Sticky Rice

By: Kylie Volavongsa

She’s not sure what to make of herself
stranger at home 
unfamiliar face in a sea of faces that
should be everything she’s looking for

Because this is Laos
and she was supposed to remember
the story of the Mekong, Dad’s recipe
for tam mak hoong, and above all
the word for thank you

On the other side of the world
home to strangers
pale faces that jeered at
everything Other
it was too easy to forget

And this sticks to her more than the grains of rice
glued between impatient fingertips

rolling, pausing, rolling again
until a snowball of starch finds its way into this
landlocked city of familiar mystery

It’s dawn, and Luang Prabang is bustling,
a stray dog in the eye’s corner,
tourists armed with cellphone cameras,
and veteran natives

armed with the usual offering of khao niao

The first monk arrives at the top of the hill
a saffron-robed sunrise to break the idle chaos
of waiting

The rest follow one by one, seemingly infinite and
she’s reminded of ants as they
silently gather everything they need,
persistent but never imposing

“Tak bat,” the locals call it,
and she nods, having done this an ocean away
with Twinkies and Oreos
(then forgetting about it)

But she’s here now
and hopes to god it’s enough as
she tries to take in everything about

this procession of orange, yellow, silver,
a solemn line of boys and men
approaching for a daily deposit of food,
simultaneously depositing bits of themselves
into memory,
all of it sticking

until she remembers what to make of herself.