when i picture you, you are 52. lips deep,
skin patted smooth by powder
jet black hair shaped by pink cushion curlers
the night before.
you are decorated in your finest gold.
matching hand sewn top,
after your shifts at the dealership
the cleaning lady, now,
ready for the party.
you dress me, cure a high
bun on my head,
the same that you lift
and exclaim with joy:
i wonder if you’d still consider me good?
i’m not always polite
don’t bow as you did to others.
service, that’s what they call it.
i don’t go to temple. don’t offer alms, or
truck kow to the sick,
or for boun at Wat Lao, Wat Thai, Wat Khmer.
you used to visit them all,
every week. only you.
everyone loved your smile. a diplomat’s for sure.
laughing from the gut.
you were a saint.
didn’t discriminate for souls, only for those that took,
and even then, you might have bent.
how would you like hearing your great granddaughter sing?
sounds of itsy bitsy spider
dance to shadows of childhood
spinning smoke …
a voice clear like a morning bird’s chirp
spoken, with words behind her throat.
a child hides, as sweet melodies spring from their gentle
did i ever sing to you like she does?
i dream of conversations,
of what lively bickering would occur with your great grandson.
he narrates a thousand beaded wonders
like you say prayers for pi mai
throwing witty tween shade
in the midst of awkward angst.
he knows he’s 100% Lao, like he’s 100% all other parts.
he asks what it was like fleeing my country, with you.
i share that you took a boat, covering me up, passing as a merchant.
my main jewelry, heels to your gold.
i keep you close. too. a pair of earrings.
in each ear, a small diamond,
nested in 18 carat Lao gold.
i touch them,
hear you whisper
to calm my fire, to soothe fear, to lift my head, to
breathe, to smirk, to love, to dance, to live.
they are small, unlike the ones you thought
would fit me better when i had argued that night before
you had given me a bigger pair. too clunky. too heavy. cold.
samlaap chow you said
just for you.
but this, today
this is me
this, just for you.
Soudary Kittivong Greenbaum was one of the founding members of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project. She has over 15 years experience in the nonprofit sector with a passion for human rights and social justice, including issues of equity, education and public health.