Poetry / July 2018 (Issue 40: Writing the Philippines)

An Saindang Tataramon

by Kabel Mishka Ligot

The thoroughfare to Bikol from Manila is called bitukang manók:
literally chicken's intestine—road that ambles about, skirting around our embarrassment
of volcanoes. On the map, the peninsula's a fern uncurling itself from the mainland
as if in pursuit of an elsewhere sun, and the Pan-Philippine Highway appears
harmless, just another lopsided passage no different from any other on these
islands. They say the difference is only evident as one coasts on it, the body
lurching from hillside to verdant hillside, the vehicle humming, threatening
its incapacity to contain you. I once volunteered to visit Legazpi by bus
and my grandmother instantly protested, squawking I'll buy your plane ticket, despite
the fact I've done twelve-hour zigzags up to the northern mountains in my sleep
on the midnight bus to Ifugao. When I hear the phrase bitukang manók

I think of the act of forcing language through a bird's throat, the chickenfeed
of speech sliding down the ducts and vents. When my grandmother speaks Bikol
it almost sounds like Filipino, like someone writing down something memorized
with your eyes closed and rereading the scrawl on the page. Consider my own speech running
through a fine metal sieve, a triplicate form of substitutions: a lingering
on a syllable here, yawing a's metamorphosing into coy o's there. Leave room for four or five
margins of error. Say the same thing in the language you know, the way you know how
but this time mimic the tone of begging, of teasing, of holding on for dear life
on a careening jeepney—all at once. By land, this is the only method of entering the region
or ferrying oneself within it.
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ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.