Yet?

From the vast spread of rice fields and far-off
mountains, small wooden boats bobbing languidly
on the narrow river, the car makes for a paradigm view
of sea and islands: something that I am expecting
but catches me unawares at the precise moment.
Am I sleeping? No. Am I reading anything? No.
It is just an instant where I think something
has passed me by, wide awake but clouded
by passages and mortality.

On the beachfront, I get off and pay the driver
for his labor of creating further distances
for me. I hold the scenes before me like I could
keep them in my wallet later for keepsake.
Khmer families on a grand weekend picnic,
partaking of food as basic as love and keeping faith
in Buddha, bathing in the sea as though
with interminable freedom from any strike
of tragedy or malediction.

The mermaid on the promontory is white and almost
lifelike, attracting further drift into
a fabled world. Monks with shaven head, their orange
robes like brilliant flags of prayer whipping in the wind,
seriously taking pictures of themselves
on the embankment with a photographer in tow,
against the backdrop of snarling sea, restless,
treacherous, grey. If this is a deliberate study
of transience and voidness of self,
I leave them be. I cut the frame and track
a survey of villas perched on the hills
amid lush trees where dreams and desires
are supposed to roam free, pictures of good living
possessing seal of heavenly air.

Only the place is impaled with memories, brooding
and consuming. The villas lay in ruins;
enduring the immutability of time, they persist
to exist in the eyes, be the silent and excoriating
wounds of human failings. In their present bareness
and decrepitude, fleeced of walls and roofs,
there is a dense flux of unheard voices claiming
eternal possession of lives and territories.

Where now are the inhabitants that fled the scourge
of the Khmer Rouge? Why are they not back yet?
A new crest of quietude has settled and Kep,
this deconstruction of a once hip and cool place,
will for a long time stand guard to the rush
of waves, the rush of reconstructing everything
left broken and abandoned.

July 2003
Kep, Cambodia