Bio: Chang Liu lives in Toronto where he works as a translator and forest conservationist. His parents immigrated to Canada from China and France at a time when to be of dual ethnicity was to be only half of this, half of that. During his 20s and 30s, he travelled and studied in Thailand, became fluent in Thai and immersed himself in a culture where sensuality and spirituality blur in a way that can rattle the Western mind. To his dual ethnicity he now adds a third, which often finds expression in his poems. To be of mixed ancestry is to discover, sooner than most, that identity is expansive and not always dictated by place of birth. Chang Liu’s poetry has most recently appeared in two anthologies: Sky Island Journal (Spring 2018) and TOK Book 5 (Diaspora Dialogues & Zephyr Press, 2010).
listen—the rain is scolding the world again drums the point over and over into our shed roof— before its relentless argumentthe fall leaves droop. in the grey vastness of a noah noon a new sea rises just outside my bedroom window there’s the neighbour’s dogwashed up wide-eyed under our shed steaming mop and look— a bit more rust on your used lincoln a touch less redon the ageless wheelbarrow still piled high with your rotting wood. hush, the rain isscolding the world again I told you so I told you so I told you so not unlike your anger,only, less thunder more water and remembering to forgiveall the wet things outside even your axerusting away,at rest.
like the end of suffering it rains twice, three times a dayor all night our lane floods noodle carts scatter trees glow the old teak houses below my building lean closer to oblivionand the Bodhi trees’ leaves wait and wait for a new Buddhato sit under their shelter. all I can do is burrow back into my bed that smellsof my Khmer lover and me and turn all my heavy-lidded energyback to his tamarind skin why go out? this is the rainy season. it’s day-long napskissing between bites of sweet sticky rice and tealistening to him lilt Thai oldies from whenhe was new to Bangkok and young and hungry it’s loving, again and again, the roar of the rain drowning out our laboursand pretending we’re safe under one of those rickety bamboo shelters upcountry, strandedin the flooded rice paddies of your home villagewhere they wait for you stay. my treat, and tonight we’ll feast.what is tomorrow? there is no tomorrow. onlymore moisture—stay! this is the rainy season the great annual amnesty sweeping across this sprawling guilt, the city this is the rainy season whentwice, three times a dayor all night we surrender our drynessand remember our past lives as fish when as soon asyou step out of doorsrain washes you like a mother
The force of water
he rushes in latefrom the Skytrain to see me offat Suvarnabhumifrayed from his night of tossing as always he was too polite: his beery neighbourscamped out on his floor roared til dawn oblivious to our mingled salts our sea foam still clingingto his threadbare sheets and walls and now he is just small, brown, taut not the sea god I drowned in,wanting very much to cry but holding back like a man policing himself in the bright stupidlight of Departures. He holds my hand, desperately restrained gracious and Thai to the end,magnificent in quiet defeat tough of bone soft of heart yielding, always yielding awn-awn even his language islike water parting around the rocks I throw in his path. the Dean & Deluca meant as my fancy foreign treat is too bitterfor his sweet crooked teeth, the huge muffin too alien a crash-landed UFO so he smiles over his cup and drinks me in,his two wet stones staring hard soft, hoping maybe to tug me back in with the ecstatic forceof water clasping itself again on the other sideof an obstacle. I am removing the lastone—in 10 minutes I am leaving,up into the dry air. his waters tug hardat my feet.
I refuse to wash your feet
Soiled though they are,ripe with toil,denied grass, love and other soft things, troubled as they seem,rife with the constant rumours of the landand aching to be kneaded by truth still—I will notbend downto wash your feet. I will do no such base thing. Yours deserve a moresacred ablution—of the tongue, lips, tipof the nose—water that arises from within me,costs me something. Underneaththeir patina of modesty,your feetwide and confidentare fitto trample and conquer. To their rough rebukeI would loseface gladly. Fragrant with the oilof struggle, reeking of their lifelongargument with dust,your feetcould be a master’s and only waitto rest gently firmlyon a nosea moutha neck, a loverwho dared leave.
State of grace
The perfect seaton the early reua— sun barely risen still cool, still sohm we slice through Mae Naam Chao Praya water drops flying, lohmon my face. Must be the heat.Thai words from yesterday’s lesson set ambushesand lap at the throne of my samaati. This morning the khon-khap is unshaven,carelessly confident, still wrapped in his dreams, but all of his movements precise—he’s in that state of graceof all people here who push, pull, lift, drive. His biceps and forearms love the sunriseand they are Thailand itself—the palangjit of numberlessreincarnationsrippling through him as the waves of our passage rise and fall on the river of kings. I know, judging by his arms, that under his gahng-gaenghis calves and thighs are river-smooth tamarind on stonea living map of the kingdom. Did I not tell the ticket collector where I was headed?My stop has come and gone, like a life. I’ll stay on this ferry all morning or until they kick me offjust to watch him pilot the universe, and feel himride me over the choppy surfaceof a depthless, nameless calm just to feel the lohmon my face and let all my dry English words—what was it?johm johm johm