I begin pre-dawn, before
the sun’s alchemy transforms the Morton Bay figs
into giant feng shui money trees of gold and citrine. An uncommon feeling
had stolen into my dreams.
I want to be at my desk, pencil in hand to capture the images
the metered words whispering and coiling beyond my tongue.
Pen won’t do.
Computer won’t do.
There is something that keystrokes can’t capture.
I sharpen my pencil and begin to write.
My hand is doula and letter
words are birthed naked defenceless like wild things caught
in a snare in the glare of scrutiny they string out
or jam up struggling
for a place on the page
for space in a line
for the chance to become part
of a whole
much bigger than themselves something
more metered than syllables something
as round as vowels
percussive than consonants, the something
on the landscape of my page that is something
more meaningful than nouns and something
more cohesive than syntax and so
much more than mere conjunctions but
the shuffling and writing and erasing reminds me instead that
my handwriting is gai kiah: the indecipherable scratching
of a chicken.
There is no beauty in gai kiah. This is not the hand that writes thank you
letters or the inscription in birthday cards.
I study the geography of my sentences,
the mountains and valleys between the letters,
the tails and rivers and streams that hook and bend
then I am reminded of a story my Thai kindergarten teacher
read to us about
the seven chickens who had flung themselves into a fire
in grief when their mother was killed and
fed to a wandering monk. Their souls cast out
onto the night sky became a cluster of stars. I cried.
When asked why I was crying I lied
and said I had a dog that died.
I didn’t know the Thai word for sad, you see.
I didn’t have a dog either.
But here’s the thing: I remember
this story because ก (gaaw) is the first letter in the Thai alphabet
and ก is for gai as
a is for apple.
I formed ก on the lines of my exercise book.
I erased my mistakes but
the eraser caught the edge of the paper.
Then I knew that the crumpled and corrugated ravines
of my page are testament to my farang-ness.
And so the ungainly row of กs
big, and small some missing their beaks legs splayed, stiff
ungainly and culturally crippled march
lost, jammed and shambling up and down
the papery spurs, through the miserable smears and over
the rubbery charcoal worms
of the erased dead and into
the history of me.