Category Archives: Poetry

Feeding Myself

Recently someone asked me what I would say if I were accused of having a “White-Savior” complex. I told them I would reply by saying that I have received much more from Thai people than I have ever given. I have also learned much more from Thai people than I have ever taught them.

I have no way of measuring it, but living in another culture is an education in itself. I have learned hundreds of things over the past 8 years, not even counting the Thai language.

This includes things like learning how to wash dishes Thai style, eating with your spoon and your fork in each hand, cutting things with the knife turned outward (ok, I am not very good at that) and learning the nuances of communication outside of spoken word. (And I am still learning that too).

And then if you count language, I have learned even more. One thing I was reminded of recently when talking with Amy, is how much space language can take up in your brain. We were talking about how we tend to forget some of the simplest English words when speaking Thai. I remember learning about some bilingual theories at Payap from dry Dr. Saber at whose name was horribly mangled by us in both Thai and English. The theories were about bilingual children and whether or not the brain can absorb both languages at once, or if one language is absorbed at the expense of the other, or if you go into modes, like using an English mode and a Thai one.

I can’t remember which theory won out in the end, but if I examine my own brain, I would say that I have several modes. One is English. One is Thai. One is Pennsylvania Dutch. When I am in one mode, it is hard for me to switch to other modes. For example, I might be teaching a low-level English class, so I am speaking Thai. When a student asks me in Thai how to say a certain sentence in English, sometimes my brain freezes and it takes me a bit to think of how to say it in English, if I can think of it at all.

Other times when I am speaking a lot of English, my Thai starts coming out stilted. It seems as if once I am in one mode or the other, it’s hard to immediately switch. This is tremendously exhausting when you are translating for two parties in both languages. More than once, I have caught myself speaking the wrong language to the wrong person.

While I have gained so much and learned so much, a constant battle remains. That battle is to feed myself mentally from quality sources in the English language. I am not talking about a spiritual battle of making sure I get my spiritual food, but more of a battle of reading good literature. Books are scarce here, and although I have a Kindle, I do need to pay for books. Libby doesn’t work for me to borrow books since my home library does not participate. Not only that, coming home tired from a day of school, it takes discipline and energy to read. If I want to learn to write well, I must also feed myself well.

I am hungry. I am hungry to sit in a library surrounded by shelves and shelves of books, books and books. Big fat books with collections of short stories and poems. Books you can touch. I would give almost anything to study at summer term or winter term at Faith Builders and discuss what I am learning with like-minded people. I would love to join in on a book club and attend discussions from knowledgeable people fluent in English. I want to talk about the beautiful things we have read. I love my Thai friends, but our tastes in literature are as far apart as the North and South Pole and few, if any, are fluent enough in English.

But in the meantime, I make do. I read from some high school readers I brought over with me. I find books of poetry on Kindle, some of which are free. I recently discovered Spotify (yes, yes, I am wayyyy behind the times) and discovered that you can listen to poetry on Spotify. I try to follow blogs that stimulate the mind.

This hunger is one reason I like the Curator so much. The Curator is, in their own words, “an organization dedicated to developing a literary conversation with values sourced in the Christian worldview, particularly as Christianity has historically been understood by Anabaptists (but not confined to the Anabaptist community). We want to build a community of writers and readers who inform each other, a culture that recognizes quality and strives to create things of value. Our mission is to provide good content to engage in and to train writers and readers to be able to engage in it.”

I often find myself out of my league here, but I look forward to each Thursday morning when the Curator releases their weekly poem. Not only this, but they also provide the occasional short story or essay, and an annual collection of art, poetry and stories called The Leaf. Last year they had some Zoom seminars, which I actually managed to attend several times, despite the time difference.

Do you have any suggestions for ways to keep my brain mentally stimulated in English, and my mind cultivated when it comes to the arts? Any resources, books, or websites you would suggest? Let me know in the comments!

Fragile

Fragile and tentative, I find myself again

In this darkened corridor of hope

Waiting for what, I cannot rightly say.

The words are caught on my tongue as if

They are shy from the shadows on the wall.

