even khmer words have silent letters
indicated by a squiggly symbol above
characters that have been “assassinated”

as with any rules there are exceptions
and some stubborn letters marked for death
rally to make one final dying sound

but sometimes it’s a massacre and
four or five letters are silenced by a
single heavy-handed stroke of the pen

i don’t know when to kill what yet
so i follow my instincts for now and
let everything live on just a little longer


she says the reader is wrong
and love should be spelled
with a law not a lor

lor to end “beloved friend”
law to complete “love”

law makes sense phonetically
but how can a change
that causes friendship and love
to grow from a common root
be wrong?



i fell asleep to neary resisting
thida‘s invitation to the movies

i woke to the reader
on my stomach
and two gray hummingbirds
excitedly twittering
twelve feet above
one over my head
the other my feet
exchanging multiple
short high-pitched chirps
and hops and wing flutters
until the first flew off
leaving the other to
chitter loudly to itself

the little one finished its song
as thida was sent away
so neary could finish her chores

“how do you like that?”
i asked my now quiet companion

it responded by
crapping on my calf
and taking flight

khmer lessons

i am a first grader again
sounding and stuttering my way
through combinations of characters
amazed when the strange squiggles
translate into words i know

i had forgotten
how excitingly painful
and tiringly satisfying
learning to read could be

and am reminded
why children enjoy
those end-of-page high-fives
so much