Versify: A Family History Becomes ‘A Riddle Of Borders’ | Nashville Public Radio

Versify: A Family History Becomes ‘A Riddle Of Borders’

Jan 16, 2019

Families are complicated, especially when their story spans several continents. For Emily Tan, whose parents met fleeing the Cambodian Civil War, she's still grappling with missing relatives and an estranged sibling.

She told her family's story to Nashville poet Destiny Birdsong as part of our podcast Versify, starting with how her mother was fortunate to reconnect with most of her family after the Khmer Rouge fell from power. 

"Miraculously, she found her parents and her family — out of seven children, she found everybody but two brothers. And currently she is actually going to put up a post in Cambodia to see if they're still alive," Tan said.

Tan was also trying to reconnect with her own brother, she told Destiny, with whom she'd felt disconnected for years. 

"I'm just going to say up front, I'm thinking about how interesting it is that your mother is looking for her brothers, and that you have one that’s sort of very close but you're still kind of trying to find each other," Destiny mused.

The resulting poem, written a little over an hour later, pulled on that connection. "I am a riddle of borders, continents, syllables," it began. Later in the poem:

And the war is over, but the brothers are still
Missing. My mother emerged from the camps
With a husband and son — two new loves —
And two lost ones. Today
She’s still looking for her mother’s children.
And though my brother has returned to this city
Here I am, still searching for him across the hills

This story is an excerpt from a Versify episode called "The Blood Tie." Listen on our website or any podcasting app.