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For Myo Myo: Horsecart Driver Number 142
Bagan, Burma, 1993

She doesn't know why Myo Myo got her on the bus
off limits to a rucksacked tourist with a Lonely Planet guidebook,
since government greed has made it criminal not to fly.
Maybe he wanted to be subversive without dying for it.
Maybe he was still enraged at a government
who gave him a week to clear out of his hometown.
Or he hoped she would contribute in dollars towards the house
he builds in his mind of light and dark thatch
on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River,
when his horse is out of commission from hauling foreigners
who want to see Pagan, its name and glory erased
by Ne Win who rules based on what his astrologers declare unlucky.

Burmese women passengers wearing longyis and
paste on their faces from the bark of acacia trees
peek at her when they think she is sleeping
or her head is down, as she digs dirt out of her nails
with the tiny knife on a shiny toenail clipper.
They all go into a cafe for the umpteenth time
for a fix of thick coffee in cracked cups
with long strings of condensed milk.
as the bus mechanic yanks something out of the engine
looking like a ginseng root,
so the old vehicle can continue to stagger along through the night.
For twelve dollars in kyats,
seated in a place of honor behind the monks,
she is on her way to Yangoon and home.

--by Willa Schneberg
Portland, Oregon

© 1999
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