Does hope shine brightly?

I cannot say it does,

It is a corridor long and dark

And always there is the waiting,

Waiting stretching like long, shimmering glass.

And this I wonder:

Is hope rightly hope if it does not fear?

The Salawin River

I really wanted to write a poem about the river yesterday.

But while there were words rolling around in my head, they refused to order themselves coherently when I tried to put them on paper.

Perhaps that is because a river is already a poem. And to write a poem about a river is maybe like trying to make a poem of a poem.

Mmmmmm?? Yet Robert Louis Stevenson did it.

I don’t know. Someday I still hope to write a poem about it. But for now, I will just indulge in my fascination with this river.

Amy and I had a day off yesterday since it was the current Queen’s birthday. We took the chance to go to Mae Saam Laep, something we had wanted to do for a while.

Mae Saam Laep is a border town between Thailand and Myanmar located about 47 kilometers from Mae Sariang and is known for its trade with the other side, the other side being “Kawthoolei” ”(meaning “land without darkness) or Karen State. I had it my head that Kawthoolei was just a town in Karen state. I didn’t realize until yesterday that Kawthoolei is Karen State. Mae Saam Laep was evacuated at least once last year when the fighting on the other side came too close for comfort, and in the past shots have been fired on civilians in boats on the river. The village is built oddly, perched precariously on the mountainside above the river. Many people travel to Mae Saam Laep and from there travel by boat on the Salawin River to other more unreachable parts of Thailand and Myanmar.

I already have a fascination with rivers, probably fueled by memories I have of canoeing down the Arkansas River. But when I saw the Salawin river, and started researching more about it, it only increased my fascination.

The Salawin, as I learned from Wikipedia, has its base in the Tibetan Plateau where it is called the Naqu River, meaning “dark and deep.” It flows down through China through Yunnan province, known there as the Nujiang River and nicknamed the “Angry River”. Once it reaches Myanmar, it is called the Thanlwin River, and along the Thai border is known as the Salawin. It eventually flows into the Andaman Sea. The river provides a livelihood for millions of people.

I followed the river on Google maps from its source to where it spills into the ocean, which stirred up my dreams again for all things Tibetan and reminded me of my short trip to Pu’er and Kunming in China years ago.  The river is quite tame by the time it reaches Thailand, as most things are. I feel in my secret soul that whether its mountains or rivers or wildlife, Thailand is mostly just a shadow of China or Nepal. However, that doesn’t take away from my fascination with this river. My dream is to travel to the source in Tibet and follow it all the way down to the Andaman Sea.

But perhaps for now I will keep my teaching job here and start out first with a little boat ride here in Thailand.

A fisherman bringing in his morning catch/
Rain on the river
The sign on other side says, “Welcome to Kawthoolei”. If you look closely you can see a boat in the river, which gives you a bit of perspective on the size of the river.
Amy lost in thought
Again, notice the boat in this picture.

sources:

http://en.chinaculture.org/library/2008-01/08/content_21769.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salween_River

Heritage

And when the mists come tonight they are not unlike my thoughts.

They come, tendrilling and gray, untouchable,

Yet stirring the ache, the echo of that music unheard.  

I wonder at my own sorrow, and the sorrows the world

Has bequeathed upon me

Unasked.

For I am a dust child, born of the earth.

I wonder if Esther wept in the palace halls

If Bath-sheba ever forgot the little man child who was no more

And if Eve lay awake, in pain, counting the stars,

The stars that were so far, far away.

Image by bernswaelz from Pixabay 

Small

This is the road

It is a ribbon running through the mountains

Glistening black in the rain, fading gray in the sunlight

Checked with yellow, edged in white

Swooping and diving between and around the mountains

Like a swallow homing forever.

The road carries me down into the valley

Into the shade of forest, dusky and dark,

Curving in the lowlands, trapped and winding,

Now, suddenly it flings me arching up, up, up into the heights

Floating on a ridge on the top of the world,

A patchworked world of fields and villages

Some intricate masterpiece quilted by skillful hands;

Along the sunlit crest the road flies until we twist and turn,

Turn down dizzying curves to reach the river

The brown, brown river running swollen from the rain.

