Bunkong Tuon: “Song I Sing”

 

 

Song I Sing

America, you were brave once,
decent, almost pure, but never quite
the myths you tell yourself.
Is this the karma from centuries of bloodshed,
lands pilfered, women raped, men murdered,
lynching, assassinations, race riots, class inequality?
You name it, we have it.
You want Coca Cola? You want heroin?
You want coke? Me love you long time.
What’s a little bit of sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll,
legalized murders and colonialism in the name
of democracy, which is just a fancy name
for imposing our definitions on those
with a different set of definitions.
A war is a war however you name it,
just like a murder is a murder however
you spin it. Thus anger screams for justice
on the streets of Los Angeles,
Chicago and Minneapolis,
the fire of unfulfilled dreams burning
across your once great land.
Meanwhile the pandemic death toll reaches
100,000 and counting.
They say bodies pile as high
as the flag, not enough plastic bags,
lying against walls of mobile mortuaries,
not enough space in local cemeteries.
There’s talk of making burial grounds
in local parks where children used to play..
There’s talk of reopening the economy,
money valued over human life,
business as usual, the old American way.
Is America going mad or am I going crazy?
I’m tired of reading the news these days.
I’d rather take my daughter to the park,
ride swings with our feet against
the bright burning sun, go down slides
and scream our hearts out, laugh
like the little children we all are.
I want to smoke hash with Allen Ginsberg,
grocery shopping in search of Whitman,
talk poetry, Buddhism, and God,
all of which are the same thing, a celebration
of the human Godhead, the human breath,
the Atman in all of us. Love
ourselves. Take good care.
America, I love you even when you spit
at my Asian brothers and sisters,
throw rocks at their cars, accuse
them of carrying the “Wuhan virus.”
When I speak, you don’t hear.
Some don’t believe that I should be here,
a place at the table, where professors
profess, poets sing, students evaluate.
I have no wisdom here. Only this.
The birds soar high in the bright blue sky.
Everything is blue, crystal clear.
The air is clean. Those birds,
they are singing their songs again.
Oh, I love you all. In spite of it.
I love you all. I just can’t do otherwise.

 

About the Author: Bunkong Tuon is a Cambodian-American writer and critic. He is the author of Gruel, And So I Was Blessed (both published by NYQ Books), The Doctor Will Fix It (Shabda Press), and Dead Tongue (a chapbook with Joanna C. Valente, Yes Poetry). He teaches at Union College, in Schenectady, NY. He tweets @BunkongTuon

 

More By Bunkong Tuon:

Gender Danger

Lies I Told About Father

Fishing for Trey Platoo

 

Image Credit: “American Flag” Harris and Ewing [between 1915 and 1923] The Library of Congress

Bunkong Tuon: “Lisel Mueller Died at 96”

 

 

Lisel Mueller Died at 96 
After O’Hara’s “Lana Turner Has Collapsed!”

There are papers to grade
& classes to prepare
and they continue to pile up
high over my head as
I drink coffee and scroll
through Twitter and Facebook.
Oh no, Lisel Mueller’s passed away
this past Friday! The poet
who escaped the Nazis and found
a new language for her voice.
The poet who gave me permission
to put “grief in the mouth of language”
without embarrassment or shame.
Oh, I’m ashamed it’s taking me
this long to grade these papers.
My four-year-old is yanking
at my arm, “I’m the daddy
and you can be my boy daughter.”
“And what’s a boy daughter?”
I ask. And she says, “Silly Daddy.
That’s when you’re born a boy
but you’re actually a girl.”
So we play while the papers
pile high and Lisel Mueller’s poetry
is shared and loved all over again.
And isn’t that what all of us
(refugees and non-refugees alike)
want from this precious world?

