Remember with me the world blinded by noon-
day sun. The slow-moving gait of water buffalo
shambling down the road, bellies so broad
and crusted with mud, they pass for prehistoric
reptiles. How each sunset lights the river on fire
like kerosene poured from a flame-colored sky.
It’s been decades, but I haven’t forgotten
the streets; elegant, weary boulevards lined
with teak trees and wrought-iron gates, buildings
that still buckle under the weight of empire.
This, a city of remnants: a strand of hair fallen
from Buddha’s head, a footprint preserved
in stone when he passed—or was it a dragon?
Details that elude, even as they’re remembered.
A pile of feathers and stringy, shredded meat
at the bottom of a bird cage, the work
of an adopted stray cat later found dead
in a pool of spilled petrol. Our pet menagerie.
I’ll go back someday, though I don’t speak
the language, can’t remember how to piece
the city back together; but mute, lost, living
as if underwater, that’s how we first arrived.
A trick of childhood, that places remembered
seem grander than they are. Once, I returned
to our old house, found it strangely diminished.
Plaster walls worn; the main house squat, provincial.
The marble wasn’t marble but polished concrete;
the grounds, overrun with frangipani bushes,
a riot of coconut trees, had dramatically shrunk.
The world recedes. Moss-covered, crumbling
stupas at every intersection, temple walls etched
with dragons, keepers of the gate. What’s the tale?
A virgin sacrifice; some ancient, toothy curse.
And our little family—we vanished without a trace.
Handprints left in concrete, a pair of dead sparrows
buried in the front yard. How little we leave behind.