3rd Vol, no 1 (January2016)
WHITE WATER LILIES
The seven hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, is dust-ridden and dangerous.
As we zig-zag north over the broken road, my eyes fix on the white water lilies,
tenderly trying to comfort a darkened, deadly past.
I feel like an intruder, unworthy crossing this ancient land, a land once
of discerning, hopeful people, until Brother Number One returned from Paris
with his sly, seductive smile, accompanied by Marx and murder.
Soon the streets of Phnom Penh were empty; schools and factories shut down; doctors,
lawyers, teachers shot in the back of the head. Two million others herded off like kraw-bey
to Battamgbang or Pursat, their backs bent for four years in rice fields under an unforgiving sun.
As we pass a pagoda near Kampong Thom, I hear their timeless chants; sympathetic, ancestral
voices of a forbidden land, a lost kingdom; they call to me, comfort me, resurrect me
with the same tenderness as the white water lilies floating mystically by my window on the bus.
Robert Flinn, July 2015
DARK CLOUDS GATHERING OVER THE MEKONG RIVER
As I eat a bowl of rice portage on the balcony of the Cadillac Bar & Grill,
I watch the dark clouds gathering over the Mekong River. 450 kilometers to the north,
near the border of Laos and Cambodia, fierce waters roar over the balsat cliffs
of Khone Falls, a cascade of angry rapids, as angry as the villagers
who watch the Malaysian engineers arriving in simple wooden boats at the site
of Don Sahong Dam. As a little boy bathes under a communal spigot in Khok Yai,
his father retrieves empty catfish traps, while his mother stands now only ankle-deep
in the once sacred, swirling water, washing clothes near the rocks in the uncertain shadow
of the afternoon. All is uncertain now, except the dark clouds gathering over the Mekong River.
BENEATH AN UMBRELLA
I’m watching the morning’s rain from my window above Mrs. Vong’s Noodle Shop,
when I see her beneath an umbrella, rushing down 51st Street like a sleek Steeler’s running back;
but this isn’t Pittsburg, it’s Phnom Penh, and she’s a KTV girl, no more than 20, I guessed –
mini-skirted, high-heeled, long, black hair. As she straddles the puddles on the sidewalk,
I contemplate her resolve, spending endless evenings on the laps of lost men: old men,
young men, foreigners, Khmer; filling their glasses with anticipation and Angkor Beer;
a perpetual smile hiding her hatred in darkness, as her body’s landscape is rented for the night.
I wanted to shout, “Throw down your umbrella, walk slowly, feel the freedom of the rain,
let the wind guide you home, away from the neon and heartbreak, back to Prey Veng or Kandal
or Koh Kong, back to mama, who like me, is watching the morning’s rain from her window,
arms open, palms turned up in prayer, she’s waiting for you – waiting, waiting, waiting…”
-Robert Flinn, July 2015
Robert Flinn holds a MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas USA. He is currently a lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Languages at Zaman University in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he teaches various English courses as well as Business and Professional Communications. He is also the director of the university writing center. His poems travel across a wide spectrum of social commentary and popular culture and often speak to injustice and the under-represented. His previous poems have appeared in numerous literary journals, including: Atom Mind, Microkosmos, and The Beacon, as well as on the debut CD of touring band ULU.