Year Zero

by Monica Sok

selected by Marilyn Chin

Left-Behind Looks For The Apsaras

Left-Behind saw apsara crowns floating in milk,
churning underneath a poached sun.
She watched the red-and-white-checkered Krama Man
smash skulls sometimes. He couldn't see her
—small inside a tree trunk above the courtyard.
Soon, it would turn red over the kingdom.
Nobody liked that color, not since the evacuation,
especially the jungle. Strong smells of smoke prayers
rising above Ta Prohm temple's roof. Left-Behind
scuttled back to her nest, climbed the neck
of the Octopus Tree to find the source of fire.
Where are the apsaras? she asked the trees.
But the trees pretended not to know anything.
Below, stone heads nodded to her, watching over
Angkor Thom. Smoke clouds sealed their mouths, shut
their eyes. Left-Behind squinted through the haze
to make clear the shrieks she heard. To tell you what she saw,
she would have to whisper through this flute she found
in a branch. She couldn't go near the circle of dancing women
or where the soldiers took them—near the palm trees
whose leaves blushed again and again, again and again.

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