Cassandra Howard

Caution: Elephants Brake for Food on Bangkok’s Roads – NYT, January 20, 2008

Bar girls arch their backs, fold their small chests in,
Neanderthal-walk the dark world of my underside
for luck. City of angels, great city,
residence of the Emerald Buddha
is waiting.
                  Hard skulls mark the passage.
Skin at the peak of their curved spines is tight,
membranous, hardly containing the one vertebrae
tracing my hide like a pointed finger
dragged across a map.
                                         The impregnable city of God Indra,
grand capital of the world is reflected in my onyx eyes.
The mahout looks into one eye, sees my trunk
unfurl across the globe, tourist-hands
take sugar cane, offer ten baht,
wages for the beast handler, who dreams
of nine precious gems in the happy city, leads me
past Nana’s brothels, go-go girls and hawkers
prowling the Royal Palace of crowded streets. Neon 
lights the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god,
blinds two ducking women emerging from my legs
(good luck, good luck), shines on men patting my ass,
money wads hard in their pockets, ready to spend
in this city given by Indra. Children prod my legs
with sticks. Covert in my shadow, they tempt
the bastions to give or kick, then leap
into other shadows, of buildings, cars,
like mangy strays lose themselves to the city
built by Vishnukam, the architect’s deity.