by John Hicks
Chachoengsao Province, Thailand
Where the raised highway turns south,
goes on to Chonburi and beyond it to Pattaya,
where it lifts over a local canal,
a boy, knee-deep in a farm pond
washes a black water buffalo,
splashing its flanks with cupped hands.
Beyond the boy, late morning sun reflects
on distant white walls and steep orange roof
of a Buddhist temple. I have time, so I turn
onto the first gravel road running east,
hoping it will take me there. I’m leaving
the clamor of the capital for the weekend,
heading to the beach.
The temple sits on high ground
in a flooded surround of sky-dipped rice fields.
It’s like a stand of pines
that rose above sagebrush and manzanita
in the mountains near Julian, north of San Diego.
The lowest branches were above my head;
filtered light into sanctuary silence.
Their scent shut out the world,
imprinted a mental refuge.
Gilded finials, like antlers of mythical deer,
leap from the edges of the tiled roof.
I park outside the grounds.
On the southern horizon, B52s
lift from the runway at Sattahip,
motionless like small dark clouds.
I leave my shoes on the steps.
It’s cool inside. Incense.
In the quiet, I wait for my eyes to adjust. Sun
has warmed the sills of the tall, narrow windows
and laid a square of light on the floor beneath.
In the middle of the open floor a large statue
of a seated Buddha is on a platform that raises it
to eye-level. A woman is praying, a lotus flower
between her palms, and a boy in his school uniform
applies a square of gold leaf to Buddha’s forehead.
A bent, elderly woman, her sarong gray and blue-
patterned and tucked at the front in the old style,
encourages me with gestures to offer a prayer.
So, I do—thinking of the pines; of how like this is.
And I press half of a baht-square of gold leaf
onto Buddha’s right ear. The other half
is sticking to the sweat of my finger curling
over the steering wheel as I drive away. Last year,
the stand of pines burned up in a forest fire.
John Hicks, an emerging poet, has been published or accepted for publication by South Florida Poetry Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Bangor Literary Journal, The Wild World, Two Cities Review, Blue Nib, Poetica Review, and others. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Nebraska, Omaha, and writes in the thin mountain air of northern New Mexico, USA. Carolyn Monastra is a Brooklyn-based artist, activist and educator. Her recent projects, The Witness Tree and Divergence of Birds, focus on climate impacts on people, landscapes, and wildlife. The photo shows the aftermath of a forest fire.