Silk Lesson in Cambodia & Other Poems

by Matthew James Friday

Silk Lesson in Cambodia

I am still so soft, even as an adult
I have a Comfort Rag view of the world.
Take silk, for example. I had no idea

the silkworms are slowly cooked in the
sun, roasted in their transformative
coffins like pitiless peanuts, not living
weavers deserving of their own wings,
finding mates dying as Nature nurtured.
Instead discarded and their beds
boiled into softness and unwound
by the human weavers, all mothers,
to make pleasure for the undeserving.

I had assumed, with Teddy Bear logic,
that the gentle, richest of fabrics
was borrowed from the caterpillar;
teased from it’s spitting mandibles,
taken in return for endless mulberry
leaves. At some vaguely adult point
the bloated caterpillar would be allowed
to pull up its miraculous bedsheets,
die its own way and be resurrected
as a beautiful, well deserved escapee.
A fair deal completed and Mankind
relieved of another adult abuse.

 

The Bats of Ping’an, China

It starts at 7.30pm
as the evening shadows the mountain
and the sun pinks the slab of fudged cloud.
For twenty minutes the patchy eaves
of the leaning wooden long houses
and half completed hotels held up
by bamboo shoot out bulleting bats
in spurts of five or so
comically quick wing beats
giddy with just-woken hunger.
Suddenly sonar makes them cut
the air and dive down, then onwards
to the Ping’an rice terraces angled
out of hills seven hundred years ago
to hunt insects with wings
hundreds of millions of years old.
Some come back, ears twitching,
squeaking happy summonings
to the hesitant babies. Others swirl
around in a tide pool of nightlines,
stretching their long skinny fingers.
as the gloom gulps the view
and they all achieve invisibility.

 

No Scam, Affection

Mondul 3 village, Siam Reap, Cambodia

No Scam. No hassling.
No dead-eyed demand for a dollar.
Just my hand. Snatched
from me with a Cheshire Cat grin
by little girl, as old in years
as the fingers she is clasping,
hair rough like the muddy road
that slithers through her village.
A boy joins us, taking my other hand,
swinging it, swatting it, laughing –
he could give ‘high 5’s’ forever.
Another boy, flapping about inside
an adult’s collared shirt, so happy
to be with, so shrunken inside the shirt,
grabs my thigh and won’t let go.
We walk and more children
come and go, tiny slum-eyes
smiling from hope to hope.
When we leave one tiny girl,
smaller than her chances,
watches, waves, eyes widening.

 

On Course

Blown way off course
a white butterfly buffets low
over the buttery sea, soupy
green with plankton. Heading east,
from Phuket to the crocodile coast of
hill ridges and smirking sandy jaws.

Blown way off course
this little Odysseus struggles
to survive each gust of wind,
bouncing on a string of wavy fate,
flapping so hard Amelia Earhart
would tip her wings and wish luck.

Blown way off course
beyond the why or the where from?
Just one false flap would make
her exotic fish food. How
she got here is irrelevant now;
only survive the sea and find a flower.

 

No Beeping

At a Hong Kong island
crossroad normal
traffic abnormal man
rickety jiggers
to the curb
whole gait
shaking
right leg
stuck
out straight
left leg wobbling
so much
earthquaking
rusty iron
about to snap
knees shattering
walking stick with
four toes
touches down
hard
hard
hard
hard
while he jiggers
shunters
shakes
every bone
trying to break
across the road
cars wait
no horns
no beeps
too painful
an ice age
passes
then he does

 

Above the Traffic

We stumble up the steps from the congested, coughing road. Up to the Sky Train, the floating arm of concrete and steel that moves when the arteries underneath are blocked by Bangkok cholesterol.

A band is busking: teenagers from a local school, dressed in blue trousers and skirts and pristine white shirts. A girl is the lead singer; she sings confidently and with talent into the microphone, leaning into it like she is sharing secrets. A boy strums an electric acoustic, head bowed. Another boy hammers an electric drum. A girl holds up a smartphone with the music score on it. Together, lost in music.

Other friends loiter while a larger group sit on the steps and applaud. We sit down and watch, letting the press of commuters pour around us, spilling along the different levels, stairs, elevators. Rain starts to fall, smearing the glass tube walkway with dirty tears. The girl sings and occasionally laughs like a tingling river, loosing the flow of lyrics. The band’s bravery is infectious; they are entertaining the crowd after school when they surely have other homework to do.

We drop a few dripping coins into an open guitar case and that elicits a surprise from the entire band. They jump up, one by one, like reversing dominos and politely thank us, as if it’s their first ever tip.

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