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the heat streets

February 18, 2013

The real heat begins to show itself,
rising through the middle of the day.
I walk across the Monopoly board of Phnom Penh,
houses and hotels rising swiftly on every block
amid appropriate bumps and grinds
and the beseeching anthem of the icecream van

The tuk tuk drivers bare their bellies
and make unenthusiastic attempts to sell their services
as the airconditioned and well-labeled Chariots of Lexus
plough through the noon streets
in search of the next coffee house with wifi
and yet more airconditioning,
while white men with tattooed legs
stir lethargically in bars, under fans,
contemplating Angkor
(or Anchor)

To cross Norodom I walk beside
a woman in bright trousers
pushing a barrow laden with salted shellfish,
causing even the big cars
to slow down.
Once across she begins to sing

A small girl dances inside a hula hoop
in the shade
and a motodop studies himself
and pops spots
in the otherwise unuseful rearview mirror
as a posse of $80 a month cops
in helmets and visors and well-pressed skyblue uniforms
pull over trucks from the provinces
to ask for donations for their kids’ schoolbooks

restaurants new and old
beckon me with specials,
and memories of attending or not attending,
dotted through these streets of rubble
and mini-marts
and canvas banners
and visitors clutching travel guides.
If a tree falls and in the middle of the forest
and Lonely Planet doesn’t mention it,
how do we know it happens?

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