river in November light between bare woods and mountain
When I was child, I played
with chesspieces but out of order,

not heeding rules or design.
I skirted around the bishop, laid

the rounded head of a pawn
in the bowl at the castle's top.

The horses were only horses'
heads, so I could not bridle

them or take them for a canter.
Slender king, dangerous queen,

walking the edges of a checkered
field beyond which forests

breathed, and the patient
tongues of the sea waited.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain
A woman tends a garden
filled with a great variety of roses.

Climbing or opening, each of their
names is a poem.

The walkway is trellised
with braided boughs.

In another garden, a fig tree
towers next to a persimmon.

They have secret names, too:
crow-feathered poems.

Mystery's the answer
to what I can't explain.

Moss thickens like ache
among islands of grass.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain
More often now,
it glimmers—scroll
of a sky unfurling
its banner overhead.

And I, on a boat,
borne by the current.

Overhead banner
of the sky unfurling,
scroll of glimmering.
More often now.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain
Before the lamb leaped 
into the arms of the woman

with seven diadems and orange
groves flowered beneath

the mountains' hems, our hearts
were forged in the fire

that could never be
extinguished. But then

our hearts folded into boats
as the waters rose, and all the fish

in the world recalled the bones
they'd once given up to fill out

our forms. We've made our own
way since then—trying to keep

the flicker of heat alive,
trying not to surrender to the call

of the owl or the mourning
dove. When we stand

in a shower of rain
or falling leaves, when

we're struck with the gold
of certain days, our hearts

burst from within; our faces,
tongued by the kiss of time.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain

Even the most insignificant detail is a petal
detached from the more florid arrangements

of history. For instance, it’s not a coincidence
that the puffy-faced, butterfly-sleeved widow

of a deceased dictator says, There are two most
important men in my life and both of them are

. There’s a whole line of women
installed to power by their sons who were

emperors. Mothers, certainly, but also ambitious;
knowledgeable in the poisonous properties of mush-

rooms, the power of relics to inspire processions,
where loyalty and ardor are on lavish display.

In our town, mothers fought for their daughters’
places in the Santacruzan’s entourage of queens—

The most important: Reyna Elena who found
the true cross, mother of Constantine the Great.

The rest of us were First or Second Princesses,
stumbling in long sequinned dresses; or stand-ins

for made up or biblical characters. Reyna Justicia,
Reyna de la Paz, Reyna Esperanza; Reyna Mora, Reyna

Cleopatra. Reyna Judit—red-stained sword aloft in one
hand, the other dangling a doll’s decapitated head by its hair.

Amianan, Abagatan*

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
In summer, when I crack 
the windows open, sometimes
I imagine the night jasmine
pulling threads of scent
from far away.

It's been years
since my mother put the Virgin
in my hand and closed her fingers
around mine, wishing me good
journeys: my dark, palm-sized
plaster Madonna, in a skirt
belled and blue.

Fade of gold
crowning her head, one of
dozens on the sidewalk
at the entrance to the church
in Antipolo, sold with prayer beads
and vials of blessed oil.

Humid winds blew
across the water, stirring
the breadfruit trees. Like
the galleon El Almirante, they
could billow a sail across the sea.

* North and South, in Ilocano