Lies I Told about Father

From a Russian Anti-Alcohol Poster

Lies I Told about Father

By Bunkong Tuon

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Editor’s Note: This is the fifth post in a series of poems about the immigrant experience in America. Our late Managing Editor, Okla Elliott, featured Bunkong Tuon’s work on As It Ought To Be back in January of 2017. Okla was particularly concerned about the anti-immigration rhetoric heating up in America and he hoped to showcase the voices of immigrants on our site. In honor of Okla’s memory, Tuon has allowed us to feature more of his poetry about his experience as an immigrant from Cambodia in the United States.

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Lies I Told about Father

I believed I had the power to revive you,
to sit you up in the family’s pigsty,
drunk off your ass, smiling at nothingness,
the late morning light shining on your face.
With a son’s quiet adoration, I chiseled you:
a gangster from the East, a Khmer Krom
whose blood cried out Khmer characters (not Vietnamese),
who, guided by fate, found himself in the West
and married mother for her virtue and beauty.

In these poems you drink because, well, real men
drink, curse, and sleep around (the cursing
and sleeping around, you didn’t do, of course,
because of your love and respect for Mother).
I was an aspiring writer then,
renting a tiny studio on Ocean Boulevard
in Long Beach, following in the drunken
bouts of Charles Bukowski, buying cheap wine,
imitating free verse,
waking up to the stench of sour vomit.
Of course, this life did not last long.
I can’t hold liquor, let alone women.
I have always been a reader,
safe behind words, punctuation, and sentences,
between the pages, where I can conquer
an entire nation or seduce women with my long dash—.

Now, I am engaged to a kind, generous person.
Mother would approve of her.
I am returning to you once again,
not for approval, just to talk,
son to father, but it dawns on me:
I am without you.

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About the Author:Bunkong Tuon is the author of Gruel (2015) and And So I Was Blessed (2017), both poetry collections published by NYQ Books, and a regular contributor to Cultural Weekly  He is also an associate professor of English and Asian Studies at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.

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Visit Our Updated Commentary Archives

“The Passion of Creation” By Leonid Pasternak

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Since its inception, As It Ought To Be has published commentaries on a wide range of topics, including current events, politics, and cultural criticism. We’ve just finished archiving the past five years of articles. Check out our newly updated commentary page and relive the last five years of social and political changes through the eyes of our writers.

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Fishing for Trey Platoo

“Still Life with Mackerel, Lemon and Tomato” By Vincent Van Gogh (1886)

Fishing for Trey Platoo

By Bunkong Tuon

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth post in a series of poems about the immigrant experience in America. Our late Managing Editor, Okla Elliott, featured Bunkong Tuon’s work on As It Ought To Be back in January of 2017. Okla was particularly concerned about the anti-immigration rhetoric heating up in America and he hoped to showcase the voices of immigrants on our site. In honor of Okla’s memory, Tuon has allowed us to feature more of his poetry about his experience as an immigrant from Cambodia in the United States.

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Fishing for Trey Platoo 

You might have seen them 
fishing on the shores of the Cape Cod Canal: 

My uncle in his fisherman’s hat 
pulling in a one-foot scup, my aunt in her pajama-like 

pants walking backward up the bike path, 
snapping a line that’s got stuck between the rocks, 

my other aunt reeling in a sea bass 
her husband by her side directing. 

Bikers, joggers, teenagers and their dates, 
families with their children look curiously on. 

Or maybe you have seen them
lining up all three sides of a pier in Salem, 

their wrists jerking in a language 
that bewitches the squids below. 

They are not the only ones.
Other Cambodians and Vietnamese, once enemies, 

fish side by side on the same American pier. 
Other immigrants, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese 

speaking languages that I can’t understand, come together 
on this spot: sacred rods in hands, beckoning the squid. 

Or maybe you have seen them
under a bridge fishing the Providence River, 

looking for trey platoo, a type of mackerel
like they used to eat in the refugee camps in Thailand. 

Sometimes, my aunts and uncles run into an old friend 
from those long ago days. They talk about the lack 

of food, of sneaking out at night to fish, and of running, 
always running, from the Thai police. 

They exchange phone numbers, share fishing secrets,
and set up a time and place where they’ll fish together again. 

When they get home, my aunts gut the fish,
clean them, fry them, and put them in boiling stew 

of galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir leaves.
My uncles and aunts sit in a circle on the floor, 

eat, and tell stories of how this fish got away
or how one of them got caught by the Thai police. 

No matter how hard they try, they can never understand 
why my cousin and I ever bother with fishing— 

Why we catch and release food, as if it’s some sport.

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About the Author: Bunkong Tuon is the author of Gruel (2015) and And So I Was Blessed (2017), both poetry collections published by NYQ Books, and a regular contributor to Cultural Weekly  He is also an associate professor of English and Asian Studies at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.

