of living among the ghosts of their dying; of frogs they scooped out of ditches and made sing in their bellies. vines stretched along ruined fences where dirt was betrothed to clay. what of their papers? did they have gold teeth or rings to trade for rice or fish? of those returned: one of them becomes a barber. one of them slits animals open to look for their missing hearts. one of them sits by the sea folding his hands into roofs or a wedding veil. one imagines immortality as an island of ants patched on hot asphalt— god tries to read their letters but can't unlock the code.
the way it lists or limps,
the way it holds itself upright
or folds in half along some
The odors it exudes,
like fruit ripening in the dark
or in the depths of a paper bag.
Every hair tells of its sorrow.
Every broken nail and which side
its hair is parted: of the unrelenting
stories of war. It shuts the door
and latches the windows
before it comes to nuzzle
at the softening light.
It doesn’t want others to see
how it sheds mottled skin—
how difficult it is to leave itself
behind in order to sit
simply and without
need for further apology.
In response to Via Negativa: Interpreter.
Sick too many days and nights, in and out of hospitals before her seventh birthday: so after taking counsel, the women in the household lit their candles, poured their oil and blessed waters into a bowl. Chanting around the bed, they fashioned for her another name: disfigured, unmusical, difficult to pronounce. This name limped with her through the house, embroidered its odd syllables on her towel and pillowcase. And the gods, confused, finally left through the open windows to find some fairer child on whom to lavish their dark affections.
Silene stenophylla It took 32,000 years for you to thaw from the ice shelves at Duvanny Yar, for you to flower again out of the fruit and its seed. Narrow-leaved campion, awake now from your long fossil sleep, at what point did you give up counting the bars that built up layer by layer in the cell that housed you? Each of your white petals is clear-edged, as if a stencil lifted up in reverse, washed with the simple color of certain stone houses in villages by the sea. The ice couldn't kill you, nor the more terrifying frost of darkness. I don't know how long I could hold myself still, or quiet the boil in my cells; if I could outlive the solitude that I know can protect one from the onslaughts of weather and every kind of unknowing. Even in sleep, my body gives itself away with its little spasms, its miasma of dreams. I close my eyes in one country, then row in the blurry current toward the island shape of another. It's always there, half-hidden in the jambolan- tinted distance, though the world rocks like a cradle on the back of a tortoise, its delicate roots clawing the air. *** Binhi (Tagalog/Filipino) - seed
To estrange; to take the once- familiar and see how circumstance bevels it, throws it in a different light. At noon, the fountain pours its brightness one shade cooler. All the pigeons flock there, and in that other time, children who heard it calling their name. I lean my cheek against the window glass— how thin the broken distance between here, now, and those years before everything we touched left a smudge on the world.
“Greetings from my next life in which I am a professional Pokémon player.” - Matthew Salesses, 10 July 2020, Twitter @salesses Do you ever wonder about the boy who fell into the gorilla pit at the Brookfield Zoo in 1996, and was picked up and cradled by the female gorilla Binti Jua? The unnamed boy spent four days in the hospital with injuries to his face and head, but none of the newspaper articles suggest that he didn't survive. He must be in his 20s now: past the legal age to drink, to vote for the first time. Did he spend most afternoons of his youth at the library, reading through the stacks but avoiding the shelves of National Geographic and Field & Stream? Does he have an adventurous side, one that admires the Turkish paraglider who rigged a whole living room set— red upholstered couch, side table with lamp, TV stand— so he could sail over the sea at Ölüdeniz while clicking the remote and eating a bag of chips? Some of us take a wrong turn in an unfamiliar town or get into some stupid scrape like shoplifting mascara at the drugstore. Some of us, trying to outrun a red light, won't see the semi coming. Meanwhile in another country, children just walking home from school get caught in the violent crossfire in the war on drugs— which proves that the real animals are never the ones in a cage. In such cases, when the identity of the killer is unknown, the family puts a yellow chick and some grain on the coffin's glass so it might peck at the conscience of the guilty one. I want them to shed copious tears on the casket, to make the spirit return soon for vengeance.
