J Likha Yatco

Jane Likha Yatco, who signs her poems as “J Likha Yatco,” also writes occasional prose. Her poems have been published in these anthologies: Surges: Outpourings in Haiyan/Yolanda’s Wake, a literary and visual anthology edited by Joel P. Garduce and Rosana Bautista Golez; Verses Typhoon Yolanda: A Storm of Filipino Poets, edited by Eileen R. Tabios; and Fairground: A Literary Feast, edited by Gemino H. Abad and Alma Cruz Miclat. Her poems were first uploaded as Facebook and Google+ notes.

I still want to live as if every small thing mattered
all the time, even if I know nothing can be ours to keep.
~ Luisa A. Igloria

small things like purple ink in a squat bottle,
matching Piper fountain pen cradled in a
velvet-lined box with a white satin ribbon
to hold it in place, forty pages of designer paper
with prints of monarch butterflies,
pink peonies with mint green leaves,
a peacock, its tail unfurled, set against
a sheet of music, a sparrow on a doily,
hot air balloons about to kiss the Eiffel Tower

you’d think paper as precious as this
would carry the scent of jasmine or roses
but no, what it presents is more enduring
the gift of possibilities as it travels over
thickets of pine trees, rivers polluted with
single-use plastic, children playing hopscotch,
drunks stumbling home

believe in the humblest of things
they waken to dreams too

You can’t remember how many nights
or days or cycles you’ve picked yourself up
from countless falls.
Luisa A. Igloria, “Way Station

for my mother

before your attending doctors
could bore a hole in your throat
to attach tubes to a life-sustaining machine,
you waged your silent
protest by dying at the hour of
great mercy, the hour i was away
from your bed, the hour i chose
to indulge in a siesta elsewhere
to make up for days, some nights
i hovered over you like a dutiful
daughter, a role
alien to me

nothing in your sudden departure
in cruel May prepared me or those
closest to you for this dystopian
universe we now inhabit:
the cheapening of human lives,
killings to the right of us,
killings to the left, to the front
and behind us, duct-taped corpses
fouling the night, the bitter wails of
new widows and orphans, bald men,
bewigged men, their bald-faced lies,
their armies of trolls scrutinizing,
deciphering our increasingly secret hieroglyphics

they say this downward cycle of darkness
is but temporary, depending on
a leader’s term of office

if this churlish despot leaves
through a possible resistance,
will Enlightenment follow?

even you in your grave, Mother, would
chide me for clinging to a child’s naivete
but let me hang on to this belief, so written
in Ecclesiastes, that all things under heaven,
on this earth, serve a purpose

I love the sound of snow… You can hear it even if you are only standing on a balcony. [The sound] is only minimal, not even a real noise: a breath, a trifle of a sound. You have the same thing in music: if in the score there is a pianissimo marked that ends in nothing. Up there you can feel this ‘nothing’. With an orchestra it is very difficult to achieve it. The Berlin Philharmonic manage(s) it sometimes.
Claudio Abbado

how can i love that which
has not been fully experienced
like the sight of snow falling on trees
stripped of leaves in the fall?

but fully imagined
i see snow falling and
shrouding bloodied corpses,
washing clean and clear of suspicions
these snuffed out lives

in a country that knows of
seasons of dust and of wet on wet,
i desire the benediction of snow,
a rest from the burst of bullets
and cusses

the arbitrary blankness,
the nothingness of
whitened landscapes
with a hint of resurrection
pushing out of sorrow’s
inhospitable ground

Manila, Philippines
Nov. 17, 2016

in Filipino it means “fan,”
the same thing in Basque
a ream of paper, card stock,
hand-painted, or short roll of cloth,
even of Belgian lace, folded
these many times and bound
to an armature of
bamboo or sandalwood
that allows for the abaniko’s
unfolding, folding,
opening and closing like
a peacock’s tail

how evocative the abaniko is
of old Latin Sunday masses
when my mother and her aunts,
their heads covered with black veils,
their missals open, fanned themselves
while the priest rambled on

the word “fan” does not
quite capture the slight
breeze the abaniko
summons nor the imagined
sound of castanets clicking
as a flamenco dancer prepares
to enter center stage


In response to a writing prompt from Luisa A. Igloria:

On the unusual sea creatures site that I found, the Pink See-through Fantasia is described thus: “Its name makes it sound like a piece of sexy lingerie, but don’t be fooled: The pink see-through fantasia is a sea cucumber, found about a mile and a half deep in the Celebes Sea in the western Pacific (east of Borneo).”

Select the name of an unusual object or creature from a source of your choice (botany? anatomy textbook? geophysics text? plumbing manual?) Write a poem about a person/experience that might come to mind from this first trigger provided by the suggestive quality or sound of this name.

