Every poem I write opens with a parent. How else
do I bless the ones that birthed me? I didn’t ask
to be alive but then they showed me how
beautiful the world could be:
chickens in the backyard, meteor showers
from a Mount Rainier parking lot, ស៊ិន ស៊ីសាមុត
songs, pickles and grilled fish.
I don’t know how to tell them
I love you. Do they know this?
One day I will publish a book so the only surviving photo
of my mother and her mother will always live
somewhere on this tender earth. Wherever I go,
I will plant the fruit trees
that grew by my father’s hand.
In my dreams, my father teaches me how to fish again.
Beneath the August sun, I watch my hands morph into his:
the alligator skin, the space between our knuckles
lined and dry like mud cracks.
I only remember the difference when he grabs
my hand to hold the fishing pole and I feel the years
of genocide and civil war,
the untouched field of landmines
stretching endlessly between us. In California,
I reimagine his life:
I hold a book of poetry. I look at my hands and see
only my father’s. I imagine my father holding
the poems. In this body, my father
does not witness the bombings or the bodies
— he only reads stories about them instead.
During lecture, I google the age
of my professor who cries every time he speaks
of tenderness in the Victorian literature he loves.
1967 — two years younger
than my father — and my hands
become my hands again, the guilt
of freedom heavy
in my palms. He never told me
the dreams he had for his own life.
All I can picture is the rural night
sky, milky and struck with stars. A river pregnant
with fish, ready for catching. My father beside me,
his right hand in a fist,
jerking up to signal stop
reeling and pull. When I dream of fish, I remember
again that I am my father’s
daughter. I do not have to reimagine his life.
In this one, we catch the fish together.