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Angela Gabrielle Fabunan

First Day


You notice first

the height

of the fans, the bulk

of the chairs,

chatter in a language

you half-understand,

guidelines unfamiliar yet

drawn in air;

trying to hide your newness,

like a coat worn occasionally then

wedged in a closet.


They don’t know your reasons,

have yet to attach

a name to your shirt—

they haven’t yet begun the process

of unknowing you,

but they will.


Everyone is familiar

with blackboards by now,

the years of a life spent gathering

the arithmetic of loss,

how it can be reversed with

the change of a sign.


You know, in your dress

carrying yesterday’s stains,

that you will never quite

figure out the equation,

but it’s still early—

hope blooming red

like gumamela or

the shrub of pink roses outside.


Yes, words matter:

the hoods they wear thick,

their hooks sharp when

finally unleashed,

it’s like New Year’s—

            a little plastic whistle

                        a torotot with a plume

                                    a rattle


At recess you swallow

the small morsels of lunch:

PB&J or kare-kare,

and as the day becomes clearer,

you choose distance

as a measurement of space.


The thought of shapes on paper:

            boat           animal                  fruit

imprints appearing wherever they land.


Until tomorrow.


You take home etsapuwera,

the new word you learned today,

almost like sip-sip, a little like pera,

the beginning et holding it together,

needing to spit when you say it;

all the accompaniments of a word.


It reminds you of learning ambivalent:

little am like I’m, and biv like bib,

the a hanging there, and lent,

a whole season of choosing good.



The State of Nations


In a landscape of flickering light bulbs,

                        you ask a Catholic priest where the Middle East is, and why

all the other kids were sent home,        one-by-one, before lunchtime.

Then silence, until you’re alone with your father and, though he’s no priest,

            he explains that there were two planes that hit two buildings.

You ask him why you weren’t picked up from school

            like the others,     not understanding          the toll of death.

Which is why, years later, after your father has passed, you are still looking

for answers in the eyes of men:       you ask your teacher

                        why there is such resistance to the Presidente—still living

in a fairytale where no one dies, that is, until their bodies appear in the malls

            and streets, wag tularan across their backs.

There is a sadness here, much like before: the silence of an archipelago

                        at times of war, houses lit with solitary candles.


No means no, but sometimes means oo.


Ayoko, for what you don’t want, though your smile

says something different. When he makes

ligaw towards you, just say oo, not uh-oh,

not oh-oh, but a solid and firm oo.


For lovers in the Philippines,

a no is never a hindi, but always an oo.


Sige na kasi, no ifs or buts. Haba ng hair,

you’re a heroine. Like a virgin, not a drug.


OO, when you win the corona, OO, when you win

his heart, then a bunch of OO OO OO, when you—

dance. It’s oo, tanga, not zeroes, but ohhhs.


You are your father’s jewel, his religion.

You are your mother’s shadow, her story.

You are a dalagang Filipina.


This you hold in your hand as you say no,

                                                                  as you okay,

                                                                                          as you oo.

-from The Sea That Beckoned, Platypus Press 2019, selected by Fall 2020 Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres

Angela Gabrielle Fabunan was raised in NYC and lives in the Philippines. She attends the University of the Philippines MA Creative Writing Program. She was the recipient of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation Award (Poetry, 2016) and the Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio Literary Award (Poetry, 2018). She has been a recipient of the Rutan Grant as well as the Gibbons Fellowship and has participated in the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. She is a poetry editor at Inklette Magazine and copyeditor at Balangiga Press. Her first book of poetry, The Sea That Beckoned, is available from Platypus Press.

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