Catherine Strisik







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.






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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