stolen kiss

I have a souvenir
from my first trip
to Cambodia
that I carry with me
everywhere I go

it is roughly
the size and shape and shine
of a half dollar coin
polished by friction
over the years
initially a deep burnt
the color has since
faded to a mottling
of creams and tans

it was a gift from
my cousin’s moto
from its exhaust pipe to
the base of my right calf
a searing kiss
the likes of which
I’ve yet to (want to)
experience again

what’s in a name?

my oldest sister was named
after a chinese empress
in a story our mother read
as a young woman

she says the empress was kind
and generous and smart
and had helped the hero
through difficult times

but we both know
those details are superfluous
“empress” pretty much
explains it all


I heard you’re worried
maybe a little scared
that I might love you more
than you love me right now
and I just want to say
I’m glad
not that you’re worried
or a little scared about
the more
or less
but that I’m
succeeding in
showing you
how much
I care


when finally free
to walk
where he chose
my father
still stayed
on the path
whether through
with water
with mud
or jungles
with underbrush
he kept to
the worn trails
the safe routes
by those first
lucky and
brave khmers
who had gone
before him
where would i be if
the well-traveled roads
could not be trusted
to be free of explosives?


i wonder if the woman selling
the palm sugar caramel glazed
crunchy on the outside but
chewy on the inside
golden brown deep fried
rings of glutinous rice flour
at the khmer wat today
thought i was not khmer
or thought i did not speak khmer
or just wanted to practice her english
when she offered her
“cambodian donuts” to me
at “two for one dollar”

i would not be wondering if
i had just said
two dollars, please in khmer
instead of in english or if
i had just wished
her a happy new year or if
i had just asked
how are you?
during our terse exchange

instead, all i managed was a
thank you at the end
and received an amused laugh
in return

i wonder what she
thought then


preacher boy

she was near blind
from starvation
struggling to walk
in the dark
with you on her back
she could barely
make out the road
by the moonlight
reflecting off the dirt
at one year of age
you pointed the way
saying “there. there.
there it is. there it is.”

have you always
been on a path
that leads you
to lead others?


i wonder when i became
the expert at navigating
your spiky exterior
the go-to person
when your hard shell
needs to be breached
why i always find you
alone in a corner waiting
for me to come home
to find your cracks
with unflinching fingers
to coax you open
along your seams
to bare your innermost being
an incongruous core
of sweetness
and softness
and delicateness
what are they scared of?
in all the years i’ve known you
all the times i’ve torn you apart
you have not once
hurt me

big brother

mom called you “a neang”
three times last night
while recalling your childhood
which confused me at first
I had always associated that term
with our baby brother
but I suppose it makes sense
before you were ever “bong”
to the lot of us
you were “a neang”
to her


how many times
must i explain
to coworkers
that i like eating
crunchy cheetos
with chopsticks
not because
i am asian
(i do not even
hold them “correctly”)
but because
they would find
orange fingertips
even more curious