Poem: She raises her shovels and hoes high

Detail of a woman's face from

Detail from "Khmer Girl" book cover (Image courtesy of Peuo Tuy)

This poem is part of a WHYY series examining how the United States, four decades later, is still processing the Vietnam War. To learn more about the topic, watch Ken Burns and Lynn Novicks’ 10-part documentary “The Vietnam War.” WHYY members will have extended on-demand access to the series via WHYY Passport through the end of 2017.

She raises her shovels and hoes high

At 15, she ties her charcoal stringy hair
with a thick blade of rice grass
Null ‘n’ void of embroidered flowers
her straw hat is raw and rugged
Cotton negrito capri pants
fitted shirts she slips boned-feet
into her flip-flops carrying a knapsack

Mid-1960s,
Uncle Ho orders his villages to protect North Vietnam,
“The U.S. is invading!”
70,000 plus
mothers, wives, daughters, sisters enlist

She raises her shovels and hoes high
marching flip-flop style through exotic roads
she treks through wild animals, poisonous snakes,
deadly plants, and foreign invaders

She is the 12.7mm, anti-aircraft guns
pointing from factory hill tops
she shoots American planes with sharpened tongues

She is your Machine Gunner. On mountainous cliffs,
she spits out staccato sounds ejecting bullets,
“Go Back to Your Own Country!”

Flip-flop fighting!
Artillery Warriors!
In deep ravines, black ornaments painted onto disheveled hair
avoiding air raids; she uses hidden cannons and missile launchers

She is your Quilted Cadre, gallivanting through jungle woods,
lugging 30 kilograms of bricks up mountain slopes
Using her shovels and hoes, she rebuilds Uncle Ho’s destructive trail
She uses her body as a plank to keep trucks and ammunition moving

She is your Lieutenant
the AK-47, 7.62mm
She shoots thousands

“This is my land. I will not lose!”

She is the Vietnamese Woman
fighting wars in flip-flops

She lives with leeches
eats leaves and grass
uses safety pins to catch catfish

She witnesses comrades die of starvation
sees floating dead bodies in streams
bombs blow her up

She dies for honor 

Liberating Vietnam
We sing sultry songs over bonfires

Chanting
Our voices louder than bombs
Our voices louder than bombs

Buddha gives blessings
to the live and dead ones

Chanting
Our voices louder than bombs
Our voices louder than bombs

April 1975 — the invaders leave after 10 years
Our country ruined

3.5 million dead

Mothers spread bodies like molded strawberry paste
Fathers Headless
broken hearts and kisses
thrown in deep abysses

300,000 children orphaned

She is now 25
hallucinations & nightmares
Agent Orange deforms babies
legs twist, eye lids patched
lips fall below the chin

4 million disabled

Platoon Leader seeks companionship/family
She never ever weds
never experiences love
She lives in stalking loneliness
He says, “NO!”, to her virgin body
Her venomous body unfit for marriage
She produces retarded babies

700,000 plus wounded soldiers

Scarred by chemical warfare
death is always a promise
malaria turns her into faded yellow/thinning hair
She is dying

We relive Vietnam
as if it was
as if it is
to-day, yesterday, yesteryear
30 years ago

We pay honor and tribute to our sisters
We never forget our She-roes.

This poem was originally published in “Khmer Girl” (RJ Communications, 2014), and is dedicated to women and the Vietnamese people.

Peuo Tuy is a Cambodian-American spoken word poet, fiction fantasy writer, and creative writing workshop instructor. She is the executive director of the Cambodian American Literary Arts Association, a new progressive literary arts non-profit organization dedicated to emerging voices of the Cambodian diaspora. Her poetry collection, “Khmer Girl,” is inspired by the traumas of her life, including her family escaping the killing fields of their native Cambodia and enduring the inequities of life as an immigrant in the United States. She lives in New York and travels nationwide to share her poetry and stories and help people heal and overcome their personal challenges through writing and self-empowerment.

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