Just lately, I’ve been exploring my latest writing fascination: creative non-fiction–or more specifically, the memoir. And in my usual obsessive fashion, I’ve begun to amass books in the genre, scouring literary websites and blogs for new grist for my little mill.
This morning I discovered Ira Sukrungruang, a Thai-American writer who is, among other things, the author of the memoir Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy.
In the process of exploring the web for a used copy of Talk Thai, I came upon his poem, We Leave the Beaches for the Tourists, which appears on his website, here.
This poem memorializes the deaths that took place in Thailand during the 2004 tsunami.
The great Indian Ocean tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 has been called the most destructive tsunami in history. The earthquake that generated it released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
By the end of that day, more than 150,000 people were dead or missing and millions more were homeless in eleven countries, making it one of the most destructive tsunamis in history. As many as a third of those who died were children, who would not have been strong enough to resist the force of the water. Many of the casualties in Thailand were foreign tourists.
Herewith, his haunting poem:
We Leave the Beaches for the Tourists
by Ira Sukrungruang
Except when the water receded and what lay there
were gape-mouthed fishes, flopping and gasping
on land that had not seen unfiltered sun
for millennia. We watched, at first,
seaweed, like the long, luscious hair of a mermaid
tangling their feet, and coral like polished
bone. We rushed out toward
the extended shore with wicker baskets to catch
the squiggling fishes, writhing in the heat.
And we were like them, those tourists, for a moment,
amazed at the world and oblivious to the hungry strays
dashing far from the beach, surrendering
the food offering of the sea. We were oblivious
to many things, the elephants that ignored
their handlers, as they made toward the highest
part of the island, the coming wave
that would take us all, sweeping us into the gullet
of the planet and into our next lives.
We remain behind, but hide in shadows.
Only the white faces haunt you, tourist-ghosts
lingering on the beach in bikinis and swim trunks
and sunglasses, wandering back and forth, confused
about the direction of the wind, their unheard voices,
the water that can never carry them home.
Prof. Sukrungruang teaches in the MFA program at the University of South Florida and the low-residency MFA program at City University in Hong Kong. His essays, poems and short stories appear in many literary journals.
For more information, visit: www.buddhistboy.com.
[with permission of the author]