Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN AMERICAN IN BANGKOK, by KAREN SWENSON



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AN AMERICAN IN BANGKOK, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Perhaps the polluted air
Last Line: Still he's optimistic.
Subject(s): Americans; Culture Conflict; Ignorance; Thailand; Dullness; Stupdity


And the end of the fight
is a tombstone white
with the name of the late deceased
and the epitaph drear:
"A Fool lies here
who tried to hustle the East."

Rudyard Kipling

Perhaps the polluted air
of the city brings it out,
just as strawberries raise up hives
or brandy brings on gout.
A middle-class, rosy, young man,
called Ted, still jet-lagged, knows
why the name of the town's Bangkok.
In a dimly lit dive he acquires
two figures in women's dresses
who blow and roll and leave him
chagrined by remembered caresses.

The knowledge that history's bunk
makes the sum of experience zero.
He buys a blue spoonful of sapphires
which smuggled and resold our hero
intends as his final rebuttal
to prove to his father who's smarter.
But finding they're small, flawed junk,
he hires a threatening thug
who, with refund and gems, absconds
leaving Ted to reflect that the only
honest people are blonds.

Down an alley's crooked elbow he joins
a shirttailed circle of men
dealing Eurasian poker.
The antes gulp paper and coins
of value unsure as the proof
of their booze that burns like cayenne.
Waking perfumed by his vomit,
he searches about for his wallet.
How come masterful, white, realistic,

American know-how's misfired?
Still he's optimistic.





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