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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One Response to Fishing for Trey Platoo

  1. Reblogged this on David J. Bauman and commented:
    How such a simple line can stop you cold. Beautiful.

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