my mother’s left arm
is longer than her right
there is an extra crease
on the inside of her elbow
about half an inch
from the usual one
that she used to say
the elders used to say
was the site of attachment
of a fully formed limb
to an endless arm
in a previous life

i listened to her tales
and afterward contorted
my body searching
all my joints for a similar
sign of connection


i looked for you in toul sleng
the first time i went back “home”

of course you weren’t there
amongst the photos in glass
on boards and along the wall

there was no reason to expect
that you would be, except for
the lack of witnesses at the end

i thought i would find my father’s
familial eyes staring from a face
i’d never seen, but would know

but gave up only a few boards in
when it felt like every face held
some slightly familiar feature

i walked up one aisle and down
the next in heartbreak and anger
and longing and gratitude and guilt

three weeks of travel and i’d seen
how kroursah gathered together
so many, alike and unlike

even though i could not find you
i found you just the same

smoke in my eyes

the bbqs are always his idea
he starts the fire, always with
mesquite wood, then begins
the cooking, taking care to
burn the first few batches
of whatever we’re eating
then he disappears with
his overdone skewers to
laze away the afternoon
in my hammock and
i’m left to tend the rest
of the sach ko chakak
and turn the slaap mon
and whatever else we
don’t want turned
into charcoal

oral histories

I was looking for a cassette tape

the one where I am learning
to repeat the alphabet
after my father

and where one older brother is yelling
out encouragements to me
to pull the hair of another
even older brother

I thought it was in the black
dust-topped, snapped-together
cardboard box perched atop my bookcase

but that only contained:
the Lion King soundtrack
one Chinese artists mixtape
a radio top 40 countdown
and my first, forgotten
oral history interview of
my mother, from 1994

I had wanted to hear
some words from my past
and instead found stories
from a time before that

always older

when i was a child
they always spoke of you

as being younger
than C- and older than O-

so i imagined you as older
because they were older

and as they aged
in my mind, so did you

graduating from your teens
into your twenties and beyond

so it wasn’t until last year’s talks
with mom, that it finally sunk in

that at thirty three, i was already
three times as old as you were

when they lost you, years before
you had a chance to become a teen


i found your photograph today
in black and white and browned
with old age, but secure in the
fire-safe box, tucked between
photocopies of old passports, under
mom’s gold-foiled jewelry boxes

i immediately turned it over
and read your birthdate
and name and your age
at the time the photo was taken
all written in dad’s neat script

and then turned it back to you
three months and seven days old
uncomfortably propped up
in a round plastic wicker chair

your feet pointed at the camera
both legs bent, but only the right
one raised, the sole pale, almost
as white as your sleeveless top
fastened by knotted shoulder straps

your hands are hidden, but your face
is unobstructed, save for the crease
running down the slight gap between
right eye and nose and along the corner
of your closed, unhappy mouth

and the almost-black irises of your eyes
are shifted right, never meeting my gaze

next year

they’re planning a trip
for sometime next year
to the only place mom
ever wants to “vacation”
thought that might change after
ma died a few years ago
but i was wrong

i’ve been three times
every three years since ’03
it’s been almost four
since the last trip
when i made sure
to get lots of pictures
and videos of ma

i have a clip of her
saying “hello” and “okay”
in english and complaining
in khmer about how
her mouth isn’t used to
making such strange sounds

i don’t know if i want to
go this time and visit
the chedey i’ve only seen
in pictures to say goodbye

maybe i’d rather rewatch
the video of the two of us
exchanging “hello”s