In third grade, for a genealogy project,
I came home with a sheet on which was pre-
printed a simple family tree, and questions:
what were the names of my grandparents
on either side? when were they born,
what did they do, when did they die?
On mother’s side, I knew how Lorenzo,
her father, left his farm at nineteen
and came to the city for work. He was
a cook for four years in Baguio at a hotel
built in 1909; my daughter and I stayed there
when we visited in the summer of 2015.
His first wife was Filomena— I never saw
her picture, but her name sounded like flowers.
She died young of a heart attack, from news
of her brother’s death during the war.
His second wife was Victorina; visiting us
in my childhood, she brought with her a warm
tobacco smell that clung to her skirts;
when she sat in a dining chair she liked
to draw up her knees and eat with her hands.
After the war, Lorenzo went into business
with a friend and put up two small barbershops,
one of them named Lucky and the other, Symphony.
I never knew about Lucky, but I do have a dim
memory of Symphony: the smell of shaving foam
and hot towels, the men tipping up their chins
at the blade’s approach. Little piles of hair
gathered at the base of each chair, bright
red-white-and-blue striped helixes revolving
in the barber’s pole outside the door.
No one could tell me much about my grand-
father on the other side— least of all
my tightlipped father. Only his name, Felix;
how he was father’s father, but not my aunt
Sofia’s. Father’s mother Irene stayed with us
part of the year. She never liked my mother,
poor farmer’s daughter. At the end of her life,
bedridden, it was only my father’s name she
called out in the night. It was never
him but my mother who had to bring water,
the chamberpot, a change of sheets.
In response to Via Negativa: Sandman.