Monica Sok

“My way of dealing with the silence in my work is going towards my history and protecting myself. I can’t go in writing this poem about things that happened. If I described to you the actual torture techniques, the actual killings, how can I call that poetry? How am I healing myself and my community? How am I telling this story differently?”

– From a conversation with Monica Sok

Handwritten label for a video tape-cassette, which shares news about the Khmer Rouge regime leader’s death beside a family’s celebration of an 8 year old girl’s birthday––two juxtaposed experiences that are critical to declaring survival. The capped italic letters and the news footage suggest that the moments of history which haunt us, are also moments we want to remember. The names ‘Pol Pot’ and ‘Monica’ seen together also create an awareness and accountability of the ties history has created, no matter how long ago Cambodia’s killing fields took place. Nonetheless, the birthday party is what matters most. The small but powerful detail of ‘both sides of the family’ ends the memory with love and survival. (Attribution: Monica Sok, Creative Commons)

This is what I think of when I think of feeling haunted. When we watched this video, we saw the earliest news of Pol Pot’s passing when Wolf Blitzer was a White House correspondent reporting on this, another news anchor with the headline to “taking a closer look at evil,” or “one of the most evil men in the world has died today.” Then it cuts to black and white static… and then people are singing happy birthday to me at my grandma’s house in Harrisburg, PA. It’s so strange, and I’m still processing it.


In these fields, nothing grows. Nothing. Nothing.
Nothing grows.

Mosquitoes live longer, as long as trees. Longer.
Mosquitoes will bite children who belong to their parents,
and the girl who runs to the hut where her family eats
will be caught by vultures,
kept in the temple
where children are kept.

Nothing grows in these fields. Nothing. Nothing.
Nothing grows.
In Tonle Sap far off, there is a bloated face inside
a blue plastic bag which wished to see the sky,
and so, opened its eyes forever; and that old man
                  they whipped last night
could not get up this morning, it was necessary
to tie his hands to a krasang tree.

This is real life not a story!
Life! Life! We sleep
in bed at night
but do not dream, because life!

“Cambodia,” published by The New Republic, reprinted with the permission of the author.