Category Archives: poetry

bayon (style 7: shape poetry)


faces peer
down from high
above, their wide
noses and full bodied
lips smile as they survey
their lands. 106 faces of a
king long dead, centuries past,
watch as we come and go, snap photos
and run our fingers along their eyes, and
place a stick of incense at the feet (all that is
left) of an old carved Buddha, deep in the dark
recesses of the temple chambers. apsaras dance
along the walls and many headed serpents slither
along the stairs, elephants clutch lotus blossoms in
their trunks, and monks glide through passageways
and down stone steps that lead from one complex to
the many others that dot this ancient and holy city,
tucked away in the grasping vines of the jungle until
one day discovered by the curious eyes of a frenchman
and now open and welcoming to all the curious eyes of
the world, to be appreciated and shared by you and I.


“first they killed my father” a tribute to leong ung’s book by the same title and her father (type 6: elegy)


i sit on the front steps of our small hut, looking
down the road for pa. i haven’t moved in two
days. my black, now faded gray pajamas that
the khmer soldiers gave me, stick to my back
and my stomach pokes out funny in front of me.
my arms and legs are just bones now, but my
stomach and feet are all bloated. i have forgotten
my hunger since the soldiers took pa away.
they told me that he would be back the next morning.
but he wasn’t.
and so i sit here and wait. ma, geak, and kim
are all out in the fields working for the angkar,
but i told them i was sick today. the camp leader
told me if i wanted to be lazy and stay home then
i wouldn’t get my food ration today. kim yelled at
me later because they could have eaten
my rice. but i just sat on the steps.

i am six years old.

ma cried all last night in her corner. she held geak
close to her and wept for pa. i don’t know how she
will survive here without him. pa was the strong one.
he always knew what to do. i have heard from other
people in the camp about what happens to the men
and women they take away. i know about the torture
the khmer rouge uses. as i sit i imagine a huge fat khmer
rouge soldier bringing down a hammer onto pa’s head.
i imagine them making pa watch as they beat and kill many
other men before they come for pa. i imagine pa
speaking to me. and i speak back. he tells me that he loves
me. he tells me that he will always be with me. pa worked
for the old government, so i know the soldiers wanted him
bad. i hope they killed him quickly. i hope he was not
tortured and then left in the sun for the birds and bugs to
eat while he slowly died. i know this happens because
it happened to our neighbor’s father a month ago. they
found his body one night when they went out searching
for him. the soldiers told them that their father would
be back the next morning too.

this is angkor country (style 4: idyll)


the eucalyptus tower high
above the shaded temples far below.
their leaves hang still, in the absence
of breeze, and the rice paddies in the
distance glisten in the bright noonday
sun. a young boy pedals his rusted
old bike slowly along the dusty country
lane, his backpack resting upon a small hunched
frame, he whistles as he heads home for lunch.
his mother is behind their stilted house,
slapping the recently washed clothes against
a rock, beating the dirt out of them. water buffalo
bray in the muddy pits beyond, rolling in the
wetness they coat their warm, coarse bodies in the
cool earth, long strands of elephants grass
hanging from black lips.
life goes on for the men and women of angkor,
they came and settled hundreds of years ago,
around the temples that sit, silent guardians,
watching over the land with each sunrise and sunset.
their red and gray stones cracking and
crumbling, tree roots seeping into nooks
and crannies, the quiet country life continues,
the seasons come and go, the rice is harvested,
and the temples sit, quietly watching life pass by below.

A Night of Light november 11, 2011


red and green sparks shot forth

from the cylindrical cardboard wands,

like the dueling beams of wizard’s spells,

the firecrackers shot back and forth

across the street between the two men,

who in a fit of childlike laughter,

continued to wage a showy battle

beneath a sky sparkling with the light

of a thousand flaming lanterns.

river and sky mirrored one another,

the candles of a million floating krathong,

unceremoniously snuffed out by small

hands searching for a five baht coin,

and the rice paper lanterns above

threatening to light each leafy branch

they bump as they journey

up. up. up.

The temples and their people (style 2: sestina)


The scarred, carved stone walls crumble
Before my eyes, much like the tears
That run down the faces of the people. How
Have they survived under this beating sun
The harsh and cruel world of death?
Strength, of both the people and the temples

Courses through the veins of the earth, where the temples
Stand and the men and women work away at the crumbling
Earth with hoe and scythe, fighting death
With rice and water beneath the scorching sun,
Each day a testament to their will to live. How

Is it that the Khmer Rouge killed so many? How
Is it that these ancient temples
Stand under the watchful eye of the sun?
This country has survived the crumbling
Of its very heart, the tears
Of its people filling the fields of death.

S-21 and its ghosts of torture and death
Was unknown for far too long, how
Did those men ignore the tears
So many shed that filled each temple
To the brim? The children watched their parents crumble
Under the heavy hammer of the Khmer Rouge sun.

And yet as I walk these corridors of Angkor, the sun
Beating upon my back, for a moment I am immune to the death
Around me, until I see a hungry child and my heart crumbles
For what that child must endure and how
These men and women managed to survive. These temples
Stand for them. For their strength, power, loss and tears.

Flowing from my soul, my tears
Are quickly dried from the heat of the noonday sun
As I wander the mossy temples
And think about Loung Ung and the death
Of her mother, father, and sister. And how
She never allowed her spirit to crumble.

An entire generation is absent from this country, where temples crumble
Beneath the sun. But its people greet me with smiles and are proud and full of love. How
Would you, or I, have stood to the horrors they faced, the loss, the hunger, and the death?

7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

A- crumble
B- tears
C- how
D- sun
E- death
F- temple