Tourism

The ferry to Ko Chang was worth the cost
of that night in a hostel on the edge of Trat,
one dial-up computer to let him know
how I got out of Battambang
in the back of a pickup truck, sticky and stunned
from the monsoon or the race to the shore,
out of the river of snakes and mines.

But no response for days and days.
I checked from a treehouse hookah bar.
Then just a one-word syllable, “cool”
he wrote with a question mark.
The sting of what I typed he missed:
the man with a machete on his camouflaged knee
perched in the back on a petrol can,

behind the old couple so out of place
in a small boat filled with backpackers.
The woman’s face perspiring, not
from the heat that I could tell.
They spoke to each other in Mandarin, French,
and to the captain in Khmer.
I only knew this after the fact.

A week before I’d walked the path
where bone and cloth stuck out of the grass,
a blood-stained tree where babies were thrown.
Nobody bothered to clean up the mess.
Here you could buy a 12-year-old whore
or take out a hit on an enemy.
The newspaper editor had just been killed.

Banana pancakes, massages and hash,
drinking in bars with Australians and vets,
we carried what little we needed in cash
from Ho Chi Min City by bus to Phenom Penh,
through fields they called roads without stopping for hours,
the cheapest crossing to Cambodia,
a woman behind with a bag of durian

that stank up the bus with an excrement wheeze.
Windows sealed shut, we stuck to the seats
and rocked in the muck, 2 tracks back in time
for the 12-hour journey that should have been 6.
The gutter staccato of language and land.
Into the sweating night, we limped toward the city,
where children begged in oversize shoes.

My brother threw grenades at a cow for ten bucks
while I drank martinis in the Correspondent’s Club,
a few miles from where they held Ta Mok.

My brother leaned his head toward mine,
“Make sure you’ve got your money belt,
I’ll grab your hand when it’s time
to jump.” Told me to keep a poker face.
The boat took the turns at a dangerous speed,
barely missing each passing barge.
The Chinese couple leaned over to cry

and the man in the back sharpened his knife.
I had no idea where this was going.
The captain shouting and speeding up.
Someone screamed for him to slow down
or he’d crash the boat into the reeds (the point,
it seemed). I thought at least
there’s nothing I’ve left behind.

We ran in the rain to make it in time
to cross the border to Thailand by dark.
There at a restaurant picking at food
my brother explained what he could explain.
We both understood the last thing we saw,
the man and his wife being dragged by their hair,
on our way to the beach in Ko Chang.

To distract myself while I waited to jump
so that I wouldn’t scream or throw up
I closed my eyes and like a prayer
whispered the steps of a recipe.
A stick of butter, a dollop of oil,
onions, garlic, parsley,
oregano, basil, a can of puree,
bring to a boil then add the meat—
passed down on a red stained index card
from my mother-in-law who
would soon forget my name.

Amy Speace is a Nashville singer-songwriter and writer based in Nashville, TN. A critically acclaimed recording artist, she was the 2020 winner of “International Song of the Year” by the Americana Music Association UK. Her songs have been recorded by Judy Collins, Red Molly, Memphis Blues Hall of Fame singer Sid Selvidge, among others. Her essays have been published by The New York Times, Working Mother, No Depression, The Blue Rock Review and American Songwriter. She is currently in the MFA in Writing program at Spalding University.

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1 Response to Tourism

  1. Jayden Seams says:

    I had some bad experience on the name of tourism with a company Tairs Luxury, better to stay away from those companies.

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