The Spratlys

A fisherman checks his nets thirty miles
from Mischief Reef. He doesn't know

if he should wait or head out into the lagoon,
bluegreen basin threaded in the noonday sun

by Chinese vessels. Surveillance drones fly 
above large, man-made islands for aerial 

pictures: runways and hangars on Fiery Cross, 
a communications tower on Burgos Reef.  

But where are the lines of dashed and broken green?
Can you trust them to name territory? Whereas

I love the look of the Philippines' oldest map 
from 1628, an inscription at top right reading 

Insulæ Indiæ Orientalis, the hems of islands 
engraved on copperplates. And inside each,

thick calligraphies of names. Here, the mark 
of trade routes and there, an island in the shape 

of the shield that native warriors used, defending
their land. How one footfall from Bathala made  

cracks in the earth that swallowed foreign 
invaders; how a covey of birds rose flag-

like against the sky, though there 
was no one there to document their cry.  

 


   

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