Fishing for Trey Platoo

“Still Life with Mackerel, Lemon and Tomato” By Vincent Van Gogh (1886)

Fishing for Trey Platoo

By Bunkong Tuon

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth 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 America 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.

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Fishing for Trey Platoo 

You might have seen them 
fishing on the shores of the Cape Cod Canal: 

My uncle in his fisherman’s hat 
pulling in a one-foot scup, my aunt in her pajama-like 

pants walking backward up the bike path, 
snapping a line that’s got stuck between the rocks, 

my other aunt reeling in a sea bass 
her husband by her side directing. 

Bikers, joggers, teenagers and their dates, 
families with their children look curiously on. 

Or maybe you have seen them
lining up all three sides of a pier in Salem, 

their wrists jerking in a language 
that bewitches the squids below. 

They are not the only ones.
Other Cambodians and Vietnamese, once enemies, 

fish side by side on the same American pier. 
Other immigrants, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese 

speaking languages that I can’t understand, come together 
on this spot: sacred rods in hands, beckoning the squid. 

Or maybe you have seen them
under a bridge fishing the Providence River, 

looking for trey platoo, a type of mackerel
like they used to eat in the refugee camps in Thailand. 

Sometimes, my aunts and uncles run into an old friend 
from those long ago days. They talk about the lack 

of food, of sneaking out at night to fish, and of running, 
always running, from the Thai police. 

They exchange phone numbers, share fishing secrets,
and set up a time and place where they’ll fish together again. 

When they get home, my aunts gut the fish,
clean them, fry them, and put them in boiling stew 

of galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir leaves.
My uncles and aunts sit in a circle on the floor, 

eat, and tell stories of how this fish got away
or how one of them got caught by the Thai police. 

No matter how hard they try, they can never understand 
why my cousin and I ever bother with fishing— 

Why we catch and release food, as if it’s some sport.

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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.

Dancing Fu Manchu Master

Dancing Fu Manchu Master

By Bunkong Tuon

Editor’s Note: This is the third 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 America 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.

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Dancing Fu Manchu Master

One day, walking home

by myself, a blue plastic backpack slung

over my shoulders, a Christmas gift

from our sponsor, I noticed three boys

watching me from the convenience store

down the corner near an apartment complex.
The leader, a short, red-haired, chubby kid,
stepped out of the shadow, and called out,
“Ching Chong, are you from Hong Kong?”

I quickened my pace pretending

to hear my Grandmother calling me.

“Hey, can you help me with my math homework?”
They burst out laughing.

Seeing me walk firmly away, they slurred out

a slew of hurtful words.

“Why don’t you go back to China?”

“Do you eat dogs where you come from?”

“You use grass and leaves to wipe your ass, right?”
“Do you know Kung Fu?”

With this last question saliva,

warm and gooey, hit my neck.

I closed my eyes, counted my steps,
mindful of my breath, my heart slowed.
I jumped and turned,

thirty feet straight into the air,

took out my sword, with a flick

of the wrist, saw heads roll,

tumbling away down the sidewalk,
bodies slumped behind:

red blossoming concrete.

Trained in the mysterious arts

of Dr. Fu Manchu, I made myself
disappear before the police arrived.

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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.

Three Poems: “Snow Day,” “An Elegy for a Fellow Cambodian,” and “Halloween, 1985”

“Snow on Fence” Artist: Unknown, Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Three Poems

By Bunkong Tuon

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Editor’s Note: This is the second 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 America 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 to the United States.

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Snow Day

Silent as night

the morning snow covered

the school, the playground.

A ghost town in this city near the beach.
But no one told this refugee child
about such a day. No one said

to turn on the TV. No one called.

He walked in the white field

looking up to the sky, raising his hands,
letting his brown body fall backward
into the white landscape.

His eyes closed,

each flake gently caressing

his cheeks.

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An Elegy for a Fellow Cambodian

The reason Vannark got into that fight

  was because Rob had called him a dog-eater.

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Halloween, 1985

The saliva on your face
(for all the world to see!).

A lifetime of desire, a daily prayer
for death, a return to the beginning,
a place of warmth and affection,

a desire to be with Mother.

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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.