In 1989 I went to Cambodia as a veterinarian with the American Friends Service Committee to work on an animal health project. Day and night I crammed the Khmer Language into my brain. It wasn’t until I began working with a Khmer Agriculture cadre in the provinces that the language began to stick. One of the first phrases that I learned, one that I cannot forget, one which I can still hear spoken, though not in my direction, meant clearly for me,
was “nak mearn,” which means “a rich person,” literally, “a person who has.” On my first foray into the provinces for a four day training session on disease prevention in cattle and water buffalo we were housed in a blown-out villa. Up a banner-less stairs in a large room, the ceiling still intact, 6-8 cots with mosquito nets had been set up. Before going to the soup stand for dinner, I opened my suitcase and retrieved a clean shirt from beneath a pair of pants. My colleague stared into the bag of clothes, caught herself and looked out a jagged rent, a once-window before the war, to something far more distant than I could see. “Nak mearn nas, David,” she said. (“You are a very rich man, David.”) I had beyond the necessities; I was rich. She loved to teach, and she loved to give me a hard time and never once let me forget that I was a “nak mearn nas.”
“WE WHO HAVE”
What if “we who have” spend our heaven Destroying our home—
Our earth home—
our only home?
From different parts
Of northern Mexico,
And rendezvousing over the crags
Of their ancestral eyrie,
The bonded pair of Peregrine Falcons Sweep the canyon of their fledging— Lance back into February light—
Race the rim—
Soar higher and higher
Until the male, smaller, disappears
And reappears joining
His mate’s wide circles—
They spiral, roll and dive—
Not the stoop of a three pound missile at Two hundred miles per hour stunning And talon-carving its inflight prey
But playful like courtship—
A faint-wind “whir-r-r”—
From the ledge of their tryst
Chirps, guttural and resonant,
The female enters the canyon first— Ascend the walls
The male drops
Breaking his flight into a soft hover— Stroking his wings
He curls in his talons
Lest an awkward grip
Pierce his love
by David Bristol
For Madge, Jaybee, the cat and Pun’kin, a baby skunk.
A morning just outside Ft. Davis, gray cottony clouds atop Blue Mountain slowly slide down —
a misty fog bank that fills Blue’s valley. Fog soon covers a white farmhouse and windmill which disappear into the rainy avalanche. I see nature’s drama from a house up a hill across the road.
Here, an intricate rock porch has seating for daily theater with a feathered cast of hundreds. Tiny yellow butterflies and bees gorge on nectar.
Rock and metal shamans sanctify wraparound gardens. This adobe casa has wide tile and brick patios, large cedar posts and a musical tin roof.
An oasis where fat dove, scrub jays, lesser goldfinch and a covey of scaled quail looking for their snacks gather around feeders. Hundreds of hummingbirds also assault sweet water feeding tubes. These black chinned, ruby throat, broad tailed and other playful sprites work to survive.
Daily, a ladderback woodpecker pair feast on suet and — while hanging upside down— drink their fill of sugar water from hummer’s special feeders.
At dusk, a baby skunk arrives — cleans up dropped seeds, sips dripping water and looks to the house — hoping for wieners that sometimes fly through the air.
Heaven’s porch is nurturing, with nature’s soundtrack as background. Time flowing gently lets worry pass on by. Life’s memories become simple, healing.
Here I can believe that there is hope for our future.
by Barbara Gregg