Cycling the Tour, Phnom Penh
As cycles slow to circle the Place de la Post,
we’re afforded (for a fee) an overview
of French colonial designs. Our Khmer host,
an architect, talks history, what old, what’s new,
before we disembark near the Le Commissariat.
We follow her, ducking under briefs and blouses
draped wet on wire clotheslines, then charge through crowded squats:
one-room flats that serve as multi-family houses.
Next stop, the hospice of the Sisters of Portieux.
It’s true: the poor are with us always, on the street,
in makeshift shelters. In a lean-to we push through,
a naked child bathes from a pail to beat the heat.
Our guide frowns. “‘Urban Improvement?’ Only in name.
How can we progress when some people have no shame?”
Banteay Srei Temple
A miniature, well-preserved—a rarity—
pink sandstone carved like sandalwood. In bas relief
on pediments, devatas, for all posterity
guard an Angkor gem; its riches would tempt a thief
—and did—the year French raiders of antiquities
despoiled the site, seizing artifacts to fence,
thankfully restored, untouched by their iniquity,
to be enshrined, in unintended consequence.
Sita, depicted on a fallen stone’s red face
ravished by a demon, is reclaimed, at some cost:
trial by fire, insult, exile, personal disgrace.
Merit courts ruin or eclipse; yet what’s lost
in time is found, made whole, recreated. The dance
of Nataraj in stone whose posture keeps the balance.
Larry Needham is a retired community college teacher who has published on Romantic literature and the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali. His work has recently appeared in a handful of online journals including: Amethyst Review, Lighten Up, and Miller’s Pond Poetry Magazine. He lives in Oberlin, Ohio.