Phnom Penh

Pregnancy saps my strength, leaves me
draped in the satellite chair
drained, watching the sun burn off the last vestige of night, as it rises
over Tuol Sleng. Ominously close—
sadness and grief ebb from its walls,
seep into my bones, invade my home.
School turned torture prison;
the scent of blood and fear still lingering—
skulls map Democratic Kampuchea.
Days spent staring at the pink tiles, too sick to move,
the pattern squirming like DNA strands under a microscope
like the life growing inside,
like the rust brown that still patterns the walls where the officers died.
Boom town to boom town
blown up, thrown up
reclaiming, re-naming, regenerating—
expanding as I watch. Like biology,
or genealogy…
My son took his first steps here.
How many took their last?
Marched out by soldiers they’d welcomed not three hours before
cheering an end to uncivil war…
unaware it was only beginning.
My son learnt to talk here,
where once the silence reverberated off the walls of an empty city,
punctuated with the feeble groans of those too sick to walk,
not yet dispatched by the child soldiers.
But the city regained its voice;
headlong into ceaseless sound—
from the scrootch of brooms at dawn to the clack of sticks at night
the human tide swells like the Tonlé Sap:
fortunes turning,
hawking and haggling where before they traded secrets for lives,
the odds stacked against them.
From call to arms comes call to alms.
As the poor beg and the monks tread the streets—
leather shoes or leather feet,
limbless soldiers, legacy of war:
Phnom Penh is awake and screaming.
And I wonder why
but I get homesick for that place which is not my home,
long for the dust and the dirt, the heat and the noise,
the waft of drains,
scent of incense cloaking cremations,
the scent of life.
Here, in a sanitized world
silence drums my temples
drains my energy
drives me crazy when I understand every word:
the anonymity of being foreign — lost.

About this poem

© Ammie-oy 2010


One thought on “Phnom Penh

  1. hi. i’m glad to have stumbled upon your blog and read your poems, your phnom penh poems, they’re lyrical and intense. actually i’m glad to come across another poet who’s writing about cambodia like myself. will be happy to share with you some of my musings of cambodia @

    cheers! hope to read more of your poems!

    – teddy espela

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