At times, I like to pay attention to the juxtaposition of seemingly independent stories that, when combined, give a larger context to events that would be far more ephemeral to the concerns of the world at large when viewed in isolation. Last night, for example, I looked at my new feed and pondered the phenomenon of former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra  skipping town prior to the announcement of a verdict against her as a result of her political conduct as Prime Minister of Thailand before her government was overthrown in a coup. Like her brother, another previous Prime Minister, she chose the bitter experience of exile over the more bitter experience of being imprisoned in Thailand after a show trial. As someone who can speak with empathy about that choice, I can’t say I blame her in the least for her decision. It may not be very brave, but it certainly was a choice I could easily understand.
At the same time all of this was going on, and I was thinking about this, I looked at news on a storm bearing down on the coast of Texas between Corpus Christi and Houston–a part of the Gulf Coast I am somewhat familiar with from some of my own travels–that went from Tropical Storm to major hurricane with somewhat alarming speed. Residents of cities that flood from a normal garden variety afternoon thunderstorm–a quality that both Tampa and Houston share–are faced with the prospect of two or three feet of rain over the next few days and the decision of whether they wish to throw a hurricane party or evacuate with an uncertain return. Those are difficult choices to make, and I and my family have made different choices at different times–a few times ending up going into the path of the storm accidentally enough. Although my feelings about Texas are definitely mixed, with my irritation at their generally bumptious ways, I have plenty of friends and acquaintances in the path of the storm whose safety I pray for.
The third element of this particular reflection, besides the other two already mentioned, is the fact that I read a book of poems by T.S. Eliot. Now, I do not need any encouragement to write poems from time to time . That said, writing poetry is not at this stage of my life the first way I think of working my way through a particular issue. However, when I read poems, and have in mind something that offers at least a parallel reflection on issues of love, death, and time–in this case the threat of death that leads one to flee the land that one loves, then free verse poetry is at least an occasional outcome. It is in this light that I wish to share a poem today: “Is An Unjust Tribunal Like A Hurricane?”
It must have seemed to be a hurricane
Bearing down on you
When you faced those wicked men
Who threw you from power
And who now threatened to throw you in jail.
I am sure you loved your country,
Where you and your brother grew up
Only to realize that one can be a billionare
But to speak for the people who grow the rice
And who live invisible lives
Is to make oneself an enemy
Of the men with all the guns.
And so when it came time
To decide whether you wished
To play your part in a show trial
And to be thrown into prison
To sate the lust of the powers that be,
That you fled into exile
Like your brother before you
To eat the bread of bitter exile
Until it was safe to return
When the men with guns had gone away
At least for a time.
To see it on a map,
Spinning around so happily
It looks like a thing of beauty,
And when it came off the Yucatan
It surely did not appear
To amount to very much.
But then its pressure dropped
Like my nose after a nosebleed,
And soon this little storm
Was a hurricane, and scheduled to come ashore
Only a few days in the future.
And still there was time to laugh
And to say that it would not be so bad,
Only the storm kept getting stronger and stronger
As it approached with the threat of enough rain
To flood many a coastal land.
And it is almost too late to run,
For only a few hours hence
A storm that seemed to small just days ago
Will be among the strongest to come ashore
In quite a few years.
Is an unjust tribunal like a hurricane,
All sound and fury
Balanced on a little curl in the atmosphere
That can spin in any direction
Bringing destruction in its wake
And dumping rain and sending tornados
On every coastal town
Where people used to lie on beaches
And talk about the price of rice?
Can you reason with a tribunal
Any more than you can reason
With the murderous winds,
Will the winds be won over
By your soaring rhetoric
Or moved by your piteous plea
Before they bear down on you?
Will the military tribunal
See you as anything other than a target
To jail and torture and bring out in a few years
For a ritual show of pity,
Or until you are forgotten
And your corpse is dragged out to bury
In the land that you called home?
Better to flee far away from the winds
If they will not respond to your voice,
Than to stay and let the winds destroy you
As well as what you own.
So, this poem is rather straightforwardly designed into three stanzas. The first stanza looks at an observation of the trial of Yingluck Shinawatra. The second one looks at the perspective of Texans in the path of Hurricane Harvey, and the third stanza looks at the two compared to each other. As far as poems go it’s a fairly ordinary one, certainly nothing remarkable. For me, the use of poetry was merely a way to try to climb into someone’s head or to ask worthwhile questions about reason and about the wisdom of flight in certain circumstances. So, although I will be offline for most of the weekend, I hope that Yingluck finds a comfortable place to spend her time in exile until democracy returns to her benighted country and that my friends in Texas stay safe.
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