Provo poet lives to make people laugh

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For more than 20 years, reporters around the world have been receiving poems from a Provo man who reads their work and has something to say.

“It’s an obsession for me,” Tim Torkildson said. “Whenever I read something interesting I just have to respond to it in verse.”

Sometimes sent electronically, other times in the mail, poems range in length but are always witty and always rhyme.

He subscribes to at least seven papers — ranging from The New York Times to his hometown paper the Minneapolis Star Tribune — and responds to anything that “tickles” or “outrages” him.

The first poem he remembers sending was back in 1993, a serious poem about the Waco, Texas siege.

Since then the 61-year-old has written thousands.

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During an average week, he’ll write and send five poems to various reporters and news outlets. About 90 percent of the time he doesn’t hear back, but the few times he does is what keeps him going.

In January, Rachel Abrams from The New York Times wrote about the curiosity and persistence that eventually led her to interview Torkildson and publish three poems he sent her.

More recently, Torkildson said he received feedback from a reporter in Europe who called him a “genius” and told him she would “treasure” what he had done with her stories.

To hear feedback like that from a professional writer is gratifying, Torkildson said, especially as a college dropout. He likes the friendships it forms, and hopes someday his hobby could lead to a full-time poetry-writing career.

“I miss doing something that makes people happy,” he said.

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For a good chunk of his life, Torkildson worked as a clown for the Ringling Brothers. His poetry writing started years ago when he was a young father traveling with the circus. Since his kids were home in Provo, he’d write them poems as a way to stay in touch and let them know he was thinking of them.

After arthritis forced him to leave circus life, Torkildson spent 15 years teaching English in Thailand before finding his way back to Utah Valley.

In July 2014, Torkildson received some press from multiple national news outlets after being let go from his part-time job in Provo for supposedly promoting a “gay agenda” through teaching about homophones.

In between jobs, he’s searching for something that makes him and others happy.

“I’m not made to cause people unhappiness,” he said. “If I’m not entertaining people I’m not happy.”

(From an article by Keri Lunt Stevens in the Provo Daily Herald, Wednesday, March 4. 2015)

A Thai Love Story. Sort of.

love

Those years in Thailand come back to me now like a pleasant form of indigestion.  Each mental belch retains the flavor of durian, the odor of fish sauce, and the release of a gaseous form of pleasure mixed with disbelief that I was ever actually there – working, eating, and loving.

I met Joom at the Bedrock Inn, a semi-respectable restaurant/bar/hotel on the beach in Ban Phe.  I was eating Penang curry; she was looking for her dog Nipoo.  Something about her face struck me as accessible as well as challenging.

I invited her to sit with me and let me buy her something to eat.  She gave me a wolfish grin and accepted – after she found her dog.   I offered to go with her on the search.

“Sit and eat, mister.  Nipoo will not come to me with a stranger nearby” she replied laughingly.

She left and I thought “Well, I’ll never see her again”.

But she came back fifteen minutes later, with Nipoo in tow.  Nipoo sniffed my ankles disapprovingly, then circled under the table several times before lying down with a resigned snort.

Joom had green papaya salad and sticky rice.  She told the server, a slatternly maiden who complained of being so hung over that her eyes had changed color and would not focus, to grind ten ‘mouse droppings’ peppers into the mixture.  This was excessive, even for a heat-loving Thai.

I raised my eyebrows at her order.  She gave me another wolfish grin – her teeth an aggressive white against her brown face.

She accepted my doubting look as a challenge, and when the green papaya salad came she took each bite, mixed with a ball of sticky rice, slowly and deliberately.

When her face broke out into a torrid sweat, the drops coursing down her forehead and spreading out on her broad nose, I asked her with a smirk if she would like something to drink.

“Leo beer” she croaked.  I ordered her a large bottle.

She finished her plate, and her beer, in silence, looking at me with mischievous delight while I looked back at her with frank admiration.

We became a couple at that first serendipitous meeting.

She was an easy woman to love.

About my age, with the lithe figure common to Thai women and about ten inches shorter than me, she was fiercely independent and tenderly possessive at the same time.

She drove a truck, but didn’t tell me she owned one until a month after we started going together.  Up until then she let me walk her around and deigned to let me pay for taxis.

“Why the dickens didn’t you tell me you had a truck?” I crossly asked her when she finally offered to take us down to Pattaya Beach in it.

