rises from the ruins of Nixon’s secret war
and the Khmer Rouge killing fields

Majestic replica of the cosmos
mystical temples of stone
rows of filigreed towers
rise from the Perfume river

Causeways flanked by serpent balustrades
lead to cross shaped terraces
where a steep stairway lined with lions
leads to the shrine of Vishnu
who greets strangers with eight-arms

Asparas, bare breasted celestial dancers
emerge from temple walls and stairways

A Khmer poet once wrote
“They were never carved by the hands of men!
They were created by the gods—
living, lovely, breathing women.”

Torches flame on stone altars in dark corridors
where squatting saffron robed priests chant
in the galleries as girls in diaphanous gowns
dance up and down stone stairways
in clouds of incense rising like prayers
from lotus blossoms in clay pots

The barren royal library
now bereft of literary treasures
leads to the gallery of 1000 Buddha’s
and the Hall of Echoes
where the Bagavata Pourana says:

“The Ocean of Milk is churned by the gods
and demons to generate amrta, the elixir
of life and immortality”

Risking the wrath of King Saryavarman
I water in a dark corner of the temple
his remains with mine

Tomas 99

Laotian temple boyThe green dragon winds her way from China
past jade hills, valleys and amber rice paddies

wats, temples, pagotas and stupas of golden Buddha
wading water buffalo and women in straw bonnets

wading in knee-deep sweaty water with machetes
harvesting tall stalks of ripe saffron rice and grain

In Vientiane sip green tea on shore as shadows
creep up the steep river bank at sunset

Golden shaft beams from Buddha’s forehead
crossing currents of the slowly moving river

Dharma-thunder roars as Buddha beats
the Dharma-drum: Dhroom boom Dhroom

River rises silently to cover sandbars at mid stream
flowing to where the river ran red during Nixon’s war

At dusk Buddha smiles on strangers gathered
at guesthouses on the riverside exchanging karma

Buddha’s golden hands press together in prayer
as meandering mother Mekong flows to the sea


Cross the river on a swaying bamboo footbridge
barefoot traverse swampy fields of rice paddies

Climb cautiously into Buddha’s hidden cave:
“slowly slippery” “slowly slippery” “slowly slippery”

Dine on roasted turtle and make love on white sand
as pale mist settles on jade tinted hills of Vang Vieng


Mekong and Nam Khan merge at Luang Prabang
where days slip away in the silence of mist

Monks with shaved heads walk the streets
in russet and purple habits, fingering beads

(Where are the Americans on the Mekong?
Is fear eroding their freedom to travel?)

Lie on the bed mesmerized by mosquitoes and moths
rotating in colored currents of fading light on the ceiling

At sunrise begin the daily routine of eating noodles
Walk along the river watching and drinking Lao beer

At noon board a long canoe with a small outboard
shuttling tourists huddling under tarps in monsoon

weather upstream to Buddha’s grotto in the cotton clouds
hovering over the river and the purple, green hills

Scramble with firm of flesh and fair complexioned
up stone stairways to see scores of sacred Buddha’s

Buddha spirit mingles with mosquitoes and flies
in this pre-capitalist one political party paradise

Strangers with backpacks traverse the countryside
in a cloud of dust incense ganga and tobacco

Barefoot Buddhist monks and nuns earn merit by begging
We earn merit by filling their empty bowls with leftovers

Stoic boys wrapped in saffron write on rice paper lessons
from the smiling Buddha sitting on the river teaching

As cool winds sweep clouds across the graying sky
sit by the river, in rain swapping tales with strangers

See the timeless flow of the river winding its way south
to the Mekong Delta and into the South China Sea

Tomas ‘02