Postcard, Again with Mother

Baguio in summertime, in the '60s. The lake
has a central fountain that shoots a jet

of water into the air. It falls back down
and does it over again, until the motor

is shut off at night. The water isn't crowded
with rowboats yet. In front of the gazebo

in the middle of the skating rink, someone took 
a photograph of my mother, bending down

to give the little red tricycle I'm pedaling 
a push from behind. We are not dressed 

for this kind of outing: she's in stilletos, 
a sheath skirt and cropped blazer in checked 

beige. I'm wearing a dress with puffed sleeves,
squinting in the light, a bow in my hair. I like 

to remember her this way, especially now 
that she spends most of her days sleeping 

under pink flannel blankets, when not being fed 
soft soups and fruit by the day or night nurse.


In the old days, the dead were not 
               immediately escorted to a final 
resting place in the earth, nor lifted
              onto a funeral pyre. Their hair
was oiled and dipped in the fragrance 
             of orange groves, their faces
turned toward the high-shelved
            mountains where they would perch
in rows like figured birds— No longer on 
            the ground terraced by the farmer's 
plow but not yet in the canopy of the gods, 
            wreathed with smoke they presided  
at the house-front wrapped in blankets. 
            Coming and going, you'd feel 
it was you they held vigil for; you 
            they couldn't yet bear to leave. 

What We Want

My friend, who's recently become a parent, is venting 
again about the ways working moms are so unnoticed 

and undercompensated, if at all.  Her LinkedIn profile
has descriptors like results-oriented and self-starter;

public policy analyst, program director. She owns  
and can actually pull off wearing a fancy gold-colored 

jumpsuit; she leads a nonprofit organization and hops
on planes to attend conferences out of state— but

I know too well that kind of physical, mental, and emotional 
exhaustion though we might have gentle, supportive 

partners, and a freezer drawer packed with microwavable
meatballs or emergency dumplings. After I delivered

(such an easy-sounding word, like something one does
with takeout pizza or wings plus extra fries) my last

child, groggy and sleep-deprived, I went back to work 
after only ten days, since I had no maternity leave benefits. 

Lecturing on critical analysis and Woman Warrior before 
a roomful of mostly bored students, I'd feel my milk-

engorged breasts leak underneath my blazer and flush 
from embarrassment—but mostly from the fear

I'd be reduced to just a body that did whatever things
a body did before pushing another body into the world.

I do but also don't want to tell my friend that it all gets
easier somewhere down the line—untruth that rolls off

each page of books with titles like On Becoming a Woman
or The Housewife's Guide to Becoming Wealthy, their slick 

covers depicting their impeccable houses and impossibly
narrow, postpartum waists. But I do want to say, this has not  

and never has been a country of easy, whichever way 
we look at it. There are parts of me that want to answer  

an ad for caretaker of a remote island between the West 
Coast of Scotland and the Isle of Skye, and parts 

that want to stay writing in a coffee shop, until 
the baristas kick me out. Parts of me want

to scream and scold or throw pots at a tiled
wall; and parts of me will sob, wring their hands

and want to die but not do it after all though life,
as we know, is so hard and people so heartless;

but tomorrow is Wednesday and there's a farmer's
market where one can get the crunchiest peas

and fresh strawberries. I want to make something good
from that, and just watch the people I love eat it, the way 

my mother would stand at the kitchen door watching me clean 
my plate after school, eyes puffy after a good cry of her own.

Bona Fides

Was the pea underneath 
two dozen cushions 
really a pea, or a hard, 
painful lump on
the girl's backside?

If you were merely a guest 
dropping by uninvited or un-
announced, you wouldn't expect
to be offered percale sheets
and a pancake breakfast.

My Lola always boiled
the breakfast eggs along
with coffee in the percolator—
when espresso machines could
just as well be spaceships.

But no one ever examined my hands,
turning them over to check the thinness 
of skin; or made me lay my fingers on 
the table, my nails like new potatoes 
pushing headstrong through soil.


