Four poems from “Poems for the Dead”

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by Arvin Mangohig

 

1.

Love in the Time of Martial Law

I want you to save me and be gentle, our feet
Bleeding with ink from the newspapers they have shut down,
Our clothes tattered because our mothers must leave.
Offshore, our feet rot on black sand they will steal from us.

I want peace at night, before the shaking starts.
Trauma at the tip of my tongue passes from mine
To yours. Love me lightly or the bruises will return.
Not that the teeth they have pulled out might grow again.

To love you now means to love all the broken body parts
That running away has dealt us. Here I love you
In cul de sacs. Here I love you trapped between the ribs
Of burning cars. Here our nipples are crushed by steel.

There is no tomorrow in loving you. Only today counts.
We count our present, dazzling wounds. Our bodies
Are collections of near-misses and escapes, and between them
The times we find no barbed wire between our bloodied lips.

 

2.

Unfinished Business

The way things were you had to leave
Unfinished business before the next day broke
Dishes in the sink
Conversations in midair
Planes before they even landed

Not that you could finish them anyway
For years to come
When you could not come back to them
These bothered you in the joints of your bones

That everyday ritual with a spouse
That son of yours not past grown your knees yet
That sound the hairclips made
When you finished with your daughter’s pigtails

All four clips of tenderness going
Click click, click click, in the memory

 

3.

Manunggal Street, 1985

If you survived it, you would survive
Anything: the summer of broken bones,
My cousin’s arm in a blue cast. Mumps,

Measles, days of nothingness, just
Being there like dust, selling
Ice candy through the sari-sari

Store’s one window hole through chicken
Wire, watching the dangers of the outside
World pass by like a phalanx of soldiers.

Titas and titos warned us what was
Out there: inner cities, drugs,
Raids in the slums that nightly

Drained blood, police in their owner
Type jeeps who kidnapped and savaged,
Bumbays and Intsiks who stalked

Our streets for evil kids. We were
Let out only to be gathered in before 5 p.m.
The siato stick meant it was late.

Its last flight trailed into the descent
Of the sun, as sisters and brothers swung
On the abandoned truck’s steering wheel.

We were that little, and the warnings
Of ates and kuyas were dark monsters
In our heads, frightened into staying

In our houses. It meant freedom, going out
Past 6, into the darkness of the lumberyard,
Its makeshift ladder of coconut

leading, past the crowns of our duhat
And mango trees, past that little world
We were cornered in, to the moon.

 

4.

Lost Things

One day you may take the most luminous thing
In your life and lose it halfway between home and destination.
To go back would feel wrong.
To arrive without it means defeat.

Out in the world where no one knows your name,
That one thing is the only one that can save you.
It is the answer that burns the souled-out questions of darkness,
Both the pass and password to salvation.

So no one can ask why you never came home
And never arrived, you stayed where you lost it.
In that imagine circumference of its light, you chose
To live your life, burning yourself out, you luminous thing.

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