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Unterberg Poetry Center

Monica Sok

Monica Sok won the Discovery contest in 2018. Her chapbook is Year Zero (2015), for which she won the Poetry Society of America’s Chapbook Fellowship. She has been awarded fellowships from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Kundiman, Montalvo Arts Center, the National Endowment for the Arts, and most recently, a 2018-2020 Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in the Kenyon Review, Narrative, The New Republic, Virginia Quarterly Review, and TriQuarterly Review, among others. Sok’s debut poetry collection is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press. She lives in Pennsylvania. For more information, please visit

Below are Monica Sok’s poem “ABC for Refugees” and a draft of that poem, originally printed in the Winners’ Reading program May 10, 2018, as well as a video excerpt of her reading from that night.

  • ABC for Refugees

    Cherub-bee-dee how does a man
    who doesn’t read English well know that cherub-bee-dum
    those aren’t really words-bee-dee.
    But birds.
    Cherub-bee-dum, he stumbles, reading to me 
    by the sliding glass door cherub-bee-dee, through which I watch
    my brother play in the dum-dum-yard.
    Cherub-bee-dee, Cherub-bee-dum, like how my father says
    Fine then! Leave! My mother shouts, Stupid! Dumb!
    We live in a small bee-dee-nest too, one hallway to bee-dum-slam doors.
    Birds? What are birds?
    Thanks to my father, reading with me, I have more feathers.
    T-H-E. First word he ever taught me to pluck . . .
    It is a word used all the time. Cherub-cherub-bee-dum!
    The mail. The mailbox. The school bus. The the.
    He asks me to read the mail. Not birds, mail.
    If you don’t read this, you will turn into birds.
    And I read it to him the best I can.
    The end. A feather. Two feathers. The. The end.
    Mother, mother. Repeat after me.
    Cherub-bee-dee, Cherub-bee-dum!
    We read together before bedtime.
  • Manuscript page

Monica Sok reads “ABC for Refugees”