 

About the Author: Bunkong Tuon is a Cambodian-American writer and critic. He is the author of Gruel, And So I Was Blessed (both published by NYQ Books), The Doctor Will Fix It (Shabda Press), and Dead Tongue (a chapbook with Joanna C. Valente, Yes Poetry). He teaches at Union College, in Schenectady, NY. He tweets @BunkongTuon

 

More By Bunkong Tuon:

Gender Danger

Lies I Told About Father

Fishing for Trey Platoo

 

Image Credit: James Abbott McNeil Whistler “Nocturne in Black and Gold The Falling Rocket” (c. 1874 – 1875) Public Domain

Revisiting 2019: Our 50 Most Popular Posts of the Year

 

Dear As It Ought To Be Magazine Readers,

As we enter the next decade, I want to thank all of the writers and readers who have made our tenth year so successful. I take enormous pride in working with so many talented and inspiring writers. Without your brilliance and generosity of spirit and intellect, none of this would be possible. It has been a great privilege to publish your work on our site, and I hope to continue featuring diverse perspectives, challenging ideas, and unique voices for years to come. As a way to look back on what we accomplished in 2019, I have complied the 50 most popular posts of the year based on internet traffic and clicks.

Thank you again to everyone who wrote for, read, and promoted AIOTB Magazine in 2019. Let the 20s roar again!

Chase Dimock
Managing Editor

 

Poetry

Jason Baldinger:

Ishrat Bashir:

Jai Hamid Bashir:

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal:

Jeffrey Betcher:

Ace Boggess:

Daniel Crocker:

John Dorsey:

Ryan Quinn Flanagan:

Tony Gloeggler:

Nathan Graziano:

Cord Moreski:

Jeanette Powers:

Stephen Roger Powers:

Jonathan K. Rice:

Kevin Ridgeway:

Damian Rucci:

Anna Saunders:

Larry Smith:

Nick Soluri:

William Taylor Jr.:

Alice Teeter:

Tiffany Troy:

Bunkong Tuon:

Agnes Vojta:

Kory Wells:

Brian Chander Wiora:

Dameion Wagner:

 

Nonfiction

Daniel Crocker:

Nathan Graziano:

John Guzlowski:

Cody Sexton:

Carrie Thompson:

 

Reviews 

Chase Dimock:

Mike James:

 

Photo Credit: Fire Works At New Year’s Eve via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Bunkong Tuon: A Review of True Confessions: 1965 to Now By John Guzlowski

 

 

True Confessions: 1965 to Now
John Guzlowski

Paperback: 151 pages
Publisher: Darkhouse (March 13, 2019)
ISBN-13: 978-1945467172

John Guzlowski’s True Confessions: 1965 to Now is an autobiography in verse. Ranging from lyric to narrative, sonnet to free verse, elegiac to humorous, the poems have a central “I” that takes the reader into six decades of the poet’s life. They explore topics such as drugs, booze, and rock n’ roll, love (from the young and reckless to the more mature kind), teaching, parenting, Americana, the arts of poetry, and, ultimately, death. His mother and father who survived German work camps during WWII also make their appearance here as an elderly couple re-living the horrors of the Nazis in the blazing heat of Arizona.

Guzlowski writes with such honesty, humor, wit, sadness, and hope. Above all, he writes with clarity, truth, and humility. Take, for example, the poem “Grieving.”  

Robert Frost’s poem “Home Burial” moves me,
but some of my students are freaked
by the thought of the baby’s coffin in the parlor,
the mom in the poem who mourns too long.

“Get over it,” they say. 

Get over it?

On his death bed, my dad was still grieving
for his mom who died when he was five,
and I’m still grieving for him ten years
after his death. Grieving doesn’t stop
like a TV drama you can turn off.

Forgive me for telling and now showing
but this pain I feel for my dad and the pain
he felt for his mom are what connects us all,
as sure as the turning of the earth.

No apology is necessary here. His poem simply works in spite of the fact that (or maybe because) Guzlowski admits breaking the “show-don’t-tell” commandment for writing. The poem’s honesty, emotion, and heartfelt conviction in truth propel it forward and bring readers to an understanding of grief that connects us in our humanity.