The river and the road take me away, and the sun splashes

Through the canopy of wild trees, spilling flickering light on the road

As it moves along the woodlands

Past a pregnant goat grazing by the way, and a field of buffalo,

Past smoke rising gray against the blue and green,

And mountains upholding a bluing sky until a

Sudden flood of rain; and inside my pink raincoat and visor,

I become a kingdom of myself, a muffled, moving, pink kingdom.

But the rain ceases

And a sudden orange of blossoms bursts against the sodden sky

The road is not a ribbon.

It is a gray and yellow asphalt snake, and I am a beetle riding on its back.

(Inspired by my bike trip to Mae Hong Son today (and other trips similar to it)).

A rural gas station. I love places like this to fill up since you usually can have fun conversations with the owner. Photo credit: Abby Martin
Abby Martin and I on a recent trip

Kansas (Vignettes of a Journey #6)

Only in sleep I see their faces,

Children I played with when I was a child.

Louise comes back with her brown hair braided,

Annie with ringlets warm and wild. “Only in Sleep” by Sara Teasdale

Nostalgia is one of the biggest emotions that hit me when I am home. Half of my time at home, I spend reminiscing and walking around old haunts or digging through shoeboxes of letters and photos and school papers. The above poem brings a lump to my throat as I think of my past visit home.

It was a memorable visit, filled with out-of-the-ordinary happenings, not all that were nice.

After traveling home from Reach, I got sick the first week. On the last day of March, it snowed enough to cover the ground and then it all melted by noon. The next week, my nephew fell off his horse and broke his wrist and we had high winds almost every day. The following week was windy again for a few days and then we had some really warm windy weather, along with hail, rain and then again, some snow! The day before Good Friday a gas plant in Haven blew up and some people could see the flames from our area. The last week I was home we had about one nice day, and the rest were cold and windy.

I loved the snow we got, though, even when others were quite glum about it. And there were other highlights to offset the unhappy surprises. My nieces and I took a little trip one day to the library and to the Dutch Kitchen. Sara and I spent a day at a coffee shop together and I also joined her at work one day. Our family got together for Good Friday, and Mom and Dad and Sara and I went out for supper one evening. I got to help at a community sale one Saturday, attended baptism services at our church one Sunday, and listened to a school program the last evening I was home. I visited my grandma’s grave one afternoon. Most Mondays I went with Aunt Miriam to the doctor where she did lab and chemo.

Wednesday evening before I left was a perfect spring evening, and my nephew Eric, the one who had not broken his wrist, and I went horseback riding. We saw 5 turkeys, one deer, and another animal that we decided was either a coyote or a mountain lion, both of which have a tail, a tawny color and a loping run. Both of us hoped it was the latter, but we weren’t close enough to make sure. Friday before I left on Saturday, I went with Grandpa and my Aunt Miriam and Dad to the doctor. In the evening, my nephew Davon, the one who had broken his wrist, came over with his .22 youth rifle and we went bird hunting in 40 mph winds, shouting to each other over the howl. I shot at several birds and was always secretly glad that I hit none. Somehow, shooting things does not have the same appeal as it used to, but I did pray that Davon would hit something and he did.

This time, saying goodbye harder than it had been for a long time. The last two times I had been home, Covid restrictions made it complicated and difficult to travel back to Thailand, so the last few days of my time at home had been spent stressing about travel back. This time was different, with eased restrictions. It was also the first time I was home after grandma’s death. This made it harder to say goodbye to my mom, since she seemed smaller and whiter than before.

Saturday morning dawned rainy. I am always glad when it is rainy the day I leave, since it fits my mood. Before I left, I ran out to the apple tree and cut some blossoms that had just appeared overnight.

And then I left for Wichita in the middle of the endless Kansas wind.

The Hound Dog and the Tulips

There is something a soul loves about a tulip bed

Brave red warriors, fearlessly blooming

Tossed among the prairie winds and buried in snow;

I gaze from the edge and marvel at such courage,

Awed by first flash of spring.

