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Monica Sok

Monica Sok is the author of the chapbook Year Zero (Poetry Society of America, 2016), selected by Marilyn Chin as the winner of he 2015 Poetry Society of American Chapbook Fellowship, and the forthcoming A Nail the Evening Hangs On (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). Sok is the recipient of a 2018 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize, as well as fellowships from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Kundiman, Montalvo Arts Center, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. She is a 2018–2020 Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

By This Poet

2

Ask the Locals

Nobody knows how those so-called revolutionaries
who wanted year zero so bad,
turned into mosquitoes. I mean, mosquitoes right?
Because not butterflies or moths rolling
in the mass graves—we all know the moths are children
who didn’t make it past five. My theory is those creeps
sucked the blood of their victims to forget
what kinds of torture they did, with their bare hands
or with other kinds of hands, the kinds with teeth.
I’m not trying to scare you now. Just letting you know
if you scratch your arms like that a huge welt will appear
like a rash, will take months to fade (or forget as it goes),
and those mosquitoes will keep coming for you.
You heard it from me. Don’t scratch their real names. 
Toothpaste over that bump won’t soothe you,
not on this one. I’ll tell you something personal: every time
I hear their real names, I scratch my skin. I scratch my own name
too. Mosquitoes. Call them mosquitoes. Like a nuisance.
Just that. I know, I know… it’s been years. The past
should be the past by now but not this kind.
You have to protect yourself because this kind keeps going
like that mosquito’s straw on your calf keeps sucking.
You didn’t see it, did you? This is when I tell you: Don’t move.
Slap.

Ode to the Boy Who Jumped Me

You and your friend stood 
on the corner of the liquor store
as I left Champa Garden, 

takeout in hand, on the phone 
with Ashley who said, 
That was your tough voice.

I never heard your tough voice before
I gave you boys a quick nod, 
walked E 21st past dark houses. 

Before I could reach the lights 
on Park, you criss-crossed 
your hands around me,

like a friend and I’d hoped 
that you were Seng, 
the boy I’d kissed on First Friday 

in October. He paid for my lunch 
at that restaurant, split the leftovers. 
But that was a long time ago 

and we hadn’t spoken since, 
so I dropped to my knees 
to loosen myself from your grip, 

my back to the ground, I kicked 
and screamed but nobody 
in the neighborhood heard me, 

only Ashley on the other line, 
in Birmingham, where they say 
How are you? to strangers 

not what I said in my tough voice
but what I last texted Seng, 
no response. You didn’t get on top, 

you hovered. My elbows banged 
the sidewalk. I threw 
the takeout at you and saw 

your face. Young. More scared 
of me than I was of you. 
Hands on my ankles, I thought 

you’d take me or rape me. 
Instead you acted like a man 
who slipped out of my bed

and promised to call: 
You said nothing. 
Not even what you wanted.