A saucerful of warmed coconut oil, green eucalyptus leaves steeped in bath water: threshold you have to pass, stepping out of the country of illness and back into the ordinary world. Before that, the looped, confusing paths of fever delirium. Hours during which the parched throat can only utter the sounds of one terrible syllable. Someone needs to crack an egg into a bowl of water to see which way the bloody eye is pointing, which cloud sinks to the bottom to never rise again. Someone needs to be saved from the fishbone cutting unknown names on the walls of their throat. Should you dream of every tooth in your mouth falling like citadels into sand, you must wait for however long it takes the water to clear. You must lie on your bed like a panel of gauze, like a rib of interlaced fern. Let the light which has touched everything including darkness enter without resistance and search you again.
- "Japan's theme parks have banned screaming because screaming spreads coronavirus. 'Please scream inside your heart.'" Each day I waver between toast or no toast, rice or a careful salad, shower or a quick sponge bath. The animal of my various longings is the same shy creature unsure of how to speak its love language so it might be understood. Some days are me in the middle of drying my hair; then something trips and I have to go downstairs to open the circuit breaker box. A colleague told me her aunt went in for minor surgery which was successful, but died after catching the coronavirus while in the hospital— which makes me even more fearful of ever seeing again the people I love who live on the other side of the world. When I can't sleep I think sometimes of starting to bundle up things I would like my children to have when I die: handwoven textiles brought back from the last trip I made to my hometown, woven baskets with no real use except to remind me of the smoky fragrance of reeds pulled tight and close by hands sure at what they do. Instead of gold or diamonds, I have a few beads threaded with horsehair, dangling from thin wafers of mother-of-pearl: for I have always been the fool carrying only a burlap sack into the world, believing that shadows will fall away from a jaunty step, convinced the snarling dog won't snap its chains at the first chance and lunge at my neck. Zero is the number on its jersey—meaning everything to gain, or everything to lose. But isn't that the same thing? Whether you scream into the wind in the middle of the park or in the depths of your secret labyrinth, someone else is driving the chariot or turning the wheel. Lovers kiss in delirium at the edge of a cliff. The wanderer keeps walking toward the mountain; orange flames in his lantern flicker like tongues desperate to break free of a mouth.
~ after Kathleen Graber America, I've got a touch of cabin fever too & wish I could go to a favorite restaurant again, walk down a short flight of steps into the cool brick-lined interior of what used to be a speak- easy. Wouldn't it be great to order a dozen each of the local oyster varieties, some bread & butter, a nice pull of something bubbly. We'd sing happy birthday or happy anniversary while clinking glasses & taking group pictures. But what if there's a man at a nearby table whose hatred boils over at the sight of anyone— but especially brown people like us—having the gumption to reach for a little joy during this time of sickness & despair, which sometimes feels worse than death? America, he thinks we cannot be in the same room with him. So we get video rolling. We ask him to repeat the hateful obscenities he's hurled our way, so he can be held accountable & shown out of the building. We hold our ground, America. After all the years our kind broke their backs & your hard soil to bring fruit & grain to your table just so you can put a clean white cloth & a crystal service on it; after graveyard shifts during which our kind daily tend to your sick & dying: we have the right to be here & the wages are overdue.
"...We are resting now with about twenty-five bronze figures squatted around us. These Igorot are quite repulsive at times. You should see them eat— they fill their mouths as full as they can stuff them. One of the men who have been carrying me is a sight to behold....He would create a sensation anywhere in the United States." ~ Maud Huntley Jenks, Death Stalks the Philippine Wilds: Letters of Maud (Huntley) Jenks She sits with a pamphlet in her hand and calls it reading. We are to follow her lead and take turns making these sounds. Today I am first. Yesterday I cleaned her floor with a rag and a basin of water. Sunday she made a face and told my brother to take me to the river where he was to scrub me with a bar of soap. She checks our hair and ears and clucks at the sight of our bare feet. We know the sounds in the forests around our homes: tree frogs and owls, anitos watching over us. The mumbaki taught us we may gather firewood in the muyong, but not hunt wild animals there. When we cut down a tree, first we are to say its name. She has our names confused, and so she and her people give us new names in their tongue. My friends and I, we don't correct her. It is better that we keep our true names to ourselves— should we fall like trees, still we'll keep the first things we were given at birth.