Three Poems from ‘Chanthy’s Garden’ by George Chigas

The Visit


When I saw her gnarled fingers,

shaved head, eyes like knots of wood,

I didn’t say anything.

He waved her out of the room,

asked us to sit down,

served iced drinks.

He talked about ’75

when he worked security

at the embassy in Phnom Penh

and helped U.S. Marines load helicopters

when there was no time.

Said he could have got out then too,

but his mother wouldn’t go;

when the Khmer Rouge came

she waved and threw flowers.

. . . . .

From Cambodia


She’s from Cambodia

and eats hot noodle soup for breakfast,

that much I know.

But it’s not enough

in the middle of the night

when the flashbacks come

and the best I can do

is hide her in my arms and wait

until they pass

and she looks out

at the glassy calm.

. . . . .

Waiting for E.S.L. Class


On cold mornings they huddle in the doorway waiting for English class. They hunch in big coats, smoke; news of the apartment fire stirs up blue air. Soeun catches a ride with a friend who works first shift or walks an hour across town, up Middlesex and Appleton to Church Street past Zayre’s. He kicks snow off his boots,  shakes a cigarette out of the pack, whistles a Cambodian folk tune he’s known for thirty years. I think of the song Chathy sings in bed before turning out the light about the boy who goes away to school promising his parents he’ll come home when it’s time to harvest rice.


—George Chigas (c) 1986, from “Chanthy’s Garden” (Loom Press)