Fort Hood, Texas & New Clothes

Rathanak Michael Keo
Fort Hood, Texas

As we waited by our televisions and laptops, 

I have to admit I prayed for the culprit to be white

or not Asian. In high school, I learned to inherit

a nation’s grief when boys hid in bushes

and shot walnuts at us gooks, spooks,

the charlies who rigged their watches with explosive.

In the aftermath of Virginia, I learned to defend

the geography of my eyes again. If he was white,

I was safe, and like after Columbine, we’d discuss

mental health and debate gun control laws

besides visas. When they announced his name,

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, I sighed

as we cast him and the brown skin others

from the charitable gates of America,

and wondered collectively aloud what God

the monster prayed to? Lord, it is always easier

to shoot all the boys with watches and cry, bomb,

then to discussed how an American soldier,

born and raised in Virginia, could open fire

on our shore. I pray grief won’t make a man,

made from my cloth, answer to which God

he prays to. I pray too for the violent boys

who land their hard fist like nails and scrap

metal against a man’s jaw. If this madness

occurs, then let our nation be outrage

for we bear witness to this violence

between brothers.

New Clothes

I stole pastels from art and hid them

for days and forgot. At the Laundromat

they danced up the staircase of my pocket

into a spin cycle of designer clothing,

my reality seeped into the oxfords.


When my mother discovered my crime, she made lines

with a leather belt, my shoulders became red

as the strict apples I drew.


She promised shopping only at K-mart,

discounted love for the ungrateful and poor.

But hours later I was at Filenes

and she was spending her overtime pay

on Hilfiger and Polo—I emerged

gorgeous as perfect English.


As she pull the shirt over my head,

I couldn’t imagine her as a refugee child,

or that first year of snow in a stubborn Utica,

emerging in a pair of men’s brown boots

to a class trumpeting with laughter.


It must have been magic

for her to arrange that small frame

into the heartbreak of church donations

and not disappear.

Rathanak Michael Keo
Rathanak Michael Keo

Rathanak Michael Keo is a Cambodian-American photographer and Kundiman Fellow. He has worked with noted fashion photographer, Mariano Vivanco. He has filmed iconic supermodels David Gandy, Karolina Kurkova, Adam Senn, Kendra Spears, and others. His behind the scene films have appeared in Vogue Mexico, Muse Magazine, and BULLETT. He has shot weddings across the Northeast, Arkansas, and as far as Hong Kong. His poetry has appeared in The Cortland Review and Boxcar Poetry. He is the owner of The Terrible Child. His work can be seen at