Water from Motherland by Narate Keys

A river carves and shapes the landscape and also the people. Narrate Keys is carved by two rivers, the Tonle Sap River and the Mississippi River. Across the world, and closer to home, Narrate’s river’s are under threat due to climate change.

Welcome to Sunday Morning Lyricality, featuring a weekly song or poem by a Minnesota writer. Our current guest editor is Hedy Tripp.

Hedy Tripp is this October’s guest editor. Hedy was born and educated in Singapore. A Saint Cloud elder with the Minnesota Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) and retired professor/lecturer, she came to her identity as a poet late in life, she says, “Because I never had time, earlier, to say, ‘I am a poet.’” For the past year, a Central Minnesota Arts Board (CMAB) Artist Career Development grant has allowed Hedy to intentionally immerse herself in what it IS to be a poet, to understand what lyrical poetry is, and to create Black-Indigenous-People-Of-Color (BIPOC) poetry by studying with BIPOC poets, especially Southeast Asian poets. Read more about Hedy and her work as a poet here.

Lyricality guest editor Hedy Tripp presents Water from Motherland by Narate Keys.

Hedy Tripp says this about Narate Keys:

Narate Keys, a Khmer American poet, succinctly captures the phenomenon of Cambodia’s Tonle Sap River’s flow reversal.  It is the only river in the world whose tide changes annually. During the monsoons, from June to September, the flow is upstream into the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, bringing with it a rich biodiversity of fish and attracting numerous species of animal and bird life.  During the dry season, the water levels fall, and the river flows back from the lake to the Mekong delta and out to sea.  

When I visited the Khmer kingdom in 2017 there was grave concern about the decrease flow of the Tonle Sap River, from the effects of deforestation, climate change, mining, agricultural waste, and the construction of hydroelectric dams.  Fishermen and their families were leaving their ancestral homes because fish were getting scarcer, and their traditional livelihood destroyed.  

Narate’s son, born in Minnesota, knows only the continual flow of the Mississippi river.

Water from Motherland
by Narate Keys

Carved stone flowing through
Like Tonle Sap River 
The heartbeat of the Kingdom of Khmer

Cradle to candles of the wind
It flows north as it pumps out the sin
Like the breath we take in

For the indigenous people who brave
Bear the fruits and labor the reservoir
Lost its power to the dam

Shut down the power
Or shut down the vein
Beating the heart

For the people
For the jungle
For home of the creatures

Water from Motherland!

Pathway through the Mississippi River
A walk that shine and shadow 
Like Mekong memories
Float out and flood in

Shade of dirty brown
Filled with sorrow
Like an arrow 
Of life and being
Which birthed a son

Water from Minnesota! 


Narate Keys is a Khmer poet and spoken word artist from Saint Paul, Minnesota. She is the self-published author of a collection of songs and poetry “The Good Life”, “The Changes: Immigration Footprints of Our Journey”, and co-author of “Planting SEADs.” Keys’ family lived through the atrocious Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia and she was born in a Thai refugee camp. Keys writes to express the true meaning of her voice. It is through poetry that she has found love, appreciation, and encouragement. Keys has performed her poems in Washington D.C., and in Minnesota at The Loft Literary Center, Springboard for The Arts, Saint Cloud State University, Dragon Boat Festival, and at the May Day Festival.  She was a featured artist for MN8 and selected as a storytelling recipient through Twin Cities Media Alliance (TCMA). The poem “Water from Motherland” is framed and hanging on the wall of the new building for the Springboard for the Arts in St. Paul.  You can find her on www.NarateKeys.com.


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