Bones in my Inbox

I no longer hold against you
your sub par love
I know you only learned how to treat me
by watching me
and I had that habit of
putting myself last,
giving you more room,
gathering to myself my flourishes
and feathers so you might feel safer,
so next to me could feel
more like home to you.
I thought by making myself lighter
you’d be compelled to trust me
with the gravity of the battles you carry,
the trophies from the demons
you’d slain to cross a desert’s
worth of ancestral blood.
I did everything right
you could sculpt perfection
from the sum of my sacrifices.
I was a nobody, I was nowhere
you touched me whenever you wanted
and none of me stained
I cleared the way, minimized my needs
so that my future could be
your blank slate, your life’s stage
but you never danced for me
you never sang for me
all those spotlights on you
and you never saw me
and in the end I begged but
you had made up your mind to be free of me
and the world had only gotten smaller
for you since then
but you never got the irony

and now you see me loving myself
loving a love that doesn’t require
erasing myself,
being unapologetic for my wild self,
my loud self, being unafraid
to leave where I am not
adequately wanted

and suddenly you want me?
suddenly you spare no grand,
sweeping stroke in expressing
the devotion you offer me
suddenly you’re dismantling
the performance you’ve built
just to get me to reconsider

please don’t disrespect the lesson
it’s no longer 2007
and I’m no longer stupid

you learn how to treat me
by watching me

stop watching me

A Long Postscript

I think I understand you now,
that detachment that was almost
sacred, crossing it felt like

a disrespect. Those places we
have exchanged for home, each
an oasis for a single passage

and the desert around it eternal
and what makes it beautiful.
I understand you now, a hundred

years too late, long after I
loved you. The poetry of your eyes
was the ugliest of pains but I was

too busy reading between the lines
to find you as anything other than
tantalizing. You were a lost

continent and I was an island
besieged by storms and there was
nothing mutual about the tenuous

faiths we were torn from. Star-
crossed hungers in a cosmos where
there is no divine plan

and you are lucky if you chance
upon a life that vaguely resembles
the shape of the emptiness inside.

I’m sorry for not acknowledging
your darkness as overwhelmingly
larger than the light I offered.

My need of you was disproportionate
to the permission you gave yourself
to need anything. I understand

you now, breathing spoiled air
and all your efforts to be polite
failing, to try to love

what you have, what you are left
with, having nothing to give. And
ultimately, the pain you caused me

not an incidental but an echo,
a lesser copy of hollowness,
the loudest of sounds.

The Whispered Desert of Almosts

I could have written the dawn over the quivers of your conflicted flesh,
soothed the wars on planets that were always retrograding while you
were busy not seeing the breaks in your brooding sky, busy not feeling
the tidal pulls of a vast, empty distance being filled with more emptiness,
shaped like bodies. I might have loved you that impossible love, for that
shade of brown you couldn’t find in our corner of the world except in the
mirror, might have held our mutual truth hostage like the native language
you were so possessive of in your non-inclusive silences, but I guess we
would never know. The door was solid molave, you were barricaded in
several lifetimes’ worth of cigarette smoke, and you fed your solitude
with echoes that were impervious to all the ways we could have been
more than strangers on a collision course. In lieu of touching you, I’d run
my fingers over the DNA of the wood, markings that nature had left there
that we could have read as symbols, that might have shaped the landscape
of some novel conversation we could have had about the burdened pasts
that sanctuaries are sometimes built from, but maybe to you they were
maps of places one could only get to by sea, and all the vessels had either
sunken or surrendered.

Beautiful Wrong Places

He was never
all where he was,
and that defined him.

He was a country of
contradictions, a thirst
and a glass half full,
an inevitable denouement
in reverse. Loving him
was a doomed adventure

and I knew that,
as we sat talking
over the buoyant hours
between midnight and dawn,
our gaping differences and
mutual nakedness becoming
indistinguishable diluted
in the phosphorescent sea
that was Dimasalang at night
right outside his window.

Three years laying claim
to my prolific roses and
my proud, proud thorns
just a footnote
to his timeline

he left his heart
in his native Nigeria
as he followed his mother
to her next chapter

the loneliness we’d faithfully
chipped at together
just a casualty of war
that he fought inside him,
the part I never got invited to

he’d only been sleepwalking
the whole time, and I was only
a symbol in one of his dreams
from his untamed subconscious.

His passions were
slow-burning fires that left
rings of soot on the ceiling
and my flesh sometimes felt
like the expensive paper
he rolled his weed in
after the spirit had taken on
its second form.
He’d talk then about the strangers
he’d met on Taft or Blumentritt,
how it always tripped him out
that their faces were familiar
but their skin was too light.

His silences would descend
between us with little warning,
like ulcer attacks. More than
once they bleached the acacias
along University Avenue
into husks of lost days.

There wasn’t enough
of the pieces he had left
to cheat on me,
but I knew he wanted to.
The melody of his pidgin,
when he spoke, was torture
because it always sang
not to other women, but
to the impossible distance
that made them so perfect.
I was the best thing he’d
found on the other side
of a mountain he never
wanted to climb:
I wasn’t home.
Home was bigger than both
of our futures combined,
and this moment was
a cramped box in
a warehouse of cramped boxes.

We held on only
to the charm of anomaly.
As meaningful as eclipses
are to gathered roses.

Crossing Jordan to Jericho

[I finally got my ex-boyfriend Raymond Obiekwe to give me copies of the lyrics of the reggae songs we co-wrote together. Here they are.]

