Memories are Yesterday’s Delights (There’s No War in World)

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Memories are Yesterday’s Delights

(Thailand, India, Laos)

Memories, like the time we rented a motorbike and rode for an hour to Udon Thani so we could try to flatten the silver we bought in Bangkok under the passing trains at the tracks, and how it didn’t work at all, but we sat there for hours waiting for the train to pass, keeping an eye on the silver glinting under the sun, wrapped up to protect it from the crushing weight of the train.

I went to the nearby 7-11 to buy us sweet breads and chips and a Sprite to share while we waited, and thought about how I used to have no taste for sweet bread but how tastes can change and how everything changes …

… and how we discovered a Daiso – Japanese Dollar Store – on that trip, and how we didn’t really find any reason to like Udon Thani until almost a year later, when we spent the night at a charming guesthouse and discovered a night market and food court and a desolate, huge modern shopping centre which we explored after dark …

… or the time we met the eccentric older lady during our 39 hour bus ride from Manali to Leh, in India now, and she offered us apricot seeds while we were waylaid at an army barracks somewhere along the way after a landslide blocked the road, and how we took such great photos at the barracks under the perfect bright sun after drinking chai coming from the mess hall, and how, sometime later or earlier, I don’t remember, the lady came to sit next to us while we ate lunch in one of the several canopied tents offering rice or noodles, and we were already queasy from being at 4,000 feet and were made more so from the blue pallor cast on us from the impossibly bright sun poring through royal blue tarp …

and how the lady looked at my husband and asked if he was an artist because she saw so many bright colours coming off him, and she saw him as an artisan, working with his hands, which is true, and one of his great many talents …

or the time we met a Spanish girl who introduced us to the sauna in the centre of Vientiane’s tourist district, tucked away in an alley, and how we extended a trip there for days so we could visit the sauna, where we could sweat it all out and talk about everything and anything while sipping tea at tables full of Lao locals and monks alike, in a courtyard with no roof so that we could follow the tree planted ages ago right up to its highest branches and suddenly find ourselves in the sky, sometimes cloudy and sometimes a perfect sunny blue,

and how everything felt possible then; or the time, almost exactly a year later, when we watched schoolchildren in Chiang Rai perform a traditional dance they must have practiced for, for ages, while we rang in the new year, in the delightful swarm of intimate strangers.

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Dreams for Those Who Wait

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Dreams for Those Who Wait

(Laos)

When tired, one can have the impression that things are designed to be funny. It all gets easier. You can look at a lush green view with a coconut tree in the middle of it and not strain to take it all in, to be really present since one day you won’t be here anymore and you won’t remember any of this, and a little chunk of great meaning will be lost. No, when you’re tired you can just look at it and it seems really pretty, and it’s like you can touch it with your eyes. And even if you can’t it’s okay, because what is a tree? Who are you, this satiated jumble of particles and dizzy emotions looking at it? A lush view? And you laugh, not in mockery or because it doesn’t mean anything, but because, what is what? One time this happened to me. I was so tired because I couldn’t sleep for the previous eleven nights and it wasn’t even that I was up nights working on an important project, or plagued by nightmares, or feeding a newborn. Nothing like that. Which was disturbing in itself, this lack of reason for sleeplessness. Generally I love sleeping, the dreams that come, the cozy darkness. One time a person came to me in my dreams, a very old man who wore coveralls and a straw hat. His beard was wispy and this made him look a little bit like Lao Tzu. He didn’t say anything for the longest time. He just looked at me very gently, and eventually he held out his ancient hand. There was a toothpick in his mouth, which he’d chewed almost into bits. I didn’t quite know I was dreaming but usually I’m very hesitant and anxious in dreams; this time I took his hand without thought. As soon as I did we were sitting under a tree in a small field and a river flowed by quietly next to us. It was hiding a strong current that had caused many deaths before and as soon as this thought struck me it was clear I was in Laos, which is where I was for real, though in my dream I was back home in Canada, being taken by this old man to the northern mountains of Laos, just south from where most of the unexploded ordnance was dropped onto the country during the Vietnam War. Now a rainbow appeared, a luminous band I could see in its entirety: my first full rainbow. The old man was taking it in with appreciation, but in due stride. He was a calmer Jack Kerouac, past the struggles, in love with his ancient encounter with the road. “Beautiful, isn’t it,” he said. “Now go back to your loving husband, and get yourself some sleep.” “Funny,” I said, wondering what he could possibly mean. But I left the dream anyway, and along with it, Jack Kerouac Lao Tzu.

