It is better to say 'I am suffering' than 'this landscape is ugly.'” The Chinese poet said he suffered and I envied him for that, not for his suffering but for the word itself. The gap between suffering and our words for it is like a vertical trough in the Ko'olau; even the rain can't fill it with enough light. Early morning wind and birds conspire an ambient sound. Brssss, Sangha would say. Was he ever sick, his aunt asked, and I said no more than most kids. The cousin who shared his rounded face had orange hair and carried a cell phone. I caught a ride on her motorcycle, zigzagging down a thin road between densely packed thatched houses. The village stood on a point of land; up the rutted road people kept thousands of ducks in pens. What's ugly is not land but what it hosts: genocide, HIV, a brother gone to Thailand and not heard from since, another whose face closed like blinds on our gaze. We nursed our clouded glasses of tea; in front, Sangha held a framed photo of his dead mother; his grandmother quietly placed her hand on his leg then pulled it back. We know there's been a wedding and a funeral since. When asked if he'll return, Sangha says he got to leave.
--Takeo province, 2013