orawan-poems-140The Orawan Poems
by Gerry Christmas (Thailand 1973–76; Western Samoa 1976–78)
The Yuletide Press
148 pages
$14.95 (paperback)
2011

Reviewed by Tony Zurlo (Nigeria 1964–65)

THE LOVE EXPRESSED by Gerry Christmas in The Orawan Poems, for Orawan, one of his students in Thailand, embarrasses and shames me. Can there be such perfect love in this life? In these poems, Christmas reveals that for him this romantic Shangri -La of pristine love between man and woman does exist. Sometime in the future, according to Christmas, Orawan will understand the inevitability that she and Christmas will fuse into one hallowed bond. He writes as if it is predetermined.

Unfortunately for Christmas, he must continue to make sense of the physical time and distance of separation because Orawan refuses to submit to him spiritually. Instead, she commits to a clandestine Thai rebellion that Christmas labels as “communist” (123). However, Christmas is convinced she will come around: some mysterious, divine power created them to join together in bliss. He concludes with the poem “I Will Come for You”:

Someday I will come for you
This I truly vow
Though half a world away
Without a clue as how (147).

For the most part, these unpretentious, heart-felt lyrics might best described as romantic songs, rather than “poetry.” Christmas conceals nothing; the reader who is looking for layers of meaning and metaphorical clues rather than raw emotions will be disappointed. And his use of end rhyme contributes to this lack of complexity. For example, in “First Sight” he ends with the stanza:

You took five steps across the court
Ere you stopped that day
You took five steps then swung about
Taking my breath away” (17)

Perhaps I began the reading expecting too much, but lines such as the following from a four page poem titled “The Tooth” occur far too often — although readers might appreciate how the poet adds levity to several of the poems in the collection:

Ere I answered her question
I turned and beheld your front tooth
One look at your eye
Told me to lie
But, dang it, out came the bald truth (62)

On the positive side, the collection does give me a warm feeling for a gathering of friends who recount fond memories and past romances to the accompaniment of guitars.

Tony’s book, The Mind Dancing, won the award for the Outstanding Poetry Book published by a Peace Corps writer during 2009. His latest publications include two chapbooks: one about the impact of war on loved ones titled Go Home Bones, and one about reflections on contemporary life titled Quantum Chaos: Learning to Live with Cosmic Confusion.