Monday, December 25, 2006



Working elephants on the Mae Rim Road.
The famous writer Ludu Daw Ah Mar said:
Where the great elephants go
Convinced she was right, she started writing –
in the vernacular
not in stilted flowery
traditional prose.
She threw away in full view of everyone, a ball pen, given to her
by the supposedly moderate general, now deposed
since 2004. He’s now himself
under house arrest.
An internal power struggle, in the junta
the permanent purge.

On the Mae Rim Road
the elephants
no longer do
real work, lifting, pulling
pushing teak logs, worth $10,000 each
in 1982.
But now I no longer know the price --
as am considering divorce and no longer
to the teak man.
Since 1988, Thailand has had
a teak export ban. The Thai general immediately
an agreement, to exploit, neighboring Burma’s
teak forests. Suited everyone fine
except the Burmese people; the students who fled
to Thailand after the army clampdown of 1988; the ethnic peoples
on the border.

On the Mae Rim Road
the elephants entertain tourists
going around clumsily in circles, holding each other’s
tails, gingerly in their trunks.
The mahouts are all Karen[1]
have given each elephant
a Karen name.

The younger mahouts are
kinder. An old mahout
has so struck at his elephant
with his chun probe, the edges
of the elephant’s ears, are in tatters
storm tossed
banana leaves. Maybe only I
see this.

Everyone else is too busy
rushing around taking photos
and clapping.

I’ve read, before captive elephants
were taught, to paint
they were so bored
in a western zoo
they masturbated and tried
to fornicate
with the red fire hydrant.

On the Mae Rim Road
the elephants no longer
do real work, but it’s not bad
my tourist guide says:
Easier than hauling logs. Is painting.
My guide Tang who speaks

I am exploring
retiring in Thailand
but it might get
too sleepy, too boring
too political and
too dangerous.

The elephants on the Mae Rim
Road, no longer do real work.
They entertain.
Maybe some have been extras
in the film

Copyright Kyi May Kaung
Chiangmai, Thailand.

[1] An ethnic group living in Burma and Thailand called Kayin or Karen.
[2] A popular film, sponsored by the Thai royal family, edited by Francis Ford Coppola and allegedly very anti-Burmese, but I did not find it so objectionable. To me it appeared to focus more on the court intrigues of the Ayuthia royal family and to blame them for the Burmese invasion. Suryothai was a Thai queen who went to war on an elephant to help her husband and was killed.

Sunday, December 10, 2006



Surreal in Northern Thailand.

Yesterday went on a guided tour.

Doi Inthanon National Park.

King's Project.

Guide says -- "And King, he changed opium into flowers."

Shuttle vans with open sides, packed full of people.

Foreign (farang) tourists refuse to ride. But walking may not be safer.

Scenes run through my head of busted brakes, me with my Mini-Minor

in Rangoon, if brakes go hope steering remains, will be no fun, if shuttle van loses brakes now,

plows into pilgrims to King's Stupa and Queen's Stupa.

Invisible people: The Three Karen Women in ethnic handwoven sarongs and electric pink plastic boots.

Doing the squatting gardening.

I like best -- the summit of Doi Inthanon, small white shrine set in undisturbed jungle, rest of it highly


Can't walk in there, beyond the wooden boardwalk. Undergrowth chest high, vines and mosses. Ferns.

I am fascinated, can't stop looking at the tangles of the vines.

First real jungle I've ever seen.

King Inthanon's ashes

in shrine.

Monk in hermit's bark colored robes

walks slowly in meditation, around


Good place for my own ashes

in good time.

Copyright Kyi May Kaung

Saturday, December 02, 2006



A Funny Thing Happened

At the Kefa Café.

I arrived as usual, 6 PM or a little after.

However early I arrive, Lene and Ababe, the owners

have already arranged the chairs for my Salon

This evening Sarah Browning of D.C. Poets Against War is to read.

I get my coffee and Sarah gets a bottle of water.

Ababe at the counter, says “Two people called

They wanted to know if someone named Baldwin is reading.”


The only Baldwin I know is James.

And maybe the piano.

Sarah runs to where Ababe and Lene stack The City Paper

and sure enough the listing says, “James Baldwin will read with Sarah Browning.”

When I watch James Baldwin on TV on American Masters, I wish,

I had arrived in America soon enough to see him, in person,

As I saw Allen Ginsburg once and Robert Creeley

in Philadelphia.

So we intended to invoke the ghost of James Baldwin at the Kefa Café,

this Christmas, but in the end we forgot.

Sarah said she edited out the most painful of her Iraq poems

because she saw the lady in the audience, who said she came because her friend’s

Son had just died in Iraq, was crying.

I didn’t see her crying because I was watching Sarah read.

