Taking Back Cambodia | Vincent Reusch

Maybe someday it can be beautiful again. The temples at Angkor Wat are ruins, and they’re beautiful. Maybe someday I’ll sit on top of Bayon and look over the jungle where the village once was, wooden and centuries gone, and watch the sun set and it will be beautiful again, cracked gray stone marbled with grass, smoke spread on the horizon, monkeys screaming in the trees as if this sunset will be the one that finally catches fire.
Gingered chicken and fish and basil and amok stew by the river, liquid stares of children, pants off, huffing on baggies filled with glue, offers from motorbike drivers to sell one of these children for the night. Pupils big enough to fall into. Bodies like baby birds. A monk wrapped in orange flame sits on a temple. A boy still, his head shaved. I wonder if maybe he’s going to light the fire, but he tells me he has just two months left. He’s going to buy a motorbike. He’s going to ferry tourists. He stares at the sun, and he sees a one-hundred cc Honda.
Khmer dancers etched topless on granite pillars in the temple at Ta Phrom where we finish our discreet sex, standing, just as a woman walks past, fat and gray and sheltered, a parasol held in the hand of a brown boy. They stop at the altar, and he shows her where the blood funneled through the stone gutter, drinks for the smiling faces of Bodhisattva or for Vishnu or for Sri Rama. He speaks English well until she pushes her tongue into his mouth. Her hand is on his ass, and I think she could swallow him. I wonder how much for that. I wonder the price.
A group of musicians sits on the grass outside the temple. Their shirts are white and long, their music pulling monkeys from the jungle. All the musicians are blind, milked scars nothing like eyes. I drop a thousand riel onto their plate. They had played all the time we were together at the pillar, and I was grateful.
Hanuman, with a monkey’s head and a mace in his hand, dances around a line of young Khmer women, their fingers and toes doubled backward. Lord Hanuman, son of the king of monkeys. Ravenous Hanuman jumping almost to the sun, thinking it a fruit he might eat. We drink Tiger and Lao on the patio, and I videotape the show, orange and red and gold in the stage lights. I feel bad for you, the motorbike driver tells me on the ride home. We turn along the river, and the night air is moist now so that I can almost believe it’s cooler. We have separate drivers, your pale calves on the back of a bike in front of me, red now in the brake lights. The air is moist and rich and smells like the river. If you leave Cambodia, the driver says, without trying a Cambodian girl, I feel sorry for you.
I videotaped you that night at the Happy For You guesthouse, and now when Hanuman carries off his prize, the most flexible dancing girl, you fall smiling onto our bed, a faded stain on your underwear, one of two tattered pair you washed nightly in the sink with a bar of soap. Sinks in Laos, sinks in Vietnam, in Cambodia. I reach for your stomach. You laugh and the camera must have fallen. The picture is sideways. It’s filming our feet. I hear my name spoken through a bitten lip, and I remember now that my name was once pronounced that way. My toes pull your underwear into the picture and off, and for half an hour I watch our ankles through the jostled lens of the forgotten camera, and listen to the howls of monkeys jumping on branches outside the windows. 
The tape ends, but I know what happens next.
We’re in the dark at the base of Bayon, its black silhouette against a deep purple low in the east, rising from the jungle. Two men lean on idling motorbikes behind us, exhaust red in the tail lights. We climb slowly, stairs like a ladder, black passages and arches and more stairs. The steps are damp and slick. The jungle is quiet. We reach the top, and the stones are glowing now like a pale mist. Crimson over the tops of the trees, and all around the temple the monkeys wake and scream.

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commentary | poetry | fiction | chicago | winter 2008  
Like Joe Hill | John M. Anderson
Taking Back Cambodia | Vincent Reusch
Things We Find | Virginia Bell
American Dreamtime | Robert Warrington
After Reading Bernhard | Edward Mc Whinney
A Spring Sunday | Heywood Broun
Three Poems | Amy Groshek

Contradiction | from the editor

James Harpur, Laura Solomon,
Heywood Broun, David Pierce, Bruce Barcott,
Bill Holm, Jonathan Raban

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