Your story is of being alone
at twenty-four in Bangkok,
sex capital of the world.
Skinny, lost, in your coveted
American jeans and beat-up sandals,
you somehow thought to find
a prostitute and went with her.
Both of you young,
that worthless treasure,
unasked for, unexchangeable.

In the small, sweaty room
where you’d gone with her to lie down,
you asked and she told you
her story: her village, the family
she sent money to, a boyfriend
who didn’t like her doing this.
Many things you didn’t ask but could piece together,
knowing Bangkok,

city of a million prostitutes,
where women are trained to slither
like brightly colored circus snakes,
if that’s what is wanted. Or to lie
still, for the ones who must have
their way. Or to sit astride, massage with soap,
with oil, with a curried tongue,
each man who comes alone in his own sweat,
needing it that badly.

In this country there are villages
where men come to the parents of beautiful daughters
to bargain and barter and buy a child
before it has been conceived.
In this country there are women, girls,
whose lives pass from hand to hand
like foreign money in obscure places,
beautiful and worthless.

But you two were talking.

I like to think it was a full moon.
Both of you naked
but doing nothing,
just talking. You
being you, the man I know,
only younger and alone, your eyes
filled as you listened.
And she, who had years before stopped
feeling sorry for her own sad, ordinary story,
heard again in that moment
her young girl’s voice, like a door
long unused, creaking on its hunger
in an airless
little room where a strange
man, not of her people, cried
for her.

This becomes my story
as I listen to you
tell something you have never told anyone.
I listen and think about men,
their hard, hungry bodies,
and how much warmth
and pain can cost.
The price of a night
not spent alone,
the price of a story told,
the price of telling a story,
one’s own story,
to someone,
the price of keeping silent.
The sharp salt smell of our mixed loneliness.

When you told me, I did not interrupt
or draw away. But for days afterward
I found it difficult to leave Bangkok
and this woman,
this worn-down younger sister,
whose life you listened to but could not change.
I think of her when I order clothes
from a catalog. Clothes cut
and stitched and packed
by red-eyed women and girls with black hair
from places as far away as Bangkok
and as poor.
I have never been to Bangkok
but have my own stories
of what I have done
or allowed to be done
in the name of need.
I have my own midnights
when shame beats like a hammer,
unredeemed, unredeemed.

Morning in Bangkok —
the sun rose like a burning gold coin.
Your goodbyes were awkward and final;
only the story you made together lingered behind,
hovering, hesitant,
dying to tell itself to someone.