Two Poems

Why don’t people have lawns here?

Caridad Villareal Ruiz the family matriarch died
on the day I arrived to town. 

This place is really dusty.  Some shoeless
kids helped me off the bus and carried my
suitcase. I don’t know if I
packed the right kind of pants
for this hot weather.

The dead lady is in her bedroom,
adjacent to the general store. 
The oldest women said get a
melon.  Put it under her body.
We’ll keep it there all night to

absorb the smell.  Near the store some
flower petals from a giant bush are
falling in a flurry and I
can’t see a thing. 

The younger women have joined
the oldest in her room.  The
cement floor is painted and
waxed, painted and waxed. 

They’re moaning now.  It’s an ancient feral
sound and they all take turns, like

communion.  Something is
trampling outside, over the bus tracks.
It must be cows. Why don’t people have

lawns here?  All this dirt is getting
caught in my throat.
I need to unpack my suitcase. 

The pay phone by the town plaza rings.
Why won’t one of those shoeless
kids answer it?  Hey mom, is that
you?  Hey mom, what’s for dinner?
Mom mom mom can you tuck me in?

They’re calling me over now. 
They’ve slaughtered
one of those cows, so come and
eat.  There will be enough for
the whole village.  Then we’ll
sit up the whole night together,

us and Caridad and the melon. 
I saw the women
chopping that cow to bits
with machetes on a wooden
plank while the kids led me
to my room. 

I checked the door for a lock, but 
the kids never left, anyway.

They sit on the bed, help me lay out my
pairs of pants, swishing the
material between their fingers.

The older we get, the more we talk about the weather.

The elderly woman has been invited to her son and
daughter-in-law’s for dinner.  It’s July and mid-
draught, so its natural that, on the drive to the son’s
house, they discuss the unbearable heat, the burnt-out
cornfields, and the amount of days that have passed
without rain.  Besides, the son is no spring
chicken either.  He’s perfectly happy to discuss
the weather.  The woman, who just turned
90 this year and stopped dying her hair, turns to her
son.  Where are we going?  She says.  To the house,
for dinner says the son.  Oh, yes, she says, then oh the poor
farmers.  She taps her hair in the front, over the part that she
sets in the morning but forgets to comb out.

During the dinner they discuss the plants
in the back of the house – the ones the elderly woman
can see out the back window.  They point out the ones
surviving the heat, the ones not. 

After dinner they set up the laptop on the kitchen
table so the elderly woman can Skype with her far
away granddaughter.  She pears into the screen, pulls a white
cardigan around her shoulders because the air conditioning is on.

It’s raining a lot here, says the granddaughter.  She is old enough
to discuss the weather, too.  It’s hot here, says the elderly woman.
She and the son discuss the amount of days that have passed
without rain.  Is the grass dead?  asks the granddaughter.  What? 
asks the grandmother, pronouncing the h.  She said, is the grass
dead, says the son.  They wait while the grandmother
thinks.  Well, not yet, she says.  The son shakes his head in a
yes.  The son and the granddaughter discuss the number of days
that have passed since he’s mowed the lawn. 

Is it raining there? asks the grandmother.

—Kristi Ley, Sangkhlaburi, Thailand