A wound in the old city

Ethan Chua

The poems bleed out of Lithai,
the poems line the thoroughfares of Chaliang,
the poems come out of lava bricks

Holes in temple walls left by the exhalations
of volcanoes. The piercing quill, the bullet-riddled
landscape, the aching lotus feet of monks,
sunken bodhi trees and palms. Lithai speaks;
two breaths mix in the Thailand heat. In the ruin,
the Buddha’s lip hangs like a silent precipice. Mottled
light drains through the ubosoth. A thousand
misshapen, expectant eyes. It feels like something
must be born.

The creak of an ox cart wheel, the muddy prints
of elephants’ feet on the thoroughfare cutting through
Chaliang, cutting through the stupa - the knife, the altar,
the sacrifice. Between palms, a piercing quill. Twice into the air,
a prayer.

The earth has been wounded enough. Centuries later,
we excavate the finger of a god. Tusks cleft from stone
elephants leave them with the features of dogs.

The poems bleed out of the riverbed,
the drought, the creeping algae blocking out
the sun’s misshapen eyes from lotus leaves. The eyes ribbon
‘round a thousand unrung bells. Bronze hollows which
old women say speak in Ramkamhaeng’s voice.
We excavate the sound of kings. We excavate the prophet’s
muddied brows. We wait, and kneel, and scuff our knees
on Chaliang’s violent bricks. The susurrations of the earth.
The gouges on our skin shaping out words.