Americans Abroad

Lisa Lenard-Cook
2 min read
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In his new book, El Rito poet and painter John Brandi details his travels to Southeast Asia while the United States began its march toward Iraq. The news from home inevitably colors everything Brandi writes in Water Shining Beyond the Fields . Always fearless about taking a stand, Brandi’s politics here reflect not only growing dismay at the winds of war but acknowledgment of a similar impulse long at work in the ancient countries he visits.

What’s particularly intriguing about this effort is that as Brandi wrote in his journals each day, he discovered that the particulars he sets down often concluded with a haiku, resulting in the
haibun form used by the 17 th century Japanese poet Basho—prose followed by a haiku. As Brandi puts it, “The job of the haiku is to reveal an unexpected flash, an essence not quite captured in the prose.”

In Bangkok, for example, Brandi draws early morning at the Bamboo Guest House where:

Neighbors run back and forth, half dressed, sharing street and teak. The soi is simply another room of the house. Spices fill the air. Steam wafts from cooking vats. Factory workers tie on aprons, holler, joke, load trishaws with huge blocks of ice. Saffron-robed monks file house to house, extending lacquered alms bowls. Then, slap slap, barefoot, back to their gilded wat filled with bodhisattva icons under sweeping eaves, each tipped with a flaming spiral and chiming wind bell. Towering above:

a cremation chimney

its blackened vents

circled by white doves.

Brandi travels with his wife, poet Renee Gregorio, and
Water Shining Beyond the Fields juxtaposes the everyday of faraway places with this singular pair of Americans’ unedited reactions and more considered reflections. Brandi’s books always challenge their readers to move beyond their comfort zones, and this is his strongest challenge yet.
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