Autumn Sky Poetry . . . Number 15 . . .

After the Tsunami

     poem and art by Katherine Riegel

In Thailand, leaves
claim the ruined mosaic of a hotel lobby floor,
walls and roof and so many people
taken by a wave that crested higher than anyone
but the animals could believe.
In some villages nothing
could get through to clean
up—as if the flat coast were just
a stained shirt in need
of a scrubbing—until the old
elephant keepers came, their lifelong
partners having trained, patiently, all these
years for just this kind
of work, hoisting timbers
out of the mud, their giant
feet steady on shifting ground.

In my lavish room on another
part of the coast I miss
the geckos I’ve seen in my husband’s
mother’s house, little dragons of the corners
where walls meet ceiling,
calling like tropical birds in the movies.
I read about the Thais
we in the West would call crazy
who claim they see
the ghosts of farang, white
foreigners, on streets and beaches.
They are adamant, and who can blame
them? So many of the dead here were
white, like ghosts. Who’s to say
they know they have been separated
from their bodies, now
sleeping among the sea horses?
Who’s to say those people, my white
brothers and sisters, didn’t float back
to shore, filmy, barely visible,
bloated as water balloons,
and try to speak
to the ones they found there,
though they were far from home,
speaking a foreign tongue
in a foreign land?

Katherine Riegel’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Crazyhorse,, the Gettysburg Review, and West Branch. She received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is the poetry editor of Sweet: A Literary Confection. She lives near Tampa with her husband, Ira Sukrungruang, and three dogs, and teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida.

© 2009 Katherine Riegel