Portrait of D17: Female, 37 Years Old

by Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal

In Phnom Penh’s museum, the skulls are stacked
in aquarium tanks: grim toys for hooks to ply
free from the rubble. Here, each one gets a tag,
a mount, a photograph to suggest a life,
perhaps a name, might be envisioned. Yet I’m
more moved by what’s anonymous, past; imagine
fields of faces sunken with decay, eyes
jellied in their sockets, heel meats bruised,
bloated in the rain—
Perhaps the skulls prefer
a lack of names as, scrubbed of self and skin,
they’re trauma’s best witnesses: fused
by time and pain to one crisis, never
to be separated. Lost as men, they become event.
in this, they achieve a terrible transcendence.

Last updated August 26, 2022