Oh, Daughter

Friday, January 15, 2016
We’re returning to Cambodia together, father and daughter,
and he walks away from the wide Prek Eng road,
me rolling the black suitcase, chin down.
There are so many ways I bring him shame.
Sitting with my legs crossed. Stomping as I walk.
I know my foreignness in his country: when I fall off the bus
and I pretend the dirt is nothing on my knees,
the rocks stuck to my hands
cheap jewels that shake off as glitter, and he
he is behind me watching his step, grunting
You embarrass me.

Or we visit Angkor Wat and he tells me
You get in for free being goan Khmer,
but don’t open your mouth.
When we get to the Bayon Tower, he tells me You can’t go.
Your shorts are too short and you should have covered your legs.
I don’t open my mouth. But I should nod to everything he says
or be in the kitchen
helping my aunt gut the market fish.

The part in our trip where it’s obvious
how American I am in the eyes of my Cambodian family: lips tight,
I roll my eyes at him and walk away as he speaks.
Bong Sota doesn’t understand. She says, You just like to get angry.
Your father is a good father.
But there’s no language to tell this cousin
how he makes me feel in my motherland.

I don’t belong.
He’s right, he’s right. I knew it before, but now I believe him.

At dinner, he tries to apologize,
by giving me the biggest part of the fish, the pineapple in the soup, the tomato
my aunt has prepared by herself. He should be upset
when I remove them from my bowl
and toss them back in the soup.
Watch the fish go back to its bones, its scales, back
to the market and back to the sea. Everything goes
back to where it came. Not me.

We know the role of Cambodian daughters.
We know how diaspora works.

Oh daughter, you wouldn’t like it here anyway.
Oh, goan srey, goan srey, goan srey.
If he leaves a green coconut for me sitting overnight
we know inside, the fruit flies will nest
and last one day.
Friday, January 15, 2016