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​Sam Roxas-Chua



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?





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

and lacquer.


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—

my parents.


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 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.

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