S. K. Kelen


Travel & Transitioning

Two Poems

A Travellers’ Guide to the East Indies

To arrive anywhere tonight
you travel a road lit only by fireflies
to towns whose names mean
‘tomb of a hundred martyrs’.
Invisible birds sing tinkling vowels
– words from a time
before history invaded.

Frogs roar louder and louder
kickstarting a generator.
Trees, pagoda, the moon
a shaking world in lagoon waters.

Beware the regiments of the kangaroo!
Progress follows without emission controls.
Across, say, the Banda Sea or clouded mountain ranges
a world lost for ten thousand years
soon adjusts to ghetto-blasters and minibuses.

Western airliners overhead: missiles
that deliver foreign exchange.
Banyan trees grow sideways through the air.
Shouts and shrieks of barter and cash
amplify in a packed bazaar.

Crowds ebb and swell, laughing.
Trays of trinkets, batiks, sweets, fruit
and vegetables all laid out on grass mats.
Beggars harangue pointing at their children.

A legendary pickpocket, Dusk, splashes red over the sky.

In Sumatran cities transvestites caterwaul
after visitors’ fair skin.
Bus races over cliffs are a diversion
most prefer to miss, likewise a tiger
loose in a longhouse
though if one wears the brass ring a shaman prescribes
a tiger’s friendship is assured.
Indeed you’ll be invited home to its lair
& there smoke pipes of jungle grass,
receive potent amulets as gifts.

Kalimantan monkeys and wildcats screech like brakes
before a crash. Honey bears and orangutans,
singing laments, carry giant lilies to hideaways
as all the forests are felled
so throwaway teak chopsticks
adorn Japanese bowls.

Whilst animist priests fill an earth station’s dish
with rice, square-rigged ships ply old spice routes.
On deck, gladly corrupted sailors swig arak
and drunk as baboons on durians their minds
swim off to the Roaring Forties.

Mid-West 1

Bathed in unlucky blood­
Bison land is stamped by a bitumen
Web enmeshing sacred ground,
State shields glint blue in the sun

So the free spirit changes gear
Fuel-injected, turbo charged,
Chants the sky’s tyre mantra:
Smile on the State & Interstate
Give us frantic, highway joy
At 90 mph you’re sure, rip roar the night away.
Carburettors breathe the eagle’s country,
There’s no speed limit when oneness is reached
And highways meridian industry and peace.
Engines surge, melt mountain
At dawn the trains whistle like ghosts.

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