I know I was wrong a good many times, even terribly wrong more than a good many times. But I was also sometimes good, sometimes malleable, though those are not the same kinds of things. It is possible I was selfish, that I didn't care, or did not care enough. But I was also self- less, if by that we mean the acute awareness of how in the end we don't even belong to ourselves. I was foolish to think I could make anything bend to my will, though I offered my hand or my cheek or the pulse that beat below my collarbone. I had so much, even enough to give and give away; but also impoverished by the daily effort to keep the brand of ordinary fortune neatly stitched under the collar of my coat. I know I felt too much but also often kept that thing we call the heart bottled in its own liquids, rocking itself to sleep most nights in a country into which I allowed it to be smuggled. It's possible that I know about beauty but more about pain, that the body is constantly endangered when exposed to the modal verb plus the past participle: it could have been, it may have been. This is how I know I've tried to fake the impossible— twirl the cape over the bull's lowered head while trying to keep my wrist steady.
I have no actual memory
of its taste— rough bit of roast
meat from the beast’s mouth,
severed by my father with glee
and put into my own to suck
as I flailed in the white sack
of baptism clothes. What
possessed our kin to think
the gift of words, of brave
speech, might come out
of some magic rite of transfer
from this animal that once
rooted in the mud, grunting in-
all night? I still think of it
sometimes, and wonder when
and how, finally, I changed
from girl terrified of speaking
into a telephone receiver or
whispering to plead
forgiveness behind the dark
screen of a confessional,
to an ear attuned to my
own growing voice?
No grocer that I’ve seen
here in this land of styrofoam
trays and plastic liners
wants to put the gross parts
of the body on display: only
crowns of bone and pink flesh
tied with string, spiralled hams
dripping with cut sugar squares.
Far from the cool glare of lights
and freezer cases, somewhere
in the countryside: the feathered
babble of hens, the narrow
stalls where other beasts
it is they might be saying,
a register that goes as far
as the axe and the block—
Listen to the foghorn open the water's crinkly envelope: such a deeply plaintive voice that nothing wants to answer. The sky darkens but withholds the rain. There are times when, inside myself, I am lonely again though I don't want to be. Years ago, late at night, I looked out of my window to see you making your way through powdery snow. Has it been that many years? In our home, we even have two or more of some things— flashlights, coffee pots, tape measures. Once a day, the rice cooker whistles softly then pings when it's done. We put tables and shelves together; there are so many books—it will take more than one lifetime to walk through all the countries in them. But if I go alone, I will be lonely inside myself again. Sometimes the quiet is bearable, but never for long.
(Nephelium lappaceum) A tremble in the walls of the house as a train passes is really the heart trying to speak of its impending eruption. The cat at the window raises its paw to the glass, barely leaving an imprint. No one really wants to beg for a gift, no matter how dire the need. So the heart departs for another country— not a region roofed with ice and a winter that outlasts the sun, but one where the heart might take the form of a fruit— one of many in a cluster: deep red, sweet kernel inside; skin a grenade of blisters.
Such a child, they're told, is always from another realm: left alone at the edge of a wood while the last bits of moonlight disappear in the sky. Or in a box, wrapped in a blanket with the familiar green and pink stripe hospital nurseries use. She has ten fingers and toes, clear eyes, a lusty yell which they find stirs in them an emotion of such gratefulness; it feels almost infinite. They go home with their new treasure, to what follows after: a life filled not only with pleasure but also pain, which they vow to carry with as much tenderness as they can muster. The child moves farther away from the shore where she was born, of which she has no real memory anyway; she learns to make deals, drive, drink kombucha. She'd prefer not to think of what the old-fashioned still call suitors. This life after all, foundling or not, is all about self- invention. Meanwhile, thickets of silver sprout on the parents' heads. One likes to watch Korean drama on TV. The other has taken up gardening, though there are never any nuggets of gold to be found in the weeds.
As a lawyer, my father helped more than a few clients draw up their wills; yet he himself didn't have one. He believed that writing a last will & testament was tantamount to courting one's death—A memo saying you can come get me, I'm ready now. I don't believe he had any debts when he died; the house we lived in, paid for; no loans taken out or extended. Cuentas claras, amistades largas—long friendships based on clear accounts. I wish I could have a conscience as confident as his—Perhaps only wind carrying back old, resinous scents like eucalyptus and pine will pass through it: not asking for anything, not stopping yet, not chiding.
There were years they disappeared into the loamy caverns of rooms, their beds piled with comforters & unfolded clothes, gum wrappers in the depths of backpacks, hair bouquets in hairbrushes, earrings with missing pairs. Sometimes light was a lure, other times an intrusion. They went in, angular & bristly; mercurial, most spectacular when ill- at-ease. When they emerged, their legs were smooth from foam & shavers; their jaws, set in a line sleek as the edges of smart- phones. You couldn't pluck a lyre to bribe them from the depths, but you waited for that time in the future when they'd look at the night sky & finally recognize how Cassiopeia was both right side up & upside down; when one day, they might see you wandering the frozen fields—alone & still in search of ransom.
Though the river calls and the road still shows its face, you're afraid you'll never again see the crest of Mt. Cabuyao. The orange groves, the throats of belled trumpet flowers; the tongues of snapdragons that children's fingers forced apart in the park. What is this except an introduction to that longer twilight? Fog drifting through trees, thick as the skin of heated milk; words you once wrote in pencil on a windowsill overtaken by moss. Even before crossing, what moves you to believe in a language that might last longer than our sense of importance?
Traveling in a foreign country, away from your hometown, you remain a stranger until you come to the first door that opens and you are taken in. When they ask you to sit down and have some food, a glass of water, that's when you think it might be possible to make a country out of your loneliness. As on a piece of indigo fabric: you can guide embroidery thread in cross- and running stitches over the spots time has mangled or torn. Did you talk to yourself, wandering in a new city where your name meant only the infinite anonymous? The story of how you arrived grows a few more pages. The signs point to the last place a bleating animal was flayed and quartered, its guts festooned in trees to celebrate arrival or departure. Metallic blood-smell, a heap of discarded skin in the fire.
Dear black-crowned night heron, dear studded tree, dear love dripping with rainwater whose names we address ambiguously— Dear lullaby which underwrites the language as well as the dream— A meteor might fall through the ether, a vine might yet lose all its leaves upon the cold ground but you've buried me before my death, planted your hoard of red seeds in my mouth; and now no one comes to barter with a god, no one combs through wreckage for the silk thread of pity— While on the other side, the world goes on, admiring its own fragments—