by Bunkong Tuon

At seventeen, you were already weary.
The world sat heavy on your shoulders.
You were a tiny red bird,
wings broken and beaks cracked.
There were no songs to sing.
You thought about using a gun
but that would leave a mess
for your poor grandmother
to clean up.
The rope was cheap
but suffocating.
Pills were the way to go,
painless and clean.
Maybe it was fate,
or the body’s will was stronger
than your own.
Maybe the cosmos were not ready
to reabsorb your energy.
You escaped that night
vomiting all the pills you took,
head between knees, weeping.

Years later
you met your wife,
had a child,
a daughter whose smiles
lit up the stars,
a daughter who taught
you the joyful songs
you were meant
to sing.

IMAGE: “Bird” by Ann Powell. Prints available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  I don’t have any personal photo from this period in my life. During this time, while other seniors were thinking about the prom and college, I thought about suicide. Luckily, I survived. Today, I am a professor, husband, and father. I hope my story helps others pull through the heaviness that life sometimes brings.


Bunkong Tuon
is associate professor of English and director of Asian Studies at Union College, in Schenectady, New York.  He is the author of the full-length poetry collection, Gruel (NYQ Books, 2015). He is currently working on his second poetry collection, which examines his experiences leading a semester abroad in Viet Nam.