Sundays in Rangoon

for Shane Brady

And books give off more nastier dust than any other class of objects invented,
and the top of a book is where every bluebottle prefers to die.

                                                             ‘Bookshop Memories’   George Orwell

The crushing sadness of Rangoon on a Sunday afternoon

when the city flags under monsoon and an all day darkness

and deluge, broken gutters expectorating, balconies weep

and walls and gables all mapped in patinas of black mould

where every drain has overflowed to river the streets

and your feet. And it’s your nose that brings you to a bookshop

where mildew almost suffocates, as if every book will soon bind

into one lumpen mass, having absorbed the shelves, sponged up

the damp surrounds and the very air, all bearing witness to nothing

ever lasting here. An hour in and little of interest, Successful Poultry

Management among the ubiquitous manuals for the merchant navy,

once the only way out of this country’s isolation.

No surprises, until another edition of Du Fu, which my elsewhere shelves

are full of, but drawn to the cover of colourful murals from the Tonhuaung

Caves and where the book falls open, Travel in the Middle Years,

‘the scent of the orchid fades away …the wicked have not yet

been brought to justice’ and Melancholy in the Autumn Rain,

we have not seen the sun, when will mother earth became dry again.’

Difficult to resist and made more so because of the bookmarks;

a 1979 ticket to a vanished cinema, a tiny printed recipe

which could pass for a prayer, two worthless five Kyat notes

and a folded page of yellowed paper with an inked handprint

on either side, one male and the other female? Both hands etched ghostly,

skiagram of their union and beneath and written in Burmese,

5 am Thursday 21st of October in the Burmese year of 1315.

So sixty years since they separated, since Du Fu presided across

twelve centuries, since that morning perhaps, when one walked out

into the empty streets, each returned to themselves, the monsoon tailing

and like Du Fu’s lone wild goose, replying to cries that were its’ own echoes.