Kiss of the Mango Rain
A Lyric for Cambodia
Here the midnight stars glow red
And roosters crow long before sunup.
With first light comes the chant of drums
And voices from the temple
Faint whisper of night’s leftover breeze
Rustling leaves of bamboo and mango trees
The strange sweet smoke of slash fires
Like incense inflames the senses
Invades the tangled mind of memories.
No dream is as dream-like
As this life we are born to visit.
By day it is ancient ruins
Stone mysteries lurking
In a landscape steeped in torporific heat
The hypnotic riffs and melodic hysteria
Of myriad jungle birds
Cicada hoards that roar unseen
Then grow tomb-silent.
Giant faces gaze from a lost age
With sly enigmatic smiles mostly
Though some appear ghostly
To be mourning a faded glory
An irretrievable esteem
They are kings, they are bodhisattvas
They are legend and they are dust
But their monuments still breathe
Life and pride into a people
Who share many burdens
Who bear many scars.
This land is heavy with memories of death
Scenes of carnage, depravity and torture
When sacred trees withered and died,
Their roots drowned in Khmer blood.
It is not possible to ignore the ghosts
Nor is it wise to play with them.
In this land flows venom and dark water.
In this land the White Bones Village screams
For retribution a million times over.
The seven-headed cobra has many eyes
And just as many fangs.
Only the enlightened being apprehends
The balance between justice and forgiveness.
But there is music grown here
Music whose blossoms heal
Nourished by the living
Victims of landmines
Crippled, maimed, and blind
Who keep Khmer music alive
In the shadows of Angkor’s shrines,
The wild strings and strains coursing
Through the laterite veins,
A blood-tuned ancestral modality
Chime of heart, gong of bone
High holy fidelity to the
Resilient melody of somehow living
This cursed and blessed life.
See the monks in bright orange robes
Shuffling over terraces carved with
Epic scenes of long ago
Men with bows, clubs, and spears
Horses and great elephants in battle
But these disciples have no interest
In the mythic war they survey
One is talking on a cell phone
As another lights a cigarette --
Buddha is in the details
And the statue of a smiling leper king
Lords silently over all.
Out in the sweltering countryside
Water buffalo plod through sun-baked paddies
As egrets huddle in ragged whispers.
Naked children play carefully by the road,
Their mothers and fathers
Aunts uncles brothers sisters
Work the dikes and dusty fields,
Cherish the shade of
Their stilt-raised houses.
Drums, chimes, and xylophones
Music from a nearby wedding
Dances in the red dirt village as
A man rides by on a motorbike with
Two dead pigs strapped to the rack,
Proud bearer of the nuptial feast.
There are many people assembled
And the ceremony will last many days.
At dusk on the equinox
Finally the sweet kiss of the mango rain
The pre-monsoon shower heaven-sent
To soothe the earth that aches
The bodies that thirst
After wilting months of dry.
Palm fronds tremble in the cool spatter
Frogs light out fresh on evening meanders
Geckos make with their noisy chatter
And the mangos
In the midnight wind
Begin to ripen.
© Eric Walter 2014