Weekly feature by: Julie Vitto

Sok was born
a refugee
surrounded by family,
as a country surrounds a city surrounded by Cambodian jungles,
carried on her mother’s forty-seven-year-old back
across an ocean to a notion of America,
where landlords share walls
with missionary-sponsored row homes on Farnum Street.

There, she became Sara
and grew a new tongue from watching television,
stargazing with the lights on.

The flames of her father’s Buddhist shrine
blew prayers through the attic one night,
incinerating evidence of memories in a manic light.

Northern migration
led her to the west side of a bridge’s concrete wall,
wild with weeds, dusted with glass, rusted with a city’s past,
over which Sara often lost her kickball.

Stained with piss and scraped knees,
the bridge looked over tracks,
by which neighborhood kids hid under the overpass
and made burn marks with cigarettes, blunts and ash.

Central High stood like a condemned fortress in the wake
of oversleeping in the attic bedroom
of her family’s third attempt at home
on the corner of Orange and Plum,
across from the liquor store,
one block from where she’d walked
by the boy with the golden dreadlocks
and fell in love.

It only lasted until she sketched his image on a piece of cardboard,
and lay her head next to his on the creaking floor.

True love came with the psychiatrist:
green eyes, long hair and a wife.
He was the one,
reading excerpts from Naked Lunch, making her light-headed.

“It still hurts,” she said, blowing smoke in my direction.
Contact felt good,
but she said I never blew her my shotguns hard enough.

Home on her nineteenth birthday
was in a maze of wooded apartment development
behind the mall, low lit in the underbrush of a damp April evening.

I held the six-pack at the door.
A stranger answered,
pointed through a mass of smoke and people to the bathroom floor.
Stooping to embrace,
bottles clanked at her back.

Coal lined eyes, clouded yellow at the edges,
tiny teeth and dark gums,
she was carnivorous in red
and showed me the black hair dye over naturally black hair.

Walls were lined with an amateur artist’s work:
A naked female figure, bleached,
under tattoos of snakes and dragons penned with unnatural precision.

This town is a city like a jungle surrounded by country.
Beyond its borders are more cities like jungles surrounded by country.

Sara said she was a star.
She would be famous.
She would be discovered.

She took a back seat road trip to California once.
Imagination stirred her ego’s longing for reward,
returning her with photographs
of excess flesh in a red bikini by the motel pool.

The future calls for Sara,
for concealer covering scars,
for fast food and the assembly line,
for a pack a day and bad art,
for car repairs and medical bills.

And the snow is covering tracks
in a town surrounded by country
surrounded by cities
surrounded by jungles
with Sok in front of the screen,
flickering like a star flicks ashes
into a tray for someone else to clean.

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