Poetry / June 2012 (Issue 17)

Two Poems

by Julia Cariño


Papa sat by the car, smoking
his Marlboros, red box
cigarette foil creased into a skinny
makeshift toothpick, tucked
behind his ear for the aftermeal,
guitar leaning beside him
in the sand while on his
knee he balanced his plate of food.
The best meal I ever had
with my papa rubbing his belly
by the fire burning driftwood
spitting fishbones into the flames
and singing "You can talk to me.
If you're lonely
you can talk to me."

In this memory of song
all songs sung by the sea make sense.

By the sea there was no difference
between the sand and the salt
we grilled the milkfish with,
each bite grainy in our mouths,
dissolving by the time
our fingers lifted the next bite
up to our lips, no time
for anything else
but handfuls of buttery
jasmine rice, garlic and
vinegar, diced tomatoes and onions
to steep in chili and soy sauce
dripping down our chins.
In this memory of food,
I could never be from the islands
until I ate with both my hands.

But the way we speak
is different by the ocean,
one breath as if the
daylight were running out
any second. The things we
do are different,
the way papa let me wade out
into the waves even if
I didn't know how to swim,
so that when I followed a group
of children around splashing
in the seafoam, I tripped and
for a split second rued
stuffing myself with so many
halves of fish and rice as I
fell into the water, panicked
until I realised the tide
went out for at least half a mile
before any visible drop.
This memory of drowning
is the memory of the last thing you ate,
the fish and rice and
tomatoes still sitting in
your stomach, this last meal
filling you up as you fall
into the water.

Afterward, in this memory of water,
this memory of sprinting up the shore,
still feeling your sea legs,
the sound in your ears
is like the hiss of fishbones
hitting the fire.

Pusoy Dos

When I think of you, your purpose in life
seems only to shuffle and spread,
silently flick at the cards, never speaking.
Never, not even to say I pass or hit me, or fold.

We sat this way for hours, playing
Pusoy Dos; building our hands as if
they were the most sacred vessels in the world—
more sacred even than lola's statues of saints

in the main house, and the low rumbling of
the old women slogging through their novenas.
Our card games were an exercise
in the sacredness of silence. In the muteness

we carved out, you taught me to read the secret
tarot of your hands, taught me that the bend
of the corner of your card meant it was your last play,
taught me to reveal my hand only when

all the hearts had been won. What you learn in
silence is to interpret each gesture, each look,
the crease and partition, the cut in the
deck you're playing with. Even now,

when there's a lull in conversation, I can
read the gritty tension in people's lips
as they smile and nervously part their hair.
Flick. Your meaning turns into the black

strip of fly paper curling around the grills
on the windows. Crease. Clusters of minced chilies
and crackled pig skins floating on the oily surface
of the vinegar bowl. Flick. The wide lip of the spiced

rum bottle and a pack of cards, the shuffle
and grey sneer of the Jack, Queen, King.
Rip. There's that eagle on the back of your
last. 25¢ staring up at you, its wings mantled.
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.