from That Hand Is White

Saksiri Meesomsueb


A beggar at the crack of dawn comes with
an empty cup, just as a line of monks
serenely with their bowls set out for alms.
All day until the market ebbs
a shop-woman will stretch the truth,
while from around the temple ring the sounds
of dealing amulets and talismans.
Later in the day will be a magic show
set in the market’s central square,
while in the temple miracles will be proclaimed.
A man of stunts will confront a cobra
as men of faith face down their worldly lusts.
Suppressed, the serpent has no power to harm;
Subdued, such cravings have no power to heat.
Soon, they’ll unleash a mongoose on the snake;
of making merit, the temple chimes on still.
            Into the temple, lots of people crowd;
as many, too, to see the show.
A little boy bursts through the ranks in time
to catch them take the snake out of a sack.
            Back home, his mother shows off a phallus charm,
while he raves about the cobra, spitting as he speaks.
            You’re making too much of what you saw, dear.
They only took a snake out of a sack.


Aboard the bus
rumblings and roars
its engine growls
and gearshifts groan
stress beads in drops
just standing room
some doze, some wake
to shift their weight
with child, without luck;
without child, but with seats
older men look off
younger men ignore
a shout flies front
a swear flung back
the seated swoon
the standers sway . . . 
someone wants off
stupid bus won’t stop
Jeff joshes George
George cracks a joke
Joe talks over Jeff
Then Joe and Jeff
jab George’s ribs
the murky rain
and muttering sky
thick muggy air
at the next stop
something saffron
oh hey, a monk! . . . now, zzz.

Dogs in the Lead

Knocked in the dust until black and blue
—when will a rooftop pop into view,
three rooftops or two, over the rise?

Are we even half of half the way yet?
My butt’s nearly busted with each pothole we hit.
The driver: Not yet. Another hundred dogs’ piss.

The strays trail the cart down the route they know well,
stopping to sniff, grin, then piss, wagging their tails,
kick dirt on their piddles, then run into lead.

The new teacher mutters something—boohoo
his arms cradling a pair of designer shoes
in obvious fright of what might befall them.

The dogs lead the ox that leads the cart that leads the teacher,
to lead the children waiting for him—eager
to see how pristine are the footprints he leaves.

Though not for a while, the village still lies ahead,
and still in high spirits, the dogs take the lead,
but teacher shakes his head as if close to tears.

He curses again: just my luck, just my luck.
The older man has heard enough. My dogs
have bigger hearts than this new teacher in town.

At the pomegranate grove, why don’t I let him down—
how’s ‘bout he walks some fifteen dogs’ grins?

translated from the Thai by Noh Anothai

Click here to read the translator’s essay, “These Pants Aren’t Clean: Seeing the World in Saksiri Meesomsueb’s That Hand Is White.”