We’re crossing Jordan to Jericho
Surrounding the city
Using our voice
to crumble the walls

Hey you up there pulling the strings
Living like thieves and ruling like kings
People with money thirsty for blood
Clinging to power playing hopscotch with God

How many have sniffed and got high?
On the promises they cling to just to get by
When you and I both know they would first die
Before they realize you sold them one big lie

You call me your brother and treat me like a slave
I play your game from the cradle to the grave
The system backing you up makes you so brave
That you punish me for sins God Himself forgave

(circa 2008)

Artwork by graffiti artist Banksy


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Officer with the Badge

[I finally got my ex-boyfriend Raymond Obiekwe to give me copies of the lyrics of the reggae songs we co-wrote together. Here they are.]

Saw a middle aged man on Taft Avenue
Weathered lines on his face with each breath he drew
Taking anguished steps in angry silence
Barely having escaped the street of violence
Eyes that saw struggle blink in the sun
Three hundred pesos clutched in his hands
Has to tell his family they’re out of luck
His fruit stand torn down by your demolition truck

Just an honest man trying to make living
But officer with the badge can be so unforgiving

Still hear the crunch of metal on cheap wood
As you with the guns shut down business for good
Now that you have taken the only thing that he’s done
Eliminating the means because you got a gun
Not caring for the life that you just abused
You call it law yet call in nothing but bad news

Why don’t you rain makers of the brutal storm
Unfeeling puppets clad in uniform
Put his kids in your casualty report
Cos you just killed their only life support
Don’t tell me you’re just following orders
Out in the street they call it murder
They sign the papers and spoke the command
But the blood of your brother is still in your hands

(circa 2007)

image source (photographer unknown)


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Ghetto Note

[I finally got my ex-boyfriend Raymond Obiekwe to give me copies of the lyrics of the reggae songs we co-wrote together. Here they are.]

Let’s have more than just a mediocre story
Not to be overwhelmed by fables of heroic glory
They write a book of lies and mock us in the preface
What good is makeshift peace if the system rots under the surface?
Bound and gagged in unrest, they bleed us dry till we are dead
But true peace only starts when the hungry are fed

Do we spit in the faces of heroes who died trying to set us free?
Those in power have taken us for fools but are we? Really?
Isn’t it time to start wondering what if we desisted?
Silence can’t save us all, what’s to lose if we resisted?

Everyone is looking for a way to get by
And when we look up we see nothing but the open sky
Why can’t we all get involved in something bigger?
Why are we too scared to stand up, speak up when someone pulls the trigger?
It is overdue, we have suffered in silence for too long
Isn’t it time to prove to what race of people we really belong?
We were born free
We deserve to be free

The ghetto note say
Look at the people we put in power
And how we suffer on this hour
We know the real real criminals
We know the real real animals
No more lies, pain and games

(circa 2007)

image source (photographer unknown)


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The Thrill of the Forbidden

I’m standing
on the edge of a cliff
with a fifty-foot drop
at my feet
and for truth to tell
I’ve been here before

…..all it takes
… find out
…..if I will fall
…..or I can fly
… to lose my footing
…..for a while
…..that defining moment
…..parallel to eternity

one jump
and nothing will be the same again
it will be
the end of my world
as I know it

…’s more exciting
…..than suicide,
…..I suppose,
… lasts longer at least
… the dark side
…..where shadows are big enough
… hide the scars
…..and guilt sits with you
… can choose to ignore it
…..the ride becomes worth it

such a risk
has always been forbidden
nobody really knows
if you’ll ever be forgiven
even if you succeed

impunity could be perdition

but I’ve caught a glimpse of the precipice
there’s no turning back
that time when it first
beckoned to me
I’ve long been done for

three years ago
I hesitated
I grabbed the hand
that offered itself
to pull me back
to safety

what neither of us knew
is I’d come running back
to this same spot
at the first opportunity

“Watching the Golden Hour” by photographer Carlos Lazarini

Neruda Speak

We gave each other many things
but I was very clear:
if we ever broke up
you would return nothing
except the Pablo Neruda books of poems
because they were rare
and couldn’t be replaced.

They were the first thing you put on my hands
when you made your decision to say—
the word you could not say—
(Neruda made it easier for you
by paving the way).

The love was perfect
but the time was terrible,
you said.
You said you and I were like a candle
broken in two
that can someday be melted into one again.

So I told you, keep Neruda
as a symbol of that second chance
hold on to them
for me
as a reminder of the hope
you’re leaving me with
and return them only if
(God forbid)
you find someone who can take my place.

But you said no.
You wouldn’t give me even that
no security blankets,
no breakup training wheels,
no panic buttons
to keep me hanging on
or protect me from the cold,
cold world.

You’re truly free now
and so am I

Neruda is back on my shelf
and you are out of my life

Worst Case Scenario

I didn’t know if it was the last time I’d ever see you
But worst case scenario, I never would again
So that morning
I stood with the throng of people
waiting for the mall to open
the corniest thing
wearing my blue and green floral print dress
(which you had never seen)
and carrying an empty lunch box
to put the sisig in
because the mall makes the best-tasting sisig I ever had
and you hadn’t tried it yet.

Every morning of the years your heart was mine
I thought that way:
worst-case scenario, your love for me would end
any moment, like a thief in the night
so I spared no expense to make you happy
lest I run out of chances
and regret it

Every night of the years I had your heart
I thought that way:
worst case scenario, your love wouldn’t always be mine
stars might shift without a warning
and the season could fade just like that
and so I wept with every parting
clung to you like there was no tomorrow
lest I take your presence for granted
and later blame myself for it.

Worst case scenario, this is the end,
the real end.
Not merely what you said
that you only need some time apart.
Worst case scenario, you’re not coming back
but I beat that deadline,
don’t you see?
I passed the test.
I loved with all my heart
and I gave you all I’ve got
while it mattered.

Worst case scenario, you won’t read this,
but I don’t mind.
You know everything in here
before I even said it.
I already met the contingency