The Guide to Heaven and Hell

by Marly Youmans

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Hawking snails, the peddler might be a warlock
Selling illness masked in pepper and garlic:

I name him Yama, god of flukeworm death,
Who rides his buffalo and pilfers breath,

Then yanks us into hell. The bas relief
At Angkor Wat—imp-bitings past belief—

Asks why do devilish things so fascinate
While floating heavens seem a placid fate?

Our driver Ouen says, “I play monkey
In Khmer Rouge time. Still here. I was lucky.”

The pink banana flowers, green-horned rose
Of dragonfruit, longans, limes, and mangoes

Make Earth a paradise of peacock-fruit,
Though in the marketplace are somber suits,

Less heavenly, of faceless water beetles,
Midden heaps of dead that shrilled and tweedled,

Crispy grasshopper and tarantula.
(Close by, a girl is whirling hula-

Hoops, shouting Dollah! Dollah!) Tep Meth explains
The tastiest are bugs that after rains

Go scuttling from the leaves—her mother strips
The armored frock-coat wings away and snips

What’s left in tiny flecks to spice a meal.
Starvation’s grub-and-cricket years reveal

Where world is edible . . . Solid tells me
I play monkey means Ouen climbed a tree

To scrump some fruit. Where each bite’s forbidden,
What’s to do but steal and hunker, hidden?

In memory he sees the soldiers shoot
And children murdered for a piece of fruit.

(Mosquitoes fog the air around my head . . .
A prick, a slap, a flash of dengue-dread.)

East of Eden, Solid must be my guide.
He nods and says, “That’s how my sister died.”

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