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Bunkong Tuon

Lok-Yiey's Urn

When Did You Become an Adult?

Isle of the Imagination

Trucks and More Trucks

House of the Filthy Flesh

Stuck in Traffic

Lok-Yiey's Urn

It sits on the drawer next to the bed she had slept on.
The sheets are white. The pillow is white.
The bed is now empty. The emptiness is as large as a white
balloon. It almost takes my breath away.

Whenever I walk by the room, or what was once her room,
I glance sideways and the urn is there. Still, godlike. 
The urn is always there no matter the time.
I can’t shake it out of my mind.

Its silver body carved with ancient secrets.
Inside are ashes, which was once Lok-Yiey.
I can’t wrap my head around it.
How form begets form.
One minute you are a hummingbird
drinking life’s nectar, the next you are dust.

I look at my children. My daughter sits on the couch,
cheeks resting on hands. She’s smiling at something
on TV. My son sits on a yellow toy train
pushing it with his young firm legs.
He’s making choo choo sounds with round pink lips.
He’s not looking at me, who no longer interests him.
Propelled by a force I once knew, he rides away
leaving me all alone with the urn’s secrets.

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When Did You Become an Adult?

It’s a question that I asked people
I admired, as if there is a clear line in
The concrete sidewalk that you can cross over.

I think of Lok-Yiey who got up in the dark
So that we didn’t have to and filled our hut
With warm and our stomachs with rice and fish.

I think of my uncles and aunts who disappeared
In the morning and returned home in the evening,
Quietly eating their dinner before going to bed.

I think of the parents of this world, doctors
And nurses, construction crew, office workers,
Teachers and firefighters, emergency personnel.

I don’t think about the politicians, I never did.
I don’t think too much about bankers, executives,
And stockbrokers, though I should. 

I am at that age where my younger self would call old.
I have children, a wife, and a job, with the usual
Headaches: mortgages, bills, and insurance.

Busy with the business of living, I stop asking
Questions. And by asking, I meant thinking.
I do what needs to be done.

When my children cry, I try to find out why.
When it’s time to wake up, I get out of bed.
Before they get hungry, I make food.

When it’s time to go to work, I hug my kids
and get in the car. When it’s time to sleep,
I sleep. Stars shine brightly in the night.

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Isle of the Imagination

It’s never easy going into someone’s head
And have them tell you what’s real
But that’s what you get if you want to live,
By live I mean grow the fuck up and
Question everything you’ve been taught
And watch your world crumble,
Ashes everywhere and smoke rising.
Afterward you rebuild the world together
With the others who are now in your head.
There is always room for disagreement
But that’s the magic of this world.
On this island of the imagination,
To become one of the gods
All you have to do is read.

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Trucks and More Trucks

My son watches videos of
garbage trucks collecting trash,
their claws open and clutch
bins of blue and green on the sidewalk,
tossing them onto their backs.
He watches them roam the street
like dinosaurs with metal teeth and tails.

My son watches monster trucks too.
He jumps up and down as the trucks
launch themselves into the air
somersaulting on small cars.
Lights flash red and blue.
The announcer screams.
My son spins in circles like
the monster truck that he is.

Who am I to deny my son his love?
I am a writer after all,
not the doctor or engineer my refugee
uncles and aunts had dreamed of me.
No matter whom he will become,
no matter his poetry, I’m here for him.

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House of the Filthy Flesh

When the mind is on
Each room blazes in witchery.

You teach about the Cambodian
Genocide and suddenly

You are back in Long Beach
Crying to Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

You approach a poem
With what you think is the ending

But the poem is a mind
And the mind follows its own logic 

Landing you in a different city
With a different subject,

One that surprises you.
But it’s the only true subject.

The mind flashes.
Twenty years from now,

The empire of flesh crumbles.
You have no control of this mess.

You curse the body.
You curse the parents.

You curse the eyes.
You curse breath.

You curse the mind
for its damned brilliance.

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Stuck in Traffic

And all I could think was get out.
How there should be a poetry collection
With that title and it’s about America. 

I think of Plath who made a different escape.
Three times a charm for Lady Lazarus.

Then there’s her older sister Sexton,
Who went in and out of mental wards
Until breathing in the intoxicating fume.

And who can forget the woman
Crawling out of the yellow wallpaper
Growling, “I’ve got out at last!”

Like an animal, Eric Burden howls,
“We gotta get out of this place.
If it’s the last thing we ever do.”

The Viet Nam War is a movie reel
Spinning in my brain, hills on fire,
Villagers running, a naked girl crying.

Like cancer, the war spread.
My uncle said, “We must leave Srok Khmer.”
And we did.

America took us in with the debris of war
on our hair, faces, and psyche.

Now a wall at the southern border
Keeps out people whose skin sings like mine.

At a rally today, I am told,
“Love it or Leave it.” I look at my neighbor
and say, “I ain’t going anywhere.”

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Bunkong Tuon is a Cambodian-American writer and critic. He is the author of three poetry collections and a chapbook. His prose and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in New York Quarterly, Copper Nickel, Lowell Review, Massachusetts Review, The American Journal of Poetry, carte blanche, Diode Poetry Journal, among others. He teaches at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.

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