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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BABIES

Babies do not cry
through choice.
It’s just their suffering giving voice;
wishing to share it
with someone like you who can bear it.

In Latin this someone is called mater.

Nowaday’s-English comes much later,
and I cannot find a word to translate her.  

(from GNOMONIC VERSES)

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YESTERDAY’S CHILDREN

Acharn Suphot is the Temple Warden.
Previously he was Headmaster
of the Temple School for thirty five years.

“In the past, for as long 
as anyone can remember,
 children studied the Code of Good Conduct.
Thirty years ago, the Government
 appointed a Christian
 as Minister of Education.
 Soon after that, the Code of Good Conduct
 was taken out of the schools.
 That has been the case ever since.”

What was wrong with the Code?

“Nothing. Listen.
A good person has proper respect.
A good person shouldn’t be noisy
   where others are peaceful.
A good person doesn’t use harsh language.
A good person has a sharing heart.
A good person doesn’t think only of himself.
A good person dresses respectably.
A good person isn’t aggressive with his words.
A good person doesn’t interfere in others’ affairs.
A good person respects all religious places.
A good person is respectful and polite to his seniors…
   You see? Things like that.”

These are Thai virtues. Buddhist virtues!

“Yes.”

And they produce a stable society?

“Exactly!”

(from BAMBOO LEAVES poetry in Thailand)

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PUBLIC NOTICE

YOU ARE NOW ENTERING SILOM ROAD
THE POLLUTION LEVEL IS VERY HIGH

The terracotta pavement is lined
with pradhu trees,
the symbol of the Navy,
hung with orchids (wooden bananas).

Outside a shop called “Modern Optical”
with its reflecting rows
of à la mode spectacles
is a line of large Chinese fish bowls
in which live (and will die)
three-foot high pudtan trees.

On these pots, sit five of the very poor,
hunching together as penguins do,
to keep the outside out.
One is grey with age,
two play old wooden instruments discordantly,
a girl sings;
the harmony is in the poverty.
Each has a tin labelled “Donations”.
No eyes are visible in half open sockets.
For they are blind.

They touch to make a living human chain
so that the fragile world they share
does not disintegrate.
A sharp-eyed woman,
with eyes for all five,
assists (or exploits)
their helplessness.

When the owner of Modern Optical
comes out to speak
and wave his hands,
she leads them away
to the market to find a new pitch.
Each holds onto the one in front
like a medieval European dance
of Dies Irae.

“What were they playing?”
The music of human misery.

(poem from BAMBOO LEAVES Poetry in Thailand)

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TEMPUS MUTAT

People differ in awareness of Time.
Brazilian Indians have no word for tomorrow.
Time is the measure of things
moving through space.

Where there is nothing moving,
not even thoughts,
there is no awareness of Time.

When a dog sees you after a gap of years,
he does not remember you.
He re-cognises you immediately.

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POEMS

Poems are diamonds,
everywhere
embedded in living rock.
You see them
you dig them out
you polish them.

(Sometimes you don’t see them.)

Polish them too much,
they break into fragments,
blow away,
a handful of dust.

(Each mote of which is a diamond.)     

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IN WHICH THE POET LAMENTS THE MISSED OPPORTUNITIES OF A MISSPENT YOUTH

When I was a young man
I couldn’t help noticing
that when young dogs
wanted to mate
they spent little if any
time on small talk
and conserved their energy
by getting down to business
as directly
and economically
as possible.

My contemporaries
on the other hand
approached those activities
which, we were taught
in our biology lessons,
were necessary for the prolongation
of the species, obliquely;
with preliminary conversation,
which, if not checked,
tended to become
not only the preliminary
but the main course as well.

When one opened one’s mouth,
one discovered that girls tended to think
that one was trying to be clever
and to be avoided,
or worse that one actually was clever
and to be avoided,
or one was really not clever,
which was better
since, properly handled,
one might be usefully employed
in carrying things
that needed carrying,
or opening doors
that needed opening,
or closing doors
which were already open
and needed closing,
or paying for things
that were needed
and needed paying for.

The playing fields in which all this prolixity
took place were called dance halls
where one went to .. er
to practise the preliminaries
of the prolongation of the species,
that is to say,
learn how to dance.

If, grasping the nettle
like young dogs
(so to speak),
we spent little if any
time on small talk
and conserved our energy
by getting down to business
as directly
and economically
as possible,
we were,
as economically as possible,

thrown out.

(Poem from GNOMONIC VERSES)

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