A poem by Chase Ambler
He called me Chichak,
watched me hunt around the light bulb.
He inspected ceilings, walls, closet doors,
and found no ropes, no wires, no strings—
so I was magic.
He felt behind,
realized his tail was gone.
Every day he rubbed, scratched,
asked why mine grew back so quickly—
I couldn’t tell him.
But I chirped “chichak” to him when
he climbed the palm tree.
His mother thought ‘monkey’ as
he scrambled up the smooth trunk—
but his fingers stuck like mine.
Now I’m just Gecko. From shadowed corners I watch him click-clack at the keyboard. He can’t hear my voice over the sound. When he lies in bed he doesn’t ponder my fingers anymore.
I tried to capture that childlike wonder for animals in this poem. I remember seeing geckoes all over the walls and ceilings of our house in Indonesia when I was young. The fact that I could not walk on vertical surfaces but they could was magical.
I wrote this poem from the perspective of a gecko—which are called Chichaks in Indonesia due to the sounds they make—who watches me grow with a sense of sorrow because I lose that childhood connection as I age.
In Southeast Asia, geckos are so common that they just become an accepted part of the walls. For me, there was always the dichotomy of the geckos and the cockroaches. Geckos were the good ones that kept watch. They protected you by eating bugs so that the bugs wouldn’t eat you. Cockroaches, on the other hand, were the epitome of evil, of disgust, of nightmares. The scuttling sound that those huge tropical cockroaches make still haunts me to this day. In a way, this poem is me reaching back into my childhood to say thank you to those gecko protectors.
Though the poem is essentially about growing up and losing that sense of wonder you had as a child, it’s also about miscommunication/misunderstanding. The gecko and the boy (me) cannot communicate—“I couldn’t tell him”—as well as the misinterpretation of the mother in the poem all coalesce to the complete breakdown of communication by the end—“he can’t hear my voice over the sound.” And there’s no wonder that misunderstandings are happening. The poem literally has three different names for the same animal: Chichak, Gecko, and Hemidactylus Frenatus. This was intentional to show the changing relationship. I don’t know if it works as well as I had hoped because looking back at this poem after so long I kind of feel like the title doesn’t fit the rest of the work. But you can be the judge of that.
I hope that the poem made you think of a childhood connection that’s been long lost and made you appreciate that relationship for what it was even if it’s not meant to be anymore.
Chase Ambler is an American writer who spent his childhood in South and Southeast Asia. His life has been shaped by strange obsessions: heavy metal music, mountains, travel, and soccer. These subjects have all molded his poetry and prose in some way, but the birth of his daughter may have the greatest impact yet. He lives with his wife, baby daughter, and dog in Colorado. If one went looking for Chase, they could find him anywhere from changing diapers to summiting 14,000 foot mountains, but odds are he’s in front of the computer working on his next novel. Visit the FB page for his Novel: Snowsong