narinda heng :: “planting”

My parents’ hands
understand something 
about making paradise 
that mine are still 
trying to figure out. 

They’ve coaxed 
growth from tiny seeds 
and hard earth, brought 
forth colors from brown dirt 
in the form of green leaves, 
red, yellow, orange fruit, 
vegetables whose 
English names I still 
haven’t figured out. 

There was a year 
when the whole rear 
of the yard hosted 
home-grown corn 

there’s still a patch 
of sugarcane in the 
corner behind the 
makrut lime tree 

they planted 
dragonfruit just 
to see if they could 
(it grew) 

it took years, but the 
cherimoya trees now 
bear heavy, juicy 
bounty—my favorite.
My grandmother would 
wistfully keep mango and 
longan seeds, sprout them 
in old cans, discarded paper cups,
then plant them, hoping 
they’d somehow take to the 
less than ideal climate, 
find what they needed 
in the unfamiliar soil. 

After ten years, one 
small mango sapling 
still survived, bearing the 
tiniest mangos I’d ever seen 

it made us all giggle, 
this tree holding on
so valiantly to life and 
putting forth all it could.
Somehow they turned 
their modest plot of land 
in Santa Ana into a 
lush bit of Cambodia 

I remember sitting on 
the roof one day 
and looking over 
the tops of the trees 
and thinking that 
I could almost forget 
what country I was in.
My parents—their hands
have a habit of making 
paradise wherever there is
a patch of dirt and a hose 

I used to wish they’d get
rid of a tree or two, dig up
the yard, put in a swimming pool

I’m glad they never did.

I understand now 
that they were never 
trying to make paradise 

they were making 


Originally published in Eleven Eleven Journal.


narinda heng is a queer, Khmer American writer, climber, and potter living on Ohlone land. Her work centers the complexities of history, place, and identity. Find out more at