But I thought the lady’s face did look very red and blotchy.

And rather swollen.

I cry too at poetry readings, at the movies and at weddings.

And I do not even yet have, someone I know who knows someone

who died in Iraq,

but the taxi driver says, he has driven, many amputees and their


from Walter Reed on Georgia Avenue (Route 29)

“Even had a meal with one family at McDonald’s


Copyright Kyi May Kaung



Paintings, Poetry and Refugees.

I’ve had a busy week.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I was at The American University Refugee Conference, where I showed the more political of my art works, small pieces that can be displayed on a table. One is a simplified portrait of Burmese human rights defender Daw Su Su Nway, who sued the Burmese government and was imprisoned for it. She looks like a naive teenager. I painted the oil on canvas with as few colors and lines as I could manage.

As Paul Klee wrote in Berlin as the Nazis came into power "The paintings look back at you." Su Su Nway looks back at us with clear, open eyes. I imagine her saying "I did this and was punished for this. But you can do what your own conscience tells you to."

In a private email exchange a few days ago, another Burmese woman charmingly calls her conscience, her "conscious." There is not much difference between the 2 words.

People who don't have a conscience are hardly conscious.

At A.U., Hatim Eltayeb Mohamed Ali Elmaki also showed his paintings, naïve and colorful, and a friend of mine, Khin May Zaw showed her slides taken at a Burmese refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border.

My art work featured collages, some made from old business cards “woven” into irregular edged pieces that remind me of the split bamboo matting used as thin walls in poor people’s huts and houses in Burma. I flung acrylic paint in a betel nut red onto the pieces. (When I made them in my studio, not at the Conference). It looks like the betel spit which is ubiquitous on Burmese roads, maybe not in Rangoon now, where there are fines for spitting.

I found betel nut paraphernalia – such as small scissors to shave the small hard betel nuts into chewable wafer thin slices, fan-shaped receptacles for betel leaves (which come from a different plant, a vine) and small lidded tubes for holding the quick lime which is dabbed on a betel leaf, before the leaf is folded up and chewed, in markets in S.E. Asia – such as the Chiangmai Night Bazaar. Some are made of finely wrought silver or neillo ware, inlaid with black. I've put a betel chewing set into my short story The Rider of Crocodiles, written in July after a visit to Thailand.

There is really much that is similar in Burmese and Thai culture.

A video/DVD called “Tongues Don’t Have Bones” which uses my poetry illustrated by images – and made by Lisa DiLillo, was shown both on the 27th and the 28th of November at A.U. The title is from a line in one of my poems and is based on a old Burmese saying.

I am surprised and gratified that this piece has had such a long shelf life. Using footage that any tourist could have shot, DiLillo made this enduring piece of art. She has a wonderful sense of the movements in the film, and the cadences of Burmese speech and gesture. I told my A.U audience that the durability of this testifies to the staying power of truth. Lisa DiLillo and I were only its vehicles, working separately before we even met each other.

It shows that truth is the same, whoever is called to witness it, just by turning his or her eyes towards what is happening, and not away.

Some of the poetry I wrote myself, several were translated from poetry, hard to find, by other Burmese poets. One, Naing Win Swe, was a well known communist who converted to democracy and died in the jungle fighting for freedom. His poem depicts "the drowning punishment" used in the jungle. Sometimes the freedom fighters and groups ape the heirarchical structure and harsh extra-legal methods of the military junta.

I reflect on how poetry has a visceral meaning in Burma – as it has in Chile and Russia. There you don’t go to classes to write poetry, in fact you cannot.

You live life and a lot of poetry is written by the oppressed and disposed, some of them in the Burmese gulag.

I want poetry to have the strength and meaning it has over there, where often your life depends on it, literally.

This same week, Sarah Browning of D.C. Poets Against War, read poetry both at A.U at the beginning of the week, and at my salon, Dr. Kaung’s Salon, in Silver Spring, MD, where she also spoke about how D.C. Poets Against War was revived, in the period close to the start of the second Iraq War in 2003.

I had a nice dinner afterwards with Sarah and another poet, Judith McComb.

In this week of activism, poetry and friendship, I feel like a plant that has found the right pot to live in, has just been watered.

Thanks to Michelle Quinteros and Tim Renner, at American University and other student volunteers for the Refugee Conference. My apologies to David Fogel, and the high school students I was scheduled to meet on Tuesday at Gateway Heliport Gallery where the art of 4 refugee artists (including mine and Hatim's has been displayed in the show Freedom since October: I overschedule myself and was unable to make the open mike reading.

I hope this update in some way makes up for my not being able to get there.

