“On Our Living Room Floor” by Peuo Tuy

On Our Living Room Floor

Spreading our embroidered bayon straw mat
on our living room floor
like a quilted blanket on my mattress,
we sit in semi-lotus pose with our bare hands,
nutmeg-colored fingers, licking with our pink tongues,
sucking juices out of sweet jasmine rice,
savouring every bite of stir-fry oyster marinated
cubed pork’s blood with fresh bean sprouts and chives.
Sitting next to it—
sach mon num gnouw salty-sour soup, garnished with cilantro.

We all dig in...

I hear Ma speaking underneath her breath—  
She left her first-born son behind after the genocide.
Pbouk tells Ma that he has filed paperwork for Ma’s son
and his two children to come to the US.

My mind is scattered thinking
About the boy I like—Oooooh, Youleang.
How I fell in love with an image of us
While listening to songs by
Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson
On Saturdays, I’d have my best friend Lin come over.
We would karaoke to the same songs,
wearing my sister’s red heels and punk-rock clothes
and, of course, stylin’ the Goody scrunchy-Topanga hair.

But Pbouk, Ma threw a slew of questions at him
Without waiting for answers,
how long will that take? Five, ten years? And how much?  
If it’s in the thousands, we will need
to increase our five-cents-picking cans work hours.

Pbouk assures her we will get them here.

Their voices fade into our stuffy living room, I ignore them.

One day, Youleang and I skip school.
He told me when two people like each other
They hold hands like this.
He showed me how to interlock our lips and tongues.
On one of our holidays off from school,
Lin and I would walk to Banana Records on Merrimack Street,
get samples of the latest new Freestyle Dance music mix (on cassette):
Lil Suzy - “Take Me in Your Arms,”
Rockell - “In a Dream,”
Stevie B - “Spring Time Love”.

Koun, Koun! Ma raises her voice at me.
Why aren’t you sitting like a good Koun Khmer?
Sit semi-lotus and don’t wear your pants at home.
She demands.

I obey.
She doesn’t know that I feel more comfortable
In my Jordache jeans.
We finish eating.
I’m the youngest female.
I am required to clear and clean all the dirty plates off the floor.

I hear Pbouk’s voice from the kitchen; his eyes glued to the TV.
Ma, look at the ox in the rice field. It’s just like Srok Khmer.
Remember when we use to work in the fields, and during our breaks,
we would sit under the Banyan tree and talk about how we would
raise our children?

Ma’s face sparkles and knows that only she and her husband
remember this intimacy before the Khmer Rouge took over.

I wash the dishes thinking about...
The day when Youleang will hand me my first red rose,
and take me to the park so we can make out again.
Or when Lin and I will get dressed up
in our pink mini-skirts, black fishnet stockings,
bangs teased (sprayed with a ton of Aquanet), wearing red lipsticks,
and rockin’ our looks while galavanting to Banana Records.


Peuo Tuy is a spoken word poet, creative workshop instructor, and community organizer. Her poetry collection, Khmer Girl(2014), is inspired by the traumas of her life, including her family escaping the killing fields of their native Cambodia and enduring the inequities of life as immigrants in the United States. Peuo is one of the founding members and the Executive Director of the new Cambodian American Literary Arts Association, a non-profit literary arts association dedicated to the cultivation, visibility, and freedom of expression of emerging and established writers in the Cambodian diaspora. Her second book Neon Light Brights is forthcoming in March, 2018.

Sahtu Press