by Ira Sukrungruang
Two people sit at a bar—City and Country. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, except it is a memory from a time when sitting at a bar was possible, when one could be in the shadow of others, when the sound of moving bodies, talking bodies, laughing bodies, was normal.
Every urban person I know finds noise to be a type of silence, Country says. I never understood this.
Wind scares me, City says.
But you’re from the Windy City.
Against a building wind is different, says City. Wind, like in cornfields—I wait to be carried away.
Like Dorothy and Toto.
Only I’m Thai and without a dog.
They laugh. They laugh and drink.
I have a friend, says Country, who hasn’t left his small town. Stays solidly where he is.
Country shows City the lines on her hand. The map of his life is here.
City understands this. He understands this and drinks.
Outside of Columbus, OH, in City’s office, hang maps of three cities: Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Chicago. Places he considers home. Lines bisect and curve and run parallel. Interstates and highways, the circles of small neighborhoods, dead end streets, form pattern and shape. Often, when staring at these lines, City envisions the faces of the people who live on the map, people who know him better than he knows himself, people who know the city like the lines on their hands, people who never left. Sometimes, City traces a road, and under his fingernail he imagines the grit of concrete, the grime that coats cars, the gas puddles that swirl in streets. Sometimes, the city’s breath rises around him—exhaust and uncollected trash and the undercurrent of deep-fried food. Sometimes, a breath releases within him. A breath he hadn’t realized he locked away. His chest expands, and he wonders if this is how a flower feels when it unfurls.
It is this breath that will be stuck when the world shuts down, when cities lose voice. This breath will be lodged in the top of his chest, unable to overcome the barrier of the throat. The stuck breath will be there in silence. So much silence. City will yearn for noise, city noise, his other heartbeat of chaos and anti-rhythm, of disruption and eruption. He will spend hours looking at pictures of his cities, watching videos of his cities. City will think about Country. He will think about how different they are, yet in this moment, these differences cease to matter. He will remember telling her in the bar that he sometimes feels like a lone tree in a wide-open field, beaten by weather and sun. He will write Country a letter. Country will write back. She will say she understands City now—his fear of wind. She will tell him the wind sounds different in the fields. Hollow. Without purpose. She will say she wants to be lifted off the ground and placed into a bar, like the one they were in, with all that comforting noise, surrounded by so many bodies, talking the night away about cities and countries.
Everything is lonely, she’ll write.
Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the forthcoming memoir This Jade World, and three nonfiction books—Buddha’s Dog & other mediations, Southside Buddhist and Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy—as well as the short story collection The Melting Season, and the poetry collection In Thailand It Is Night. He is the president of Sweet: A Literary Confection (sweetlit.com) and the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College.
SLAG GLASS CITY · Volume 7 · June 2021
Header image by Richard.