Kyi May Kaung

Monday, November 20, 2006



Burma and Iraq: for DC Poets Against War – Reading, 11-8-2006. Shepherd Library, Washington, DC.

Believe it or not – Burma and Iraq are
connected. If you stretch far enough, Everything is
connected to Everything. These days you
don’t have to
very far.

As there has been, much more than the first
Burmese deaths from AIDS, in the early 1980s, now
there has been, the first
Burmese-American death
in Iraq.

It was the grandson
of a famous professor
of Physics.

The professor was Rector
of Rangoon University.
When the junta – decided
there would be no more
“student disturbances”—if
“the student body was all
relocated” and distance learning
set up – this professor made
correspondence courses, a success.
But the government-run university pulled
the courses back
central control. It could not
allow that.

An architect was drawing a house
design for a client. To save money the client
took off the verandas – the architect put them
back on.

Another architect had a modern design, for a new
hotel, in Bagan, ancient city.

He took off the tiered roofs – to have low modern lines
unobstructed views.
The general put – the pyathats back on.
On/off on/off
so it goes. When he won, an international
design prize, they gave the prize,
to someone with, the same
name. He left shortly after.

To learn how dictators behave
I read about Saddam Hussein, c. 1993.

At a Burmese dissidents’ meeting
December 2002, before the second Iraq War
I put on a free button, that said
“Don’t go to war, in Iraq.”

A Burmese man, looked at me
sideways, said
“Be careful with that!”

A Burmese poet – supported publicly
the war in Iraq –
but I think that is because he does not
read much in English and doesn’t know
about modern warfare
daisy cutter bombs just
used in Afghanistan
blanket bombing
cluster bombs
smart bombs
and such.

A hit man does a cleaner faster job.

What I can’t figure out
is how U.S. officials expect
someone to stay put in one building
for hours – while a bomber is called
in. Seems a moving target, by force of habit
will keep moving.

The man who draped
the U.S. flag over the face
of the statue of Saddam Hussein – just before
it was toppled
was Burmese.

The Burmese expert last Friday
said – the Burmese people expect/
want? A U.S. invasion. They say
“After the diamond, the gold.” “Sein”
“hu-sein” means “diamond”
“Shwe” in General Than Shwe, the present dictator,
means -- “gold.”

At one time Saddam Hussein and the Burmese junta
Used the same P.R. firm
in Washington, DC.

If you stretch far enough, Everything is
to Everything.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My visual art bio for Friendship Heights Village Center Group Show- Nov-Dec 2006

Kyi May Kaung has had 3 one woman shows and several group shows in the DC area since 2001—FLUX at Foundry Gallery, March 2002, BLOTCHES FROM BURMA at Space 7-10, Silver Spring MD, Oct-Nov. 2006 and currently FREEDOM, with 3 other asylee and refugee artists at Gateway Heliport Gallery, Silver Spring (on till the first week of Dec.) A new show MOSTLY BURMESE MUGS -- of anonymous or fictional “portraits,” painted porcelains and wearable art is planned for Space 7-10, March-April 2007. Kyi has a doctorate in Political Economy from the Univ. of Pennsylvania (1994) – is a prize winning poet and also writes fiction and plays.


My Poetry bio for Nov 8, 2006 reading with DC Poets Against War

Kyi May Kaung Ph.D. has been writing poetry and fiction since she was a teenager, and intensively since the early 1990s. She is winner of the William Carlos Williams Prize of the Academy of American Poets (1993), a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Award (1996), and a Fulbright (1982-1988) and has been a Pew finalist twice. Her play Shaman was praised by Edward Albee. Tina Chang of Columbia Univ. has chosen 3 of her poems for the upcoming Norton Anthology. Another poem in honor of Pablo Neruda was chosen by Marilyn Hacker and Ram Devenini for Rattapallax's special (CD) edition.

Kyi has published 2 chapbooks, Pelted with Petals: The Burmese Poems and Tibetan Tanka, both from Intertext AK. Her poetry has appeared in Poets' Attic, Meridian Anthology, Mosaic and Passport magazines. In international radio 1997-2001 she wrote and produced a well-regarded weekly on dissident poetry -- and now runs a literary salon in MD.

Kyi has read in universities and colleges all over N. America and with Burmese dissident groups. This is her first appearance with DC PAW.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lisa Null's Ballad Sing at Kefa Cafe a Great Success!

Although a damp and rainy evening, Kefa Cafe was PACKED with folk singers, professional folklorists and just singers :) last Friday.

There was hardly time for a Q and A because -- as Lisa Null, Silver Spring resident who planned and hosted the show said, "Everyone wants to sing, not talk."

Thank you Lisa, Amy, Tom, Lene and Ababe and everyone who worked many months to make this a success.