Like his forebears (which include Whitman, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Frost, with some Dickinson, Eliot, Bellow and Faulkner thrown in), Guzlowski’s voice is that of the common man, one that invites readers into his world and entrusts us with his heart and soul. That’s the power and beauty of Guzlowski’s poetry: stripped of linguistic experimentation and the artifacts of academic theory, his poetry brings us to real and genuine human connections: love, hurt, anger, loss, joy, silliness, absurdity, hope, acceptance, and more. 

If you haven’t read Guzlowski, buy this book; you will be in for one wild joyride. John’s energy is vast, imaginative, and liberating. Afterward, buy his other books, especially those about his parents, particularly Echoes of Tattered Tongues and Lightning and Ashes. Those books are raw, unflinching, and so very full of love (the love of a child for his refugee parents).

 

About The Author: Bunkong Tuon is a Cambodian-American writer, critic, and teacher. He is the author of three poetry collections: Gruel (NYQ Books, 2015), And So I Was Blessed (NYQ Books, 2017), and The Doctor Will Fix It (Shabda Press, 2019)His poetry recently won the 2019 Nasiona Nonfiction Poetry Prize. He teaches at Union College in Schenectady, NY.

As It Ought To Be Magazine’s Nominees for the 2019 Best of the Net Anthology

 

As It Ought To Be Magazine is proud to announce our nominees for Sundress Publications’ 2019 Best of the Net Anthology.

 

Poetry

Ruth Bavetta “A Murder”

John Dorsey “Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead”

Mike James “Grace”

Rebecca Schumejda “i don’t want this poem to be about the death penalty, but it is”

Bunkong Tuon “Gender Danger”

Kory Wells “Untold Story”

 

Nonfiction

Daniel Crocker “Mania Makes Me a Better Poet”

Nathan Graziano “The Misery of Fun”

 

Congratulations to our nominees and thank you to all of the writers and readers who have supported As It Ought To Be Magazine.

 

Image Credit: Henry Pointer “The Attentive Pupil” (1865) Digitally Enhanced. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

“My Mother on Her Deathbed” by Bunkong Tuon

 

This is the sixth in a series of poems from a forthcoming poetry collection about raising a biracial daughter in Contemporary America, during this polarizing time of political and cultural upheavals where sexual harassment allegations abound, where a wall, literal and figurative, threatens to keep out immigrants like the narrator, a former refugee and child survivor of the Cambodian Genocide.

 

My Mother on Her Deathbed

Withered away in pus,
knowing that she’d leave
me, her only child.
My uncle’s body crouched in
fetal position on the red
dirt of the refugee camp,
heavy boots of Thai soldiers
thundering on his head,
back and stomach.  
Grandmother weeps
at night
for all her children,
alive and dead,
for her orphaned grandson,
for all parents haunted
by helplessness.
In America
I was the new kid,
a reminder of a war
that tore families apart.  
Saliva clung
to my tear-stained cheeks
and stuck to my hair.
Stephanie  
my first crush said,
“It’s nothing personal.”
But these memories
are wiped clean.
All is forgiven.
A flower blooms
in the desert
when my daughter
hugs me.

 

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.

 

More By Bunkong Tuon:

Ice Cream

Gender Danger

The Bite

Tightrope Dancer

Women’s March in Albany

 

Image Credit: Charles Aubry “Still Life Arrangement” (1864) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

“Women’s March in Albany” By Bunkong Tuon

 

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This is the fifth in a series of poems from a forthcoming poetry collection about raising a biracial daughter in Contemporary America, during this polarizing time of political and cultural upheavals where sexual harassment allegations abound, where a wall, literal and figurative, threatens to keep out immigrants like the narrator, a former refugee and child survivor of the Cambodian Genocide.

 

Women’s March in Albany

I take Chanda out of the stroller,
lift her high up over my head,
and put her on my shoulders.

So she can see that she’s never alone.
We are here for her, my wife and I,
and other women and men too.  

We will march city streets,
climb mountains, and cross rivers
and jungles to let her know.

Our strength is in our love for her.
And her strength is felt in the trembling
ground, the demands for autonomy,

respect and decency, no woman
left behind, in speaking up and out,
in hollering and screaming. In songs.

