For the subaltern, every word is an umbrella

~ after Harrison Forman, “Igorot Woman Carring Harvest on Northern Luzon Island, Philippines”

Charol: what we called patent
leather— its bright, high gloss

most desired for children’s First
Communion footwear and men’s dress

shoes. Mongol: most popular brand of
No. 2 pencils, thereafter the name

for every yellow-painted stick of graphite
with which we wrote our lessons. Or ballpoint

pens, all of them in our minds called Bic.
Until my father quit smoking cold turkey,

he’d ask someone to buy Marlboros for him
at the corner store: the Salem Menthol kind.

Sometimes, without thinking, I’ll ask for
a tissue by saying Kleenex. The tongue’s

colonial lessons in renaming the world
sit undisturbed beneath a canopy of recent

layers: odd artifacts on shelves and tables,
next to each other in every room of the house.

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