Poetry / June 2017 (Issue 36: Writing Japan)


by Gregory Dunne

for the children of the Payatas

The mountain slides beneath her feet
as she climbs
and starts to rummage
through cans and bottles
until she lifts a wooden hanger. Now

the camera angle changes
to focus on reporters
huddled along the mountain slope
to talk of plywood shanties
buried beneath the waves they saw
rushing down the mountain yesterday.

The reporters speak of missing children
and then they speak of numbers dead.
They speak until the child arrives
to stand with them, breathless
and drenching wet
but ready to answer questions.

The child speaks of family
and then of what she's found—
          the treasure it is for her
and for her family too, as she lifts it
for all to see
how beautifully it's painted gold.

She wipes her face—
palms against cheeks—
both sides—and smiles
as beads of rain begin to run
and shimmer
along the river of her hair.

And when the camera pulls away
and she begins to grow
small and then smaller
beneath the growing wave of trash,
the last we see of her
is just her smile
                               and waving hand—
the last we see
in turning television off
and getting set for bed,
          opening closet doors
and handing each other hangers
to put our clothes away upon

with greater care tonight perhaps
as we undress before mirrors,
and see again her smile
appearing out before us
in lights that flash across
our shadowed mirror, some

confusion in the harbor, a boat
we turn to see patrolling
the waters with sirens
turned low
and lights flooding out—touching
the small hands of lifting waves.

New World Manila Hotel

Note: On July 11, 2000, a landslide on a garbage dump killed 218 people living on the dumpsite in Manila (Payatas) and caused 300 missing persons, though many first-hand accounts note that the number is far greater and much closer to 1,000.
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