Letters from an Orphanage

As I watch you play in orange fields,
Blown open by landmines,
I marvel

How you will never have a huge birthday cake
with candles and whistles and a piñata and

friends from daycare,
to celebrate your

fifth birthday;
Your folks inviting friends you don’t like or your

best friend for today

and a new pal tomorrow.
Together, destroying Barbie Dolls, hairbands and plastic guitars,
yelling at Mommy that you would prefer

French fries and not green peas,


Spoonfuls of old rice,
raggedy dresses some other girl didn’t want;
every toy passed down is such a gift,
because nothing has ever


to you.

I think of how you would never see Disneyland,
that you would never have Mommy or Daddy
tell you a

bedtime story, sing you a


take you to the

library, or fret about your


college fund.

Smiles with so much joy
spilling over, even when your teeth hurt from
cavities, or when ankles are covered
with mosquito scabs, fresh and old that

never heal,
because you have no one to

dab lotion over the bites;
no one to tell you to

stop scratching.

How you clamor for attention–
anyone you could call Mama;
(Remember when another kid shoved you into the dirt,
I heard your cry and came running out the door)

When I found you, you buried your head

deep into my chest,
trying to find a refuge from this

sick war-torn grief-stricken world.

(Remember how you wandered the grounds all day smelling of pee;
Because you didn’t have any more clothes to change out of;)

Until I finally grabbed you and gave you a good bath.
Shampoo and conditioner, liquid soap,
And I draped a clean t-shirt over your head.

(How tightly you clung to me as I washed your clothes)
We watched a movie in Khmer as you fell asleep in my arms,




Maybe dreaming of a place where

parents never leave,
and where no one ever gets


for a bottle of beer.

© Alicia Khoo

Prey Veng, Cambodia

July 2010