independence monument

cracking open
lotus seed heads
squeaking the crunchy
green nuts between my
teeth in the
phnom penh heat

watched over by
the legion of
brick-red naga
strolling in the
river breeze and
streams of exhaust caused
by the flow of traffic
and tourists passing
through this city

the vimean ekareach
marks the end of colonialism
while all over town
bright billboards flashing
ads for skin-lightening cream,
gated condo developments,
shopping malls, a sea of
last year’s luxury cars
indicate that things
have not quite changed

and i walk around
wearing rainbow sandals
and a wary face,
sit down to my cappuccinos
in riverfront coffee shops,
purchase souvenirs,
considering all the
contradictions that make
me a stranger and
the history that
makes me feel familiar,
confronting all the
complications

wishing i could sit
on a bench outside the
independence monument,
breathing warm, dusty air,
the humidity wrapped around me
like an embrace,
crunching fresh lotus nuts,
and, for more than just that moment,
really feel free.

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