The Blighted Star Fruit
By Gerald Maa
To pass through astonishment and know much too late.
And because habit makes us strange, I find myself
Searching on a landscape that generates questions
Beyond its ability to solve. That dark post
Out there might be this poem standing as you would —
Lead in the 4th grade play — under theater lights
And your shadows that petal around you. And what
Should be most memorable isn’t. So I recall
Those prolonged moments of silence, incongruous
And revealing as metaphor, most frequently.
For instance: waiting at the bus stop in Pai in
A midmorning the hue of the roadside guardrails
That dot the cliff’s side like Morse code. Before leaving
With trees (those felled, ones half-painted white, the burnt trunks ... )
That passed by like the so many phenomena
Of our days blurred together into a motion,
At times, convincing as a nickelodeon’s,
I waited under the thatched roof of the station
With other travelers. With each in our common
Solitude risen around like that Haydn piece
In the tunnel I descended into on my
Way out onto Broadway from the 1 train some months
Ago, it seemed of Hopper. Star fruit on the ground
Discolored, withering, blighted. Three of the town’s
Strays hobbled by before midday’s heat stalled the town
Like some lost Stephano, Trinculo, and their lamed,
Dark sycophant — at least that’s what they were for me.
It wasn’t comfort, never comfort, but something else.
And when each moment with expectations for more
Than it can hold leads to the next, and soon — as then —
Expectation fills up the day as does your breath
A balloon, the day floats with such care and strange hours.
And both pleasure and pain are motions of the soul ...
Plato wrote — poetry’s banisher, beauty’s guard.
My hands grow differently used. While one hand thumbs
Pages, the other hand steadies open the book.
It’s the other hand that rests on the desk, forearm
Paralleled to the table’s edge, all the fingers
Except the thumb holding the blank field. One hand’s mole
A gnat flattened between pinky and ring finger;
The other hand’s palm-side, below the skin enough
It’s likely a splinter left for years. Just one hand
Fits my Discman, plugged in while watching those around
(No news-as-white-noise here to occupy my sight):
Kids who bus to school hours away toothpicking
Slivers of chili-dappled mango slices in;
A triple-sweatered lady palming back her hair
In the thick Thai pre-dawn June; the one foreigner
Other than us, earphone couched; and her shape, dozed slack,
Coat-blanketed, neck against my side. One hand rests.
Half a day ago, under a mosquito net,
Flush with the desk fan sitting on the rattan floor,
One hand kept on the steady act of beckoning
Behind the tongue-swelled clit, uncreasing the ridged roof,
Almost like the mouth’s roof as it slopes down toward teeth,
Like rubbing the dampened cave wall, finger-darkened,
As the guide turns his back to us. The other hand
Traced its crook — that delta-creased pad set between thumb
And fingers, hand’s most fleshy zone — on the torso.
The other hand then stilled her hip, mosquito net,
Weighted, walling out stitches of ants, from its hook
A viscous drape like that through one hand’s two fingers.
Oddly, only one hand drums along (the CD:
Converge, Jane Doe) as the crowd would rupture outward
Into a circle pit — a vortex in reverse —
If this were a concert. The other hand just bides
Its time. Milton’s clumsy other hand, God’s other
Hand that Lessing chose, and that Spaniard’s other hand
Riddled useless at Lepanto, a bullet lodged
Into that scurvied poet’s chest, the other hand
Remembers and betrays. The other hand cries out,
Which was Keats’s living one? Neither hand scarred yet,
Even after thumb-knuckle tempted a sander
In shop class, impulse from imagining too much.
One hand’s cushion bears the pencil (my friend whose tasks
Are split between his hands — “I eat with my left hand,
Punch with the other” — says we whack off with the hand
We write). Each hand on different shaded denim thighs,
The unclipped nails crude halos of sun-blocking hills.
One hand lets forth words; the other hand holds it back.
Chased by a three-legged dog to the temple stairs,
Past all the fallen star fruit (the veined tips the last
To wither, the through-light flesh sun- and bug-eaten),
We crossed paths with a one-legged man — wordless sounds,
And that permanent wild gaze — crutching down the stairs
(Four hundred!) as we stopped to catch a break mid-flight.
Our breath would last us a run-through of the temple,
And, in the first hallway — him?!, his phatic calls, tics,
And unwilled smile facing the morning that just passed,
The sun no longer in front of his propped body,
But above it, the valley overabundant
With the real light that stole our day. The fog too lifted
Against my sight. We paused. Having just climbed the hill,
We agreed to leave our shoes on despite sandals
Stationed on the stoop, and then we turned towards that hall.
“Let’s go,” he ends, befriended, prayer Phaedrus-empty.
— The driver gases the bus off the parking brakes
To idle back out the station; the attendants
Scoop up the wood wedges and clatter the door shut;
The passengers all shift. In the chapter among
The deformed and footless, Zhuangzi ends, arguing
For the greatest of men, a man void of feelings:
“The Way gave him a face, Heaven gave him a form,
Can’t you call him a man?” Yet there are things I love:
The sun, you, travel. And back again, the thick fog
Parts us from the obliterating Turner sun.
Pretty soon, come day, the motorbikes The Rough Guide
Says all tourists should try will buzz by those three dogs,
All lethargic, the largest too tired to dry-hump,
His red tip unsheathing (there’s no neutering here),
The black one, bald in spots, wouldn’t even fight it off,
The mottled one coiled back like the dog that badgers
Bosch’s wayfarer, bandaged, poor bastard, with his gnarled stick,
Not looking at us, but rather caught looking back,
And above his head a doorway — no, the gallows? —
The same one Brueghel’s final peasants romped beneath?
My turn now to sleep. I can dab off from my jeans
Your drool just reaching my thigh as you do, with care,
From our sheets when — yet that stuff, all that stuff of ours
Still spots our many beds with different aged salt-rings,
Each gasp less a sound than a failure at silence.
Before us another strange town, while for others
School, home, maybe work, a field, someplace normal, there,
Someplace beyond sight from its roadside stop. Abroad
A month, toward a year in another country, Anne —
Anacrusis: these days I’m lost in, reminded
Of my presence as if catching a stranger’s wave
To the yet-to-be-seen man behind you as yours.
— traveled 2005 / written 2007–2008