It just shows the great power of music. Lisa Null sang many songs in a deep rich voice, as did several guest singers.

My favorite was a traditional ballad with the refrain "Don't go down to the broom again." I understand "broom" is a small yellow flowered plant. The ballad is about incest -- the princess in the ballad is pregnant by her brother!

Copyright Kyi May Kaung
Founder and Facilitator -- Dr. Kaung's Salon at Space 7-10, Kefa Cafe, Silver Spring MD.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The play Cabaret at Arena Stage in DC -- & Burma.

Being originally from Rangoon, Burma, sometimes I have an advantage over others who were born and brought up in the free world -- I'm not so jaded. As the human equivalent of ET, I can look at things in a fresh new way. This was the case on Thursday, when I received tickets to see a matinee production of Joe Masteroff's Cabaret, at the Arena Stage in Washington DC.

I asked three or four close friends if they could accompany me. But they were all busy. One or two of them mumured "Joel Grey" as soon as I said "Cabaret." I thought the expression on their faces might be saying -- "This is just a musical about being gay, in pre-World War II Berlin." Indeed, all I could recall myself was seeing short clips on TV of Joel Grey singing and dancing bizarrely in the cabaret sequence. So it must be a play about the cabaret.

In fact, I don't see why everyone's emphasis seems so much on the emcee (Master of Ceremonies, M.C.) character in Cabaret. He's important, and there's a surprise ending where he's concerned. But he is "only" the equivalent of the Greek chorus. In the end, the master manipulator also cannot control the story and he becomes a victim too. (Sorry if this is a "spoiler.")

The musical is based on the play by John Van Druten, which in turn is based on a collection of short stories by Christopher Isherwood. The naive young man who arrives by train in Berlin in 1931, with a Remington typewriter, on which he has yet to start writing his novel, seems modeled on Isherwood himself, who came from a rich family.

Sally Bowles, the cabaret's star, gets ejected by one of her lovers, and moves in with the young man. I was wondering about this "Bowles" and just today, read in a book about Paul and Jane Bowles that Isherwood named his main female character Sally Bowles after famous short story writer and composer Paul Bowles. Ah!

How much this adds to our appreciation of Sally Bowles, who's American but "loves Berlin" and -- well -- I will avoid another spoiler and not tell you what she decides to do, at the end of the second act.

I've known of Paul Bowles and his rivetting short stories ever since James Rahn, a writing mentor and the leader of the Rittenhouse Writers Group handed out The Delicate Prey in class in the mid 1990s in Philadelphia. Since then, I've found an old copy of Bowles' collected short stories in the Olsen's Book Store in Bethesda, MD., that has now been torn down to make way for an high end condominium building.

And yet, no one, and I really mean no one, of my American-born group members/aspiring writers who were in my writing groups last year had heard of Bowles before I mentioned him. Isn't that appalling? About as appalling as writers who wish to write without reading.

In any case, I found the Arena Stage production of Cabaret excellent.

I thought the writing excellent, the casting, directing, acting and singing -- superb.

I am a great fan of Broadway musicals, especially the ones with a political context. Being from Burma, I found the frenetic money making and other activity of the first act realistic as well as the suddeness of the oppression once the Nazis came into power.

I really liked the actors who played the older couple -- the song, So What, the gift of the pineapple etc. Their diction was excellent -- beautiful voice control. I liked the exquisite clothes -- especially the violet colored crushed velvet dress Fraulein Schneider wore at her wedding party.

And Sally Bowle's flashy fur coat, that plays such an important role in the end.

About the only thing critical I have to say is, the women's rest rooms at the Arena Stage were crowded and difficult, with narrow, steep stairs -- while the matinee audience is mostly physically challenged seniors. The men had a rest room on the ground floor, with no steps.

Copyright -- Kyi May Kaung.

Monday, October 23, 2006



Oct 23rd. 2006.

Now I try to see how easy or difficult it is to post new "blogs." The self portrait I posted is still not there.

It took some time to figure this out. How to write a new blog and post it.

Meanwhile there are riots in Budapest.

Everyone I know now seems to watch BBC rather than U.S. news. "News here too local!" the Korean grocer who has BBC on tells me.

Meanwhile I have discovered MHz.

Kyi May

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Why I set up this Blog.

I am originally from Rangoon, Burma.

I am a poet/fiction writer and visual artist, a professional "Burma Watcher."

The reason I set up this Blog is because so much of what I write goes unpublished.

This is not good for material which is copyrighted at the moment I create it, but which I would like others to read.

This is especially true of political commentary. (I have a doctorate in Political Economy from the University of Pennsylvania and have worked 3 years in international radio).

I want my work of this nature to be available to web browsers internationally and to spark debate.

Kyi May
Oct 21- 2006