Sarit Narai

by Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis

Now that the light holds on after supper,
Why not walk west to the end of Ferry Street
And linger where the ferries used to dock
Before the bridge spanned the Niagara.
Why not enlarge the thin verge of the moment
With the Sunday crowd on deck fifty years ago
Riding to Fort Erie and back just for the fun of it.
The wind from the lake ruffles their hair
As the low sun glances along the water.
Just as they left their rooms to join the flow
So you can go back to them for a moment
And lead them forward into the present
Where the gulls are gliding, swinging beneath the bridge
In figures that blur as you watch, and disappear.
And why not call up the boys you used to see here
Playing on the boulders in the bridge's shadow
Before the fence was put up to stop them.
If one of them lost his footing, his chances were slim,
The push in the channel too hard and heavy,
The water of Erie beginning its headlong, brainless rush
To join the Ontario, as if an extra minute mattered.
Remember the evening you found a crowd here
Waiting beside an ambulance with its motor running
And a squad car where a woman sat in back
Head in her hands? Dark-haired. Next morning
Leafing through the local news, you found the story
Woman from Thailand, three years in the States,
Loses her son, eleven, to the Niagara.
Let yourself go, if you want to enlarge the moment,
And imagine what might have happened if the boy
Sarit Narai, had been fished from the river in time.
Try to think of him as your son's best friend
At Niagara school, where friends were scarce,
Quieting a wildness you could never manage,
The mild manners of Asia persuasive by mere example.
And what if your daughter admires him even more
And comes to choose him for her life's companion,
Not the drab complainer she ended up with.
The world turned left that day on the forking path
But the path on the right still runs beside it
Though never touching. A bountiful Buddha smile
As he explains to your granddaughters and grandsons
How to climb the eight-fold path to freedom
As gulls like these swoop over the gray stones
And the ferries steam back and forth if you let them.
Freely the crowd on deck empties its mind of thought
And welcomes sensation, the sun and wind.
And then the riders waken to see the skyline of home
Beckoning from a distance as if it missed them,
So they're ready to take up their lives again
As the ship pulls in where now a line of cars
Waits in the twilight to pay the bridge toll
Not thirty yards from the spot where the ambulance waited
And the woman cried in the back seat of the car.
After an hour the crowd moved off, dissolving to families,
To couples musing on twilight pastimes.
For a moment, though, each may have hesitated
To change the subject and appear small-souled.
The mist of sorrow already thinning and fading
That would have remained if they'd lived in Eden,
The one kingdom where the sorrows of others
Feel like our own. When Buddha neared Nirvana,
One story goes, he looked back on us as we drowned
In the sea of endless craving, and was filled with pity,
And chose to postpone his bliss till all were saved.
But how can a climb from the world be managed here
When the crowd on the ferry wants the sunset to linger,
And the mother would sell her soul to get her son back,
And the boy still struggles to grab the slippery rock
And pull himself up, his friends all helping
So he can grow old among them. An old man
Looking back on his deeds of kindness. Now the few
Who met him and the many who never did but might have
Feel the phantom gap he would have filled
But are ignorant of its cause and blame their wives,
Their husbands, their children, their towns and jobs,
And hunt around for new gospels, new philosophies.
If you see them this evening pacing along the bank
Where once the ferries docked and the Sunday riders
Lost themselves awhile in the sway and shimmer,
Pity their restlessness. There must be a way
To step forward and name the one they miss,
Sarit Narai, in a tone so resonant
It holds them a moment beyond loss and longing.

Last updated December 19, 2022