Some Syllables, Slurred

By ROSSANEE NURFARIDA 
Translated from the Thai by NOH ANOTHAI

Coconut Tree

           Bangkok, Thailand

Seven years ago…
My grandmother was ninety,
but didn’t know what a coup d’etat was
on that night the people had
their voices stolen from them.
She said only, “If there’s nothing else to watch,
just turn the television off.”
She wasn’t familiar with the patriotic songs
the state was playing on repeat
on every channel
no matter how old they were.

                        *

            The koot bird koots coconuts.
            Won’t he share with any of us?
            No, all by himself he sits,
            Enjoying all of it…

My grandmother’s lullaby also came drifting
light on the wind
in that season when power traded hands:
The same she used to lull her kids asleep,
then thirty years later, her grandkids
and their kids.
The way she sang it, slurring some syllables,
uttered unclearly—a memory we all share among us,
though never once thinking to ask the original words.

                        *

Grandma never knew the word taxation,
only the term “land-fee”
for what a farmer like herself was bound to pay 
the state, that owned the land she worked on
—just like she never knew, either, for what purposes
this “fee” was put to use.

When election time came,
so many sought her home to gain her blessing.
Grandma received each of them, smiling,
            saying “Hello, hello, child”—
she called every candidate “child,”
never once asking where they went off to
at all other times of the year.

Grandma never knew the word democracy
but she would go anyway to hand in her ID
and have her fingerprints stamped.
Inside that little booth, she’d take a pen
and though she couldn’t read,
she knew whomever got the most marks
would win those positions
whose names she could never say correctly,
and that the people who paid her those visits
didn’t want to lose their grip on them.

                       *

            The koot bird koots coconuts.
            Won’t he share with any of us?
            No, all by himself he sits,
            Enjoying all of it…

Seven years ago…

The lullaby that Grandma used to sing
rang out from the capital city’s streets,
the people amassed there taking it up
for a new task.
Who is the koot grating coconuts
Grandma wouldn’t be able to say,
but all by himself he sits, enjoying all of it—
these lyrics need no explanation.

2 December 2020

 

Rossanee Nurfarida was born in Songkhla in southern Thailand in 1987. She often covered the violence in Thailands three southernmost provinces as a news reporter. In 2016, her poetry collection Beyond Our Own Four Walls (alternately translated Far Away From Our Own Homes) was shortlisted for Thailands Southeast Asian Writers (SEAWrite) Award, making her the only woman that yearand one of few Muslim Thaisto earn the distinction. “Some Syllables, Slurred” comes from her blog.

Noh Anothai’s translations range from classical Siamese poets to contemporary Thai authors, including several who have received or were nominated for the Southeast Asian Writers (SEAWrite Award). He has received the Bangkok Literary Review’s inaugural translation prize (for “Firefly” by Chiranan Pitpreecha), written about Thai literature for Asymptote (in 2020 about Veeraporn Nitiprabha’s latest title, a YA novel with dystopian elements), and served as a judge for the Lucien Stryk Prize for Asian Literature in Translation. He has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Washington University in St. Louis.

Some Syllables, Slurred

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