Happy Easter-Cambodian New Year
My wife asks:
“What are we going to do
for Chanda this Khmer New Year?”
It’s April, and the birds are chirping,
bringing their spring songs to sidewalks
cracked by salt and sun. The cold wind’s gone.
I just finished another grueling term
of teaching, meetings, and letter writing.
I scratch my head, and say, “I don’t know.”
In Cambodia, we’d bring food to the temple, sit to one side
with legs folded, hands clasped in prayer, eyes closed
for a couple hours, then get blessed by Buddhist monks.
There would be music, dancing, and games afterward,
when the young run and laugh and teenagers chase
each other with powder in hands and flirtation in hearts.
But we are in America now.
I tell my wife,
“The closest Cambodian community is in Utica.
I don’t have family there.”
All that my wife remembers of her church
is sitting through hours-long rituals conducted in Greek,
a language that was cut short when her Yia Yia
decided to speak only English to her children.
That was the American thing to do back then.
That was when America was “great.”
We decide to make do with what we have,
the scraps of memory, desire and longing,
the scattering of seeds miles and miles away
from our ancestral lands, the confusion
and tongues cut to be more American.
In the Easter basket of painted eggs
I place a 4 X 6 card with the words
“Happy New Year 2017” in Khmer
alongside another card that reads
“Happy Easter 2017” in Greek.
When Chanda sees the basket
she pulls away the pretty ribbons and
goes for the candies and painted eggs,
leaving the cards written in Khmer and Greek
on the floor, face down.
Bunkong Tuon is a Cambodian-American writer, critic, professor, and, most importantly, father. He is the author of Gruel (NYQ Books, 2015), And So I Was Blessed (NYQ Books, 2017), and Dead Tongue (with Joanna C. Valente, forthcoming from Yes Poetry), as well as a contributor to Cultural Weekly. Nominated for the Pushcart numerous times, his poetry recently won the 2019 Nasiona Nonfiction Poetry Prize. He has completed a book of poems about raising his daughter in contemporary America. He is an associate professor of English and Asian Studies at Union College in Schenectady, NY.