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Ringo Starr Answers Questions on Larry King Live about the Death of George Harrison

Photo Collage of Ringo Starr on Larry King Live 

Ringo Starr Answers Questions on Larry King Live

about the Death of George Harrison

By Roy Bentley

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First, Larry King mistakenly calls Ringo
George then asks him whether his passing,
George’s, was expected. He answers that it was.
Says they knew he was sick. Had lung cancer.
I’m watching, though it’s none of my business
how grief-stricken Ringo Starr was and likely
still is or whether he was there, at the bedside,
at the moment George left his life for some other,
if you can believe what George believed, which
was that we keep coming back till we get it right.
And when Ringo is about to let down his guard
and be a bit more self-disclosing, even honest,
Larry interrupts, asking, Do you ever want to
pinch yourself? And Ringo Starr says, Sure.
In 1988, years before, in another interview,
with George, this years after Lennon’s death,
Ringo confessed that he was the poorest Beatle
then laughed and blew cigarette smoke upward.
Which must’ve seemed terribly funny to George,
an inside joke, because he said Hello, John to
the smoke like it was Lennon (by virtue of his
acknowledged wealth) or some spirit he used to
conquer worlds with. Ringo says he was shocked
upon hearing the news of the death of John Lennon,
but that George’s death was another thing entirely.
He doesn’t quote from the Bhagavad Gita, but it’s
as if he wants to say we continue on, are these spirits,
a sort of outrageous bliss even to think it, dumb luck
on the order of being hired as the Beatles’ drummer.
Maybe he would have said it, with respect to George
or ventured his own beliefs, if Larry hadn’t butted in
to ask him which of the Beatles was the best musician.
You mean, now? And I want to laugh now because
maybe Ringo’s imagining how hard it is to move
your hands after you’re dead, or to move at all,
and how impossible it must be to keep time
and tempo in all that anonymous blankness,
the dark become your most imploring fan.

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This poem first appeared in Rattle

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About the Author: Roy Bentley has published five books of poems, including Walking with Eve in the Loved City, which was selected as a finalist for the 2018 Miller Williams Poetry Prize and is available from the University of Arkansas Press or at Amazon. Bentley’s poems have appeared in Able Muse, Rattle, Blackbird, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Ohio Arts Council.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DEEP CALLS TO DEEP




From DEEP CALLS TO DEEP
By Jane Medved:


WINTER BURIAL

For the sky that reaches into its hushed pocket,
                                           for the bridle of winter waiting to be released.

For the ghost face which slips over everyone,
                                           for the tusk of the same white beginning.

For crystals that shape themselves while falling,
                                           for the storm’s icy laugh.

For the charred bars of the petting zoo,
                                           whose cages were made out of wood and went up fast.

For the twin goats trapped, for the small fire they turned their back on,
                                           the bread burning, the coffee.

For the one surviving goose housed in a Little Tikes kitchen,
                                           the black centers of his eyes and the string closing the door.

For the fenced-in storage area now zoned for a park,
                                           where there used to be patches of dried grass.

For the last time it snowed on the Jerusalem highway,
                                           and they wouldn’t let anyone in or out.

For the holiday makers who were stranded
                                           without fun.

For my niece’s baby who never woke up that day,
                                           she was an angel in her crib.

For they got her into the ground just before it froze,
                                           but no one knows where.

For the hidden ear of the tzaddik she is buried next to,
                                           for the cooing she drops into the ground where it melts.

For her small breaths, none of which are
                                           shaped the same.

For the soul, which cracks open the body,
                                           for the body, which is told what it must carry.

For when the ice let me back down the hill,
                                           I found my niece in her kitchen, forgiving everyone.



from THE LAST TIME I SAW HEROD

I. Women’s shelter, Miriam HaHashmonait St., Jerusalem

He was banging on the gate
even though there is no way
to know that we are in here.

He was looking for his wife,
aren’t they all, which is why
we make the children play

in the yard and of course
he knew her real name,
which makes me wonder

what’s the point of being
a princess if even that
can be taken away. I’m not

sorry he looked thin. I used
to feed my own husband
but I never watched him eat.

In my mind he was gulping
me down, tearing everything
apart so as not to miss a piece.



EVERYTHING WILL TELL ITS OWN STORY

sooner or later, coins, a copper lantern,
bits of colored glass, Napoleon’s diary
on loan from Harvard and the endless
lap of water at the world’s toothless edge.

These were found in the Phoenician port
where Napoleon threw his cannonballs
into the Mediterranean to lighten the load.
He wised up soon enough and tossed
his soldiers overboard instead.

