Three Pictures Not Taken

I am missing my camera (need to buy another). The latest Honda motorcycle is on display in the showcase window of a dealer on Ratchadamnoen Street. It raises industrial chic to a new level—gleaming whites and stainless steel, icily superior, futuristic, imported from an advanced biker planet. I stared for a few minutes and then walked through Thapae Gate, totally impressed. Until—just across the street—I saw a black Ducatti, straight from the pages of Dante, a massive techno-panther gathered to spring, fiery proud tail curling back and up.

Overwhelming passion, invincible intelligence, take your pick; dress in metal; go for a spin.

Walking farther, on Loi Kroh down toward the river—a man with a calm weathered face sits behind a folding table and a sewing machine. A cardboard sign written with an indelible black marker reads, “SIDEWALK TAILOR.” A box by his chair holds scissors and tapes. Next to it is an iron wok three quarters filled with spools of thread, shades of every imaginable color jumbled and glowing together, a giant sunflower created by a sidewalk artist, re-created whenever he searches for the right match.

The Pallard

The Pallard is a diving sea bird that flies long distances and finds its way home unerringly. It dives from height to catch fish which it leaves on the surface for other types of birds to carry to caches on high cliffs. When a Pallard is hungry, it finds such a cache and eats exactly three fish. It then sounds an alert for other Pallards who may be quite far away. It waits, watches while they eat, then flies away.

At some point after many months, the Pallard ascends, making short flights in several directions, apparently searching for bearings, before it flies directly home, flying inverted, webbed feet folded over its eyes.

I dreamed of the Pallard last night. In the morning I was relaxed, restored, ready for flight.

Mary Cassatt

In an Italian restaurant
in Chiang Mai, designing
a table for a van in which
I will live, a toddler with
short fuzzy hair is attended
by his mother and two Thai
waitresses and Mary Cassatt
who, childless, painted maternity
just so, tender & watchful.
The little boy rubs his nose.
He will not remember, but
he will stride forward
confidently.

 

Hallelujah

life, a silhouette
defined
by the darkness
into which
it disappears,
yet, this morning,
by Angel’s Cafe,
an eighty year old,
hair swept up and held
with a simple comb,
walked confidently
on the cobblestones,
delicate cotton
singing with blue,
flowing to her ankles

Small — Fiction

“I’ve lost my way, a bit, Batman. Where can I do some good?”
“Get small, Joe.”
“That again!” It’s not easy getting small. Like dying—the death of your defenses, your importance. Batman’s normal size is two and a half inches; he doesn’t have this particular problem. His advice regarding the big picture is dependable, but the details are up to me. I don’t know what to do. That’s part of the death.
One of my buddies from the 19th century is Anthony Trollope. He wrote two thousand words a day, published 47 wise and cheerful novels, and liberated himself financially. He was a contemporary of Charles Dickens, which indicates that he did not lack self confidence. At this point in the story, Trollope might say, The reader will allow me to note occurrences in Joe’s recent past which, I hope, may be helpful in understanding the events to follow.
O.K.
I fell for a beautiful woman. She was not spectacular in the way of Sophia Loren or Bridget Bardot or the superbly sexual let-it-all-hang-out Marilyn Monroe, movie sirens of my youth. She was clear, direct, hopeful, and flawless. Moreover, she had been raised in what seemed to have been a happy family and had been educated in the finest schools.
Children excepted, life after twenty offered little for her. She coasted into a slow and gallant decline which only added to her appeal. She lived alone in a marriage of convenience. Why not be happy, I asked. She warned me away. I didn’t listen.
The resulting three years found me crushed and muttering on the other side of the world where, with the help of two kind women, I began to rebuild. And now I’m supposed to get SMALL?
O.K.
It must be done. I walked to the Writer’s Club Wine Bar, the one place where I’m sure not to meet any writers. I am Joe Burke The Tiny. I forsake all claims. My books were written by someone who isn’t here any more. The curve of the chin of the Thai bartender is what matters. The clock is ticking slowly, clearly.
At the next table a French mother in her forties shepherds her four children and husband with quick smiles, short exchanges, hints of disapproval, and loving glances, especially for her son Alpha Male, his broad shoulders and muscle shirt. Pere is pleasant, bemused, enjoying his drink. He has another life or an inner life. Maman is attractive, dressed tastefully and casually, at the top of her powers. She notices me watching. If I could, if it would help, I would tell her about the shadows gathering in the faces of her children.
I am smaller. Not there yet. If you are proud of being small, you are moving in the wrong direction.

***

This morning: barefoot construction workers installing sewer pipe.
In a cafe, the son of unhappy parents raises his voice until he is rebuked, any response better than none.
Japanese visitors walk by, protected by their breathtaking good taste, each a different version of the same dream. You don’t want to disturb them; a vengeful guardian of beauty might appear and do who knows what?
Lila Thai’s masseuses learn their trade in the women’s prison; they know something about humility. I went in to get more bigness pushed and kneaded out of me. As the masseuse worked on my neck, I opened my eyes and saw the underside of her chin, the chubby, flattened, non-judgemental face that watches, carved and gilded, over much of Asia.
Afterwards, on the street, fear began leaving, brittle moths flying out from beneath my shoulder blades. I crossed over to say hi to Goose. “Ronk” is actually what I say.
“Ronhnnnk.” Goose seemed down (hmmm).
“Ronk, ronk.” I was encouraging. Goose is usually in a good mood, resting, cleaning his magnificent feathers, or looking for bugs to eat. He is kept in a yard separate from the ladies and is lonely at times. I noticed a hole the size of a small coin in the webbing of one large yellow foot. Did he step on something sharp? Or had it been made to use for tethering? A sad thought. “Ronk.”
When I returned home, Batman was gone. There was a note, “Trouble in Bangkok.”
In the morning, he was back at his post on the window sill. “What happened, Batman?”
“No problem, Joe. Not as fast as I was, but I can still get it done.”
This was a major speech. I checked the Bangkok Post. There was a brief story about a robbery foiled by the collapse of the escaping burglar who claimed he’d been hit in the eye by a bird. A newsprint photo showed a gray-haired woman bowing to the police.
Give away all credit. That was one of Batman’s maxims.
I walked outside and headed for the market. Sunny. Fresh and cool. Suddenly I was small. The odd thing about smallness is how much room there is to feel grateful.