Letter with only silence

“6:00 o’clock, morning, 30 December, 1896.
To my very beloved Mother, Dña. Teodora Alonso.”
~ Jose P. Rizal’s last letter to his mother before his execution

In his last hour, he writes a letter to his mother
consisting of the time and date only; a salutation,

followed by silence. For how could language gather
the enormity of what could be said; or even what can’t?

There are people who are so uncomfortable
with silence they have to fill it with something

immediately: click the radio dial on, the TV,
keep the babble going in the background

though they don’t feel the need to pay
any real attention. My doctor friend who lives

alone says he makes it a point to use the guest
bathroom regularly just to hear the sound of flushing

from another part of the house. But returning
to the hero’s silence, which archivists have described

as both cryptic and lyric or profound: someone sent
me a picture of my mother when she was brought

to the ER after falling or fainting on the street
corner. No broken bones, only surface bruising

on one shin. When the Barangay tanod brought
her home, she was appalled by the sight of unkempt

rooms— empty plastic bottles strewn in every
corner, piles of unwashed clothes; styrofoam

boxes crusted over with food remnants. Two
children left to watch over her and also

themselves. Hardly a trace of any responsible
adult: the orphans of her sister, who’ve lived

rent-free under her roof all their lives
and eaten at her table in ampler times, yet can’t

be bothered. The ones quick to say she has
a daughter in America, why should they be the ones

to care? River rats come and go as they please
through cracks in the floorboards. Bread disappears;

fruit, rind and pith. The faded drapes are streaked
with marks of their desperate foraging. Or perhaps

other mouths are at work here too. Someone turns off
the electricity to her rooms, while theirs are lit.

How does one even begin to address the enormity
of what else is hidden from view? Beloved, there is

no letter ample enough for my helplessness and that
kind of silence: door pummelled by wind day and night.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

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