Mothers: Two Poems by Arnon Nampa

The following poems in translation highlight two different roles mothers have played in the common people’s struggle for democracy in Thailand in the past decade: mothers protesting in the streets, and mothers waiting at the courthouse—seemingly opposite roles that have converged in the activities of “Khana RatsaMom” this year. Both poems by Arnon Nampa were written in 2010 in the fallout from the massacre of Red Shirt protestors in Bangkok at Ratchaprasong (commonly pronounced in three syllables akin to “Rajprasong”). Arnon was one of the lawyers who represented more than twenty defendants in the case of arson at Mukdahan Province City Hall in the aftermath of the massacre.

Out of that experience came the poem “We subjects, as if mute and blind, have found ourselves at the end of the line,” a story about a “usual sight” in court that culminates in a call to revolution. It also became the title of Arnon’s collection of formal verse published in 2011 by Aan (Read) Publishing.

“Mother–of Democracy,” meanwhile, eulogizes slain Red Shirt protestors who happened to be mothers, elevating their deeds of valor above the semi-divine status of the “Mother of the Nation.” As Arnon Nampa writes, and Peera Songkünnatham translates:

So Mother’s beauty shone from work and sweat,
Even with the body gored by a bayonet;
As for the Beauty gowns and diamonds brought,
That’s just a crone—our mother she is not!

Originally destined for the protest stage, Arnon’s poems appeal to the heart and mind as much as the ear. They combine straightforward narrative and unpretentious diction with a tight stanza design and intricate patterns of alliteration and rhyme within and between lines. As attorney and author, Arnon has done the work of representation both legal and literary. And now, a decade later, he remains committed to his public work even as he has become a defendant much like the ones depicted below.

[Click here to read the poems in the original Thai.]

We subjects, as if mute and blind, have found ourselves at the end of the line

Cock-a-doodle-do! Here comes the morn,
The red red sun rejoices and beams;
The groggy fog floats on the streams,
And dewdrops hang at the homestead still.

She packs some sticky rice to go,
May they return my son to town;
Been seven months he’s not around,

Though she visits, ne’er missed a day.

When elephants go tusk-to-tusk,
Then common grass’s life is done;
When conflict targets anyone,
Then goats will tremble at the knees.

Scrawny figures, legs in chains,
Come out the car up the courthouse steps;
The guards, as Royal Gov’ment reps,
Bark at the plebs “Hush up and get back!”

Through tears, the moms smile at their sons,
Who wave, smile back, and away they walk;
Each cranes their neck, eyes interlock
In the love of mother and her child.

Why, Bak Ham Noi, what crime he’s done
That got him all chained up from jail;
Those legs, so thin, thin as a rail:
How can he bear to walk at all?

A roar “All rise” and darkness looms:
The judge descends to hear the spiel
Of the prosecutor’s stingy deal;
The lawyer counsels Take the plea.

A roar from the rear “I’m innocent”
The judge says “Sit there quietly!”
Then hits the gavel in obvious glee
To throw away the keys, as told.

The ruling class makes rotten laws:
They kiss and make up on people’s heads;
The underclass, hanging by a thread,
Meanwhile must wait for bail from “Boss.”

The theater’s packed with a jeering crowd
As fists ball up, damp in despair;
“Them arsonists, give them the chair”
The Noble blurt “Die, vermin, die!”

The clink-clank on the courtroom floor
Drowns Rajprasong blasts to a hum;
With Red Shirt People branded scum,
The Killers cackle on towers of gold.

Hands on the bars, eyes on their sons:
This usual sight seems a mere vignette;
As the winners want to forgive and forget,
The common folk can’t help but cry.

That sight of grannies, though, strips bare
The soulless law they learned by rote;
These docile tools, in turn, promote
The power-hungry’s claim to rule.

So the law has turned to the rule of dogs;
We subjects, as if mute and blind,
Have found ourselves at the end of the line:
Submit or die—no other way.

History must be written in lives
To get the wheel of time unstuck;
Fly the red flag, friends, show your pluck:
Revolt! Bring down the robber regime!

My heart aches every time I see old folks standing by to catch a glimpse of their sons at the courthouse. And every time they approach me asking “when will my son get to come out?” it chokes me up even more to the point where I can’t speak. Have we reached the end of the line for real?

23 December 2553[2010]

Mother–of Democracy

She was a woman steadfast in the truth,
Whose valiant feats the future will inherit;
Who cleared a free path through the wilderness,
Who taught us all to know the People’s merit;

Who roamed and slept on the street, a target of scorn,
Whose dirty hands dared sculpt a star of light;
Who sowed the seeds of hope in the seat of power,
Whose sweat was tinged with blood, a stirring sight.

Mother’s two hands were rough from drudgery,
Mother’s two cheeks were lined from lack of rest;
Her shoulders, callused from balancing weights,
Her skin, from years of scorching sun, distressed.

That’s why Mother was strong, and bold, and proud,
Left home for Rajprasong at duty’s call,
Wore old red shirts she had, and joined the crowd
With clappers up to squash the coup cabal.

The Sky then called up rain, an evil ruse
To rile and rain down Yellow catalysts;
Ringleaders whipped up outrage with the news:
“Look, terrorist attack! They’re terrorists!”

And so came bullets, spraying at the heads,
Putting to death without a second thought;
“There! People there, now shoot them, shoot them dead”
“There! Fucker fell—get in a second shot!”

Mother fled running, they chased, they closed her in;
Mother fell running, they kicked her up the chin;
A combat boot to the face, as if to brand
A sacrifice to the Devas in command.

They stamped on Mother’s belly, “Don’t!” she bellowed;
They smacked her mute with all a soldier’s might,
Then pulled the trigger on Mother in cold blood;
Her body writhed …and then her soul took flight.

The red shirt, soaked in blood, could soak no longer,
The Red Shirts, in the millions, sob and mourn;
Mother was a “mother of democracy”
Here on Earth, where we wait for a world reborn.

Our Mother came to reclaim Liberty
From a pedestal, an altar fit for prayer,
Where, worshipped rabidly by many,
She lives accursed with Her chin in the air.

Our Mother, who laid down her life for freedom,
Our Mother was a martyr, a valiant one;
The blood that watered Rajprasong, write down:
Her brave commitment was second to none.

So Mother’s beauty shone from work and sweat,
Even with the body gored by a bayonet;
As for the Beauty gowns and diamonds brought,
That’s just a crone—our mother she is not!

My respects to the daring heart of Chit Pumisak
and each and every “Mother”

6 October 2553[2010]

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