-- Postcards From Cambodia --
July 1999. Cambodia/Toronto.

Found on:

You've Never Seen Everything (2003)

Rumours of Glory - box set Disc 7 (2014) [compilation album]

Abe Lincoln once turned to somebody and said,
"Do you ever find yourself talking with the dead?"

There are three tiny deaths heads carved out of mammoth tusk
on the ledge in my bathroom
They grin at me in the morning when I'm taking a leak,
but they say very little.

Outside Phnom Penh there's a tower, glass paneled,
maybe ten meters high
filled with skulls from the killing fields
Most of them lack the lower jaw
so they don't exactly grin
but they whisper, as if from a great distance,
of pain, and of pain left far behind

Eighteen thousand empty eyeholes peering out at the four directions

Electric fly buzz, green moist breeze
Bone-colored Brahma bull grazes wet-eyed,
hobbled in hollow of mass grave
In the neighboring field a small herd
of young boys plays soccer,
their laughter swallowed in expanding silence

This is too big for anger,
itís too big for blame.
We stumble through history so
humanly lame
So I bow down my head
Say a prayer for us all
That we donít fear the spirit
when it comes to call

The sun will soon slide down into the far end of the ancient reservoir.
Orange ball merging with its water-borne twin
below air-brushed edges of cloud.
But first, it spreads itself,

a golden scrim behind fractal sweep of swooping fly catchers.
Silhouetted dark green trees,
blue horizon

The rains are late this year.
The sky has no more tears to shed.
But from the air Cambodia remains
a disc of wet green, bordered by bright haze.
Water-filled bomb craters, sun streaked gleam
stitched in strings across patchwork land and
march west toward the far hills of Thailand.
Macro analog of Ankor Watís temple walls
intricate bas-relief of thousand-year-old battles
pitted with AK rounds

And under the sign of the seven headed cobra
the naga who sees in all directions
seven million landmines lie in terraced grass, in paddy, in bush
(Call it a minescape now)

Sally holds the beggar's hand and cries
at his scarred up face and absent eyes
and right leg gone from above the knee

Tears spot the dust on the worn stone causeway
whose sculpted guardians row on row
Half frown, half smile, mysterious, mute.

And this is too big for anger.
Itís too big for blame
We stumble through history so
humanly lame.
So I bow down my head,
say a prayer for us all.
That we donít fear the spirit when it comes to call.

Bruce Cockburn: Acoustic Guitar and Vocals
Colin Linden: Additional Basses
Steve Lucas: Bass
Hugh Marsh: Violins and Keyboard Percussion
Ben Riley: Drums
Emmylou Harris: Harmonies

Editor's note: "Cambodia" was first read on Vin Scelsa's Idiot's Delight radio show on Sunday 19 September 1999. Cockburn mentioned the poem was untitled and "may or may not end up as a song," calling it "Cambodia" for now.

  • 24 August 2002 - Bruce is now calling "Cambodia", "Postcards From Cambodia". This version of the song was first played in concert at the 24 August 2002 show at The Birchmere, in Alexandria, Virginia.

  • 17 December 2002 - This new version was next played on the 25 August 2002 XM Radio Broadcast.

  • 8 December 2003 - The first to lines of this song:
    Abe Lincoln once turned to somebody and said,
    "Do you ever find yourself talking with the dead?"
    brought this comment from a reader:

    The initial stanza comes from Abe Lincoln comes from a piece he wrote on the death of his son Willy. It appears that he said this to a Union Army officer. "Do you ever find yourself talking with the dead? Since Willie's death, I catch myself every day, involuntarily talking with him, as if he were with me." Contributed by: MDG.

    Known comments by Bruce Cockburn about this song, by date:

  • 24 August 2002

    "Here's a song I haven't sung in front of humans yet. Someone responsible for this song existing is here in this room. The Vietnam veterans invited me on a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia."

    - comments from the 24 August 2002 show at the Birchmere in Alexandra, Virginia.

    2 September 2002

    "A couple years ago, I went to Cambodia on a trip organized by Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation around the issue of land-mines. I've been working on that issue for some years and, with various Canadian organizations, and, on this occasion, I was invited to go on this trip to Southeast Asia. The imagery was rich as you can imagine. It took a long time how to figure out how to make it into a song, but eventually that happened and this is the result."

    - from a XM Satellite Radio broadcast, Washington, D.C., recorded 25 August 2002, aired 2 Spetember 2002. Submitted by Sam Alcorn, Lewisburg, Pa.

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