Ko Ko Thett translated from Burmese

Oral history


In our land of plenty,

since the night the head of the Regal Chinthe,

who, locals believed, was destined to leap over

to the other side of the Irrawaddy, vanished, 


the unripe fell before the ripe,

mudslide-landslides supervened,

nat spirits became unworshippable,

in libation, gallons of good water

were poured out onto a sandy beach,

people, already down on their luck,

were elbowed by thieves,

like the flames of the forest pecked out by parrots,

politics turned fiery.


In such precarity,

our love for loka dimmed.


Some of us, in desperate attempts

to restore balance,

would stand on the gunwales of life, but


strife wouldn’t end.

Sagaing earthenware 



To gauge the tide 

they will cut a dah mark 

on the hull of their vessel. 


There is militancy 

in that authenticity.


Give any pot a good pat. 

It must ring, ‘Ding, Ding.’


If it cracks, you don’t pay. 


They bet on their pride —


their lives, earthen-fragile.

Water under the bridge 


Rain or no rain, 

the river remains murky, 

rapids strong.  


A while back, 

a lass jumped off 

the arch bridge. 


The river has yet to yield

her body. 


Lives are tied, like bamboo rafts. 

Unlike bamboo, human bond will snap 

if one is set adrift.


We continue to bathe under the bridge.


Cry out, if you must, 

from this shore to the other.


Vast is the river — 


no one will hear us. 

Selfie of a saint


Because I’ve always been on

a fire-free diet; I subsist on


only fruits and vegetables,

my skin gets translucent,

my virtuous gizzards visible.


I am what I preach: ’Wounds

black and white are more colourful

than technicolor bruises.’


I am not into karaoke. If you find me

at a gogi-jip, you won’t find me

flirting with servers,

the age of my grandchildren.


I am a cave-dwelling ascetic.

I’ve honed the solitary skills as a goalie

in my previous incarnations.


I will not reveal my face, lest

you make my grace into a religious icon.


Only when the parents of this nation

build a new parliament, stupa or temple,


I will go out of my way— 


to consecrate the all-important monument.

Whats in my go bag for the apocalypse  



Sticks of khao lam,

dried mudfish, dried tofu, dried mango

and drinking water.


A mosquito- and bear-repellent sleeping bag,

a multi-tool, t-shirts, socks, undies, pullover,

hiking poles and tissue rolls.


Painkillers and other meds.

A bicycle helmet, just in case.


The following note in world languages:

“In the event of a major injury or cardiac arrest, 

please do not resuscitate.”


 As for the rest, I will leave you—



Ars Poetica

—translated from the Burmese by Wendy Law-Yone


Such problem kids

These poems of mine

They never toe the line

Going off in unmarked directions

To futures uncertain


I wonder if it has to do with climate emergency


High-risk pregnancies all, they’re likely to miscarry

Leaving me nevertheless their single parent


They’re loveable of course, up to a point:

Keeping me up nights, bags under my eyes from all that bawling

For all the tender loving care that goes into their feeds

All I get is eeughs and ughs

I dont like this, I dont like that


Then they wet their bed


When they learn to talk, it’s only to talk back at me


The adolescent has already started sneaking the boyfriend into her bedroom

The older one has gone from secret smokes to secret tokes

The middle one is a fool for every new fad and fashion, none of it free


Not one of these offspring can make ends meet

Let alone hope to provide for me in my dotage


The worst of the lot are political

They’re all over the place, siblings in arms

Unable to tell which end is up

Doing their bit for democracy and whatnot


If I were a nation, I’d wager that these problem children

are not only out in the streets, demonstrating,

but deep in the jungles, agitating


Before this poem gets too big for its boots

I’d better abort it

Ko Ko Thett’s heart language is Burmese, but he often dunks himself in the discomfort of English. He has published and edited twelve poetry collections and translations in both Burmese and English, and taken part in a number of literary festivals, from Sharjah to Shanghai. His poems are widely published and translated. His translation work has been recognised with an English PEN Translates Award. Ko Ko Thett’s most recent poetry collection Bamboophobia (Zephyr Press, 2022) has been shortlisted for the Walcott Prize. He lives in Norwich, UK.

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