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Unterberg Poetry Center

Monica Sok

2018 Discovery / Boston Review

Monica Sok is a Cambodian American poet and the daughter of former refugees. Her chapbook is Year Zero (2015), for which she won the Poetry Society of America’s Chapbook Fellowship. She has been awarded fellowships from Hedgebrook, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, Kundiman, Montalvo Arts Center, MacDowell Colony, the National Endowment for the Arts and others. She is the recipient of a 2018-2020 Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University and is Poet-in-Residence at Banteay Srei. Sok’s debut poetry collection, A Nail the Evening Hangs On, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2020. For more information, please visit

The poem and manuscript below were included in the printed program of the 2018 Discovery Winners’ Reading. “ABC for Refugees” was first published by Poetry Magazine.

  • 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

From the Winners’ Reading: “ABC for Refugees,” by Monica Sok

Watch the 2018 Winners’ Reading.