Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, NO EXEMPTION FOR TOURISTS, by KAREN SWENSON



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NO EXEMPTION FOR TOURISTS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A foreign family -- mother, father
Last Line: To the bright ribbon of river.
Subject(s): Indonesia; Suicide; Tourists; Dutch East Indies


A foreign family -
mother, father,
ten-year-old daughter -
stroll through the lush spill
of green, chambered
with voices of grasshoppers and frogs,
savoring the fastidious sensation
of being a unique unit
in an otherwise homogeneous landscape:
the tourist feeling that life
has suspended its rules
and the world has become a petting zoo.

They pause to watch, where the path
skirts the fall of paddy terraces,
darting scarlet dragonflies
sizzle air on gold-netted wings
and figures working around
two mounds below.
The bank is blocked
by turns in the path,
green paddles of banana leaves,
as voices become
more distinct, chiming
in and out of the river's sound.

Rounding the last corner
the come out
at the riverbank,
at the two mounds -
two bodies soaking
through their shrouds
improvised from flowered sarongs.
A woman, snail tracks of tears
on her cheeks, urges them back.
"Suicide.
Girl, boy,"
she explains in English.
The parents move their bodies
in front of their daughter,
turn her up the hill.
"Disgusting," she says.
They chatter the day's cheerful plans
over her head -
a pair of birds
weaving a protective nest of words -
while green rice bends down
to the bright ribbon of river.





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