Peuo Tuy is the author of Khmer Girl (2014) in which the poem below appears. She is a contributor to the anthology Atlantic Currents: Connecting Cork and Lowell (2020).
Running Water & Soap Suds
By Peuo Tuy
R.I.P. 3.4.21 Ngem Chea
My Grandmother’s mocha-colored hands mingle with soap suds underneath running water like subtle waterfalls making white bubbles. She puts my Mother’s green peacock sarong in the wooden bucket. Her two hands grab each end — rubbing, wringing out dirt, lathering. More bubbles. She does this repeatedly, taking each section, rubbing, wringing until it is dirt-free. She hangs it on our hemp rope leaving the sun to pour out heat & the wind to sway it dry.
She passes her mocha-colored hands to my Mother. She, too, mingles them with soap suds & running water washing my green peacock sarong. She sweats under the quenching sun, never complaining, rubbing, wringing out the natural stains of daily life draining dirt, until it is dirt-free, hanging it to be dried by the wind & the sun.
I watch for years learning this tradition. My Mother told me she retained this tradition from Her Mother whom I have never met.
I watch her for years so that I can pass on my mocha-colored hands mingled with soap suds & running water, wash a green peacock sarong for my unconceived daughter . . . rubbing, wringing soiled fabric, recollecting generations of women in my family practicing the same ritual.
This is how we honor our culture.