How We Are Marked

Pear Nuallak

We all sleep above our ancestors–
it began and ended with bone,
a rotted tooth,
a thigh broken,
honeycomb and marrow.

Near Ban Chiang, a pointed-face dhole whistles to the balcony of stars, quick feet through leaves as the hunt goes on. Away on gravel there’s distant three-note laughter from two young people on a motorcy; the next morning they will be quiet peach fuzz and sharply bobbed, all neatly white and blue when they go to school.

Yes, we traded for that red on our pots
and found wild rice and tussah silk
in the deep woods by our hills.
Hands working, our cuffs sang with bells,
this we remember.

Sharp tom saep in a heated soup tureen shared by two aunties and their luk-lan. Behind them, their stout grey grandfather lies in a hammock reading the news on his phone, looks up and smiles at his daughter and her partner. A calico cat eats up rice from a pink melamine plate by the table.

You measure our bones
(width of hip, slant of jaw)
add up our belongings
(spear or spindle, comb or necklace)
let the knowledge divide into one of two,
man or woman.
You speak this for us, a difference
which does not belong.

A young tom learns to kiss her love with a new tongue that has recently described the most tender part of herself.

But we could tell you
of a warrior so tall, black braid to thick waist
besting a tiger to win its teeth
or the fluent plying of a spinner’s hands
a spirit-worker’s blessings, a potter’s work.
Who fights and gathers, who speaks,
who hunts, who sings to spirits,
who swells with child?
Our difference
was buried with us
and you cannot see.

The fortune-tellers all suggested different names, carefully engineered to ensure auspiciousness and pleasing cadence. Over savoury broth and sen yai slicked with fried garlic she thinks about each name, teasing out every mora, weighing meaning against meaning. Her friends cluck over her superstition, she knows, but the small rituals make sense, comfort, reassure. Let a dead name be forgotten! Hers is not a new life, but a more true one. She adds sugar and chilli vinegar to her bowl and smiles.

We buried ourselves beneath our homes
until one day the frogmouths could nest undisturbed
on the forest floor while we all rested
in the dark loam,
lightly dreaming when new people came south.
We begin and end with bone,
a record incomplete,
your story as much as ours.

Photo - NuallakPear Nuallak is a fancy androgyne with a laugh like a Sailor Moon villain. Born in London and raised by Bangkokian artists, they studied History of Art jointly at SOAS and UCL, specialising in Thai Buddhist art. They blog about Thai and British food on The Furious Pear Pie (