Writer and painter Chath PierSath, a former Lowell resident who still lives in the region, crossed the Thai-Cambodian border in 1979 with members of his family on the way to Aranyaprathet Refugee Camp. With the help of his brother and aunt, he and his sister came to America in 1981, and lived first in Boulder, Colorado. He is a graduate of the World College West in California, with a degree in international service and development. He earned a master’s degree in community social psychology from UMass Lowell. He has worked in Cambodia as a volunteer for the Cambodian American National Development Organization. His poem “A Letter to My Mother” appears in Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs of Survivors, compiled by Dith Pran and edited by Kim DePaul (Yale University Press, 1997) and he is the author of a collection of poetry, “After” (Abington Square Press) and a children’s book, “Sinat and the Instrument” (Soundprints).–PM
The Way I Want to Remember My Cambodia
I want to remember how I was free to run in the field
eyeing the sky—my handmade kite flying high,
loving the wind, loving the clear white cloud.
I want to remember how I was free to run in the sun,
free to own and roam the fields, free to walk and sing
to myself or to God of the hills full of trees, to the green
rice paddies, to the pink lotus in my pond, and to the black
muddy swamp, to the white crystal tune of an overflowing
river, to the rainbow of my felicity and the wild dogs’ red
I want to feel the flirtatious air caressing my naked body
in childhood innocence wrapped in the arms of my brothers,
free of hate, free of war.
I want to remember the shrilling cry of crickets hidden
under broken planks, the way I went earring for them
in the mist of dawn to capture them in my jar. My chase
after dragonflies, my sling pebbles passing birds, how I
spent day after day fishing, netting grasshoppers in the sun,
and in its burning heat, how I went searching for beetles in
cow manure while herding cattle and water buffalo
away from home.
I recall my mother’s cooking fire, her salted fish grilled
on burning charcoal, the smell of her boiling stew, her
sharp knife drumming the cutting board. In her outdoor
kitchen, the smoke of her art hissed out of her wok, moving
into the air like a cobra shedding its skin on our fence.
I want to feel my dark Cambodian skin crack from playing
with earth, my boyish brown eyes to stare again at the green
bamboo, leaning to soak in the fragrance of the yellow, flowered
hills. I want the serenity of the blue ponds and the white river of
childhood and to feel the winds wiping away the dewdrops,
still clinging to my naked body.
I want my peasant home, to still be in that village among
the surviving people on that laboring earth where I was born
into my Cambodia.
My Cambodia, tell me again the stories of how the old
ghosts take possession of human souls, how monsters
shape the art of death. I want to hear how the Goddesses
turn what is ugly into what is beautiful.
Make me part of that secret. Let me dance in your sun.
Chath PierSath, © 1997 (reprinted from The Bridge Review: Merrimack Valley Culture, www.ecommunity.uml.edu/bridge)