by Cristina Denise Go
CITY OF LOVE
My brother used to giggle,
“Ancestry.com is for
white people,” since our last name
was washed in white brine from the
South China Sea. Salt gives you
root cravings. I can smell it
in the dried fish for breakfast
as Kong-Kong says, Kain na,
while his heart coughs up metal,
a pacemaker fixed by the
cardiologist upstairs in
our family boarding house.
He shows me our bones outside,
paper-wrapped in parts—
like meat from the Butcher’s. But
they scatter over the town
in ripped Coca-Cola ads,
those crumpled American
butterflies stamped on pink-turquoise,
Jeepneys, catching tie-dyed dust
on Santo Niño’s gold sclerae.
Their sinews are thick and tissue
strong with rusted scrap silver
sheets scalloped into prisons
and tumors, profuse with deep
red bougainvillea. These
skeletons are fortified
by stucco, fleshy marble
fountains paid with blood, enough
water to quench a visceral
city like this. When it breathed,
I swear I heard the Saints all
sing, and I knew this earth was
tired, but graced; hungry and full.
He looks at me, his black eyes
grayed as those green mountains screamed
ghosts and snakes and love and God,
“This is your first, but not last,
Ama’s glasses are filled
with my shoulders’ reflections,
her eldest foreign grandchild,
but her laugh is tall, growth hormone
free as she slowly steps upstairs
to show me the second house shrine.
She lights plain white candles
in squat Vienna sausage cans
so we can ask Hail Mary,
Full of Grace, could you
also bless the graceless?
I thought I saw a star
on Her blue robe drip down in
waxy prayer to aluminum
rims cupped for the Eucharist,
across three blushed Chinese gods:
My love, may Maria bless
your long, wild prosperous life
mashed-up, raw-beautiful like
crushed halo-halo soup.
For Friday dinner, we cross the street to Tita’s.
The simple grandness of her white house is hidden
behind a concrete twelve-foot wall, from which the growls
of muscular guard dogs echo: thieves of children,
of culture, of power beware. Tita’s most prized
Chow-Chow sits near, next to a spinning electric
fan, cooling his lush gold mane as a maid brushes
his fur. He is from Hong Kong, Tita laughs. I ask
to pet him, but they say he is too ferocious. I
can pet their deer outside, they say, after dinner.
I did not realize pancit molo was soup til
we sat down at the polished table (I only
knew bihon and palabok from Mama). It was
the dry season so I wandered to the garden
for fresh air. The maid walks me to bright parakeets—
vivacious birds singing, swooping, preening, their soft
feathers fanned against mischievous sampaguita
climbing their silver cages. I see the spotted
deer, mothers and fawns, but not before we pass
a lonely swan in the pond, her beak pushing pale
water lilies. Why doesn’t she fly? I ask. I
don’t know my question in Illongo. When we leave,
I look back, watch the wall blend into buzzing street
lamps, pork barbecue, jasmine. We close the doors at
the Shell gas station, listen to the stray cats meow,
scurrying for fish bones, biting at beloved dark.
JELLYFISH IN BACOLOD
It is called the City of
Smiles, he says, with a mouthful
of melted chocolate, as
our ferry cradles Jurassic
Park III on a green TV—
passengers waiting for more
fossils to greet us, relics
of muscled action figures
from Tita’s house in summer,
submerged in silver water.
The ocean licks bendy straws,
karaoke flyers; laps
bottle caps on sandy docks
at Negros. I saw them bob—
inky, squashed bottom-down,
happy-go-lucky smoke clouds
of jellyfish, floating home.
I like to think of her as
a sea monstress, not a god,
who loved those seven moons—men
only crave women who sway
into their orbit. When she
swallowed them whole, wings splayed
against the black, her hard scales
flickered green-blue, mocking man-
maimed constellations. I don’t know
if the village’s drumming
was enough to peel back that
thick membranous fat—see full
moon carcasses spill fast from
her generous belly. But
they say she choked as six orbs
rolled from her throat to the night.
Her tail slipped into ocean,
a happy thief of the last eclipse.
I wonder if those hunters
still dream of carving her head.
Who will cry when soft pulses
from her bleak, deep fire go out?
She is no David. Her microcephalic head
is smaller than either of her plump, clumsy breasts.
Her glassy eyes do not even face the sea—
I was twelve and laughed at her disproportionate
curves. It wasn’t her fault her black hair fell in strings
awkwardly parted across rounded, white shoulders
or her fishtail grew into some rock, grounding her
from looking back home. Her stiff body lacks beauty—
a half-assed edifice to parrot sirenas,
brain-changelings from the male imaginary.
Who knows who made you—a Pinoy Pygmalion
hopeful? You’re famous for your strange marine ugliness,
but it must be lonely—to stare into jungle
with a misshapen torso, thinking of how deep
your teeth could sink into human flesh that teased your
frozen spirit. You have gone hungry too long.
I LOVED HOW SOUND BECAME
fragile when I crinkled plastic honey-colored
wrapper around that polvoron in my
hand. It was magical, like soft stain glass
I’d stare at when we prayed the Our Father. I ate
too many sweets that morning, but I wanted to watch
it crumble, feel the white nutty flakes turn into
sugar dust, careful not to let them scatter to
Lola’s Tide-scented sheets. I couldn’t help it when
yellow clumps began dribbling from my mouth,
simmering with warm tears. My cheeks puff from losing
my dessert—it was too much for me to stomach—
Spanish powder, mixed in the motherland’s milk spilled
out on the checkered pink dress. I started scrubbing.
There are worse things to ruin.
I licked my lips, still tasting it sour.
Cristina Denise Go currently lives in Durham, North Carolina. She received her B.A. in English and B.S. in Biology from the University of Florida. She dreams of laing and perfect rainy days.