I’ve recently been visited by a couple of old and familiar ghosts which have wafted over here from Southeast Asia. I thought that these spirits from the past were buried in the place where I left them, a place where I served in the US Army as a young enlisted man, and ten years later as a humanitarian aid worker. But it seems that I must once again call up memories of that particular patch of God’s green earth, a 30-kilometer swath of jungle scratched out along the Thai-Cambodian border, just north of the town of Aranyaprathet in eastern Thailand. I may otherwise get no peace.
Ten years later, I showed up for the second time in that very same patch of jungle and red laterite roads where I spent time with the US Army. But this time, things were different. I brought a new me, with me. In fact, I had no idea that I’d somehow be back ten years later, although I had that country and its sad story stuck in the corner of my mind for the decade I was away. I had watched as the shitstorm unfurled in Cambodia when Phnom Penh fell and the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975. I knew well the places that were bearing the brunt of Pol Pot’s terrorist campaigns.
I’m not sure whether the following is a “normal progression,” or not, but, in terms of time investments — comparing the hours/days to produce a poem or a personal essay, to the months/years to produce a novel — the expanding time scale from poetry to the novel does seem like a progression of sorts.
The culture of Thailand was, say, 50 years ago something of a throwback to much earlier times when the Kingdom was affectionately called “The Land of Smiles.” Of course, much has changed since then, but the charm of this country still stands out.
I’ve had a second novel in draft form for some time now. Again, it has a religious theme. The premise for the story occurs at the confluence of Christianity and Buddhism — a place I am drawn to, for reasons beyond my current understanding. I like to tinker around at the fringes of orthodoxy, in places which are often a long way from the comfort zone of many fellow Catholics. It is as place where the language is rough and the characters undeserving.