Inside Wat Pho
This is not the simple absence of noise,
nor that absolute pressure in your ears,
it’s not the jump of the heart,
but that silence that infect spaces
set aside for history. The Chinese lions
at the gate. The Thai gentlemen in top hats.
This composure is that of stones
forged in volcanic eruptions, which in turn
become islands, hissing as they join the sea.
He’s on his side, reclining, as if the word
were itself partially asleep. The figure
resting on an elbow, like an Asian Atlas
only differently, holding up his head
and not the world, although still in the world.
This silence is audible; it’s mouth open
like a cave. The shrine rests on the old city,
Ayuthaya, a gold body in quiescence, visitors
deaf, or singing in low voices, mingling
histories. A smile like a sheen on wet stone,
hair the pattern of pebbles in the yard, soles
of his feet mother-of-pearl swirls
counterpoised with a turbulent world.
Silence here rings in your ears, and it is
desire that fills the sky with noise.
after Andreas Embirikos
“The purpose of life is our infinite mass.”
When we visit we become that part of ourselves that was. So abruptly. Like rock once fashioned into steps by the hands of slaves, undoubtedly, before they would be fed, before another day would pass over, and the gods would return to survey the work. Now, that is, today, the language of gods has changed. The spelling is worse, the names confuse immigrants with invaders, and the genders are often up for grab. It is wholesale slaughter, not just here but in all the warehouses, among the barbie dolls and the imported silk imitations of the National Flag. It gets harder to separate out the islands from the sea painted around them. We should never ask anything of the disinterested, give no indication that they have been heard, nothing important can be done without them. Fish, grapes, the tomato, all have material memories. The islands, at last, are a kind of imprint on the sea of the mind, the visitor’s emptiness, the loss real children feel when they open their doors onto the street to find the festival was there, but at a different time.
You cannot take anything with you when you escape. After all these years, bending to the wheel, you must cobble together only an image of the road, millennium bifocals, the cat without hair, a brother lost to the rest of the family. Anything more would be rude or unhealthy, a box larger than the things you carry into storage. You’re a bear in a cave, a fish trying to imagine its way upstream, or a dog on a bordertown street. When you were born, you dragged a world behind you. Name haunt you, like footprints on an island beach, you must read quickly before the storms strip your tropical dream of its memories. You dream all this up from deep inside a closet, a space that reeks of sweaty sneakers and old winter coats. The darkness is as false as wool and inside weather. When you hear good things about an ancestor, you can’t believe it. Weren’t they born into an aristocratic 17th century? Have we forgotten the colonial invasions? Are there idols yet to be destroyed, or is this only a wished-for memory of what might have been, way back before the human sacrifices? The world is always a world of skulls. The armies are forever coming at a march, surrounding the enclave where you labor on your door carvings, your windows spotless but frosty from the ancient unclean glass. You greet the world with a cup of coffee, and think, this is it, this is all my time. But the aroma has brought in the workers from the fields, the women with their dirty weavings, and the children, willing to sell anything.
The ideological miasma, that is, swamp gas not creating saucers but a sickening sense of now, the present mistake, pushed into the twentieth century like an oversized head into the abandoned hospital room. Such a still birth, mistaken again for an insect, prepared to outlive the race, but it devoured the planet instead, in short order, in under a day (in cosmic time, or by the mirrors). Violence was an end in itself, like swimming. Like a rope that reaches just so far down into a bottomless well. Surely you would climb out? The absolutists, the bolsheviks, the demos, the fascists. Everyone blaming life on something else, the dehumanized remnants of a latent century. The dialectical processes that started with cave fire pretty much ran their course with the first atomic collapse of sense. Who thought the ladder would always have a chute? And if that won’t get you into bed, nothing will. Intellect aside, fried eggs are better in the moment than some vegan misrepresentation of my leather jacket. Why is it we always dream of growing up into a stalemate of time? Talk about movies. Just one inch further, as the Buddhists say, the thought becomes the word becomes the act becomes the regret becomes the divorce becomes a manic reaction to simple things become jail time–or a quiet spell in the country–becomes the next generation. Birth is not simply a physical after-effect of misrepresentations of care. I did what I could. You didn’t do as well. That was last century, entering the present, always blaming the earth for the ideas its inhabitants generate. Postmodernly, we should forget all the violence of the purgative periods of recent history and start again, marriage of blind puppies. You read Hegel again in a café, and I’ll pick you up.
George Moore has published with The Atlantic, Poetry, Northwest Review, Colorado Review, and a good deal internationally this last year or so, in Blast (Australia), Antigonish Review (Canada), Dublin Quarterly, Semaphore (New Zealand), QRLS (Singapore), and Anastomoo (Tasmania). He spends part of each year doing artist residencies in Europe, and this May was on the island of Rhodes, Greece, at the International Writers and Translators Center. Previous years he’s worked in Portugal, Iceland, Spain and Canada. Some of his poetry has been in collaboration with visual artists in the last few years, with installations and exhibition in Spain, Canada, and Iceland. This year George has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a “Best of the Net” award and the Wolfson Poetry Prize, and last year for a Pushcart, two “Best of the Web”, and The Rhysling Poetry Award. His collections include All Night Card Game in the Back Room of Time (Pulpbits 2007) and Headhunting (Mellen, 2002). He teaches literature with the University of Colorado, Boulder.