The metal balls are shocked into rust
and stare like thick black eyeballs
from their shelf in the dusty museum.
History ignores the bodies though,
their bones turn to fine sand
that tricks the treasure hunters
with its unpredictable lapses. Never mind.

We are all one part ocean anyway,
which is why sex smells like fish, and waves
always come back to a dry river bed.

We are all one part earth, which is why
snow angels cannot fly but lose themselves
to the ground, only the children
leave a clue, a small piece of spine
that still remains even if they are forced into ashes.

We are all one part fire, angry
as a kidney stone, a fist, absolutely certain,
a blaze that hides for months in the smoking
roots of the rotem tree, waiting
to be lifted out, spoken into flame and taken.

We are all one part wind, did you notice
how birds spread out like notes
when they fly, faithful as radio beams
to their unseen connections.

I inhale the invisibility of it, using up
my appointed breaths, certain
that the air will always pass through me
cold and hot and justified.



WHICH IS TO SAY,

                               there is another way home.
                                                                                Just
yesterday, I saw the beating arc of starlings

who migrate to the Negev every year. It was late
and you have to take my word for this. They

became a single body that exhaled a melody
of startled scales made out of bones and feathers,

a flock of notes that scattered to swoop and play,
then reassemble in a different serenade, a fist of

sky squeezing its shape, or the curve of a swan’s
neck.
                   It was remarkable,
                                                      how soundless waves
could cart away the distance,
                                               and how I forgave,
in that moment, everyone.
                                                             Which is to say,

that the desert is a grave and lonely place,
where silence reappears as another kind of music.



Today’s poems are from Deep Calls to Deep (New Rivers Press, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Jane Medved, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Deep Calls to Deep: “Taking its title from Psalm 42, Deep Calls to Deep explores the nexus between the depths of biblical history and the depths of the self, and the twin powers of faith and doubt that drive them both. Building from a masterful sequence exploring the legacies of Herod to a final richly lyrical sequence, Deep Calls to Deep becomes richer with multiple readings. With stunning formal variety and skill, it enacts not only the struggle to maintain faith, but to ground it equally in past and present, chaos and void, self and other.” — Leslie Adrienne Miller, author of Y and The Resurrection Trade

Jane Medved is the author of Deep Calls to Deep (winner of the Many Voices Project, New Rivers Press 2017) and the chapbook Olam, Shana, Nefesh (Finishing Line Press, 2014) Her recent essays and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Tampa Review, The Atticus Review, The Cortland Review, 2River View and Vinyl. She is the poetry editor of the Ilanot Review, the on-line literary magazine of Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv. She lives and teaches creative writing in Jerusalem, Israel.

Editor’s Note: “History ignores the bodies,” but Jane Medved does not. It is through her own determined lens on history that the poet shapes this stunning new collection. The history she embraces is personal and familial, ancient and deeply entrenched, a history of people and place, of nature and land, of violence and loss. One might approach this work like an archaeologist, gentle and sifting, knowing that “coins, a copper lantern, bits of colored glass” are all precious, that every word and artifact you come across has a story to tell.

Deep Calls to Deep is ambitious, provocative, heart-wrenching and sacred. Within its pages the spiritual commingles with the archaeological, and words lay bare lost treasures like a desert wind revealing fact and fiction from beneath centuries of sand. The collection is divided into four sections, each so distinct and compelling that I could only begin to give you a taste of the whole by sharing a poem from each.

How visceral it is to read this collection. How engrossing. How evident on every page the capable hand of the poet who wrought the work, her knowledge and skill as writer and reader, how in tune she is with the human experience. Deep Calls to Deep is a masterpiece of the lyric, overflowing with stunning language and accessible imagery, at once startling in its beauty and reassuring in its familiarity. “Which is to say, // there is another way home… Which is to say, // that the desert is a grave and lonely place, / where silence reappears as another kind of music.”

Want more from Jane Medved?
Buy Deep Calls to Deep from Amazon
Queen Mob’s Teahouse
Cortland Review
2River View

 

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. It is an honor and a unique opportunity to now share this series with a number of guest editors, and we’ll be hearing more from them in the coming weeks. Today’s feature, however, is a labor of love from yours truly.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

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Dancing Fu Manchu Master

Dancing Fu Manchu Master

By Bunkong Tuon

Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series of poems about the immigrant experience in America. Our late Managing Editor, Okla Elliott, featured Bunkong Tuon’s work on As It Ought To Be back in January of 2017. Okla was particularly concerned about the anti-immigration rhetoric heating up in America and he hoped to showcase the voices of immigrants on our site. In honor of Okla’s memory, Tuon has allowed us to feature more of his poetry about his experience as an immigrant from Cambodia in the United States.

