Cambodian Silver Napkin Ring: for my Mother

in memory of my mother, missionary to Cambodia 1927-1954

Six intricate patterns etched

into this silver napkin ring,

all alike, yet not just quite, each shaped

and poked by grizzled peasant hands

in a far away land, in a far away time;

unnamed, unknown, an artisan at work. 


My mother stands at his market stall,

fingering the labyrinthine motif,

mirror of her own complexities,

her apprehensions, questions, joys, all

twisting through a life she can hardly imagine

to be real; birthing daughters

as she swelters in the tropic heat,

as she wraps her tongue around

strange words—Preahyesaou sraleanh—

“Jesus loves”—a love at times elusive

in a world so crowded with beliefs and fears

as ancient, as mysterious as the royal ruins

in the jungles of Angkor Wat.


She bargains with the seller,

counts out piaster bills, fondles

the ring, her luxury, rare treasure 

in a life severe and spare.


The ring now holds my napkin;

I stroke the tarnished band, trace

the patterns, irregular, complex;

the peasant’s life?  my mother’s life?

my own?  our fingers touch,

our stories merge, a tangled,

twisted circle of life.  



12 thoughts on “Cambodian Silver Napkin Ring: for my Mother

  1. This stabbed me in the heart with both beauty and sadness, a poignant reminder of those who have shaped our lives, who are gone and yet still very much present. Thank you.

  2. This is a beautiful poem, Carol. I never knew your mom was an ‘m’ in Cambodia! Did you grow up there? I love how you wove together imagery in silver, with memories of yours and your mom’s. Thank you for sharing. Happy Mother’s Day! Elaine

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Hi Elaine, Yes I did grow up as an MK and spent years both in Cambodia and in a missionary kids’ boarding school in Vietnam. A rich and complex tapestry–the silver patterns do so reflect that. Happy Mother’s Day to you as well and blessings on your ministries.

  3. Oh so beautiful my friend – and a wonder-filled tribute to your mother! Hope you have a blessed Mother’s Day in all of life’s complexities – and we know they are many! Blessings friend!

    • Thought of you, my Friend, when I used the word “labyrinthine.” So grateful to be able to share with you some of the complexities of our lives! Happy Mother’s Day!

  4. Beautiful, Carol. I think I know just enough of your journey to appreciate the “complexities” alluded to here. I hope it is a a sweet day for you. Love you, bj

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