Prodigal and Missed

(Fourth of July on my Year 5 in Chicago)

I don’t hear you anymore
when I listen to thunder.
I think the humid air is burdened
with crossroads that are closer
to the body than to the mind
and the petrichor fades
at a radius of a localized pain.
The whole world is a sealed letter,
a rusted vault of now defunct
code words for forgive,
for I’m here, for I see you.

There are storms and fireworks today,
combustible chemicals and rain.
I always thought I’d find you
in between—how that limbo was
the grace you thrived in, you
paradox of moments and surge.
But you are nowhere, not even
in the pauses; there is only
the same drone of voices fighting
the same argument for days
enough to take photographs
of casualties from multiple angles.
But the images don’t exist when
no one is looking. The years run
together like prints on colorfast
fabric draped over August and
I don’t recognize you anywhere,
not even in the ambivalent blur.

Two Parts Ocean, One Part Rage

May the storms that gave birth to us
always be with us,

make us a little out of sync
with these foreign seasons,
favored dance of the aloof
stepmother we struggle to love,
a little breathless
at the sight of falling leaves,
beholden to the glint of
light on a snowflake,
thankful for spring.
May the patter of raindrops
on the glass always
carry memories of
running for freedom,
getting caught in the grind,
a tomorrow that isn’t promised,
the ritual of unmasking
the untrue,
the fragile, near-spiritual ache
from loving the new.

Oh, to truly know
force in arrival,
the art of abandon and
losing ourselves beyond
the threshold,
the soaked-to-the-bone
and the life-goes-on.

May the coastal winds that
conceived us
never leave us, may we
always be soothed
by the petrichor,
the languor of negotiating
the wet earth, the nocturnal
pavements like mirrors,
muffled city bustle and
the prodigal rainbows making
spilled grease on the asphalt
almost opaline.

En Route to “No Blue Memories”

All the steel bridges and politics
were swimming in that fall rain.
What’s one more rusty bolt?
The city is many things, but
quaint and dainty aren’t among them.

Turned off from Lake Shore Drive
with the view of the greenish blue
surface undaunted by the weather
to Grant Park via East Roosevelt,
from where the Field Museum
veiled in fog looked just like
the Manila City Hall from
the top of Lagusnilad, the tunnel
notorious for flooding during
typhoon season, where the teenage
urchins of Ermita held swimming
races across the water the color
of smog mixed with rat urine,
while all the stranded yuppies
cheered before scrambling into
those death-trap buses

(there is a kind of slowness to
remembering when you have to
superimpose memories onto places that
are otherwise unfamiliar, when their
resemblance to childhood landmarks
through an unflattering filter
is all you have to go on).

The car dropped me off at the
State Street entrance because that’s
where the Google Maps navigation
told it to go. The driver of
the #29 bus behind us honked his
horn while I struggled to open
my umbrella before getting off.

The sign on the door said,
“Closed after 5 pm.
Use Plymouth Entrance.”
So I had to walk halfway around
the block at 40 degrees, heels
of my boots clicking, my mind
automatically playing the intro
to the 2008 Jordin Sparks song.

There’s an alcove on the wall
along Van Buren. Two men were in it,
taking refuge from the capricious
Chicago night. Their backs were
pressed against the brick that made
me think of newly harvested wheat.
They were smoking weed and
exhaling indifferently
to passersby on the street.

Nimbus Theater

The sky ruptured
in a deafening instant
boom of non-negotiable darkness
like an abrupt gesture of cruelty

a stutter?
a master stroke of honesty?

an explosion of dust
on a startled blackbird
jerked to flight,
and the noise that startled it

so long and so prolonged,
the nursing of this storm,
the humid heat like a knotted fist
holding life itself

the way it refused to breathe
or let breathe, or release

and nobody saw
how close the sky was,
only felt it
bearing down on the horizon
thin line between surrender
and soul

an ending that would
trigger so many pent up things
with the full weight of knowing,
because otherwise, believing
has no room to wiggle in
that airless space,
that unyielding grip

and it all went tumbling out,
limbs flailing in the chaos
dirty laundry, all
and sense of time
turned upside down

Rain Hypnosis

as if the afternoon were
climbing onto a high shelf
where people call the stars
by their names

as if emotions were satellites
that revolve around the sounds
we make when we thirst,
when we crave

as if we are hemispheres
of painted deserts
and trees that feel pain

as if it only rains
because there is a part
of sincerity that’s been
too long silent, and it needs
water to remember language

as if shadows kiss

as if the sky is incomplete

as if we are not here
but dreaming
of hearing that rhythm

(what if it’s actually
the voice of love

as if we are made of glass
and covered in storied streets
and our meaning is stitched
in footprints

The Prosaic Rorschach

The condensate clung
to the glass in droplets

the window framing
the early spring,
late evening
urban scene

sometimes the blemishes
make the picture

I wanted to say
it reminded me of
the way fabric
sticks to the body and
skims a woman’s curves
after hours of dancing,
sweat and freedom
co-mingling on the surface
of her bronze skin
secondhand smoke and
vigorous strains of rhumba
giving her a glorious
worldly air

oblivious of troubles
and the consequences
of rain

but really I was thinking
of the inside of a brushed
steel kitchen sink before
I scrub the grease off,
how tap water clings
to the metal in streaks
and beads instead
of flowing straight down.