 

 

 

Lao Jesus

june 22

 

Lao Jesus

(Laos)

 

A man with one bum leg who looks just like Jesus lies on his back under a palm tree. The sun comes and goes. When he needs to stand up his crutches, leaning against the tree, jump over to him, on either side, and lift him up. At first I thought the wind did it, because I heard fairies live in the wind, but we can’t usually see them. The fairies are there to help, not cause harm, and they’ve done things like get people out of car accidents and save them from predators, animal, human or otherwise. The man here really looks like Jesus, though he speaks with a European accent. I wonder how he got his bad leg. It’s interesting, how one of the most famous thing about Jesus is probably that he could walk on water, which means on anything, basically, and at first it seems like this guy wouldn’t be able to walk at all. But he can. He can walk, and do Tai Chi, and stretch every way possible, and with his crutches he can fly. Really. It’s not the fairies, because there’s no reason this guy needs to fly that I can think of, and fairies don’t squander time. But who knows? Did Jesus know why he was walking on water, and the answer might be yes, and I’m not yet in a position to understand. In any case, I just saw it. The man glided up and right over the Thai immigration building here in Vientiane, Laos, where he, like the rest of us, is trying to get permission to stay in Thailand for awhile. His crutches look just like wings. The spot on the grass where the crutches stood is glowing almost pink, for some reason. I stare at the spot and I think there’s a sizzling sound. No, not sizzling exactly, but something like tin and marshmallows put together. It’s making music that’s not music. The ants can hear it. They’re coming off of all the bodies lying on the grass, mine too, and moving pretty fast towards the glowing spot. They don’t enter, but stand in a circle around the spot like they’re waiting for something. Maybe they are. I wonder who watched Jesus walk on water. Suddenly the ants are in the air, a swarm of tiny black ants, moving up like a mini tornado. Lao Jesus doesn’t return. The glowing spot returns to normal and the ants come back to nibble on our bodies. The grass isn’t soft, I realize. It’s like hay. All I have to do to join Lao Jesus in the sky is touch the glowing spot. Somehow I know this. But I don’t do it. So for me the story is over as I get bitten by ants but something tells me Lao Jesus is over Myanmar by now, ready to land, sit, rest, and learn a new trick or two. Maybe he wills me there, and maybe I should have joined him.

 

 

 

Legend

june 20

 

Legend

(Laos)

Imagine the life you’re living now and simultaneously, the legend it has somehow already become. You know this because you can feel it as you are, where you are. You can see the future as real as a painting changed because of your life and its story. Do you know this state of things? For me, it’s being curled up in a rocking chair, or maybe a leather armchair, with a crocheted blanket hugging my legs. I’m drinking some kind of detox herbal tea which I finally enjoy more than coffee, maybe with clove in it, and I’ve added lime to it because I learned in Southeast Asia that lime makes many things taste better. I might be old, with most of my life behind me, but I get the feeling that this is me, now, that I’m waiting for the phone call that will change my life, ignite the legend that everyone already knows about because the world feeds on folklore now as it always has. But what is it? What is this legend that has already been written? The phone rings but I’m caught up with a cloud outside my window and I don’t answer it. I can see it through the window. In it there is a field, and the burnt yellow of its ground tells me it’s autumn. I turn around and see a vintage poster of The Wizard of Oz hanging behind me. Its predominant colour matches that of the field in the cloud outside my window. And then I appear. I run through the field, my long curly hair flying behind me. Soon after two other women come into view. We’re all laughing, like we know we’re in a cloud. We stop under an enormous Banyan tree and catch our breath for a moment. Then the second woman, a dear friend from the looks of it, starts to sing in a certain beautiful, unique way until a large branch begins to descend to the ground. It’s an invitation. Bemused but enthralled, I climb the branch and it’s a lot longer than I would have thought. It’s certainly not going into the centre of the tree, where other branches would grow out from the trunk. I walk and I walk; it feels like I’m in a forest. But the sky is red and the animals don’t look like any I’ve ever seen. “It’s okay, look up,” the third woman says. We’re all walking together now. I look up and as I do, the sky begins to break up. The red scatters and falls away to the sides like curtains at the theatre. What I can see now is an endless row of rope ladders, and three of them come down. “Ah,” I say. We climb the ladders, roll up our sleeves, and prepare to drop all the others down for the rest of the world.

