from Read Without Prejudice

Maung Day

Things They Carry

I have seen them sleep inside women and they are not the husbands.
Seen them doing surgeries on men and they are not surgeons.
Seen them burying children in the riverbed and they are not the parents.
Seen them digging up earth and demolishing old buildings
And they are not construction workers or gravediggers.
They have flowerpot heads and are not attacked by stray dogs.
They appear at night. They appear during the day.
They do stuff in shifts.
Every object near and around them collides with the air they breathe.
I sit in a cafe and list the things they carry.
They carry moons, powdered skulls, food cans, shrapnel wounds
Of rainbows, bankers, football players, oil tankers.
Their eyes are windows that are small triangles.
These triangles can blast the sun and finish us all.

To Issa

In the tunnel of watermelons with lime green skin,
A hand moves like a tornado.
The map of Asia weeps, then warps.
The rich man in his feather hat comes forth
And bows to the automobiles that pass him by.
There were rustling sounds coming from downstairs.
I wonder if it’s the jungle shaking off sad animals from its body.
Or perhaps it’s my village awaking from its slumber.
The conference of birds takes place in their darkened house
And becomes a confusion of noise when the rich man walks in.
A golden brown paddy field isn’t only a sheet of cloth
Woven from lavas and gases. It’s also a mob
Of motorists and shoppers thirsty for more oil.
It’s the pheasant hunting season,
So people look for these birds in the jungle.
The rain tree at the center of the village wears the hair
Of cancer patients. Sometimes we need a poet like Issa
To write for us one or two poems against the rich.

Back in the Tall Grass

My hazy eyes explode into storms.
Swamps and ducks fall out of my body through every hole.
Flamingos disappear especially when you want to see them.
This is Year of the Tiger for firemen.
For people living in the streets, not a year of bean sprouts
Whispering good news about free food into their ears.
They feel stuck and dejected like water lilies.
I know what storms are like better than everybody
Because my parents raised me as a window.
Dinner is getting cold, our raincoats becoming us.
Go home, Michael Jackson! Go to bed, Lou Reed!
The bedtime stories I was told when I was little
Were about tall grass and murderers.
Then I would be awake in a nightmare all night.
Storms are to me what cacti are to deserts.
One crocodile is too many, a thousand storms are never enough.
As I move along in the tall grass, butterflies enter my body,
Yellow ones in the throat, black ones in the lungs,
Raging at the futility of having wings.

translated from the Burmese by Maung Day