Prompt 1: Take a draft or poem that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Unstitch from what isn’t working. Step away and refocus. Begin again.” Luisa A. Igloria, “A Poetry Prompt a Day: NaPoMo 2016

in the beginning is a list of nations
of the world followed by their capitals:
Afghanistan, Kabul;
Albania, Tirana;
Algeria, Algiers;
Andora, Andorra la Vella
all the way to Yemen, Sanaa;
Yugoslavia, Belgrade;
Zambia, Lusaka;
Zimbabwe, Harare

where others may see in their minds’ eyes
beauty queens in swimsuits with sashes diagonally
draped across their voluptuousness,
in my geography lesson i roll those
countries’ names and capitals in my mouth,
taste them on my tongue like savory
and salted flesh seared to medium rare

thus did my yesterday begin, redolent of burnt wood, crackly paper,
a tinderbox of a building exploding on All Fools’ Day,
thus did our yesterday end with a volley of gunpowder meeting defiant
farmers’ flesh on the dry plains south of my country’s Manila

…my chief joy
is to buy a virginal book
Dave Bonta, “Booklover

and joy arrived, taking me partly by surprise,
i who once said i hate surprises
unless it is i who is springing it on you
with joy came peace,
the kind i can still measure
in the tangible form of forgotten books
re-opened on an unhurried day like this,
joy in hearing the distant, elusive notes
of piano music from the neighbor’s
on a sultry Friday afternoon
when yielding to a siesta
is the most inconsequential
and venial of sins

There are music schools now in every strip mall;
and rows of silent windows in the old convent
from which piano scales used to pour at dusk.
Luisa A. Igloria, “Your Cinema Paradiso

how long ago was it when i ran young, chubby fingers
across the keyboard and sought out “Blue Moon,”
asked if an older cousin and i could do four hands
on grandmother’s upright trucked to Baguio in the late fifties?

relearning to play the piano in my twenties,
i wanted “Moon River” or Satie’s “Gymnopaedie”
to fill afternoons of practice but the teacher insisted on scales
until quills i grew on my skin at the thought of scales,
and the piano and i abandoned one another.

today you can find me in concert halls,
there we can moon all we want,
embrace with the force of a lover’s longing
what was lost and eventually found.

“Until I left anew,
I did not know what depth of sadness possessed me”
~ Luisa Igloria

until you left i did not know
that the mountain’s stillness had a name,
that this name derived from its
stoic watchfulness as tree after dignified tree
is felled and becomes “more useful”:
bench back scratcher fat fat buddha
of prosperity for taiwanese shops
decorative bulol for landscaped homes
varnished chess boards
for balikbayan relatives

sometimes the mountain caves in,
buries even the innocents,
whoever stands in its way,
angered by mining companies’
intrusions into its innards
and the improbable high-rise
rentals rising out of a quake belt

until you left i did not know
that places we love
we also in the end leave

your lesson is noted:
learn not to look back
like Lot’s wife


In response to Via Negativa: Prodigal Lyric.

…where ancient waters gathered in basins
beneath the trees, developers have sent

their armies of earth-movers.
—Luisa A. Igloria, “Anything that might sustain

in our village, the trees are young
the older ones were axed or bulldozed
more than fifteen summers ago
to make way for duplexes
and similar vacation houses

we are not summer tenants
but live here from season to season
through each monsoon and strong moon tides
when the paucity of foliage and trees leaves us
as vulnerable as small animals
with nowhere to hide

but the pine grows convoluted and hardy roots
soon the saplings the gardener
entrusts to the earth
are taller than my adult daughters
but this is fifteen years later

so why did the heavy equipment
operators and bulldozers
destroy the sturdy ancient trees
in the first place to shelter
transient humans?

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Poets in the Kitchen

Banana Girl

this longing to consume you
completely has not ceased,
i persist in wanting to eat you
the way i eat a semi-ripe banana,
unpeeling it slowly, checking it
for hardness in some parts,
the parts that present a
challenge for tongue and teeth.

think of me as the soft, ripe parts,
the one with a bruise the color
of a hickey but i can never bring myself
to confess to this desire
to make a light meal out of you.

the shyness of an introverted girl
overpowers the lust about to flare.
yep, yellow is for the cowardly
who don’t even give it the ole college try
true, i am like those bundles
of Dole bananas harvested
from southern Philippine plantations
by underpaid, underfed workers.

you will sooner see a rise from me
from a sense of outrage at inhumane
servitude than for me to sidle up
to your side, unpeel you slowly
like a firm banana i wanna
introduce in my mouth.

Poor Person’s Banana Split

In the absence of ice cream, marshmallows and similar ingredients

Ingredients:

6 pieces of bananas, lakatan variety

Can of condensed milk

Cupful of fried peanuts

Procedure:

Slice the bananas lengthwise and place them in four separate bowls. Chill them for 15 minutes. Pound the peanuts into a mortar and pestle until fine. Bring out the bowls of bananas, then pour condensed milk over them. Sprinkle with fine peanut powder. Serve to four hungry children as a healthy snack.