Prey Lang

4-chhut-wuthy

Environmental activist Chut Wutty stands next to a stash of burning lumber
in Prey Lang forest.  Photo by Matthieu Young, 2012

 

Prey Lang
21/5/2016
For Chut Wutty

 

I went back to the forest.
It had been eighteen months.
We took bottled water on the boat
up river, where an island
cleaves the water
like a breast bone,
green, long with
houses and haystacks.
Grey river in the morning light.
Grey clouds pile high.
The Mekong throws its weight
on the prow,
and we churn
a white plume
like a plane in blue air.

 

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Up the bank we wait.
A girl in high-tops Vans
red lip-stick laughs.
Thin young men bend under
shoulder-loads,
curve like saplings
bearing fruit.
On the way to the village
his second-youngest son
tells where the forest is gone.
Scrub lines the road
“Look, just ankles and wrists”
he points to the thin trees.



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We are still here
to be the ones left.
I think of you, before.
Before Tumring.
It’s stolen march
the dark rows arching green, closing
on the bright and noisy
seething deep
Prey Lang.
And your young faces
chasing danger between the stumps,
those first ones,
each fallen trunk like
the body of an old god,
towering above your heads, the
cut face.

I wonder if you know
what you started.
We felt good to be
chasing them again,
the same old names
the same threats
in other eyes.
You should have seen
her anger. His mother is shouting
as we film,
as that young man slings
his gun and steps
closer.

We stand on her rice fields,
in front of miles
and miles of burning stumps.
She flings it – fury
like a flashing bird
like truth
quick and ready like a weapon.
They do not know what to say.
I am not afraid.
And I feel older.
Five years since I was
shaking, when they almost
shot you.
Four years since they shot
you taking the bullet
your leg like a trunk
body, heavy, like heartwood.

Sawmill Large log (4)

 

Makara sneaks into the stockpile,
he films, hands shaking
and the logs lie there
their innocent bodies
like an offering, trembling heavily in the lens.
Da shouts, running
the security guard closing –
the moto, the key,
the kick-stand –
they speed away and come up the steps
sweating, brightness in their eyes.

Makara is full of pride and nerves and laughter,
his young face makes me think of your face
in old photos,
“My first time.”

We hang on the tails
of your stories. Glory is dusty and
the sudden cuts in it
smoulder. Murder ugly,
like the corpse of danger
condensed out of a ghost we
never believed in.
And we still want to
stare it down
that dog, danger.
We stay, with your myth
thick in our throats.

The forest here is thinner now.
I think of my mother growing older.
Da’s mother tells us how she met
his father in the forest,
running from Cambodia to the Thai
border camps.
Loud over our heads:
the seventies,
the war.
We grew up with the city
safe and sparkling,
hollow with nostalgia.
Before I could walk
the first few fronds were dying.

 

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In Phnom Penh
I watch Courtney’s drone footage.
The trees drift below like green waves.
The forest, appearing ahead,
is vast and unbroken.
I imagine her lying like
a young mother on the point
of birth,
breaching the young leaves,
and the rain is coming.

 

FH Lambrick

 

Chut Wutty was murdered in 2012 while investigating an illegal logging site. The murder was never fully investigated, and activists continuing his work face violence, most recently a young woman, was attacked with a machete in Prey Lang forest in March 2016. Chut Wutty started investigation work with Global Witness, uncovering a network of family ties and corruption linked to the ruling party. After the organisation left, he worked with the communities around Prey Lang to establish a network of forest defenders. He was killed on 26th April 2012, investigating an illegal logging site in the Cardamom Mountains. The film about him, I Am Chut Wutty was recently banned by the Cambodian Government. Chut Wutty’s son said ‘this is just a further injustice’. The film has sparked a campaign calling for an end to violence against environmental defenders.

 Photos credits: Fran Lambrick and Rorn Makara 2016
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