Visiting Battambang’s Killing Fields

After wake up call of scrootching brooms
sweeping out the night,
brushing the streets clean for a new day to begin,
in the cool dawn morning
through the chattering, honking town
the market, even now, bustles.
Gap-toothed women barter for the lucky first sale
and sleepy children
pulled from bed to hammock
swing lazy in the still cool air,
watch parents place produce
in neat piles on spread leaves.
Where the pick up trucks rev engines,
waiting till they’re full
and the taxis tout for business
as bike cabs buzz for custom,
like flies around the garbage mounds
piled high at intersections
letting off their odour as the sun gathers its heat,
the monks pass, collecting alms.
On tarmac roads to dirt and dust,
washed out faded brown,
white-laced with stones that fill the holes,
the toil of hands grown rough with rock
and reaching,
the checked kramas shield weathered skin,
sun-cracked lips
cry som, m’ruy loi:
beggars fix the road.
As the sun climbs through the sky
cranking up the heat,
the driver fumbles, passengers follow suit, and
green notes flutter through the cracks of jammed
windows floating in an airless haze,
grasped by desperate hands.
The dust-beaten van moves ever onward, through
the landscape,
along the living river,
by fields of emerald green—
announced by warning signs
the brightest red,
the red of blood, red of danger with
bones white as those bleached by killing fields’ sun
past daily life, trips to town,
moving in a semi cocooned world past
motorbikes laden with ducks, slung
upside down, tied feet,
honking, honking all the way— to market, to slaughter,
heads crane away from the speeding road
past pigs rolled in baskets, strapped
across the back rack,
quiet now, bellies full with marijuana—
avoids the fight and
rolled up tight alleviates the load
onwards, past naked children playing by
the roadside, gawping shameless at the van, following,
running, barang, barang
causing elders’ heads to twist in hammocks swinging
low in the shade of the stilted houses,
mothers turn from harvest, arms raised
rice stalks clasped high in strong sinewy hands.
Parting company now with the river and the
fertile rice bowl,
sun reaching ever higher,
the road begins to climb and
gravel and stone turn green in the distance—
rise out of the ground.
The rattling van still follows the bumping, winding road
as it narrows,
weaves past children playing on a water buffalo and
a one legged man who cycles,
rhythmically turning the pedal,
letting the motion bring it round, lone leg pushing down:
a pretty girl perched side-saddle on the seated rack,
demure, legs lightly crossed, oblivious to the heat.
Finally, in a small village,
mountain looming close
the van pulls up on a patch of grass,
pulls up amongst a crowd of children all
pushing forward seizing chances
you want guide? – I guide you – I take you Killing Field
and now on foot,
led on past fields, more signs
and rusting guns
up a narrow track, slowing as the children run
ahead, back again, urge the tourists on,
on to skulls piled high on a jumble of bones,
the children frog hopping—
arms under knees then clasped behind necks
sprawling, laughing on the floor
you make picture, make picture
against the bony backdrop
sightless eyes cast over paddies and far off Thailand
while we stand and gaze up as the sun tumbles
through that killing hole—
tumbles and falls to rock below
just as people did, a short time ago.

About this poem

© Ammie-oy 2010


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