Souvenirs for My Daughters


The next two weeks pass

in silence. Then, a man is called upon – escorted
by another in black – for a nightly meeting.
A meeting. A re-education of no coming back
to his wife and young son.

Then, Black seeps his clingy fingers through the village.
Snatches up an elderly woman in the midst of her sleep -
takes her but not her feeble man.
Left alone to string trors,* his increased tremors break
the fibers. And all his will gathers
to steady his old hands,
to make his new bow sing
a song that pinches the heart with sorrow.
His bow sings; his eyes drop
tears onto his bare folding leg. I weep
for his loss and my new-found sadness.
I keep company with him.
In life’s promises,
he too, is taken by Black.
Gone to his wife’s arms . . . as meant to be?

Then, our cousins’ two grandparents pass on
together, just before the first rooster parts the night,
as seen by Maire* in her dream of them
all in white calling her home.
Sometimes, dreams are all she has
as pre-warnings to life’s crises. They had been sick
with stomach pains, which they had made known
a couple days prior, when they asked me for one more bucket
of water to douse the stench
off the floor. A hard rap on their door by my aunt
brings her six-year-old son, rubbing away sleep
from his eyes and over his head, lay
two still bodies, side by side, on the floor.

Then, a pregnant woman, attended by a mid-wife, screeches
for the birth of her child,
her first. Through the parting of the leafy wall,
the mother holds her baby girl a little tighter
to her chest, wishing to impart to her daughter
all of her love and much more of life, knowing
that it will be a life without a father.

The newborn cries, whimpers for mother’s milk,
only to discover her mother’s breasts are infected.
Without antibodies, her mother dies –
even with Maire’s caring. Her baby girl is passed on
to a stranger – a bachelor
because he is the only one willing.

O Maire,
you cover my tender eyes with half-truths,
oh, daughter . . .
they moved away. They died because of old age.

But, through the cracks of your fingers, I see lives struggled
and strangled by uncaring hands and blackened hearts.
I see lives urged quickly on . . .
Huts are made empty,
one by one. Refilled with the spirits
of their past occupants.

*trors – a one-string musical instrument made out of an empty coconut shell. It’s played like a violin, but the sound it produces can be quite haunting.
*Maire is the rural Khmer word for mother; Muuc the urban term. Respectively, similar to "ma" and "mom" in English. The Khmer Rouge often mandated the use of rural terms in place of urban dialect.

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