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

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