Facing Khmer & Other Poems

by Keith Inman

Facing Khmer

The guide said, “A bullet.
See?” He rolled it
with his foot, but didn’t
pick it up.

By the time Fred
got there, he couldn’t
see anything, but was pretty sure
that old buzzard Henrik

had snatched it up.
A sign read, ‘Don’t Walk
on the Mass Grave.’ Fred thought
he needed a good walk.

All those lavish lunches
and dinners on the boat, he was
sure he’d gained a few pounds.
The guide was further ahead,

always stopping to talk. Others
gathered around edging Fred
out of the group.
He glanced down at the path.

Torn pieces of plaid
stuck out of the ground
and an oval of ivory
half under his shoe. “Oh. Look.”

The guide was suddenly
beside him. “The top of
someone’s skull.
Probably severed

by a machete. Now,
over here is the tree
where they bashed
the babies heads.”

 

Light

After the ticket booth,
a one eyed, uniformed vet
with stump arms
steps in front of us.
He demands money.
I raise my palm
and pull Tara Linh
through the crowded
entrance.

No one looks at our tickets.
No one tells us where to start.

We follow a woman
in a cotton skirt and long braids
through a doorway.

Pictures fill
the burnt-ochre walls

a boy with crooked, miniature arms plays
with a big beach ball

a man with no eyes, lids or lashes smiles
for his portrait

a pretty girl in a white flowing dress
sits on sacks of rice,
she has no legs.

I touch Tara Linh’s shoulder,
“The factory they tore down, back home,
for the new arena and soccer complex.
They used to make Agent Orange there.”

Our eyes grow heavy from the light
pouring off the photographs.

 

Land below Mountains

the wind, the lonely wind breaks
across the chiseled prow of a tomb
beached in a field of feathered rice

 

An Angle of Curved Surfaces

I’m praying
to the god of airplane sleep
when turbulence hit.

The old lady beside me
in the fur bowl hat speaks
a guttural song of vowels
to no one in particular
as the engines hum
through the bones of the plane.
She turns and catches me
staring at her. I glance away
as if I’d stolen something.

She sits forward,
looks me in the eye.
“I once killed a boy who looked like you.
He wanted to kill me. But,
I got him first.”

The plane rattles.
An overhead compartment pops open.
Nothing falls out.

“I once saved a man’s life
who didn’t look like me.”
“Where are you from?”
“Canada.”
“Ah.”

She leans back into her seat,
and tries to find that angle
for the neck
that’s never satisfied
on a plane.

We depart
down the aisle without words.

 

Facing Khmer & Other Poems

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