I. Prayer to Saint Philomena
For a dry December. For strength
from the pull up. For her face.
For her face the smell of earth.
For, like a miser, the counting of days.
For escape. For a different new year.
For seven thousand islands emergent,
and one far too much. For everywhere
fire. For who knows why. For flint.
For the name of a tropical storm. For
shards of glass. For each unconfessed sin.
For foreign coins oxidizing in their jars.
For more leaving after this leaving.
II. After Dinner, No Stars
No more leaving after this leaving, but here
I am, in the womb of a jeepney, in a candlelit
procession swaying slow down V. Rama, bent
over a bowl of soup for three, sweating in my chair.
The woman at the other table has been silent
for years, faces the street because she sees
more than I—how the roadside river smokes;
above Mang Inasal, the veiled moon in heat.
All others come and go but I remain, and her
bowed back remains, and I imagine the eyes
that take in, every night, the long dust of a city.
"Hello," I try. She fetches me a can of beer.
III. Whale Shark Watching
"Hello…" I try to speak, but the wind is loud,
it rings, and rung ears cannot balance.
"Go," a boatman scoops up shrimp and shouts
at me to enter, and the ocean is a mess
of darkened humps against clear crystal, "now!"
Through the burning salt I catch a gape:
the thing is more surprised to see me than I it.
Boatman Two beside me clutches rope
in one hand, a GoPro in the other, and gets
me to dive down deeper. Blurry shapes…
Later, flipping through the fifty shots that make
up my memory, I figure out what it looks like.
IV. In My
In my memory, I figured I would not miss
you—but my hotel room knows me well,
leaves me alone, leaves half an answer (yes).
In my hotel room, my eyes are walled
shut. The daily ferry is all booked out.
Wasted time takes more time to distill.
In my mind's eye, you stretch out like a cat
without its purr, expand to fill the room,
shake the furniture. No more space for doubt.
In my other half an answer, memory is soon
forgotten. My eyes wander on. The loss
of today's ferry is tomorrow's gift to lose.
V. A View of Hills
Yesterday's stranger is today's stoic guide,
nape inches from my face. His Kawasaki
under us. I suppose he can feel me breathe.
Tickled by a fly, the land yawns itself awake
once more, tolerates us buzzing up the side
of a flank, deposits the bike on a ridge, gently.
He tells me these hills are mounds of cocoa
in summer, sun-browned, Kisses. I can't speak
from caging all the greenery to fit in my head.
This is not the view of Bohol, but it is near
enough. The trees are rippling fur. The wind blows
close, leonine and sweet against our necks.
VI. Spare Change
The sun is fiercer than a lion and sweet as honey,
dripped on my neck. Sappho is with me, and sand—
well, fragments of rock—blesses every inch of skin.
Children scream for joy at the border of sea and land.
I have made my peace. I have grown thin.
I see my beer-lady, my boatman, in every local face.
I know their English is not the English I dream in,
which is not the English I read. This is a sandy place.
Sappho, I know better than to wish your work
complete. Another ocean rings in the blank space
beyond words. A man comes, with knowing smirk
and fruit for sale. For now I'll speak tourist money.
Instead of cash or cards, I send my voice.
Instead of candied fruit, my aching body.
A worn foot basin instead of anointing oil
or sandals. Instead of my voice, a story.
Instead of a night sky filled with nebulae,
I'll send other beauties: a pothole of black
water like a scrying pool, the twist of fate
in a half-formed duck egg, a checklist's X.
Instead of sunlight, rain to make amends,
floods, hand-me-down snorkels to breathe
underwater. Salt instead of fresh. Instead
of a dry December, I will send you strength.