Three Poems: Migrant Construction Worker, By the Burmese Border, Vietnamese Refugee

By Tony Page

Migrant Construction Worker


They  joke about my dark skin,

proof I’ve always worked in the sun.

At least I felt safe in the rice fields –

not here, dangling on the 35th floor!

My feet, nimble on the scaffold

but better if  they were squelching

the mud of home instead!

My province is dead flat –

as far as the eye can see.

Bangkok’s towers make my head reel

and I have falling dreams.

Our  King says we must be

content with our lot in life.

So,  if I’m to continue breathing

I’ll have to be happy here, lurching

from pillar to post. Way up in the smog.

By the Burmese Border

Heavy with seed, this valley dreams

Of its own ripeness, reluctant

To wake from the mist.

Hypnotized, the grain

Flexes its muscle, in danger

Of falling over itself.

The peasants, still half asleep,

Collaborate in the promised bounty.

Their feet glide over the ground,

Hats and hoes above green waves.

Statues slipping in and out of

Rhythm,  they soften the earth

Which stretches as sustenance

To dream-like horizons.

The village radio crackles, playing

Thailand’s fairy tale anthem.

Buddha in league with the King

Prop up these fields, thank God

The peasants pause

To smile at each other,

Enjoying a full belly

And peace all these years.

But what’s that over the border  –

What sounds slice the air?

Vietnamese Refugee

Australia, 1990s


The banks of this western river – deserted.

Absent landlords over vacant tenants.

No people, no willpower to grow rice

In the void of your southern land.

There must be life in this river yet,

Idling on all cylinders of apathy;

Something  left as protein in this country

Ravaged by the horrors of peace.

I hope by casting my net

To pacify the bitumen,

To bring back my sweaty village

And its network of fields.

Let me teach these pale men

A river must be harvested for food,

Not clogged by the build-up

Of investment and fat.

Ah, your police find me at last.

No time to hide the net of

My skin – the colour of your fear.

I’ll die as a pledge of rice.

Tony Page has published three books of poetry in Australia, most recently the 2004 anthology Gateway to the Sphinx (Five Island Press). Tony lived for 20 years as a teacher in South East Asia and returned to live in Melbourne two years ago.