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As a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide and having benefited from growing up in the US, I feel it’s my life mission to share my experience and learning with everyone around me and those back in my home country. –  Sokunthea Oum

Seeking Answers

Why you outlived her

Is it to blame?

Is it to complain?

 Only questions remains

 Certainly to mourn

I miss her


What happened that one wintry night left me wondering

Nagging my torn soul

Pointing to the senseless matter

A reminder of how she was battered

That left a fissure in my heart forever

Left side where you reside is empty

Right, dark and heavy is hers

Your bride


Seeking an answer

For her brain cancer


A gut hunch

That feels like a punch to the gut

A knowing without a solution

There is no confirmation


The injury she sustained from that drunken kick to her head

Which started with your return from a lengthy

Outing and about, busy boozing, boasting, bedding

An argument and commotion that woke us from bed

Denial, deflected, belittled her being

That turned into physical all suddenly

Slap, tussle and struggle

She moaned and shouted for “Akloct” to help her.

Eldest Bro feebly got in between

We cried for you to stop and not hurt her in your direction

As she huddled in the corner for protection

Two frightened toddlers flew under her wings crying


As if you were going to walk away and cool down

Instead you turned around

With swift swipe

Knocked her to the ground.

The lift of your right leg forever etched in slow motion

As she slumped into the ground, blood oozed from her left temple

All the little ones screamed and wailed at the sight

Eldest bro jumped to tend to her with fright

I ran into the kitchen and grabbed the phone off the hook

Dialed 911 pleading for medic to help Mom on 31 Babcock


Twelve long minutes later came sirens and flashing lights

You turned to me with dark angry eyes

By the kerosene lamp, I sat and huddled like a mouse

Fearing infliction

Felt relieved that help had arrived on the porch

You had no choice as they came inside the house

In your own tongue directed the story to be told

That she was drunk, fell and hit her eye

Bib Brother obliged

The policeman jotted in his little hand note, shook his head, and went off.

A medic tended to her swollen eyes and gash on her temple.


I understood their every words

A sense of worry as they surveyed

Embarrassed for the messy pen

Embarrassed for the urine smell

Diapers drying on the vents

Worried that they would take our kerosene lamp away

Worried that you would be taken away and punished


A fireman approached me.

Squarely softly asked if you hit her.

I shook my head.

Not to say you didn’t

Rather to say I couldn’t answer

Fearing for your life

Fearing retribution after their departure


A scenario of what I could have done differently.

Desire for my left and right sides to be in unity

For my heart to be at peace

For me it may never be

Deeply bothered

Seeking answers

1 of 3 surviving photos that my mom managed to conceal during the Khmer Rouge Time. Note all of our outfits fabrics (light blue and white checks). She made all of them and even crocheted the bottom for my little brother. Photos were taken around 1974 in Phnom Penh.