Here are some Thailand-inspired poems. Enjoy.

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By David G. Allan

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in February 2002 on the website TheDharmaBums.com. David’s CNN.com column, The Wisdom Project, can be subscribed to here: https://tinyletter.com/wisdomproject

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(#1. Buddha Baby was inspired by the many Thai babies I’ve seen, who in general, are rarely crying and seemingly content with their situation. What do they know that the rest of us don’t? Are they enlightened?)

Buddha Baby

Eyes wide and calm
Focused singularly, deliberately
On this, then that, on you
All Equal

Countenance cool and bright
No fear, hate, cynicism, cruelty, vice
Just between happy and sad
The Middle Way

Movement simple and easy
Finger, toes, head tilt
Impossible to do harm
Right Action

(#2. The useful Thai phrase ‘mai pen rai’ — sounding like ‘my pen dry’ said quickly — is the first one I learned. When the locals are trying to sell you something or get you into their tuk-tuk — the onomatopoeic name for the three-wheeled mini-taxis — or even earn Buddhist merit by freeing their birds, declining in English is not nearly as effective as ‘main pen rai.’ The term means ‘it doesn’t matter’ and can be said when someone thanks you, but when you say it to the vendor or driver on the street, they will leave you alone. In the poem, so moon pry are local Thai medicinal herbs.)

Mai pen rai

I see him coming in the corner of my eye
The vender, the hawker, the food stall guy
“Look at this! Buy, buy, buy!
Purchase my goods,” pleads the Thai
He’s not timid, he’s not shy

“The price is fair, it is not high
A custom suit, a silk tie?
A wooden frog, some so moon pry?
Coconut, scorpion, Have you ever try?
Or free my bird, let it fly!
How about a tuk-tuk ride?”

But I don’t want these things, I sigh
And I calmly, like a Jedi,
Wave my hand and, says I,
“Mai pen rai. Mai pen rai”

(#3. I wrote Stay-ing Current just after Kate, her Aunt Donna, Uncle Ewing and I took a speed boat trip down the Mekong River that makes the border of Thailand and Laos. The Mekong begins in Tibet, ends in Vietnam and flows through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Burma as well. China is planning an extensive Three Gorges Dam project that could have serious effects on the rest of the river and on the livelihood of those who live on the Mekong in the other countries.

The poem evokes the fast motion of our little boat gliding over the water and purposefully conveys an Asian sense of duality — even in the title. The most memorable image of our Mekong tour was several young monks playing in the river, doing cartwheels for our amusement.
Sanuk is the Thai word for ‘fun’ and is an integral quality of Thai culture. Everything should be sanuk.)

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Stay-ing Current

Stone skippin’ down the six-country Mekong
Skip skip skip
Chop chop chop
Chinburmlaothaicamnam fun
Skip skip skip
Chop chop chop
30, 40, 50 miles kilometers along
Skip skip skip
Chop chop chop
Fishing, bathing, cooking, peeing, bumpty-bumping
Skip skip skip
Chop chop chop
Warm cold winds on sun-kissed skin
Skip skip skip
Chop chop chop
Sanuk saffron-skivied monks a-swimmin’
Skip skip skip
Chop chop chop
Stay-ing current

(#5. The other night Kate and I discovered the large and smoky lobby of the nearby Grace Hotel, a hangout for many Middle Eastern and African men who pack every corner of the place, smoking, drinking, playing pool, chatting with paid escorts, and laughing. The moldy, old carpet was the most popular ashtray and Kate said the place smelled like the decades of debauchery it had harbored. It was one of the worst smells she had ever experienced. But we decided to play a game of ping-pong over a Singha beer. The haiku tries to maintain the traditional haiku rule of presenting a pair of contrasting images, one suggestive of time and place, one a vivid but fleeting observation.)

Grace Hotel coffeeshop
Thick smoke and Middle East men
Ping-pong ball rolls off

(#6. Another haiku. This one inspired by the mega-popular karaoke, which we did for the first time recently. It was in Kate’s mentor’s home so the pressure was low. After we blankly stared at Thai karaoke songs and asked what was going on, they pulled out the farang (foreigner) karaoke CDs. The “love songs” CD had such beautiful romantic ballads as My Way, Sound of Silence, El Condor Pasa and Let It Be. The “country songs” CD contained old Western classics such as Edelweiss, Love Me Tender, River of No Return sung by the country-western pop sensation Marilyn Monroe, and again, Let It Be, naturally. For her debut Kate sang How Deep Is Your Love and I sang Hotel California, during which, everyone got up and left the room one by one. I’m not kidding.)

Thai karaoke
One part tune, one part silence
Can’t follow the words

CNN’s Editorial Director of Features (Travel, Style, Wellness, Science), plus The Wisdom Project column. This account represents my personal views, not CNN’s.

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