The Presence of Snow in the Tropics

In Malay Forests

Fear of snakes
sends us highstepping
up the trail.
a Tualong tree
outstrips its rivals
for air and light
despite the strangler fig
growing from a crotch
at 200 feet.

All around,
that silent life
rises and falls
beneath the airy bodies
of leaves.
Lianas, rattans, and creepers
send dense signals
where the slower self
still reads the book
of bramble and briar
and heartwood‘s sap
rises in tides
where no moon shows
nor any hand
leaflike goes.


The cattle stand facing east.
Their bodies shine like lumps
of coal in the rising sun.
They stand in the center of the worn

geometry of their paths. Sun
warms their black hides, making
light upon them tremble.
Hard hooves have vanished.

Around them the yellow heads
of dandelions collapse and rid
themselves of ragged bodies
rising from milky roots.

Nearby the tight brown coats
of cattails emphatic on the margins
of the pond have begun to dissolve
into flakes of air-borne down.

I am here watching, wearing
my heaviness like a coat.
Hard matter in its home around
me seems poised to disappear.


The Stone

When you were born a tall handsome woman with the slenderest of fingers gave you back your stone. She placed it on your tongue like an aspirin and held your mouth shut and stroked your throat until you had to swallow. The stone is smooth, shaped and pressed by the weight of all the world’s waters, rolled by the journeys of all the world’s rivers to the sea. Inside you it becomes a perfect sphere the size of a pea. A thin layer of cells coats it so that you can carry it all your life like a shark carries souvenirs from all its meals.

When you are ready to die the woman will come again. She will still be handsome and her fingers will still be sharp. With incredible ease, and drawing very little blood, she will reach through your side and pluck out the stone, now big as a cherry. It has absorbed all your days and nights which give it the color of pale blood. It is your stone, but she will keep it for you. When she swallows the stone your heart will burst. When you are ready to try again, she will come to you. She will put the stone on your tongue and hold your mouth and stroke and stroke your throat. It will be harder to swallow. You will always wish for a smaller stone.

© Joe Survant