ka-tael

i always lose money
when we play this
one dollar a hand
cambodian six card suited
strategy war game with
three players minimum
seven maximum going
four elimination rounds
before one final chance
to win by luck or
best educated guess
during the holidays
and whenever enough
siblings are around
but i play anyway
because it’s not
about the money
but rather the time
spent laughing loudly
teasing and taunting
and arguing in broken khmer
and because it’s always fun
to sabotage other people’s hands
when i already know
i’m not going to win

friendly advice

they’ve been telling me
to get out of my comfort zone
not knowing i’ve just begun
to feel comfortable
in my self

so i think
i’ll stay put for a while
and revel in how life already
seems new and so full
of potential

still learning

nineteen years later
and my eighth grade
bio teacher
is still teaching me
about life

but without
the limitations
of textbooks
lesson plans
or labs

we are instead
dissecting
our thoughts
feelings
experiences

sharing notes
aware that
this time
there are no
wrong answers

not quite alone

it is strange how often
private conversations
take place in the most
public of spaces

the corner booth at taste of thai
the central plaza in old town
the elevator up to the second floor
of the marriott courtyard

even if ambient noise
prevents some words
from being overheard
even if avoiding eye contact
allows the illusion
that no one else is around

you’re never really alone

expected

i told him i’d help at nine
so he waited until a minute after
before beginning his hammering

his way of telling me, “you’re late
and it’s time to wake up
in case you were still sleeping”

knocking on my door
would have been too direct
too gentle a reminder

but then again, i’d been half awake
for fifteen minutes waiting
for the noise that would startle me
out of bed

obvious

it is in these more frequent
than before moments
when they doze off
on the sofas
with the tv running
and i can observe them

free from tension

age showing in the lines
above relaxed brows
around closed eyes
and slightly open mouths
in the silhouette
of downward angled heads
and slumped shoulders

that i see
how much older
they have become
in the years i have
not been paying attention

keeping my distance

i wonder
how much longer
i can continue
to pull away
to willfully ignore
the frailty evident
in these quiet moments

trouble writing

the words come
in floods
cambodian monsoon
season showers
pouring down
hours a day
months on end
filling paddies
and waterways
turning roads
to raised rivers of mud
soaking everything
in warmth
that cools
by degrees
as the rains
taper off
and the dry season
approaches

more to come

the pages to follow are blank
as the previous ones were
before i tattooed pieces
of my self steadily
nightly onto them

each word tapping out time
to the beat of my heart
each inky line flowing
into a rough outline
the beginning
of a portrait
of a self
in flux