“I didn’t know if I would keep you” she replied saucily.  “Now I know; we’ll ride together for a long time.”

I was not interested in casual sexual adventures, so once she revealed her truck and her thoughts to me I began to press her to marry me.

Most Thai women of a certain age have got at least one ‘marriage’ behind them.  I use quotation marks because until very recently a young Thai girl in her home village was considered as a commodity to be casually sold to the first young man who wanted her.  The marriage ceremony, such as it was, was performed casually by the local Buddhist monks, and it usually lasted no more than a year before the young girl, now an experienced and disillusioned young woman, would leave her husband to strike out on her own – in business, at college . . . or as a prostitute.

After 2 such ‘marriages’ and ‘divorces’, with 2 grown children already successfully married and out on their own, Joom wanted an enormous bride price before we got married.

She was going to use it to build her mother a grand house, a regular McMansion, up in Loey by the Laotian border.  It would give her and her mother great face, she told me.

I demurred.  I’d already been married once, she twice; there was no need for a thumping great dowry or any ostentation.  And so the bargaining between us began.

We haggled on the beach in Pattaya.

We traded propositions while eating fresh coconut ice cream out of coconut shells at Chatachuck Market in Bangkok.

We grew furious and costive with each other on the way to Trat while I got my work visa renewed.

In Krabi, sipping soda water infused with sweetened hibiscus syrup, we at last came to an agreement.

I would buy her mother the largest plasma screen television available, and I would take over the payments on Joom’s truck.

Once that was settled we began to gather the required documents for a civil marriage.  The red tape involved would have choked the most dedicated bureaucrat.

But then Joom decided she didn’t want to be married again; she wanted a looser relationship.  Couldn’t we just be friends and continue to hang out together and travel around Southeast Asia together?

I said sure, why not?

Then I came back, alone, to the States to renew my passport.

That was four years ago . . .

And I’m still alone.

 

Beach Camping in Thailand.

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Thailand offers many magnificent opportunities for the camper and the hiker.

To the north it is covered with lush and rolling hills, shrouded in mist and still the haunt of wild elephants and the bird of paradise.  Hikers can trek from village to village, always sure of a friendly welcome and an inexpensive guest house.

Northeastern Thailand, known as Isaan, is mostly flat and agricultural.  But there are some interesting hiking and camping sites along the Laotian border.  But please be aware that there is continuing tension between the two countries and you should always check ahead of time to see if a campsite or hiking trail is going to be in the line of fire.

Central Thailand is all about Bangkok.  The city is ringed with several exurbs that are filled with lakes and canals (known as klongs) where the fishing is always good.  You can rent fishing poles, a boat with a  guide, and a spot to pitch your tent if you’re staying overnight, for the equivalent of $25.00 per day.

But it’s Southern Thailand that bears the bell away when it comes to camping and hiking.

Hikingware.com wants to clue you in on how to camp on the beach in Southern Thailand.  This is an experience that cannot be duplicated in any other country, because there are over 1500 miles of public beaches in Southern Thailand, both on the Gulf of Thailand and on the Andaman Coast. Their beauty, isolation, and freedom are unbelievable!

  • Most public beaches are free, but some of the more touristy beaches will charge you a fee – usually around 10 to 20 baht (35 to 75 cents in American money). Avoid the overdeveloped islands, such as Koh Samet, where Thai nationals can get in for 20 baht but foreigners are charged 150 baht.
  • Public beaches vary as to how safe it is to go barefoot. The rule of thumb is that if you have paid an entry fee the beach will be kept swept and free of debris.  Otherwise, play it safe and wear sandals or swimming shoes.
  • Remember that while alcohol is allowed anywhere on the beach, other recreational drugs are strictly forbidden and can get you deported or, even worse, thrown into the local jail for a few days.
  • Bring your own trash bags. You’ll want to leave your campsite as clean as you found it – or maybe even cleaner.  Trash cans are nonexistent on most Thai beaches.
  • Do not leave your tent up during the day. This is because mahouts often bring their young elephants down to the beach during the day to interact with (and mulct) tourists.  Elephants become nervous around tents, especially on a windy day, and may want to stamp yours into the ground!
  • Be respectful of the local fishing folk. On most public beaches in Thailand there is an area that is unofficially cordoned off for fishermen to cast nets.  There probably won’t be any signs or fences, but you’ll see where the fishermen congregate and you should give them a wide berth so as not to disturb their livelihood.  On the other hand, if you offer to share a beer or Fanta with them you are likely to receive in return a large fish fresh from the ocean to cook over your campfire!
  • Toilet facilities will be very crude. There will a segregated cement block hut for showering which will undoubtedly feature a squatter toilet, not a Western style toilet that you can sit on.  Also, bring your own toilet paper.
  • Limit your stay to no more than 3 days at any one spot. While the beach is free to all, the local police may want to see your passport or simply ask you to leave if they perceive you are overstaying your welcome.
  • Don’t worry about the ghost crabs. These tiny, transparent creatures are everywhere on the beach.  They will not disturb you once you are inside your tent, since they do not like to crawl over fabric.
  • Be aware of riptides. They are marked by what looks like a barber pole sticking out of the water.

