Some seasons the family remembers:
that spring when Po Sen’s mother
gave birth to her in a field that yielded
nothing and forced the women
to buy rice near a river village.
They hunched and pressed their foreheads
into cloth straps—Like this, she seems to say,
and places my hand on her thigh
so I can feel it turn to stone as she lifts
water jugs filled from the stream.
Some had carried their babies
in sling bags across their bellies
as they climbed for seven hours,
sacks of rice fusing to their spines.
The next dry season, three daughters left
for the city American soldiers call
Paradise. No one here speaks of AIDS
or possible futures, and this year the first crop
failed, but Po Sen points to her father
handling their largest water buffalo’s yoke,
and then to the wet sky. She’s painted her face
with a lotion made of crushed bark
to make her skin delicate as the transient
rain, or this heavy mist. She peers beyond
the protective thatch as her mother plants
seedlings, palms open to the wind
and moving more quickly than the grain.