One metaphor for rebellion,
the other for restlessness

and the vapors don’t lie:
it was colder on the inside
than out

At the Seams

spring arrives the way
dawn arrives,
only hungrier.

there’s something to it
like the chaos of childbirth:
despair, pain,
purging, cleansing,
untouched corners and
the change that touches them.
water everywhere,
light that hesitates.
a pulling away,
two seasons,
two hemispheres of consciousness,

two curses.
hopes mixed with blood.

Estranged Children of Storms

I wonder if, when rolling thunder breaks
the white noise cadence of this restless city,
I’m the only one who can hear the call of home
or are there others, looking up from the Jenga
towers of their daily struggles, straining to conjure
nights besieged by southwest monsoons and
coaxing their consciousness free from the ones
and zeroes, to nestle in the remembered scent
of rain and the hands of humid winds rattling
the shutters, touching them through the walls.

I wonder if the amniotic coastline waters we’ve
been conceived in has dried out halfway through
being airlifted from our origins and blown into this
busy port of steel and brickwork, if the archipelago
encrypted into the way we dream and love and
react to pain has been overridden and are we
skyscrapers now of Midwestern mettle, maintaining
a casual eye contact relationship with storms and
brisk walking past mentions of tropical depressions
like strangers in crowded sidewalks, with not
enough bamboo left in our souls to heed the once
second to our nature invitation to step into the
whirlwind, to kneel in the eye of uncertainty and
lengths of silence punctuating troubled sleep inside
the mosquito net that veils the dawning morning
and its flooded streets, the tree of one’s childhood
uprooted, all its secrets exposed and disheveled
and stories thrown over left shoulders, and the
village waking up to mystic infusions of heroic
blood, unfazed by the countless lashes dealt by fate
on their tired brown muscles, carrying scars like
prized inheritance and rebuilding to the beat of the
same songs our ancestors had sung centuries before.

We All Just Need A Little Rain

Curtains of water
heavier than brocade
hung from ceilings of nimbus
cloaking the vulnerable street
in damp shadows and rhythms
of nature’s intrumentals.
All the world outside is chaos
for a young mind but
I’ve already decided
he would either know
or receive the unknown
like a guest with
great stories to tell.
So I took his hand
and opened the door
and guided his steps to his
first foray into losing
everything he is
to the song of his five
senses taking over.
And the rain fell on him
with the vigor and majesty
of the universe greeting him
as one of its own,
like a transfusion of life,
like being surrounded by time,
and oh, he received it
with genuine laughter,
splashes of toddler syllables
flowing in syncopated harmony
with the rippling of puddles
forming around his rubber
Spiderman slippered feet,
so much joy and enough
bewilderment to mimic thunder
and knock on the quiescent
chrysalis of his fledgling
humanity, impatient for glory
and open for what gifts
cold air and slick roads
and bolts of lightning
and a washing off of dust
from walls and sleep from eyes
and an unapologetic unfettering
of an illusory stasis
have in store.

* * *

He’ll get swept up in that
feeling again, someday,
in other points in his life,
a standing ovation, perhaps,
a three-point shot, a kiss,
standing up to a great fear.
May his spirit always find its way
back to that giggling drunk
little child playing in the rain.


Here comes the rain again
resounding footfalls of past lives
on the darkening pavement
like relics of forgotten virtues
failed rebellions and
fondly remembered places where
you once desperately craved
to belong, but had been
anything but nurturing
to your presence, as if
they had seen the future
and knew you might be happier
elsewhere. You are the sum
of such places, this moment
you occupy, charged with hopes
that seem to slip in search of
the absent sun, is the earthly body
of the dreams whose vividness
make you question whether
you had left a piece of yourself
behind for weavers of other
realities to make stories with.
Your regrets are the rafts
on lake’s edge, unreliable but
there, should you wish to try
again to make it in the direction
whence you came. Even
the danger is you, what you’ve
done to survive, nobly and
otherwise. It all led to here
and now. And there is the
name unique to your immortal
spirit imprinted on the way that
you let the rain fall down on you,
waiting to be read, waiting to be
owned, so you can christen
your struggle by drawing your
proverbial blood and pouring it
into the puddles of sky
on the ground where you have
also many times fallen,
reminiscent of tears and bearing
the weight of a thousand years.