Poetry / March 2013 (Issue 20)

Two Poems

by John Wall Barger

Visiting Doi Suthep Monastery after the Curves & Steep Precipices of the Motorbike Drive up the Mountain

Softly Please, says a sign before the wat.
After 309 steps up the spine of the dragon Naga,
between the upper & lower worlds,
a place of flowering trees, bronze bells
& the jangling of tourists, I am tired.
Says a sign, No displays of affection
but what about disdain? Bored Thai women
sell tiny Buddhas & Kruba Sriwichai postcards,
while sightseers—slack-jawed, slouched,
thick glasses, cowboy hats—hold up lotus flowers
like movie popcorn, staggering clockwise
round the gold stupa. Pressing palms together
to disarm myself, I remember again
these too are sacred. A little girl in hill tribe garb
& high hair dances lightly, on her toes,
demonstrating the fluid potential & grace
of humans in the upper realms, & when someone
drops twenty baht she curls backwards
to nab the bill with her teeth like a stripper.

As a Radish from Her Plate Falls into Her Empty Shoe, in the Salad Bar on Nimmanhaemin Road, Chiang Mai

A doubt—call it x—hatches in the safe incubation
of our corner table. I don’t name it, for once,
or weave a word-basket to catch it. I want to see
what x will do. An itemized thing has limits,
withers; analysis lights a fuse, dooming every
blind fish & dim star & sublimated want
in creation. Only the unnoticed has a shot
at eternity. So I half-notice x, with soft eyes,
Teflon eyes, as it vines from the spiritus mundi
of T’s shoe through the room & gleeful,
flowering among this teen gang of cappuccino-
sippers, snaking around my latte foam, light
as pollen, unburdened by the melancholic
scales of the mind which add weight to what
is measured, so x—spellbinding, human,
viral, parasite in the deathless centre of
ordinary things—splits apart like myriad
scooters around cars, or marbles bounced
pell-mell into a drain-grill, or birds alighting
branches & is gone, melted away like paw-
prints in the snow of a fevered dream.
I am breathless but immortal. A spot of sun
the size of a kidney bean creeps past my
notebook & across our table like a lifeboat
from another world. T puts on her shoe,
this look on her face like something is off,  
holds up the radish & says, in a voice
only I ever hear, “In Asia my feet look big!”
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