Poetry / November 2009 (Issue 9)

Crossing the River Kwai

by Ira Sukrungruang

The bridge vibrates minutes before the train arrives. I avoid
the space between the wooden slats.

My steps creak. The rusted handrail undulates
like a wave. Can you see them? my mother says.

Ahead, she eats fried bananas from a paper bag.
They are everywhere. Grease coats her lips and fingertips.

They are the ones in her memory
when bombs fell in the next village,

rattling the tin roof. Soldiers’ footsteps
like tigers prowling. There’s one, she says, her finger sharp

at the other end of the bridge. He has yellow hair.
In the place she points, there is nothing

but wild vines creeping up lush eucalyptus trees.
The train’s horn splits the air. It spews out soot. We step

on to a ledge that looks to the west. As it passes,
an arms-length away, my mother waves at everyone,

and everyone waves back, except for a boy who stares at us
like we are the cause of all his troubles.

When it becomes a dot, my mother makes it to
the other side. She talks to the trees.

She beckons to me. He says where he is
the sun is blue and the water is on fire.

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