The President Travels to China. A Reverie.

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Politicians travel for a number of good reasons.

To duck a question or to watch the changing of the seasons.

The President is traveling to China, so I hear,

To take a bunch of Snapchats as a bona fide sightseer.

 

He will meet with Xi Jinping, a president who sneers

At other presidents whose power base is in arrears.

They may carry on with deep discussions, all Confucian,

But in Beijing they’ll produce but phlegm from the pollution.

 

I guess if I were president I’d travel overseas

To mend a couple fences and try out the local cheese.

But I would sidestep China and enjoy a little whet

in Thailand while I dallied with the gals on Koh Samet.

Joom. Sonnets of a Romantic Has-Been.

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#1

I said your name in anger, I said your name in love.

I said your name a thousand times; it fits me like a glove.

When dew slid down the bitter gourd I softly called in vain.

Your image comes, and vanishes, like sudden monsoon rain.

Have I the right to think you would return my longing call,

Or do you hold me in contempt while holding me in thrall?

Once you whispered in my ear, the words I’ve not forgot.

You called me your beloved; my heart to throat was brought.

I measure our affection in mere months, while the long years

Since I have heard your dulcet voice have crushed me like cold gears.

Perhaps I’ve said too much of deepest import writing here,

Since sonnets are a poet’s way of weeping at love’s bier.

But should you call my name again, in whispers or in screams,

I’d launch a thousand ships for you – if only in my dreams.

 

#4

Where did I truly meet you first, whose eyes are the color of tea;

Was it a restaurant, the beach, or some haunt of my own rank fantasy?

The color of life you carried with you, as if ‘twere a purse with a strap

That held all the hues and the prisms of love done up in a gaudy gift wrap.

Ripe yellow at dawn with the orchids ensconced; was it there I discovered your charm,

Or was it at sunset with rubies aflame that my heart first came to such harm?

The green of an afternoon nap in a swing, your arms round my neck, all a-swoon;

It is this I recall with the sharpness of white, like the spray from a deadly harpoon.

The surly black clouds overhead gave a roar when I asked you to share my poor life;

I felt the blue depths of your passion for me – you would be so much more than a wife!

Quotidian grey overcame my designs, like smog choking off a long race,

And I found myself exiled back home for a debt I had never been willing to face.

What color would now I dare use to describe the void where your presence held sway?

The spectrum contains nothing visible which explains my deep sorrow away.

siam

 

Joom #13. The Souvenir.

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I picked you up in a souvenir shop, as a tourist of love,

Thinking you were chintzy and as magic as a dove.

Then I saw the label:  Not Yet Made In Anyplace.

I felt the Thai craftsmanship carved into your face.

 

Like a statue of Buddha, you cannot be exported.

Like a plague on my heart, you ought to be reported.

I bought you but cannot keep you as the souvenir I wanted.

Instead all my hours by your absence are haunted.

 

Never will I shop for souvenirs again so brashly.

Never will I love again so beautiful and rashly.

Mere splinters are all that is left of the spell

That raised you to heaven and threw me in hell.

Joom #12. Love Sonnet.

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Joom #12.

 

You are a good meal undigested yet;

After many other meals, I still don’t forget.

I ate your hair and your eyes and your ears,

Dressed with love and with laughs and with tears.

 

On the boat to Koh Samet you cracked seeds

Between your strong white teeth; it met my needs.

To know your feral appetite made me thirsty on the beach.

I drank you in and gave you pearls beyond my reach.

 

I’m coming back, floating in on the tide;

With chili peppers I’ll keep you supplied.

We’ll sup with a runcible spoon, we two.

And eat oysters till our mouths turn to glue.