Friday, August 17, 2007

Beyond that border

is Corpse Watching by Sarith Peou, from Tinfish Press, a beautiful but terrible book.

It begins:

No religious rituals.
No religious symbols.
No fortune tellers.
No traditional healers.
No paying respect to elders.
No social status. No titles.

from “The New Regime”

Sarith Peou survived the Cambodian holocaust of 1975-1979. These poems were written in the prison in Minnesota where he now lives. They are introduced and were translated by Ed Bok Lee who worked with Sarith Peou in the prison. Peou’s work is strong and very direct. It suggests that the writer turned himself over to death many times but somehow didn’t die. The poems are plain and strangely calm. They make one think of Walter Benjamin and of what can happen if you don’t die in time. The imagined utopia of a madman catches up with you and everyone around you.

“Our wounds are sprinkled with human ashes.”

from “Scars”

Corpse Watching – it is not a metaphor – is a small chapbook held together with screws. On one side of the screws are the poems, on the other are pictures of the dead. The photos have the haunting quality of a Boltanksi archive but, in relation to the text, more-so. There seems to be nothing to say about this book and about the terrible time it invokes except that this happened and the book was written. And that such events are still happening. Sarith Peou was – is – a witness, as are we. The poems suggest the presence of incredible strength in the writer and ask nothing of the reader but a sort of infinite attention. Maybe that is not nothing.

She gives him a notepad and a pen.
He is a Khmer Rouge boy;
He doesn’t know what to do with paper and pen.
I just interpret.
I am the interpreter.

from “The Unfitted”


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