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?
A COLLECTION OF EYELASHES ON PAPER
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 Policarpio, Santa Inez,
and Pastor Juju who reeked
of lemon Pledge
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—
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.
Out here, wild sunflowers drink
from the small hands of salt.
A little red girl visits my hotel window
and points to leviathans on the beach
spelling my name on the surf with their tongue.
I pound on the window, she falls
five chapters down—disappears.
I close the curtains. Out here,
mornings move like kelp,
green tea tastes like diamonds.
-from Saying Your Name Three Times Underwater, Lithic Press 2017, selected by PoemoftheWeek.com Spring Guest Editor, Luke Johnson
BIO: SAM ROXAS-CHUA 姚 is the author of Saying Your Name Three Times Underwater, Echolalia in Script, and Fawn Language. His poems, artworks, and asemic writings have appeared in journals including Narrative, December Magazine, Cream City Review and an essay/review of his two recent books appears in the Georgia Review and Rhino Poetry. His poetry sequence Diary of Collected Summers was awarded the Missouri Review’s Miller Audio Prize and most recently he was interviewed by Gulf Coast Journal.