Bound and The Stories of the Living

by Caleb Benadum


“and the words come with us, we might
hear them. If that happened, we would
pass our lives with our hands
tied together.”
– Carolyn Forche, San Onofro

I was thirteen when we moved.
one of four children, of six
tickets, the tropical heat lifting
a match to my body, the air blown
by an unseen ocean wind, mopeds
scurrying between traffic, our trunks
filled with everything we owned.

I drove to and from school,
on our old dirt-bike, knees bent, and hips
lifted to avoid the cluttered crush
of the potholes, so big you could disappear,
my mother said, my father said, and;
If I drove home too late, as the sun
stepped behind the unfinished Wat,

Then I drove past the rail-tracks
at dusk, red plastic chairs filling out
the roadside, filled out with girls,
(not women), garish paint pulling
at their mouths, white powder caked
on their faces, Sriey Koit, broken women.

Skipping records, juice-less batteries,
Wind-up toys with broken strings.


The Stories of the Living

There was death in their eyes.
This said later by men
Who were there, women
Who were there, who saw
The crimson Kramas flood
The city with rifles
And farm instruments,
Who watched as children
Were thrown into trees
And tossed into ditches.

Many others were there.
We walked on the dead,
Like broken bottles,
To avoid the land-mines.
I was ten when they came.
Their faces were as stone.
They killed my father;
I ran with mother.
We ran across the fields
And through dense jungle.

They gave them their new names,
The tmai and the jah,
The new and the old,
For one could be fixed
But the other must be
Removed, a cancerous
Tumor to dreams of peace
Polluted by dreams
Of war. Stand in queues.
Move. Stop. Wait your turn.

My mother was pregnant.
We fled to the border
Our hope pushed us on.
She birthed the once-child
In the jungle, the blood
Spread on the funeral
Floor. I heard strangled cries
Of the fat tigers,
The scent on the air,
Feeling their hunger, need.

The rice fields, emerald
After their planting, ran
A stranger color.
Skulls stacked into graves
Shared, the meat of their bones
Fertilizing, fueling this
Unshaken foundation.
I saw your paintings,
Your finger-drawings,
Pigment of our bodies.

I was a low soldier
Given a command.
I lived for our cause,
I lived for my friend.
The war came to its end.
Returned to my village,
I, my uncle’s killer.
My mother spoke first.
“It is over now.
Let us be good to each other.”

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