Leonard Epstein is from New York.His blog presents photographs from his trips to different parts of the world including India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Bermuda,USA and Austrailia. The photographs are often accompanied by poems or other published pieces, and so my poem appeared in a blog on the Tuol Sleng Museum posted in Oct 2011.
I'm sure he'll be happy for me to return the favour with a photograph from that posting. With thanks:
TUOL SLENG (A POEM)Irish poet Michael O’Dea
“1999 I wrote a series of poems called Tuol Sleng Still. They were inspired by the gut-wrenching photographs of the inmates of Tuol Sleng, S-21, a Khmer Rouge death-camp in Phnom Penh. Between 1975 and 1979, 14,000 were tortured and died there. 7 survived. Inmates were photographed with numbered tags, and they were photographed again after their deaths.
Anyone who has experienced such horrors would probably consider my poems from the comfort of 1999 Ireland wryly. I was horrified by my ignorance: during those years I was enjoying a carefree college life. But to see the fear in faces that are little different to those that fill my everyday; I immediately felt immense sadness and felt I should, at least, inform myself. And by researching, writing and publishing the poems I could at least make the experience more real to me and contribute in a minute way to the calls against the wars and barbarism that seem to me to exemplify the pitiful limitations of us humans.
I chose Tuol Sleng because the photographs that inspired me were from there. There is a danger that I will suggest that people from far-off lands with different features to ours are barbaric, however I consider the vacuum-pack cleanliness of American mass-murder by air-strike at least as obscene, if not more so. I consider the war in the Middle East carried out and supported by governments in our name to be abhorrent. That era in the seventies is and isn’t history: unfortunately, for too many around the world it is Tuol Sleng still.”
I looked at him,
Cambodian like myself,
similar in height and age.
He was handing out the tags;
I was bare to the waist.
I held the tag in my hand,
holding it up to be seen;
feeling awkward, conspicuous.
“Pin it onto your chest”
he said and waited.
I pinned it into my skin;
the humiliation delighted him.
Before the camera I stood erect
like I was proud to wear it,
like it was made of gold.