 

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.

 

More By Bunkong Tuon:

Ice Cream

Gender Danger

The Bite

Tightrope Dancer

 

Image Credit: “Suffragettes riding float…New York Fair, Yonkers” (1913) The Library of Congress

“Tightrope Dancer” By Bunkong Tuon

 

This is the fourth in a series of poems from a forthcoming poetry collection about raising a biracial daughter in Contemporary America, during this polarizing time of political and cultural upheavals where sexual harassment allegations abound, where a wall, literal and figurative, threatens to keep out immigrants like the narrator, a former refugee and child survivor of the Cambodian Genocide.

 

Tightrope Dancer

You climb the five-rung ladder
at the children’s playground.

Your mother crouches
below, holding breath.

I stand behind
counting the plastic rungs.

You kick us away,
“I’m a big girl.”

Your mother prepares
to catch your fall.

Each day we hold our breath,
cover our mouths with our hands,

close our eyes, and pray.
Of course, we want you to reach

The top, but not too fast.
And not too far from us.

 

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.

 

More By Bunkong Tuon:

Ice Cream

Gender Danger

The Bite

 

Image Credit: Alice S. Kandell “A young girl swinging on a handcrafted swing, Sikkim” (1969) The Library of Congress

“The Bite” By Bunkong Tuon

 

This is the third in a series of poems from a forthcoming poetry collection about raising a biracial daughter in Contemporary America, during this polarizing time of political and cultural upheavals where sexual harassment allegations abound, where a wall, literal and figurative, threatens to keep out immigrants like the narrator, a former refugee and child survivor of the Cambodian Genocide.

 

The Bite

We pay it no attention
until the bite becomes a rash
spreading like a spider web
on the back of Chanda’s leg.
Our minds burn like wild fire.
Google becomes our hated
guide as we navigate WebMD,
Mayo Clinic, and CDC.
We study online images,
whisper symptoms like
bad secrets, and compare notes.
We gather contradictions,
argue. Nothing is certain,
only more questions.
We text friends and family.
Is it too late for antibiotics?
What is Lyme disease?
Will this affect our daughter
for the rest of her life?
We wake up the next morning
clutching each other,
sweat drenched our pillows.

 

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.

 

More By Bunkong Tuon:

Ice Cream

Gender Danger

 

Image Credit: “Red Cross nurses’ aides preparing surgical bandages” The Library of Congress

Gender Danger by Bunkong Tuon

 

This is the second in a series of poems from a forthcoming poetry collection about raising a biracial daughter in Contemporary America, during this polarizing time of political and cultural upheavals where sexual harassment allegations abound, where a wall, literal and figurative, threatens to keep out immigrants like the narrator, a former refugee and child survivor of the Cambodian Genocide.

 

Gender Danger

Chanda goes down
the slide, then climbs
back on it, and laughs
when I shake my head,
“No, not that way.”
She flies on the zip-line,
yells, “Look at me, Daddy.”
Inside a giant plastic globe
she screeches as I spin
her world. Then she says,
“Potty, Daddy, Potty.”
We cross the lawn,
go through a corridor,
and find ourselves in
front of the bathroom.
I move us towards
the men’s room
but Chanda yanks me
to the women’s room.
She is aware of gender
but is not ready to use
the restroom on her own.
“Daddy can’t go in there,”
I explain. She cries, “No
boysroom. No boys!”
A woman walks by.
I want to ask for help
but reason prevails.
So I pull Chanda
into the men’s room.
She’s on the toilet,
tears streaming
down her face.
Someone comes in
right after us, whistling.
Chanda looks at me,
eyes squinting, screeches.
I hold one of her hands,
pat her shuddering
shoulders, and repeat,
“It’s okay, Honey.
Daddy’s right here.”

 

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.

 

More poetry by Bunkong Tuon:

Ice Cream
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

 

Image Credit: “Young girl taking a Kodak picture of her doll” (1917) Library of Congress