One Poem by Bunkong Tuon

Upon Hearing News of Another Asian
Beaten by a Black Person

I thought of Jake, this lanky kid
from the same housing project,
his glasses sat heavy on his nose,
his skin a shade darker than mine,
teeth pearly white, straight.
We went to the same elementary school,
where everyone was white, not rich.
None of us were. The Italians, the Irish,
and then there were us, a handful of
Asians and even fewer Blacks.
I went to Jake’s home after school,
read his comics, played Atari.
How we dreamed of something
we were not, for him it was Black
Panther and for me it was Batman,
an orphan who grew up to be
a superhero. We were an unlikely pair,
refugee kid from Cambodia and
black kid from Roxbury, playing
video games and dreaming of a
better world. Then a neighbor saw
us, told my uncles about my friend.
They didn’t forbid me to see him
but I sensed something was wrong,
that if I were to have a good future
I needed to stay away from those kids
who, like us, lived on the same side of
the tracks, had the same free lunches
as we did at school. Our classmates
saw in us what they wanted to see,
our teachers said without saying that
we were different and they didn’t know
what to do with us Blacks and Asians.
We sat in the classroom with the stench
of napalm and burnt skin wafting out
of American history books and in summer
we watched fireworks in the night sky
with their bombs and canons. We sat
in awe and fear of this brilliant violence.


Bunkong Tuon is a Cambodian-American writer and critic. He is the author of three full-length poetry collections and a chapbook. His publications include The American Journal of Poetry, Diode, Chiron Review, Paterson Literary Review, Misfit, carte-blanche, among others. He writes for Cultural Daily. Tuon teaches at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.