Under the Tamarind Tree

Francisco Manuel Blanco: “Tamarindus Indica”

Under the Tamarind Tree

By Bunkong Tuon


Editor’s Note: This past week, the nation witnessed devastating images from detention centers and heard hateful rhetoric spewed about immigration. Now, more than ever, it is important to humanize immigration and emphasize empathy. It is in this spirit that we are proud to present the final 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 the country 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. All of the poems from this series can be found linked at the end of this article.


Under the Tamarind Tree

The child sits on the lap
of his aunt, under the old tamarind tree
outside the family home.

The tree stands still, quiet,
indifferent. The house sways
on stilts.

Monks in saffron robes,
and nuns with shaved heads,
lips darkened with betel-nut stain,

sit chanting prayers
for the child’s mother.

Incense perfumes the hot dry air.

There emerges a strange familiar song
between the child and his aunt that day—
a distant one, melodic but harsh,
as if the strings are drawn too tight—

Each time the child hears prayers
coming from the house, he cries;
each time he cries, the aunt, a girl herself,
pinches the boy’s thigh.


Previous poems from Bunkong Tuon’s series on the immigrant experience in America:


Our Neighborhood in Revere, MA

Snow Day

An Elegy for a Fellow Cambodian

Halloween, 1985

Dancing Fu Manchu Master

Fishing for Trey Platoo

Lies I Told About Father



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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