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Dancing Fu Manchu Master

One day, walking home

by myself, a blue plastic backpack slung

over my shoulders, a Christmas gift

from our sponsor, I noticed three boys

watching me from the convenience store

down the corner near an apartment complex.
The leader, a short, red-haired, chubby kid,
stepped out of the shadow, and called out,
“Ching Chong, are you from Hong Kong?”

I quickened my pace pretending

to hear my Grandmother calling me.

“Hey, can you help me with my math homework?”
They burst out laughing.

Seeing me walk firmly away, they slurred out

a slew of hurtful words.

“Why don’t you go back to China?”

“Do you eat dogs where you come from?”

“You use grass and leaves to wipe your ass, right?”
“Do you know Kung Fu?”

With this last question saliva,

warm and gooey, hit my neck.

I closed my eyes, counted my steps,
mindful of my breath, my heart slowed.
I jumped and turned,

thirty feet straight into the air,

took out my sword, with a flick

of the wrist, saw heads roll,

tumbling away down the sidewalk,
bodies slumped behind:

red blossoming concrete.

Trained in the mysterious arts

of Dr. Fu Manchu, I made myself
disappear before the police arrived.

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About the Author: Bunkong Tuon is the author of Gruel (2015) and And So I Was Blessed (2017), both poetry collections published by NYQ Books, and a regular contributor to Cultural Weekly  He is also an associate professor of English and Asian Studies at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LYNN POWELL


By Lynn Powell:


THE MOON RISING

Sly old guru, Rorschach moon,
you’re calling me again with your round riddle,
your paradox of Ohm and moan.
All day the sun was up on its soapbox, a Pollyanna
casting out the darkness in everybody else.
Now we’re back at the window where we started—
me with my midnight weakness, and you
with your sleight-of-silver ministry
to anyone unguarded and alone.

Slow moon, you’ve lingered near the cloister and the dance hall,
laid your soft law down on wide and narrow beds.
You’ve faced yourself in ponds, thrown yourself
on the mercy of a moody sea. You’ve been the slick
Houdini of horizons, sliding out of each tight spot
the night has tried to trap you in.
What’s left for me to misconstrue?

I’m tired of my mind and its whitewash,
tired of your low-light revelations.
And how will I find the dark forest if you keep
murmuring silky nothings to the trees?

Cold moon, unmake me
in your image. Pare me down
to the bleak beatitude, the black sum
of all you know for sure.



AT THE EQUINOX

             Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew?
                                                                         —Job 38:28

From the car window, after the fog lifts,
the autumn fields flash with sudden flowers—

              like filigrees of mirror, like alloys of lace and light.

A weird miracle? Some brilliant, manic manna?
Until, of course, it’s only spiders—ten thousand

              that have worked the dark with rigs of silk

to snag a fly and then, surprising themselves,
have step-fathered the dew.

              And so, for an odd hour, hunger

glistens in galaxies, sieved
from passing thoughts of lake and air.



Today’s poems are from the collection Season of the Second Thought (University of Wisconsin Press, 2017), copyright Lynn Powell, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

Lynn Powell has published three books of poetry: Season of the Second Thought (winner of the 2017 Felix Pollak Prize), The Zones of Paradise, and Old & New Testaments. Her nonfiction book Framing Innocence won the Studs & Ida Terkel Award from The New Press in 2010. A native of East Tennessee, Powell teaches in the Creative Writing Program of Oberlin College.

Guest Editor’s Note: Lynn Powell’s work is reminiscent of “The Parable of the Sunfish” in Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading. Powell is a poet who gains deep understanding and insight into her subjects, examining them over and over from unique angles until she has observed their essence. In “The Moon Rising,” for instance, the moon is a “Sly, old guru” a “Rorschach,” a “slick/Houdini of the horizons.” It possesses a “slight of hand ministry” or can lay its “soft law down on wide and narrow beds.”

Throughout her collection Seasons of the Second Thought, line by line Powell examines, prods, and dissects until she has mastered her subject, rewarding her readers with an intimacy and understanding that is both profound and revealing. In “At the Equinox,” she observes the world with such intensity that she is able to see the creators of the miracle she is viewing not as their mundane selves — “only spiders—ten thousand” — but as creatures that “have step-fathered the dew.” Powell’s work is an enlightenment that allows the reader to see the world for what it can be when observed fully.

Want to read more by and about Lynn Powell?
Buy Seasons of the Second Thought from University of Wisconsin Press
POETRY Magazine
Bellingham Review
Shenandoah
American Literary Review


Guest Editor Alan Toltzis is the author of The Last Commandment. Recent work has appeared in print and online publications including Hummingbird, Right Hand Pointing, IthacaLit, r.k.v.r.y. Quarterly, and Cold Noon. Find him online at alantoltzis.com.

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB


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