they have witnessed your
interactions on occasion
have seen photos of you
sitting side by side
and the word happy is
a recurring descriptor

so you ask me
the more objective one
do i really look happy?
and i ask you
the more important question
do you feel happy?


do not be fooled by the dimples
they merely serve as a diversion
are actually a genetic flaw
the result of facial muscle deformity
and come and go at whim, appearing with
a sneeze or a cough or the letter “s”
instead pay attention to my eyes
if they are getting smaller
as the dimples get deeper
then I’m really smiling


he would have followed
her anywhere
even to the strange shores
of a new country
even if it meant leaving his wife
and children behind
but he died months before
the khmer rouge fell
a year before she decided
to emigrate from their homeland
so when she departed
she took only
his memory in her heart

it was only that
but that was
she had left
of her father

the measure of wealth

my family has always used
fourteen-ounce tins
emptied and cleaned of
their condensed milk contents
as the measuring device of choice
when scooping grains of rice
to be cooked for family meals

I grew up never questioning this
learned how much water to add
based on the number of cans
and not cups being prepared
assumed we recycled from the need
for an immigrant family to be frugal

but this practice started before we arrived
when a recovering country’s economy
was based on fourteen-ounce tins
of jasmine rice that could be bartered
for other goods and services
or traded in large quantities for gold

need has long since turned to habit
but tin usage continues as a reminder
of our past and current fortunes
and is a tradition I will maintain
explaining to any who ask, why I
do not measure my rice in cups

child’s play

the only times my
six-year-old nephew
needs to search for food
is when he is playing a game
and his character’s hp is low
the rest of the time
he has but to say a word
and a plate is prepared
and this is as it should be
children should not
have to worry
about whether or not
there is enough to eat
the way my brother did
at his son’s age
spending many a day
in rice paddies
catching little frogs
two fingers thick
to help supplement
the family meals
of watery rice porridge


bokor national park has
a resort at its summit now
a casino, restaurant and
four-hundred-room hotel
located at the end of a paved road
that takes less than an hour to travel
from entrance to mountain plateau
and is traversed twice daily by buses
from both phnom penh
and kampong saom

ten years ago
the only shelter
were tents brought by campers
or bunk beds in a
dilapidated rangers station
the only food
cup noodles sold by those rangers
to young travelers naive enough
to venture into the wilds with only
oranges, candy, and pringles
and the drive up
took two hours
on a road returned to dirt and gravel
where the frequent stops
to navigate around fallen trees or
to take photos of colorful flowers or
to gather giant seed pods
were just as memorable
as the views from the top
of low lying clouds
verdant valleys
and clear coastlines

i’m glad we went there
on my cousin’s whim
a car full of teens
and twenty-somethings
drawn by rumors
of an active casino
that turned out to be
a haunting rust and black stained
shell of a building
standing in a sea of knee-high grass
and by promises
of local delicacies
that ended up being served
after a three minute wait
in paper cups, but with a view
of the gulf of thailand

i’m glad i went there expecting
the amenities of a resort
but left, having experienced
the stark beauty of land
reclaimed by nature


this hot weather is making me lethargic
and nostalgic for a hand knit hammock
suspended between two wooden posts
propping up the corrugated tin roof
that kept the sun out of my eyes
while i focused on the crowns
of a distant trio of coconut palms
before snapping a photograph
that will always evoke memories of
intermittent warm dusty breezes
weeks in sweat drenched t-shirts
bucket showers of cool sticky well water
and the image of my grandmother
in socks, sarong, knit sweater, and beanie
snacking on green grapes while lounging
on an identical hammock three feet away

lost languages

perhaps my parents could not
find a place that taught khmer
or perhaps they wanted me
to appreciate my chinese roots, but

mandarin lessons are torture
when you neither speak
nor understand the language
and especially when you are
nine years old

two years of weekend classes
and i only remember one phrase:
wo bu zhidao
don’t ask what it means
i’d just tell you
“i don’t know”


she used to say
that we were in america
because of me
she knew the children would not
follow him without her
she knew he could never
abandon them
so for a time she ignored
his suggestions to leave
her homeland
her mother

but as news of the refugee camp closing
began to spread
and the time to deliver her baby
grew closer
she thought of the opportunities
they would have
of the life her unborn child
could lead
so really
we are here
thanks to her