the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




THREE WORKS
BY JILL MCGRATH

RICE AND BAHT IN THAI HILL VILLAGES

Children sell me bracelets they have woven from grasses,
for one baht. Women bring me woven anklets
for baht or cigarettes. Their teeth are black
or missing from chewing betel.
They are sitting and weaving anklets on their porches,
not working in the rice fields.

Children watch us come.
Other farang have come before, so they line up and wait
for candy, or pencils, or money. One young boy runs by,
holding a stick and hitting a broken stick wheel.
Young girls carry their baby sisters on their backs in slings.
Brown eyes watch me. All eyes drip mucus. Dust
swirls down the paths.

A woman near the path pounds a mallet into rice husks.
Her baby holds a small machete,
plays in the dust nearby,
while she works, drumming the earth, dust swirling,
near her another woman quietly whisks the rice,
shush, shush, into the baskets
as the waste blows away.

================

THA TON, THAILAND

I. The sound of a tree falling is a kind
of groan, an aching, a fleet
bleating outward
to a last fall,
and then the echoes emerge,
vibrate down the valley and into
the plains of the Kok River, mingle
with the river words, the river rustle

like the reverberations of any deed that is final,
in some other time and place perhaps wrong,
a sound few bother to notice.

There is a ribbon below, a river,
and it is blue and winds away past view.
Green crowds up on all sides to another
blue. There are hills. The sound of logging trucks,
saws, and roosters mingle
with the pinging of bells here
at the monastery.
The ringing is the wind's
voice as the others are not.

Can humans learn
to be receivers, to be like a bell taking in
and letting go, an alteration that becomes
and becomes more than itself: beautiful?

Or does that stop your imagining, take you somewhere other
than bell and wind and valley?

No, more than nouns, emotions prismed
in sound. Bells echo a long time, emanate,
expand past the point where we attend,
after identifying "bell." Our emotions alter, deepen
long after we've named them or paid attention.
They resonate, become. Or scar, or redeem us.
Perhaps leaving traces some might
know as beautiful -- if they noticed.
To be more like a bell,

less like a saw. Shaped perfectly
for reception; waiting, not acting.
Not to be one's self, that noun,
anymore, but in receiving, new
every time.
Accepting, blending, and then
the singing out.

================

THE RAIN VARIATIONS
RICE FIELDS ON BALI

1. Rain for the rice fields,
sheer abundance.
To return in tropical thunder!
The tightening of millions
Of glistening strings:
Glissade,
Crescendo.

2. The plunge and climb of water
Buffalo pounding the mud,
The men and boys barefoot, hatless,
Shouting and laughing,
Riding, slipping the thin stitch
Of elation,
The brown rudder
Loosening, scoring the mud,
The earth
Sucking down.

3. The curve of backs, arms
Scything the thin green shoots,
Sowing the mud with new.
Rise and fall, bend
And unbend. Placing
Pearls, tremors
The water soothes.

4. Green sunlight, green
Water-islands,
The levels of paddies a swath
Of sea. Wide currents
Pour into each other,
Rice shoots
Guide the rain down.
Rice for the rain!

5. Flicks of silver
Rain like lightning
Against palm, against mahogany and rubber tree
An equal carpeting.
The singing needles.

6. We are the islands, land
And no-land.
A mirage of earth
Through the mist
Of flooding waters.

7. An umbrella tilts, ponders,
Balances the rain drops
And gravity<
A tourist passing by.
The umbrella hiccups each bump,
A curtain's divided.

A reed-legged bicyclist pedals
Languidly
Through the high waters.

8. Rain's sleek
Star-tumbling, rain's
Lush caresses, fully present.
Rain pours its monsoon ecstasies,
Laughing rain,
Warming rain
Touches you everywhere, touches
As lover.