Not even the beginning of summer, and knobs
of fruit in the tree begin to purple and glow 
through wrappers of green; but the young 
persimmon, all by itself near the fence, unless 
self-fruitful,  will need another cultivar to flower. 
Soon, the river's rim a block away is edged 
with sails. I marvel at how taut and sleek  
bodies look against the sand, like offerings 
to the sun— Once, I too buffed my shoulders 
and thighs, impatient for the world to take 
me whole and claim me for a future not yet lined 
with failure or regret. I held in my hands the fragrance
and roundness of a thing not yet cloven or hatched.
Long afterwards, I confess it still has my heart.

Return to Sender

What is a missive that doesn't look 
like a mission, a letter that might offer

itself as peace or at the very least, a truce? 
Throughout the year, I've tried the equivalent 

of conversation starters; furry animal memes, 
brief glimpses of the sky and treeline shot 

through my window on the passenger side. 
At night, the canopy above is perforated 

with light that science tells us is actually 
the absence of light. But still we crane 

our necks, remembering myths that gave us 
queens and mothers, beasts and monsters; 

oracles whose visions of the burning future 
are like letters always returned to the sender.


No matter how difficult her days
have become, she hasn't said light
hurts her eyes or her missing
teeth can't taste the sugar.

Someone brings roses in a vase,
fruit in a bowl— each wearing  
a veined membrane just
before wilting.

Outside, early summer prints 
copies of itself on every leaf.
If one day I forget my first
language, put one in my mouth.


Cannot fall asleep from having Mother-
worry for so many things I never can 
put adequately into words. I have 
Mother-ache and Mother-sorry, 
Mother-lonely, Mother-poor and 
-poorly, Mother-never-will-come-
up-to-measure. Mother-who-has-left, 
-has-left-behind, -has-herself-been-left, 
who cannot finger the space in the middle 
without feeling the old pulsing that once 
came through her, bound her, unbound her... 
Picture Mother as a mime whose arms 
close around her, rock her, remind her: 
who will save you if not yourself?  

My People

You look for the ones you can say my people,
                 my people with—     or they look for you and you 
could find each other even in the unlikeliest 
                 places:            a tap on the shoulder while the glittery
gala crowd does the electric slide for the thousandth
                time;          at the Greyhound station or airport
transfer terminal. You don't have to answer Are you
                from here-here or there-               there or if you 
bought tickets to watch that guy whose sold out      
                shows rehash our fathers'      and uncles' 
backyard jokes, and you get why halo-halo with rice
                krispies is OK but someone has to draw        the line
at gummy candy or pop rocks. And OK sure, P in place of F 
               or vice versa—          but with the ones you can say 
my people, my people with, there is no need to explain
               the tingle of calamansi in the air,            distinct
from orange or navel or tangerine.  My people, my 
               people, perhaps we can roll        with the times 
and dip them in sweet-sour sauce but we can't wear pineapple 
               shirts and butterfly sleeves                  for halloween or do 
the haka in a woven g-string.  And yes, even a certain 
              dictator's son has                     blood on his hands. 
Know what I mean? Even if we are, we don't always have 
              to be engineers or doctors or nurses,                    the kind            
that irate patients demand should be replaced by "real" ones.
              Hail the nannies and maids that mop the floor          so hard-
working, always so hard-working, the caregiver who used to be
             an OFW in the Middle East                  assigned to octogenarians 
at a home; the girl who walked around a foreign city with her camera,
             documenting how our women met                   in public parks
to share food and news of safehouses and better jobs.  Hail
             the trending ube lattes,            the omnipresent roasted pig, bags
of daing and barako that make their way, hand to traveling hand:
            their smoky, salty notes, indelible     signatures in the air. 

A Commonwealth

The common weal, meaning the body
         politic, the well-being of an entity or state.

The state capital, a Sunday in spring: streets
         where, even late in this century, I don't

see too many with my same face. Perhaps 
         transients and students are gone on break.

Perhaps, dark-skinned ones like me are careful
        to avoid spaces where rebel flags with seven

stars still whip high in the wind, shameless 
        declaration and misplaced belief that all men 

are not created  equal. But surely you've walked 
        past the homeless on the avenue, stopped to listen 

to buskers at the train station take a sad song 
       and make it better, through chipped teeth and smiles.