Yet at this shrine of tulips there is another,

A more ardent worshipper than I

Who adores each day with consecrated whine.

Not worshipping from afar, or with holy expectancy,

But with sweet communion among the flowers,

(Where even I fear to tread) the ritual is completed:

Two turns and a twist, and a sigh of pure adoration

The long ears give a twitch and then– down she sinks among the glory

And from the crushed velvet red, spring rises like incense

Heavenward, and so it shall be forever,

For is this not called such — a tulip bed?

Meditations of the Aunt

For, lo, children are an Heritage of the Lord

As Arrows in the Hand of a Mighty One

Happy is he who hath his Quiver full

For they are like Olive Plants, the Offspring of Fruitful Vines;

They are the Laughter, the Promise, the Crown

The Ornament and Joy of Old Age.

But doth the Holy Writ have ought to say

Of when the Mighty Ones have Earthly Errands to perform

And leave all the Arrows and Olive Plants

To descend at once upon the Ancestral Home,

And Ought to say of the Sisters of the Fruitful Vines

That care for such a Quiver full in Times as this?

Nay, it hath Naught to say.

And despite all the Efforts on the part of such

The Arrows will ascend into Mulberry Trees,

And will splash in the Fountains on Winter Days,

And will, with great mirth, give rides in the Washing Machine.

The Olive Plants spread themselves flourishingly,

As though strengthened by the Fertilizer of Chocolate and Peppermint,

That, like Stolen Waters, were eaten in secret, and oh, so sweet;

And all cease not to question about each and every Process of this Life and the Next

Until Silence is not only golden, but more precious than Gasoline.

Then, when the Arrows have been gathered from the four Corners of the Farm

And the Quivers returned and the Olive Plants packed away

And delivered to the Homes of each respective Tribe

The Aunts with Aching Feet both lay themselves down in Peace and sleep,

Praising God that such an Heritage was not seen fit to be bestowed on them

But instead, were granted the same as Paul, and as such are at peace to abide as him.

Once Upon a Spring Wind in Kansas

Has anyone else noticed

How the wind is in a hurry today?

I asked it where it was going

But it did not deign to say.

I even asked it politely,

When it loudly slammed the door

But it would not listen to me

It only blew some more.

It shouted in the treetops

And it yelled against the pane;

It sent the emptied garbage bin

Scooting down the lane.

It blew the wash right off the line-

The sheets were fodder for the breeze-

And one of dad’s Sunday socks

Landed in the trees.

It groaned and moaned in the attic

Till we thought a man was dying;

It wailed along the windows

Like a baby’s midnight crying.

It played all sorts of silly tricks

Like whooshing off the milkman’s hat

It blew the potted pansies south

And knocked mom’s tulips flat

Has anyone else ever tried

To tell the wind what to do?

I called it names and said it should stop

But it just said rudely, “Who me? Whooo-whoooo!”

So, I just stayed in all day

And wrote a poem about a nasty wind

The wind that tomorrow will turn around

To go racing north as fast again.

New York City (Vignettes of a Journey #4)

And by what charm do you claim to have

Dared to woo a country lass

Of western prairies and slow-going German stock?

Perhaps it was your soaring lines and arches,

The splendor of the gleaming lights,

The haunting cords of history woven,

Or your many-colored children.

What charm, I cannot rightly say,

But this I know,

I long to live your streets in the glimmer of the rain.

I flew from Zurich to JFK, arriving in New York on Monday evening, March 21. My sister, Sara, and a friend flew from Kansas to meet me where we toured NYC for a day and a half and then traveled by train to Lancaster, PA for REACH conference on the 24th and 25th. We stayed in Brooklyn, visited the Ministry Training Center in Queens, stopped in close to Times Square for lunch, rode the Staten Island Ferry, visited the 911 memorial, and finished off with Brooklyn Bridge. I am not counting all the various detours we took in trying to find our way through the city subways. It was a bit exhausting after having flown in from Thailand, but we loved every minute of it. Ok, well, the aching feet we didn’t love.