Dawn Sheryl Koenig
River Boat Through Cambodia - Poem by Dawn Sheryl Koenig
Our riverboat threads, lapping Cambodian tears.
The great river meridian leaps, tonguing wild woe.
Ghostly shadows of people bob where once tossed,
like in India’s Ganges, watery forks push death.
Onwards, filed fields wax greens with axes.
Serfs trowel earth, digging living mines.
Explosions never rare, nor unsheathed meat.
Fractured bones mend hell’s Mensa jigsaw puzzles.
Overturned Cambodia is mined like earthen potatoes.
Explosive purple eyes, snake out barren cupboards.
Limbless veterans drag crutch and sling for change.
Babies wail despair, wrapped in a child’s lone elbow.
The river moves through a siphon, nets strangle fish.
Irrigating rice pots rust old army issue spoons.
Silver in mouths grin mercury amalgam.
Arthritic joints without oil swell bluish channels.
Our hydrofoil surfs metallic steel, chopping waves.
Tourist money washes against slow rolling shores.
Hatched huts hover on stilts over standing swamps,
bamboo hollow as dreams, missing family.
We perch on white streamlined roof like laundry,
clothes pressing brands against open breeze.
Dark sunglasses with yellow lenses morph vision,
blues green like currency, life’s toils falsely ease.
A well traveled eighty-year-old man almost falls off,
fading balance tottering as his frowning wife laughs.
Later, pressed under short ceiling, she chats,
her husband above weaves her scorching woe.
Under sun hat, he sees lacquered Buddhist stupas,
cooing of expropriated money growing emeralds.
People with every luxury, unhappy with marriage.
Beating new shoes like changelings over worn footsteps.
My friend and I stretch our legs in beaming sun,
smiling to the weather as I memorize detailed depth.
Impressions wear thin in these genocide infected lands,
wealth wary, cautious of stepping on fallen ghosts.
Yet the river bends gently masquing plights, green
tree buckets posted like highway distance signs.
Always another rolling hill sneaking down a life,
heights so temporary, families dismembered young.
All day we dry as Indian washing ghat sarongs and saris.
Boat sprinkling living water, bragging streamlined speed.
Brownish hands wave to us on shore, smiling within war.
This little country innocent, people hacked and hoed.
Finally we reach our launch end to change vessels.
Luggage hauled, tossed like raging blood clots.
Everything seems heavy, excessive, foreign
as we leave our catamaran for a lower skiff.
Balancing, we cling to ropes knotting steep boat edges,
jumping ship, feet land square on shallow worthy bow.
Stern ready to ferry us through boggy backwater holes,
polluted channels of bathers, swishing in filth, smiling.
We launch as part of a flotilla of smaller painted boats.
Passengers separate, chained in folorn processions.
At funeral speed we plough increasing brown muck.
Plastic bags hang from bushes like haggard windsocks.
Everywhere garbage peaks with corporate Argus eyes.
Nonbiodegradable rubbish thickening a mysterious stew.
Population so sparse that the source of debris eludes me.
Flapping plastic crackles like poison skull and bone flags.
We glide through narrow reedy passages of scabby trees.
Yellow sun quiet and luxurious as I fret my worry,
holding a candle for the downtrodden and despair.
Gradually, a thread of houseboats appears like a wand.
Passing pealing paint, boarded windows, broken planks.
Signs advertise things from the past already murdered.
Faded colours abound with yellows, reds, white, turquoise.
Life lived here once when all was built of hope.
Some boats dock beside these abandoned places.
Ghost ships creep in my mind. Piracy feels too near.
Our destined unloading place is after a row of ships.
We clamour, straddling cleaving hulls, laughing.
Feeling ridiculous dressed in western cloth passport,
peeking into this land of malaria and dengue fever.
I arrive in what appears like cut scenes from fairytales.
A place of papermache, wall to wall sheets of garbage.
Never have I seen such a carpet, fading into monotone,
so heaped like white noise, only static sounds survive.
I try to observe colours, decode labels, read meaning,
as plastic water bottles bang like sick floats blown astray.
We arrive in a sort of dust pit that seems more a dump,
save the fact that everything has been ground into earth.
Even orphan garbage doesn’t rise to prominent heights.
Everything here is beaten down, people shorter than me.
Making seats of our bags I await my friend’s arrangements.
He’s cueing the drivers, trying to get a rickshaw driver deal.
All but one, trying to quadruple Lonely Planet fare rates.
I look back now, steadily reevaluating both goods and fair.
Copyright Elizabeth Beck, Victoria, BC February 23,2007
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