I wake up to roosters crowing, old hens clucking like they know something.
I just want to sleep in but there’s Mom rushing –
“Load up the van, find a sinh to wear, don’t forget the paa bieng, tie up your hair.” Continue reading The simple life
Today came at me like a freight train. Continue reading Things I did today
The room is always cold
when my mother turns on the light.
It’s too early, too bright
and my temper is relentless.
My voice is hoarse as I tell her to go away.
She yells back, stomps out,
and silence swirls between us
like bitter sand
until the next morning.
As time flutters through
our secret, humble lives,
my mother turns on the light
and silently disappears
before my eyes can open.
I swallow the hurts of life
before they surface on my skin
in fine lines and blotches
which only Mother sees —
I keep them hidden from her.
And then I question why the world feels so heavy
on my shoulders;
why fear stains the carpet of our “happy” home
like mud tracked in;
why love is unrequited before it even begins…
Because my mother wouldn’t wake me
Because my mother couldn’t wake me
A man saw my name tag today and asked, Are you Lao?
I said yes and smiled
because it’s rare to meet someone who can pick out Lao names.
He said he once hired a man to do the work of 8,
who never complained and never let him down. Continue reading No winners, no sides
One time in refugee camp… my father built a statue.
Mother was several months pregnant, but no one believed her. She hadn’t gained a pound and there was no obvious “bump.” Father helped build a Buddha statue in the camp, which some people say is taboo for a man whose wife is expecting. Continue reading One time in refugee camp…
I wish I could tell you something good, child.
But everything good about this world falls too fast
and never lasts beyond the shimmer of yesterday.
I am too poor for the price that comes with fortune, a grain of salty sand
for every dream come true. I wish I could tell you, child,
our paths will always cross, my footsteps never lost
or made in places you can’t follow.
I wish I could tell you that we’ll always come back to this place
where we laughed together, where I watched you face your fears
where we danced in the summer rains and saw year after year
the same rolling fields, the same hearts that never yield
to time. I’ve always tried to protect you from the pains of living,
though you didn’t always need it. I couldn’t bear to see you
tarnished by everyday wrongs. It’s your innocence that makes me kind
and patient and strong. I always wished for the sun to shine down
on your darkest mood, for its warmth to hold you as you stood
in moments of quiet need.
You never cried out for me, but I secretly hoped you would.
It’s not that I think we’ll wake one day, miles from happiness and each other.
The truth is, it’s lonesome chasing after dreams
and when you finally catch them, everyone in between
gets pushed aside, at some point or another.
Time changes everything, even two inseperables like you and me.
Some day we’ll face it, some day we’ll have no choice
Some day I’ll search old memories just to hear your voice.
And when it comes to that, we should find our way back home,
that place we ran through the summer rains and never felt alone…
*Not his real name
Mr. Sinclair shuffled into my life unassumingly.
He was gone for a time but retirement didn’t quite suit him.
I wondered if his wife died and he needed to stay busy.
Not my business.
I didn’t know the man.
From the stories they told, I imagined a giant.
His skin was burnt leather, so tough he never swatted the mosquitoes when they covered him in summer.
There was this book I had to read as a kid called Cry of the Conch by Peter Roop. It seems no one has heard of it these days. I only remember some parts, and I’ve inserted Mr. Sinclair into the Old Man’s role. He was stranded on a small island with a boy he never met and saved him from a hurricane by strapping them both to a palm tree…
I noticed his smile first – so big it filled his entire face, the wrinkles like deep cracks in the earth. You have to really listen to understand him because he talks as if half his jaw is wired shut.
Next I looked at his hands to see if they’re like the book character’s hands. Sure enough, they are. Massive and gnarled and strong as oak roots.
Hands that have only known hard work.
The first day we met, I introduced myself and sliced him a piece of cake. I had to lean sideways and tilt my head back to see his face.
No one in the office understands why I instantly called him friend.
Most people only see an illiterate 70-something-year-old man who digs ditches for the County.
But his Light’s so bright, it blocks out these things for me.
Our encounters are brief: he waves and smiles as he’s driving off in his truck; occasionally we meet in the hallway and say hello.
And each time I want to ask him, Where have we met before, Mr. Sinclair?