My Thailand is a tiny room resting
between rice fields and quiet roads, a friendly
face smiling as it rides by on a rusty bike, moving
slow, as the Thais tend to do. It’s a walk
through the village, the rising sun poking through
palm trees, a warm breeze that never leaves.
My Thailand is a ‘Good morning, teacher’,
rows of dark faces, my arm against theirs.
‘Same, same,’ I say, but not in their mind.
It’s a slight bow and a wai, hands together
at the heart, fingers pointed to the sky.
It’s respect in their speech and looks,
a face forever calm, words forever kind.
My Thailand is a golden Buddha within
a gilded temple, quiet except for chimes
that chink in the wind. It’s a line
of monks in saffron robes, solemn and slow,
walking the streets at sunrise.
It’s a Pali chant, a string tied
around our heads. It’s good karma,
a wooden temple, only me as I stay
under the golden Buddha’s gaze, bowing
three times, forehead to the floor, glancing
sideways at the sleeping monk
as he lays wrapped in his robe.
My Thailand is a street market,
spiraling through the carts
as the sun goes mute. It’s a fruit
with scarlet spikes, coconut water in a bag,
sweet desserts so cheap they could
give them away. It’s a plastic table
above a plastic stool, the Thais and me
sitting along the highway as we eat.
My Thailand is an ancient moat, shamrock water,
fountains that send droplets to the skin of walkers
and riders. It’s a brick wall, sagging
under the weight of seven centuries,
built by a long-ago king. It’s yellow flowers
budding in a tree, trunk wrapped
in a sacred sash, a life-saving ring.
My Thailand is a coolness
that slips in slowly
behind the rain, two seasons
each day. It’s my students
wrapped in blankets, the coldest winter
in 50 years, they say. It’s a lantern
that goes to greet the stars, and more
that follow as we light small fires
in their center, pushing them up,
hoping the good wishes
come back down to help us thrive
as we move forward in life.
My Thailand is the acrid air of April
sitting in the valley. It’s smoke that stings
the eyes, throats, and lungs, fires
that clear old fields away.
It’s watching the mountains disappear
behind smoke and smog, praying for rain
so we can see again. It’s riding
motorbikes as we weave through cars,
breathing through masks to help us
if we have to go far.
My Thailand is a monsoon rain
when it can’t get any hotter, biting
heavy on metal roofs, greeting
the new season with a festival of water.
It’s clear air, peaks
we can see again, a night
on a rooftop where we watch
the moon gather herself full
in the sky above Chiang Mai.
My Thailand is a mountain,
as the cloudless sky fades.
It’s the sun, seeing me,
waving a final farewell
as the land moves up
and carries me into another day,
half a world away.