BANGKOK [neon lights]
O the orchids of Bangkok!
O the luxuriant ladyboys, their devilish seductive smiles
O the decadence, the freedoms of Bangkok!
your serpentine ways
into another unawares our embrace defined night-days
one thinks in embraces
young girls from the village pretend to be go-go girls
naked from waist up
city girls completely naked
Go-go girls dancing like embarrassed sardines
in the lady-boy club an effervescent pretend land . . .
Miss Brazil, Miss Mexico,
Miss France, Miss Singapore, surgically amplified.
in another bar
birds breathless up cunts,
ping pong balls inserted, being thrown out
birds flying out of cunts
needles & needles being pulled out of cunts.
a whole string of sharp needles
razors being pulled out a whole string
of razors being pulled out.
from The Antioch Review, Winter 2005, v. 63, no. 1
Note by Judith Hall
The poem offers artfully, stanza by stanza, ambiguities that beguile and wound. Who dominates? Survives? If the tone were “clear,” gustative, or narrowly exhibitionistic, glee would overwhelm “pretend” and “embarrassed” erotic enticements. Glee would pun and romp from Bangkok to Bang Cock. Has anyone traced “glee” as a predictable descendant of “rage” in poems by feminists of yore?
The tone here, instead, harmonizes early waifish ejaculations with figures atomized, ashamed, and with the final, dominating implements of pain. If there is pleasure in surrender and survival, in aggression and assertion, then the scandal of domination is not its violence -- imagined again as omnipotent idyll -- but its affirmation of lyric enterprise.
A reader, engrossed in the cadences and repetitions, the images pulled along a snuffing out, passes through and then survives – the poem! – the poem imagined! Or does the reader dominate the poem by comprehending it? Mong-Lan’s poem enacts various pleasures. Freedom could be imagined in such a wake.