TOI ET MOI

is the eternal dance
where those who love
find one another
and, taking their chance,
reach up to highest Heaven above
and down to deepest Hell.

There is no higher happiness
than loving true and well.

Toi et Moi sail
their fragile boat
with single eye
from birth to death
and, if they master Fate,
from death to birth again,
distilling bliss from joy and pain.

But once beyond the mortal coil
they end like Ondines
in Giraudoux’s play;
memories erased,
unrecognized faces,
laughing with present joy,
turning to have their sport
in other places.

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FULL MOON DAY

One candle is a light unto itself.
One hundred candles
illuminate a room.
In a room,
one candle is
a light unto itself.

Uposatha Day at Wat Krathum,
seven old ladies and one old man
taking eight precepts for a day
to keep the fires of Hell at bay.
“I undertake to observe the precept
to refrain from killing living beings.
I undertake to observe the precept
to refrain from taking things not given.
I undertake………”

An old monk gives a sermon;
“Articulate Sariputta is blamed.
Ānanda’s economy of speech is blamed.
Silent Buddhas are blamed.
Criticising others
burns the heart
wards off wholesome
states of mind.”

A new and lofty concrete sala hall
is being built to house a replica
of a famous Buddha image
in which, they say, Luang Por Sothorn *
floated along the river Bang Pakhong,
against the current, to Chachoengsao
after the sacking of Ayudhaya,
a city of a million souls.

Eleven o’clock,
a bell sounds.
Seven monks follow their abbot
past a rabble of dogs with mange,
sabbe sangkhārā dukkhā, **
to Jai Hieng’s house
on the anniversary
of Jai Hieng’s father’s death,
sabbe sangkhārā aniccā. ***

Off the road,
concrete lintels laid end to end
make a causeway.
To the left a lake
once watered orchards.
The lake remains,
abandoned to monsoon and sun
and the struggle to survive.
The orchards are long since gone
to make way for a ramshackle prison,
an intensive chicken farm;
a hundred yards
of crude, wooden Auschwitz.

Deserted now,
last week’s screams
and cackles and sudden death
are an uneasy silence
this hot afternoon.
By government decree,
the chickens have gone.
A thousand and more,
stuffed alive into bags,
thrown into a pit,
a powdering of white lime
on freshly dug earth,
flattened where the tractor has been.

A mass grave
to protect humans
from chicken flu.

In Jai Hieng’s house
the monks sit
on coloured rattan mats,
along adjacent walls.

Fans are trained on them.
A white string links them,
hand to hand,
from abbot’s hand
to Ting Lee’s urn
in the adjoining room.
They chant
of suffering, impermanence
and insubstantiality.

Two old ladies and one foreigner
listen to the chanting of Pali words
spoken by Buddha himself
over two and a half thousand years ago,
a chant which vibrates
the heart chakra
like a lute string.

No-one else listens.
Food is prepared.
Everyone shouts commands
(and counter-commands).
Plates clatter.
Cutlery rattles.
Monks chant.

They do not need to listen
to a language
which, like the liturgies
of medieval Christendom,
is recognised,
revered,
but, by the laity,
not understood.

It is enough that the monks are here,
large and loud,
like a massive, virtual reality
Television Screen.

Afterwards, lunch.
We sit and watch the monks eat,
as in Bangkok
the rich used to pay
to watch the king dine.
Curries, rice, shrimps,
asparagus, carrots, peas,
tofu, sticky rice, dom yam,
lotus seeds, luk deui,
makaam thets, jackfruit, mangoes.

(But no chicken.)

* A famous monk who after the fall of Ayudhaya is believed to have rejected Nibbāna and entered a Buddha image for the benefit of others. His cult, widespread in Thailand, is centered on Chachoengsao where it has created an economic boom based on the pilgrim trade there reminiscent of Lourdes and Canterbury in the Middle Ages in Europe. Amulets with his image sell for up to 40,000 baht each.
**All conditioned things are suffering.
*** All conditioned things are impermanent.

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THE HAPPIEST OLD

The happiest old
have nothing and don’t mind.
The happiest young
are old before their time.
Few these.

The others are behind their years,
suffer thirteen-year-olds’ fears
into their twenties,
and in their forties
have appetite
for sins of twenty.

But not the bite.

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NEW RECRUITS TO THE GUARDROOM

On Tuesday after a silence
of three months,
suddenly,
where the jungle
throws evening shadows over the bougainvilleas,
all the cicadas shouted out at once;
stretching and releasing their tymbals
like the shimmering and vibrating
of a thousand silver cymbals.

No notices were posted on the trees.
No announcements in the press.
No sergeant major shouted, “one, two, THREE!”
No ragged more or less.
Nothing in their diaries told them when to come.

They all march together to a single, silent drum.

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MIDSUMMER DREAM

I dreamed of Paradise Garden;
sunlight sliding down
from an infinite sky
through cedar trees to emerald lawns;
oriental poppies six feet high,
Indian butterflies gliding by
through multilayered shades of blue.
Olympian Apollo’s statue
holds a fountain in his hands,
which swirls and mists, sparkles and cools,
cascading down to deep green pools,
where red carp flash on silver sands.

Gazing round I find,
beyond the mirror of my mind,
past flowering trees and shrubberies,
how all around
this fertile ground
the garden is confined
within a fence of iron bars,
which stretches high
to arch across and make a canopy
between me and the sky.
The falcons, hawks and eagles
which circle round are kept at bay
and cannot swoop to seize as prey
the song birds that sing here all day.

Beyond the bars, a crawling multitude
swarms to and fro insatiably
but cannot find its way
into my garden solitude.

Heavens! I thought, the truth is clear to me!
That restless swarming world
is a prison shut in by iron bars.
Only I, in my garden, am completely free!

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COMPLETING CYCLES

The Juggler throws
his batons at the sun.
The sky throws them back again
like rain,
each and every one.

Surely by now he knows
what it is he’s gaining?

Come Mr. Juggler,
look at it from your point of view,
just how long has it been raining?

On you?

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AS A THING IS VIEWED…

The Emerald Buddha
is not made of emerald
but a kind of green
and mutton coloured jadestone.

Nor is it a Buddha,
though seated on a gilded throne
above our heads;
though presented every year
with new robes by the King himself;
though credited with magical powers
of healing and the allocation of wealth;
though without any doubt
the guardian and protector of the Kingdom;
though guarded by soldiers.

It is a carved image
of a seated man,
an icon, an atavistic talisman,
the spoil of wars between Thai and Lao.
It is a footprint,
a thousand years of history.

For the past 700 years,
the spirit of Kru Ba,
an old toothless monk in a brown robe,
has lived in the image.
When asked about his motive,
he replies, “I want to help people.”

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FUNERAL

We crawl our way from earth to star
nor calculate from birth how far
our tiny feet
will take us
before the karma that we meet
will break us
and cast us adrift on an outgoing tide.

While those onshore mutter simply,
“He died!”

Ding-dong
Fay’s gone
Life long
Death waits for no-one.

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THE FOUNTAIN

The fountain
reaches upwards into space
and, finding nothing
to sustain it there,
falls back into its proper place.

And in this endless
rise and fall,
we see the start and finish
of us all.

Time flies
through summer and through wintry skies;
measures elephants and butterflies,
marks where this is born and that one dies.
See the world dissolve and fade before your dying eyes!

.

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DEEP DOWN TO DEATH

Deep down to death
with every breath
and not one more
for any faith.

His skin has lost a glossy look.
He only feels his single pain
and waits for nothing
to come back again.

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