Catherine Strisik

 

 

(USA)

 

 

 

Tuol Sleng Prison

 

Please say each skull has a voice

and an appetite. When I press

my ear to their jaws, crab

 

shells and dried rice drop out.

Then their smells rise to me:

lemon grass, coriander,

 

mint leaves. Now empty

their sustenance. Disquieted

their once envied salts

 

and palm sugar. Please say

each skull has a voice. What can I do

with you, my sound, their tongues’ undressing.

 

 

 

Shade

 

The famous Khmer artist has placed his palm

on a murderer’s upper back near the neck, has pushed him

 

toward the painting on the prison museum’s wall.

Outside the perimeter the mother is mute on her knees.

 

Her hands cradle a beautiful fatigue

as if she had just remembered why:

 

a bayonet blade held upright

to catch an infant as it spins through the air.

 

The shade shades the body this evening

in Phnom Penh.

 

He cleans his brushes alone each day

in the medicinal turpentine, wipes

 

his palette clean, and becomes silent.

The painting is his settlement with humiliation.

 

You can hear the crickets’ trill in the banyans.

You can hear the whole evening is crying louder.

 

 

 

Festival of the Reversing Current

 

The moment the river reverses itself

into the mouth of the Tonle Sap Lake

it is the bonzes that return

 

from the search for their souls.

Monks drifting in their persimmon robes,

and the blood of fertility,

 

somewhat pale,

everything in motion−

bend to Buddha outside the curtained cloth.

 

The river flows.

It carries the past, present,

and future, curving through Cambodian

 

villages, fast and familiar,

its lips full with surrender,

its confidence turning

 

their heads. Heavenly apsaras

and the storks lost in the foliage,

the village elder sitting high

 

in the doorway of her stilted house

receiving from the flow

all that is recognizable, greater

 

than her pallor.

The old vast water, forceful and

god-like in its autumnal appearance sweeps

 

into the waiting estuaries

of their hearts

first to clean, then to harvest.

 

Who would not walk this

walk, this dutiful gesture

on naked feet, the unmistakable

 

dancing late into each night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________

 

Catherine Strisik, author of Thousand-Cricket Song , 2010; her manuscripts in progress have placed as finalists and semi-finalists in many national poetry contests including Vassar Miller Poetry Prize, Cleveland State Poetry Prize, University of Wisconsin Poetry Series, Kore Press, The Washington Prize, and WordWorks Poetry Prize. She is currently writing her third collection, The Mistress. Active in the Taos poetry community for over 30 years Strisik has received grants, honors and prizes from Peregrine, and Comstock Review, The Puffin Foundation, as well as a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Her varied and many publications include Drunkenboat, Tusculum Review, Comstock Review, Awakenings Review, Cider Press Review, Studio and others. She is co-editor of the online journal, Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art. (taosjournalofpoetry).

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