Monthly Archives: November 2014

Language Learning

Khmer words tumble from tongues of its speakers,
sharp, sheer-edged consonants crackle like bubbles in beakers,
and clatter and rattle in nattering thought.
Words wrought of tin that ought not connect,
that could catch on clothing, distract. I dissect
sentences, stumble, stutter, start wondering
what sound will sit and stay in a way that seems simple,
naturally normal instead of this hiss and this hack
and I miss in that moment a meaning that tells them
I haven’t been
listening.

As a language, Khmer can feel very arrythmic and strange, with emphases in all the wrong places to an English ear. The feel of this poem is meant to reflect that, though it probably works best read aloud.

Grandmother Begging

She calls you out with foreign words –
the sounds are strange, but then the sense
is clear, amidst the moving herds

of people rushing past the fence
she leans on. Hands rest, palms face-up
on crossed legs. Sitting still, but tense

around her eyes. Because her cup
is empty? And to eat today
(and more, to feed the skinny pup

beside her, hungry, mongrel, stray)
she needs the people passing by
to not just glance then look away?

Because she’s seen them, watched them die,
the others like her? Over where
they chose to sleep? But still she’ll try

to make you look, to see her there,
beside the conman selling birds
to tourists. You’ve got change to share,
she hopes, amidst the moving herds.

This is not at all an unusual scene in Cambodia, and the way people can be left without social or financial support is distressing. Giving to beggars is also an ethically murky thing to do, as I alluded to in my previous post, ‘Tuk-Tuk,’ which makes knowing how to respond very difficult.

This is the first rhyming poem I can remember having written in the ten years since I graduated from my creative writing degree. I find rhyming poetry conceptually difficult, because sometimes I think that metre and rhyme can make a serious subject seem like kids’ poetry or a high-school English assignment. But a lot of wonderful poetry contains rhyme – The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson is an astonishing use of rhyme and rhythm to emphasise the content of the poem itself – and it’s something I would like to be better at. So if I can figure out how to bring visual depth and story telling to my rhyming poetry, I’ll probably try to do it more.