marcel barang

Aphichart 2007 | 2010

In English, Reading matters on 14/09/2010 at 10:09 am

And then, at 4pm on a Ramadan day of daytime abstinence, Marcel the miscreant called a resurgent Siriworn who was … sharing a beer with a pen pal in a distant town I’m not allowed to mention. Siriworn said he’d call some young poets to send samples of their work to Thai-poetry-lame me, and so it was that, within days, Apichart Chandaeng enriched my life with two of his poetry books: his second collection, Telling the truth with the little shepherd, 2007, and his latest, Our country and many [other] tales, 2010 – the latter beautifully produced by Chaikhorp (‘margin’ or ‘fringe’), the new imprint of the Sarinee of ‘Red vs. Yellow: a poetic joust’ (last Friday’s entry).
How Our country… didn’t make the shortlist of the SEA Write Award this year is beyond me: there is nitty-gritty poetry there, both subtle and strong, symbolic and down to earth, concerned with the times, this country, his South, and the nature of life – and the chances are that the poet’s next collection will be a strong contender for the award next time around.
Apichart, 36, is another native of the Deep South (Pattani oops: Phattalung). He currently teaches at university level in Hat Yai after some ‘work in book circles’, as he puts it. There is continuity in his production and, without his being politically evangelistic, there is no doubt about which side of the social divide in current Thai society he stands: the western clouds when you look north from the wounds of the far South, or perhaps the moon, since his surname or pen name, jan daeng, means ‘red moon’.
Although he writes longish pieces, often of a hundred lines or longer – indeed, there is in Telling the truth… a piece called ‘The hundred-line story’ which – don’t tell him! – runs over one hundred and one lines –, being the lackadaisical translator that I am I went for the shorter pieces to betray. A brief one struck me with its symbolism. Here it is:

On the wall surface

A white wall…
Looking at a white wall
I saw sorrow in the cement mix
long ago
youth in my opinion
too far back to catch
Suddenly one morning
I touched the wall surface and rubbed
as if my strength would vanish
through my fingertips: palming only sad pain
At the same place
my fingers plumbed the wall surface once again
My skin peeled off, my flesh
oozed blood, blood ran
making me realise it wasn’t a white wall

There are easier pieces, like this one, reminiscent of Siriworn Kaewkan’s early approach, though with a different tempo:

Father’s hand

Is the mountain ours, father?
Is the river ours?
Those clouds over there
And the eagle in the sky as well
When the morning sun shines
Where are we going, father?
Where are we going?
To a land I know not
The grassland of the unknown
And father lets go of my hand
Why do you let go of my hand, father?
For me to chase the first butterfly of the day?
But after a few steps I take a tumble
And then father laughs
Because of the many pebbles hidden under the grass blades
Father wants me to laugh with him
But he never scolds me when I cry
Father says the morning dew will make my ankles strong
I don’t quite understand but start running off
For the dewdrops on grass blades to drench my feet
The morning dew will make my ankles strong!
The morning dew will make my ankles strong!
My shouts at the eagles in the sky
Resound through every particle of air
For that certainty to perhaps withstand the test of time
Even though someone’s skin has begun to wrinkle
Eyes clouding over to the point of hardly seeing anything
Not even a pebble under grass blades
But this doesn’t matter now
Because those pebbles no longer make me stumble
So I dare to run and climb mountains
Jump into rivers
Chase eagles in the sky until they abscond into clouds
And laugh as father used to laugh
Our laughter coated in morning sunlight
The morning light that shines on an old man’s stoop
Who walks brushing dewdrops across grassland
I know very well there are many pebbles under those grass blades
And there – about to take a tumble
Don’t let go of my hand, father
Don’t let go of my hand!

In Our country…, one of the pieces goes by the same name and is fairly typical of the mood, after three years of turmoil and more in the pipeline it seems.

Our country
(Questions no one wants to ask)

Who says this country is peaceful
merely because no soldier’s corpse is found?
When the capital alone basks in fun
everything is all right in the land?

Who says there is justice in this country?
Whose tears are those that overflow
the heart into wails? Oppression
there is plenty from every side, yielding distress

Who says there is equality in this country?
What sort of truth is that? Gushing forth
the high and the low go separate ways
as they whirl, chase and flail in the breakers

Who says this country is pleasant under shade?
Why keep hardship to yourself, teeth clenched?
What is left listlessly swaying in the air
is the roots of the neglect felt by dust underfoot

Who says this country knows no war?
Unanswered question everywhere
Roads full of people bad or good
To this day sacrifices still mean nothing

Who says this country knows peace?
Look: the era of fighting is expanding
Capitalism shakes and stirs – clamouring
for competition in the tough climb from ground zero*
[* Sorry, I’m having fun.]

Who says there is freedom in this country?
Whose tear smears are those tracing down
with breaths in agonising gasps
to withstand sorrow beyond endurance?

Who says this country is peaceful
merely because no soldier’s corpse is found?
When the capital alone basks in fun
everything is all right in the land?

  1. Great shepherd!

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