Sacred Vows (poetry)

Poetry by U Sam Oeur, translated by Ken McCullough
A bilingual edition, Khmer, with English translation on facing pages.
Coffee House Press
Minneapolis, Minnesota
226 pages, paperback, 2 editions
Author photo by Theodore D. Hall

Sacred Vows was a finalist for the 1998 Minnesota Book Award in poetry.

Available through Coffee House Press and

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Deep one night in October, ‘76
when the moon had fully waxed,
it was cold to the bone;
that’s when my wife’s labor pains began,

I searched for a bed, but that was wishful thinking;
I felt so helpless. Two midwives materialized—
one squatted above her abdomen and pushed,
the other reached into my wife’s womb and ripped the babies out.

What a lowing my wife put up
when she gave birth to the first twin.
“Very pretty, just as I’d wished, but those fiends
choked them and wrapped them in black plastic.

Two pretty girls…
Buddho! I couldn’t do a thing to save them!”
murmured my mother.
“Here, Ta!” the midwives handed me the bundles.

Cringing, as if I’d entered Hell,
I took the babies in my arms
and carried them to the banks of the Mekong River.
Staring at the moon, I howled:

“O, babies, you never had the chance to ripen into life—
only your souls look down at me now.
Dad hasn’t seen you alive at all, girls…
forgive me, daughters; I have to leave you here.

Even though I’ll bury your bodies here,
may your souls guide me and watch over your mother.
Lead us across this wilderness
and light our way to the Triple Gem.”


TA: Colloquial for “Old Man” —used pejoratively.
THE TRIPLE GEM (OF BUDDHISM): Buddham (The Buddha). Dhammam (The Teachings) and Sangham (The Disciples)


Painting by Lisa Nankivil for "Obsidian Point" Book Cover

Photos of painting, books and other works by Kathy Greden

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