By Bunkong Tuon

We were the debris left after the dust
of war had settled on the blood-soaked site
of a genocide. We had no time to weep
when we lost our parents to the Khmer Rouge,
too busy tending water buffaloes
and chasing black crows from rice fields,
afraid that we would be tied up, whipped, or worse.
And when we left Cambodia, we did not cry,
too young to understand what it meant
to be cast out from our homeland.
We simply followed the changing wind blowing
from the West—the one that had brought bombs
to the countryside now carried us across the Pacific.
In the concrete jungle of America, some turned
to textbooks to muffle the screaming inside
as we tried to make sense of how we survived
while loved ones were left mangled on the dirt roads,
in muddy ditches of the killing fields.
Some took to the streets to numb the aching,
joined gangs to claim America.
I was lucky to discover literature in my twenties,
little crumbs in the library aisles
left by Bukowski. His words set
the dark forest blazing as I made my way
to Dostoevsky, Baudelaire, and Celine,
to Hemingway, Jeffers, and Fante,
a constellation of the psychic home
I didn’t know I needed until one evening
I sat in the darkness of the kitchen
and cried for my mother and father.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As a child survivor of the Cambodian Genocide, an orphan, and a refugee, I could relate to the condition of exile and homelessness that pervades the German folktale “Hansel and Gretel.” I dropped out of college and found myself adrift until, one day, I discovered the work of Charles Bukowski in a library in Long Beach, California. It was Bukowski who showed me how to make my way home. I’m also grateful to the public libraries in the world.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bunkong Tuon earned his AA from Long Beach City College, BA from CSU at Long Beach, and his MA and PhD from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He teaches literature and writing in the English Department at Union College, in Schenectady, NY. His poetry collection, Gruel, is forthcoming from NYQ Books.