“I’m not beautiful, but I’m brave”
excerpt from a composition written by a Cambodian refugee

Sun Ly has a better story to tell,
but tonight the teacher has assigned,
Physical Descriptions.
She struggles to shape herself
with words, measuring her life
in feet and inches.
She has a better story to tell…
how she carried her son through minefields
giving him pebbles to suck
so he wouldn’t cry out for water.

By now, he might have reached her height.
Trying to forget, she remembers,
alone in night school in a dusty California town.
Tonight’s assignment is
Physical Descriptions–
the teacher paces up and down the rows,
looks over her shoulder to say,
ten minutes left.

Sun Ly’s tired slits of eyes ache
from her daytime sewing job.
she writes words,
dark leather creased skin…
Her scrawny frame sags,
she concentrates on her composition.
In conclusion, she writes…
I’m not beautiful, but I’m brave.

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