LOTUS POND MARKET

Looking neither left nor right,
a proud and sensitive Chinese face,
here by the Lotus Pond Market,
seems a little out of place.
Straight back, head held high,
adjusts her hair with manicured hand;
red panung, blue-and-white print shirt,
manouvres with care her sandalled feet,
as though she has stepped down from a higher band
into the squalor and dirt
of Chumporn Street.
But, as she passes the open shop,
something makes her stop
and look up where
she sees the fat Chinese,
above the street, at her table there.

The Chinese gestures, the girl hesitates,
thinks to walk on, stands and waits;
then steps up with an embarrassed smile
and sits down in the other chair.
The Chinese gives her a deck of cards,
talking all the while,
which the girl shuffles with surprising skill
and hands them back.
Without looking, the Chinese cuts the pack
and deals them professionally,
mostly to herself, occasionally
one or two to the girl, who looks carefully
at the cards she collects.
The Chinese gathers up her hand,
fans them face down
and invites the girl to select.
Hesitating, she takes two
and adds them to her own.
She watches the Chinese who
touches the girl’s cards, talking in a monotone
suddenly broken by a sharp question.
The girl raises her eyes in surprise
and starts to reply,
stops, looks down again
and pronounces one word.
Slowly, she begins to speak.
An eddy of excitement
spirals up and straightens her back.
She points to this card and that
and taps them with delight.
She slaps her knee.
She bangs the table.
She stamps her feet,
bounces up and down on her chair,
laughing and flushed.
The Chinese watches her
with a slowly flowering smile.
The girl chatters on
and, with a final slap,
puts her head back and laughs.
Then she counts out thirty baht
for the Chinese, scrapes her chair
and walks on down Chumporn Street,
looking neither left nor right.

(from BAMBOO LEAVES poetry in Thailand)

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