Poetry / May 2010 (Issue 11)

Two Poems

by Peauladd Huy

Meeting Old Friends

I played with marbles, climbed trees, but not so much with dolls.
I still played hopscotch and jump rope. After that war
took most of our playmates, we came up with a new game,
death by invitation. We held hands in circle, bowed
our heads over the chosen body, like lilies closing
at dusk. The heavens not yet fully dark
and airy with dreams. We freed our thoughts of the living,
channeled everything we had to lure deaths
to enter the offered body. We chanted,
evoked deaths by names of the people we once knew
to be among us. After the chanting, inside our circle,
the offered little girl twitched. And convulsed
arms thrashed aimlessly and legs kicked
made us believe someone was present. The cackling
laugh. The eyes rolling back. And, the hands kneaded
the other hands off. The circle opened up.
We scurried off before the dead-possessed yelled obscenities,
grabbed, and berated us for waking it up from its sleep.
I climb up the milk fruit tree, as high as I could. Others scattered off shrieking
frights and madness when the dead laid its claim.
Deaths within a particular girl usually played mean,
biting, hair-pulling, and bashing. When death on the living got out of hand,
the others were called over to help.
Death was asked to forgive. Then, begged and nudged
gently with sweet talks to go back home. At the end,
the odd thing about this particular girl was that she always forgot
her attacks on others. We showed her the bite marks
and our clawed flesh. And, all she ever said was I don’t remember.
She told us it was real. She'd had been possessed during the game.
I wanted to believe her. We all agreed
we should offer her less in the future.
For me and the others it was just a game
on the pretense to include old friends we had lost.


The day came. I'd cried
the night before; my sleep was fretful,
full of good intentions to be brave
before my mother. No longer seven and afraid
to leave her. I told her
again and again, ask to let me stay
with her. She warned,
among strangers, beware and take care
of your sister and yourself. Say yes/no
and not much about what your father did.
Now, go with mindt tum (big comrades).
I knew we had to go. It's the rule
Angka had dictated. Here, two of the last three
of her very young daughters were taken
and, our mother had to be happy
to save her life. Her family
was ripped apart; a home
with one toddler left. Everyone's gone.

First, they took our older brothers and sisters:
grouped into males and females, and according to age,
placed into various labor camps. I was eight then
and my sister six, after the great round-up,
we ended up in the herd of thirty,
with other seven and eight and nine year old girls, made to live
a life of hell, by three teen
Khmer Rouge girls, who told us when and where
and how to plant rice, to dig canals,
to pick up cow dung, to carry rice bundles,
and to bring them water. All the days
in the world, wet or dry,
shivery cold or sizzling hot was a day for work.
From dawn to dusk to late in the night, we toiled.
No working was no food,
followed by a beating.
No working was to be killed.

At the beginning,
deaths came in other ways.
We weren't always starving.
An axe to the back of the head,
A machete to the neck,
A strangulation, a choking
by plastic bag.

So too, our group of thirty dwindled.
Then, two or three small groups were combined into one.

Now a day, I counted the numbers
of nothing particularly. Used to be the growls
my stomach made. The growling was now too common,
a constant companion, in a way. I'd learned to ignore
the pains. At sunup and sundown, and before the dark world,
the work and the hunger remained
the same. Dictated by mindt tum,
black-clad children in a stupor
of exhaustion, staggered
from the fields to the building. The work animals—
the cows and the black water buffaloes,
and the black crows riding along
had it better. They could eat
till the hunger was gone. I'd wished
especially to be one of the crows.

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