SUKRUNG (4)500When you meet someone at twenty-one, someone eight years older and wiser, you learn the world through her eyes. You are a blank slate, a boy who hasn’t lost enough. You adopt what she wants and her views on life. Her interests—nature, birds, the infinite flat of Illinois—become your interests. And suddenly, you, the urban misfit, find yourself donning a pair of binoculars and aiming them in a tangle of branches, leaning your ear to every tweet and twitter, any rapid flap of wings. And suddenly, you want to retire in an old farmhouse in central Illinois, near her family, and grow corn and strawberries, raising horses you will never ride. And suddenly, you begin to write poetry, love poetry, want to be a poet, like she is—deep, dark, and mysterious, with a gift of composing perfect iambic lines. Because of her you don’t want children, complain of their noise and ruckus on planes, the way they can’t control the yarn of drool dripping from their toothless mouths. But then a sadness sets in, a sadness that feels like a hand to the throat, because after fourteen years, you don’t know what you want. You, with the graying beard. You, with a belly distending over the waistline of your slacks. This dawns on you, as you sit in the waiting room of a hospital because your wife is having a hysterectomy. You think this is what you want, too, because you can’t bear the pain she suffers every month she menstruates, her headaches that fetal her in the center of the bed. You want this, but you don’t understand why your right knee bounces with a ferocity that shakes the bench you share with other people, people waiting for loved ones, people who stare at the crazy Asian man with an unstillable knee. You want this, but the finality of this decision has taken away a path in your life, and the Buddhist you are wonders whether that path would’ve led you to Nirvana. In that waiting room, you imagine a child, one you’ve created, one without a face, a child, your child, yours. And you hear that child’s laughter. And you feel that child’s breath. And you understand why your mother clings to you, why she squeezes your arms and legs, even now, as if she thinks you are not real, a dream she does not want to lose. In that waiting room, for perhaps the first time, you find yourself wanting. It fills you like a fragrant pond of lotuses. Beautiful gaping blooms hungry with want. But you keep quiet. You do not voice this. What good would it do now? What good would it do, when you are allowed to see your wife, dazed from surgery, slipping in and out of the conscious and unconscious world with her new body? What good would it do when you hold her hand, her voice weighted down with weariness, asking how the dogs are, asking whether you put the garbage out and gathered the mail?

A couple of years later, you will remember that hospital room. You will remember the overcast light entering the curtained window, and the gray that permeated that space. You will remember how your wife’s long hair fanned the pillow, how even in post-surgical sleep she was beautiful. You will remember the slight murmurs in her sleep, some mysterious conversation had in a dream. This would be the end, though you did not know it then.

The end.

The end.

And you will wonder, had you’d known, would you have said, I love you, my wavy-haired angel, my Midwestern poet. I love you.

And you will remember this, in that gray hospital room: your fingers feeding ice chips to her cracked lips, one cold chunk at a time, this last intimacy, this last act of love.


Ira Sukrungruang is author of two memoirs, Southside Buddhist and Talk Thai: the Adventures of Buddhist Boy, and the poetry collection, In Thailand It Is Night. To learn more about him, please visit:


Photo by Dinty W. Moore