[FEATURE] Two New Poems by Ko Ko Thett with Commentary

by Ko Ko Thett

A tongue that demands ‘Water! Water! Water!’ is chapped 
from tonguing the thick lips of a totalitarian ashtray.

You may find life in a bombshell. There is no water in ash. 
They redress their national internal bleeding with quacky 
tincture. There’s no cure for national internal bleeding.
To tame the tsunami they whip the ocean with a knout. 
The ocean doesn’t bother. 

“On this land …”, Their slogan goes, “… there’s no corpse 
who died from starvation!” . Infants who were force-
fed that shrunk into skin-on bones carcasses.

Drought makes you think, thieve, and thrive. 

“Moderation is medicine, excess—poison.” lectures a baton 
blow on a citizen.

Some of us love flexural history.  
Others make do with bitter rainwater.

Ko Ko Thett’s commentary on “Political Science”: Drought makes you think, thieve and thrive. It is a hike in petrol prices or the removal of certain privileges that drives people to the streets. Then again, there’s only so much people can do in their struggle against tyranny. Compare an army with a mob. The former is a solid institution and the latter, a transient community. The only language a gun will understand may be bang-bang. They say mass protests should emulate water in undermining rock-solid oppressive institutions. The question is how long does it take? How much human sacrifice? Human sacrifice has its limits. Human life is fragile and short. Look at the UK, the country that boasts the oldest democratic foundations, that same country is also partly run by a racist monarchy. Even with guns, to paraphrase Ursula Le Guin, we may have won the war, but have we really defeated Hitlerism anywhere? 

by Ko Ko Thett 

Not least because they contain lead.

Lead is a heavy metal. A well documented environmental

For contraception, Roman prostitutes ate sapa, sugar of
lead. The hairfall, toothfall and downfall of
Queen Elizabeth I is attributed to a lead cosmetic she
piled up on her face. A seventeenth century Burmese
monarch loved to pour molten lead down the throats of
captured pretenders to the throne, who would have done
the same to him had they succeeded.

Lead is Polonium of the nineteenth century. Once in the
body, lead disrupts the function of δ-aminolevulinic
acid dehydratase enzyme. That means anything
from headaches and sleeplessness to hallucinations,
depression, fits and coma. Lead in the blood will corrode
your skin, blacken your teeth, and bleed your gums blue.
The black puke it produces will burn your gullet.

Bullets are dangerous. Especially when they are
fired into a body at high velocity.

The difference between velocity and speed is—

velocity knows where it is going.

It ensures instant death.

Ko Ko Thett’s commentary on “Political Science”: There was a child soldier at the Thailand-Burma border who was gaslighted into peeping down the muzzle of his gun barrel by his peers. He was told he could see the “muzzle velocity” of a bullet if he stared down the barrel of his gun and pulled the trigger, which he did. Here’s another story. I met a resistance fighter at a refugee camp in Thailand many years ago. Half of his brain had been wiped out by a Burmese army G-3 bullet. He was a polyglot who spoke several local languages, but he hardly managed to speak after the incident. His sense of balance was gone too and couldn’t walk unassisted even after rehabilitation. After nearly two decades, in 2016, I met him again in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he had resettled. He has survived. Bullets were born with someone’s name inscribed in invisible ink. Even rubber bullets, which are just meant to stifle mass protests, have killed people. 

Ko Ko Thett is a Burma-born poet, poetry editor, translator, and anthologist of contemporary Burmese poetry. His poems have appeared in journals worldwide (from Griffith Review to Granta), and translated into several languages. After a whirlwind tour of Asia, Europe and North America for two decades, Ko Ko happily resettled in Sagaing in his native Burma-Myanmar in 2017. As of 2021 he is most likely to be spotted in the Golden Triangle area of Norwich, UK. He writes in both Burmese and English. His new collection of poems, bamboophiobia, is forthcoming from Zephyr Press in September 2021. Visit his website for more information. Listen to him read his poem “Accent” here.

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