December Magazine, 2015


Several times I asked my father
to pull on my ears
until my feet were lifted off the ground.

Several times I asked him
to look into my eyes
and blow out the red lanterns—

those soft pendulums
that keep me up at night,
twin stars of vermillion arias.

Several times I placed my hand
inside his mouth and fished for summer,
moon, winter, and tow.

Several times I hid my name
behind my ears
when he called me Bakla!

Several times my hands shimmied
under the breakfast table
where my mother sat me down

and said he wasn’t coming home—
it was Christmas, I wore a red tie.
And on that same day,

a man was found in the river,
his face eaten by fish. Several
times I asked Who was he?

Who was he? Several times
I sucked on plums to think of him.
Several times I dreamt I had gills.





Narrative Magazine, 2014


If I had known
I would have saved the abacus
from the fire. I would have hidden
in the swannery until morning.

If I had known there was a zealot carving
into your blood clot, I would have stayed
on the phone much longer. I would have listened
to you sing the Mei hua, Mei hua song.

I would have turned the lights off
and straightened my back against the wall,
coiled the phone cord around my finger
and remembered summers

under the mango tree.
Summers when you taught me how to peel a fruit
with my tongue. If I had known the sky
would inhale you out of me so quickly,

I would have been a better boy,
I would have been a bird.


If I blew them off the page
they would haunt me tomorrow,

follow me to the courtyard
where my son

pokes a fish with a stick
and I have to tell him

about the dark boat
that milked a galaxy

into my heart.
My counsel will be clear:

he will take the blood-pouch
from inside the fish

and pierce my name
on his arm in owl-scratch script.


These are the traditions of sorrow—
my boy clapping away the three gods

who drew his name from a weaved hat
made of frayed mohair,

from fibers chewed by rats
that gnawed at skirt-saints

and their wooden feet;
those eucalyptus sculptures

that stand on that altar
listening to sins made thew—

Santo Policarpo, Santa Inez,
and Pastor Juju who reeked

of lemon Pledge
and lacquer.

My son’s small hands
see the tiny words

on their painted eyes;
he trims a curtain of lashes,

folds them into paper—
immures them into a stray year.


When I was eighteen
I swallowed a needle

attached to a red thread.
I stitched my name

to the sails of a moored haunt—
my parents.

Their tongues unanthemed—
distended bloats of indigo.

I remember standing
in front of their bodies

burning—a good boy listening
to bones hissing

like pumice stones.
The instructions were clear:

Bless the piss,
bless the blood.




Where I once took off my dress
and drank sweet wine mixed with aloe.
Where our fingers stretched the small mouths
of rattan—tongues licking
each other’s lips like eels
born at the orange hour.
Afternoons where I bled for a week
from your stubble. It was there I saw
revisions of heaven and hell,
prayer and trespass leaking
a liquid pearl into Andromeda
and her buoyant stars.


An octopus, miles deep in a bay
covers her eggs for four years,
I don’t know of such dedication
from anything living.

And in that four years I’ve emptied
many of your dress pockets
looking for a letter you said
you would leave me.

I go through dresses made of pineapple
threads, silk blouses you’ve stitched
in the dark to pay for milk powder,
fortune noodles, and century eggs.

On my first birthday,
you bit my lower lip
so you would have a story
to tell me about not being yours—

how I came out of a woman
who was nineteen in the Philippines.
And how she left me in the cradle
of a tree limb, unwrapped.

You wanted that story to hem
my lips together, not to ask questions
about my birthmarks, my Chinese
cousins, my made up languages

sung during a typhoon. Never to ask
why nests would fall when we walked
through the jungle to beat a papaya
with cudgels of chants.

Never to ask about my aversion
to uncles, butchers, and albularios
who saw lights beam out of my hands
at the midnight market.

At the midnight market, how you held
my wrist tight when we passed
by the alligator crabs. How you said
something under your breath

about the color blue. And after you bought
the carob root from the no-eyed man,
wearing no-shirt, he said go
to the Capilla de dos luces. And you said,

Yes. We headed for the firefly chapel,
past Aling Girly’s Sari-Sari store,
past the slut-house where you found
my birthfather, Jose. And how he bit

your lip to leave me a story about him.
And how you washed your mouth
with good-smell soaps
gifted on your wedding day.

And on your wedding day, the monsoon
rain arrived, unexpected.
And how in that chapel lived a priest
who was once your husband.

You never questioned the halo
or the white sampaguitas
he coughed up when you both burned
trash under the mango tree for a blessing.

That same tree where you asked a dark god
for a potion so men would fall in love with you.
How that red-eared god rolled his tongue
into your belly as payment,

and how you heard those babies
in the garden. Those red-eared babies
who smelled like soot and hoof;
how their hands,

like octopus ferns left tiny bruises
in the shape of small eggs. And how
in the chapel they glowed in silence.

why does walking hurt my hands?

From Fawn Language (Tebot Bach, 2013)