Issue 6

Ian Pople
The Aerial Orchids

The Aerial Orchids

orchid A n. 1 Any of numerous (freq. epiphytic) monocotyledonous plants of the family Orchidacaea, characterized by having one perianth segment (the labellum) differentiated from the rest and by commonly having only one anther, united with the style in a central body (the column), and often having brilliantly coloured or bizarrely shaped flowers – O.E.D.

a. Overflying

At night, the wings dip
over sprinkled light;
the golden bar lines
of Albania, Ouranopolis,
Turkey. Ribbon developments
that float among fishing boats,
their cormorant lamps.

By day, the lakes jam open
sand and rock, small craft
follow on their wake;
several miles of steeply
shaded valley, cloud smears,
sun-swirls on the sea.
And languages, their sudden
unheard scramble, neither
asleep nor yet awake.

b. The Aerial Orchids

Bobo, half Husky, half recumbent
fleabag, guards little but moves
between his owner’s concrete yard
and his mistress’ lush shade,
to lap among the lotuses.
When the monks in tandem come
for alms, Bobo dances in attendance,
and when the barefoot donor kneels
for blessing he jumps up; she has
to swat him with her offering tray
and ‘BOING!!’ and Bobo bounce back
along the road. His colleague
at the temple’s dusty, raw,
abraded, a tubular vent hangs
down behind his right front leg.


Beside each village garage,
a hammock and a shrine.
Each pond’s a purpose
and a placard. This
is tended country
that drives the egret
and the rain-grey oxen,
hunched, all gathers
and jowls. The village
exhibition centre,
dark with earthenware
and natural dyes,
is open and empty.


The aerial orchids clad the trees,
or rest in clefts of bough and trunk
beside the tree ferns
with their fat, flat leaves,
or hang from teak-embroidered eaves.
Dendrophilic, photosynthesizing
roots take air and light to mix
with rain and then create
an orchids’ mouths.


The farang and their local wives
shop at the Tesco; have given up
all that for this; round them hangs
an air of silence, and suspicion,
that other sibilance, satiation.
Perhaps they, too, have visited
the Cabbages and Condoms
restaurant – ‘Our food is guaranteed
not to cause pregnancy.’


Sometimes you’re on a plane forever;
she’ll let me walk the shore;
canoes, shipped outboards,
then we’ll sit beneath
the tamarind, sweet and sour.

Sometimes you’re in Chang Mai forever;
the diorama of an elephant duel –
half-sun spreading rays
among two rows of fish eggs -
a pair of fighting cocks in oils,
soothsayers at full tilt,
all sun and shadow.

Sometimes you’re in a bed forever;
dance is an art
of the hand –
each wrist a mast,
each finger a sail,
each sweep the wind
among the rice; and then
inside the ankle is all
the movement of the back.
How the eyes will fill and fill.


And how could we be
without detritus chic:
shattered pavements,
drying fish, open pork
beside the bus stand?


Mr Kamol takes us to Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha; the gold leaf
         blistered, the soles of the feet are mother of pearl, seven circles for the rivers of the

The temple fills with sounds of birds: each of one hundred copper baht - one
         baht chimes each monk’s begging bowl, with special grace if each baht finds a

They talk between them. The Royal Barge display; we run amongst the traffic,
         between the backs of riverside dark restaurants, a roofed-in market, pallets of
         shrink-wrapped cans.

A family jetty of beaten wood and piping, dishes crammed with drying fish, and
         four, small children eating from a bag of ice. Out on the water, oars in ceremonial
         strokes are dipped to chanting song. A ghostly cantor times their work; each man
         in his red, or blue, or yellow livery - shell suits, jockey caps. A gilded cockerel boat
         for the abbot, a gilded launch for the sister of the king.

The children have their picture taken, grandmother too, the father straddles
         water from wood to wood to gaff a chain.

The Gilded Cockerel slipped her moorings in the National Museum; prow,
         stem, stern all clipped together, will draw the river down to its magnificence,
         discharge the king beside the Temple of Dawn.

‘Don’t tell him truth.
I heard you tell
your name. Why you
tell your name?

Don’t tell him anything.
Tell him anything.
He probably poor man
try to contact you.’


How could we be
without the standing water,
standing stench,
swirling plastic bags,
sparrows vying on dining
table vinyl in the National
museum café?


Around the ruined temple:
young buffalo roll in mud;
two turbaned women net
the pools among the grass
for bait; the drover
brings her herd and dog;
the poses of the Buddha:
suppressing mara,
repressing fear, standing,
reclining. An old monk
with his ragged stogey
smoked down to the
unfurling end joshes
me in words he knows
I will not know.


How could I be
but one more farang watching
oxen driven on and over
the railway line,
who then flew on, out
and over the Andaman Sea?

c. Khon Kaen:

Butterflies arrive alone and rest
their black and white wings
among the orchids and the star fruit.

Electrical storm above the compound,
gives no noise, no thunder,
asks no retribution for the day;

lit us separately, apart,
rolled us over and
together, watching the TV.

Dragonflies wait above the reeds,
then over mown grass, over
water buffalo, thin mynahs.

In a shed beside the railway
crossing, two monks
in saffron robes beside

green uniforms of soldiers,
and you buy yellow mangoes,
work your word in dialect.