The long straight walking path
from one ruined Buddhist temple to another
gave Khmer girls a quarter-hour window
to sell their postcards. One, perhaps fifteen,
glommed on to me from my left, while on my right
my daughter Cassie, a 45-year-old feminist,
kept her eyes firmly forward as we walked.
Vivacious, in an ironed blouse and skirt
with a vendor’s license round her teen-age neck,
the girl spoke English heavily accented,
yet fluent and familiar enough to prove
she was well trained in selling: I was drawn
into more and more friendly conversation:
both of us teasing, laughing at our wit.
And in this light mood, as we approached
the steps up to the temple, I surprised
and shocked myself, saying, without a moment’s
premeditation, and quite forcefully
so that Cassie might have overheard,
“No, I don’t want your silly postcards!
I want you!”
Then as I was dealing with my terror
that I had offended both my companions,
the girl thrust aside her tray of postcards
and came up close, almost into my face,
saying, urgently, passionately, “Oh Mistair!
Meestair! I want you!”
Well! Thank goodness Cassie was beside me
to preserve from going anywhere
both her somewhat unpredictable father
and also this moment which -- despite
its background of poverty and sexploitation --
I remember as meaningful:
Two strangers, from opposite sides of the world,
drawn, for a moment, to each other’s eyes…...
December 24, 2004