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?
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.