When Eleanor

hummingbird
olive & yellow, hovering
beneath a canopy
of dark banyan leaves,
taking what is given,
once seen

The aria from
Goldberg Variations floats
through the French bakery
near Chiang Mai Gate,
Glen Gould, I think.
When Eleanor plays this,
joyful and relaxed,
her true love, Bach,
has no need for words.

Ballad

open to the sidewalk:
cement floor,
a lathe, well oiled,
clutter of mechanic’s tools,
metal desk, papers,
an orchid,
fuchsia and pink

behind one wall
a man is singing,
his voice
like a falling leaf
slanting sideways,
this way, then that

Chiang Mai

Mae Ping

An empty lot on Charoen Prathet Road, near the river.


Chiang Mai is built on the banks of the Mae Ping, one of the major rivers in the country’s central watershed. The Mae Ping arises near the Burmese border and flows south to the Nan river several hundred miles downstream. The two rivers form the Chao Phraya which empties into the Gulf of Thailand a short distance past Bangkok.

Until recently, the Mae Ping was free flowing, its seasonal flooding an essential part of rural life in the valley. It has been dammed and is now more controlled, development having trumped traditional agriculture. These boats take you past small farms and houses on stilts, life as it has been here for centuries. While I was taking this picture, the two guys in the outer boat were having trouble starting their long tail engine, a reassuringly cross-cultural problem.



Tuk-tuk Driver

head shaven, beads,
Asian shirt, a westerner
in his thirties
bows elaborately
to the tuk-tuk driver,
palms together,
bows again,
turning away
well pleased

the small bald brown man
watches him leave,
silent, amused

Chiang Mai

walkabout

Lathe and orchid, Phrapokklao Street.


Wat Ched Lin, get out the message!


Blind musicians at the Wai Lua Street Saturday Walking Market. The street is closed to vehicles that day from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. A quarter mile (at least) of stalls line each side of the street—food of all kinds, clothes, $5 knock-off Birkenstocks, $3 umbrellas, you name it. Locals and tourists mingle, lots of families out for a treat, enjoying the cool evening air.

There were four groups of blind musicians spaced like little trains along the street. They had different specialties. As you walked and one faded to the rear, you could just hear the next, somewhere ahead, out of sight in the crowd. This one featured the lead singer who had a soft strong voice and an encouraging manner.

Dharma Walk

slim in white
head to foot,
moving steadily
through crowds,
shoppers, vendors,
smells of grilling chicken,
chilis, steaming rice,
revving motorbikes—
her eyes
freed of desire,
irrepressibly alive,
greeting Buddha
every side

Chiang Mai Gate

Bedouin

I grew up alone,
alert to love
as a Bedouin to water;
when the young visit,
soft-eyed, well cared for,
walking with full packs,
uncertain in the heat,
I take only what I need
for the journey
to the next oasis:
a grandmother content,
a monk in orange,
a schoolgirl awakening,
the treasure of her days
unspent.

Chiang Mai

Fiction: Soi Dog

“The conduits and habits of love vary widely, but the need is universal. We can forgive each other…” Joe looked up from his notebook. “Sadder but wiser—what do you think, Batman?”

“No need for the Gettysburg Address.”

“Ah, mmm. ‘Good luck. Thanks for everything. Aloha.’ More like that?”

“It’s all in the tone, Joe.”

“Right.” Count on Batman. Stay in the groove, no time for bitterness. “How about some Bach? Or, Cyril Pahinui?” He thought of Cyril’s father, Gabby, sitting in Shipwreck Kelley’s, strong head and neck, a handsome man, a survivor, talking excitedly to a female fan. The Pahinuis were keepers of the groove.

Cyril’s guitar filled the room with open booming music. When the island boys got hold of Spanish guitars, they hadn’t taken long to trade flamenco for the Pacific. Love and loss were small pretty birds above the endless rolling.

“I’m feeling better. Think I’ll go for a walk before dark. Want me to shut this off?”

“No way.”

Joe put a flashlight in his pocket and left. He turned down Soi 2, the first lane he came to, getting away from the bikes, cars, and tuk-tuks. The one bay machine shop was already closed. Two older Thai women were drinking tea at a metal table in front of where they took in laundry. It had been hot earlier, but it was cooling; the sewer smell was beginning to abate.

He came to an intersecting lane, narrower, unmarked, and followed it around a curve. A middle-aged man was clipping a green plant hanging in front of a wooden house with tall paneled doors that seemed from another time. “Sawat-dee kap,” Joe said.

Kap.”

A few minutes later, he followed another lane, new to him. It was nearly dark. He hadn’t gone far when there was a burst of high pitched barking, followed by a woman’s scream. The sound came from ahead, around a bend in the lane. Joe hurried forward, moving to the side and taking the flashlight from his pocket.

The woman screamed again. Joe shined his light on her. She was leaning toward a dog who was attacking and retreating. The woman looked at Joe and pointed, “NgO! ” A short thick snake with diamond markings was coiled just out of striking distance from the dog. The dog jumped back and forth, challenging closer and closer. The snake struck; the woman screamed; the dog leaped sideways. The snake fell forward. Before it could coil, the dog was on it, jaws gripping behind the head. The dog bit and hung on, growling and shaking, snapping the head back and forth until the snake stopped writhing.

The woman put her palms together and bowed her head. The dog’s fast breathing was loud in the silence.

After a moment, she motioned to Joe. He followed her to a house where her husband listened to the story. “Thank you,” he said to Joe. He fired off instructions. His wife went into a car port and reappeared with a cardboard box and a shovel. He took them from her and gave Joe the universal come-with-me wave.

When they reached the snake, the dog was curled on the other side of the lane, resting. It was smallish, short-haired, white with yellow patches. The man handed Joe the box and stood still, assessing. He stepped forward and smashed the snake twice with the flat of the shovel. He took back the box. “Dead for sure,” he said.

He shoveled the snake into the box and closed the top flaps carefully. Joe pointed at the dog. “Your wife almost stepped on the snake. Is it your dog?”

The man smiled. Nothing in the universe belongs to anyone. “Soi dog,” he said.

Chang Moi Rd, Soi 2

cool morning air,
industrial garage door
partly open—a man
weaving the bottom
of a basket, holding it
with one bare foot
on an overturned bucket,
hands flying in circles,
the basket widening;
he senses me,
twists his neck to see,
his shoulders tighten,
hands never stop

Monsoon Raincoat

Full cloud cover, looks like rain. 1500 kids gathered for a school assembly don’t pay any attention—one or two umbrellas.

Before I came, I spent days thinking about the ideal monsoon raincoat. Nothing seemed right. I settled for a lightweight red L.L. Bean rain jacket that someone left on a park bench in Portland with a note pinned on the collar saying, “TAKE ME.” It was my size and in good shape except for some of the breathable laminate peeling on the inside. I fixed it with tape and packed it.

One afternoon last week there was a burst of rain. I took the jacket from my pack like a good boy scout and put it on. Instantly I was oppressed, all wrong, trapped, too hot. I took it off. It was better to get wet.

This morning I had a delayed light bulb moment. In Maine, the overwhelming need is to stay warm, and for that you have to stay dry. But the object in Thailand is to stay cool; it doesn’t matter if you get wet. In fact, it’s pleasant (to a point).
Hence, no worries mate, you’ll do fine in the tropics with a small umbrella or a light cotton jacket if you are on a bike or will be outside for hours.

Note to self: Thailand isn’t Maine.