By the Temple Gate
macaques lie in wait.
They squabble and fight,
like chickens, for the bananas
offered by northern Europeans.
bags and cameras
and are happy to scratch
the hands that feed them.
An enormous limestone hill
three hundred metres high
towers above the temple.
A small staircase leads
up and over the rocks,
then down into the Khiriwong valley,
lush ancient lowland forest
with giant dicterocarps and fig trees,
their flared buttressed roots
offering comfortable back rests.
It is encircled on all sides
by steep overhanging cliffs.
The mountain is riddled with caves
which penetrate to its heart.
These are used by meditating monks.
There are also small wooden kutis
clinging to the rock face,
some of them too small to lie down in,
and cleared walkways.
Thirty years ago the Venerable Chamnean
came here to meditate.
A tiger walked into the cave,
but did not interfere with him.
Because of this, a temple was erected here
and Chamnean became its Abbot.
Now there are over three hundred monks
and nuns and also lay people collected here.
Chamnean is a famous Meditation Teacher
and his present cave
is a large modern building
in its own compound
and stainless steel decorative metal work.
The dell is unchanged, quiet and listening.
The macaques do not come here.
Outside one of the caves
someone has painted
in red letters Snake Cave;
and on an inside wall,
in faded white Thai script,
I am Buddha, in Pali.
We asked Chamnean whether
the story of the Tiger was true.
He said it was.
There is a Guardian Deva.
There are also washing machines in the dell.
And overhead lamps on the walkways as well.
SURVIVORS AND INHERITORS
Caves, like palaces,
outlive their tenants.
Tigers came and filled the caves
with snarling and roaring.
After the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima,
more than a hundred Japanese soldiers retreated here.
Most fell on their swords in accordance with custom,
grasping the hilts with both hands,
pulling and falling into an exploding sphere of pain.
The rest cut open their stomachs
and died more slowly, but just as surely.
Their flesh was eaten by tigers and dogs,
their bones mingled with those of prehistoric men
and the residue of earlier tiger feasts.
Thirty five years later, Buddhist monks came,
Japanese, Thai and Chinese,
and chanted mantras
for the salvation and reorientation
of the Japanese spirits,
who returned to Japan.
The earthly elements they left behind
were collected by the Japanese Embassy
(who also took the swords).
The caves were cleaned.
The tigers stopped coming.
Like deserted Indian Temples,
the caves were left to monkeys,
who jabbered and squabbled
with the sounds of enraged chickens.
Dun, as a boy, came here with his friends,
when they were bored with fishing,
to fight the monkeys for their territory.
Now the worn limestone caverns
are empty, silent, echoing,
teeming with images in parallel worlds,
waiting for the next arrivals.
Tonight one old monkey