 

 

 

What Trees Do

tree june 19

 

What Trees Do

(Laos)

I want that tree to talk to me. Any tree, really. This is just the one I can see right now. It’s a big mango tree and they’ve carved a courtyard into the space around it. Like the courtyard itself knew from before it came into being who was here first. And who breathes and who doesn’t. The courtyard is made of concrete; large stones were placed in it before the concrete dried so you can walk on its crevices and smooth areas and it’s like how it might feel on the moon, if you close your eyes. It’s also practical: the stones create friction so you don’t slip when the floor gets wet, which is often because we’re at a sauna and there’s a concrete vat of water in the corner you use to splash cold water on yourself before entering into extreme heat with herbal infusion. The sauna feels like entering into a fire. Or talking a simulation test run of hell, if such a thing exists. You sit down and the fire hurls itself into your nostrils. You stand up and the flames engorge your head. You make a run for it and the curtain rips your skin off. There’s little space between these activities to simply sweat the toxins out. But out in the courtyard, there’s a breeze and endless refills of bael fruit tea. And the mango tree that reminds me how much I want to hear trees talk. I guess to me trees seem like witnesses. Flowers are pretty but they don’t live long. Same with ants; they run around and follow orders and carry their own weight, but though they see miles in their short lives, they don’t have the perspective of time, at least in the third dimension, which is all I know about time at this point. From my own lowly position in the scheme of things, big trees have been around for so long, have seen so many things change. Sometimes when I go to visit my parents in my home town, nothing seems to change there at all. Then one time I’ll go, and the old gas station at the corner across from the Loeb has been replaced by a Shell, and the butcher has become an Asian fusion restaurant, and even though the old Quickie convenience store is still there and has never even had a paint job, there is that unshakeable feeling that there is no stopping time. Which means I have become a witness, like the trees, even as they grow their own fruit and have their own way of wondering about seasons and the cyclical nature of time. “You like tree.” The Lao woman who gave me a sarong for the sauna is standing behind me. “Yes. Trees have great spirit,” she says. “Here. You put cream on skin. Tamarind and yogurt. Good for you. Make young again.”

 

 

Mountain Watch

june 18

Mountain Watch

(Laos)

The new moon is a mist behind clouds. I turn to the mountains in the near distance, on the other side of a very narrow river. There’s a small rickety bridge that crosses it and they’ve been building a second bridge not far away, now complete. It’s not flimsy yet but there’s the potential for this. The sky is thick like you can touch it, a dress from the Victorian Age made of endless folds of velvet. I want to watch the mountains go dark the way you want to catch that exact moment when water bursts into bubbly, evaporating heat. There’s that expression, about how this is impossible (because watched pots don’t boil), but of course that’s not true. It’ll boil like the sun rises everyday (so far that’s a sure thing, until one day the sun will just run out of energy and won’t be able to climb). I’m not sure what that expression is trying to tell us: maybe that impatience causes eternities? That if we turn away from our anxiety things will work out on their own? Personally, I just think we forget what it can be like, to watch water boil. We try, and the mind goes elsewhere and the body follows because we’re not in control of anything. If you’ve ever tried meditating, you’ll see how difficult it is to watch your breath go in and out, in and out, with full concentration. This is mind-training, and the mind is stubborn. It wants to be anywhere else and it wants you along for the ride, so you start thinking about the past and future, all sorts of happy and dismal things, and before you know it you’re anxious and miserable and the breath, which has grown shallow and rapid, has been forgotten. But I am here, now, in love with the mountains of Vang Vieng, their curves and shapes and strength, and I want to watch them change into night. I want to watch them do their version of boiling, evaporating into nothing. So I sit down and watch. There’s a large mountain covered with trees, and next to it is a series of smaller mountains, with one darker one dominating, also covered in trees. Above these, the sky is now several intoxicating shades of blue. Seeing this, I’m back to when I was here years ago, and how I felt so protected under these imposing, godly she-mountains, how lonely I was. I remember where I am, and see again: the sky is darker, but you can still discern the blues. The mountains behind the darkest one have faded into the background. The large mountain next to it has become a silhouette. I hear someone start to cry. I try to find her but I can’t. I think of loneliness again and now my attention has moved away from the mountains, which are almost gone now. But I remember these mountains as much as I’m looking at them. You can feel them even as they become gone.