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 Katum,
seven old ladies and one old man
taking eight precepts
for a day
to keep the Niraya fires 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:
“A silent sandoth arahant is blamed.
Articulate Sariputta is blamed.
Economical speech of Ananda is blamed.
Even silent Buddhas cannot escape censure.
Criticising others
burns the mind,
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 this, they say, Luang Po Sothorn
floated, in a miracle,
along the river Bang Pakhong
to Chachoengsao
after the sacking of Ayudhaya
a city of a million souls.

Eleven o’clock,
a bell sounds.
Seven monks follow their abbot
to walk a hot and dusty concrete road
past a rabble of dogs with mange,
to Jai Hieng’s house.
Sabbe sankhārā dukkhā
On the anniversary
of Jai Hieng’s father’s death.
Sabbe sankhārā aniccā.

Off the road,
concrete lintels laid end to end
make a causeway.
On the left a lake
once watered orchards.
The lake remains,
abandoned to monsoon and sun
and the struggle to survive.
The orchards have 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
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 Pali words
spoken by Buddha himself
over two and a half thousand years ago.
In a chant
which vibrates
the heart chakra
like a lute string.

No-one else listens.

Food is being 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,
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 will 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.)


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