In Bangkok the women are beautiful men,
or vice-versa. They crowd the bar streets
with cut off shorts and the best remnants
of sailors, dirty jokes. They sell themselves
to buy themselves. A year on their backs or
their knees can add breasts, shave Adams’ Apples,
or remove the lingering penis. Standing,
between shamed man, and proud woman.
Near Chiang Mai we sit, two to an elephant.
Its skin rubs like the bark of a silk tree.
If such a thing were to exist. When it sniffs
us we provide a banana. When it stops
to eat, the small man sitting on its head jabs
an ear with a pickaxe to make it lumber forward.
In pictures, I can’t decide which emotions
jockeyed for control of its gray-blue eyes.
As we disembark from a Mekong Riverboat
children rushed forward in impeccable English.
Pringles! Coca-Cola! Marlboro! Shampoo!
Followed by their older cousins and siblings.
But their words pawed delicately at the air,
Hashish, Marijuana, Heroin, Cocaine, Girls, Boys.
Many of us stop, our mouths hang open
and they think they’ve made a sale.
A cabbie chain smokes us out of Luang Prabang
to a club on the periphery of progress.
The unexpected is the familiar: hip hop.
As the tourists dance to irony locals twist
and writhe their Sunday night smiles. Silence
comes early, the lights herd us to the exit
with their alien brightness. At midnight
we wonder what to do next, where the night
will take us. There seems an equal chance
of a ballgame in Lao pastel, or a tour
of some forgotten temple, glowing
with its menagerie of orange monks.
Another cabbie decides for us,
driving to the last open bar, where we
can only smile and pay the man, called
as we were to the sounds of chaos.
At the Bao Ling alley, the club’s DJ hurls
like a pro and looks helplessly forward
where two pins wait. Her arms akimbo
like a woman waiting for a hug.
She puffs a Marlboro as her friends laugh.
It feels like waking in my own bed, but
in a strange hotel room. We clink beers,
as the DJ throws at a 7-10 split.