Inscrutable Sonnets


How mornings broke, in the home we no longer own:
thin walls, louvered partitions on bathroom doors.
Rude chorus from roosters in wire coops on the ground
floor, kept and groomed for cockfights by the uncle
I still can’t call uncle to this day. He married
my mother’s younger sister, who’d lived with us
as long as I can remember, and helped to raise me—
Don’t ask for details I can’t provide. Knowledge,
making sense of, comes later; or rather, time keeps
something back, ever the coy mistress. As in my case,
piecing together what it might have meant for her,
still in braids, barely out of high school, to take
me in her arms and pose so publicly for a photograph
after church: mother and child, albeit vicariously.


Doing basic math: perhaps within the six years
after she had me, she met him— I don’t know how
or where. And so she’d take me every now and then
into town on errands, and then we’d finish at some
restaurant: Hotel City Lunch, Mido, one or another
hole in the wall on Kayang Street or in the plaza
where waiters poured endless streams of service tea
into glass tumblers. I don’t know how he wound up
visiting her while my parents were out; I’d nap
in the sewing room and she’d iron and fold laundry.
One such humid afternoon, did she slip out to fetch
something to eat or drink, or use the bathroom? I was
too young to have words for the hand held over my mouth,
the fingers that pried me open, the burn that came after.

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