You read a poor Tagalog translation of handwritten prayers on your mother’s dresser. Your cousin has mistaken aswang for multo. Even you–whose native tongue died in his mouth years ago–knows the difference. Aswang is an evil spirit. A Filipino vampire. A dog. Something wicked. Your cousin has been looking to redefine herself at college. Away from the vanilla-colored hallways and powder-burned lockers of affluent homogenization, now the pale Pinay recessive genetics have a second name and second life in the stadium-seated lecture halls of state colleges. She eats rice without utensils, wants to go to Manila, asks her ate and kuya about jeepneys and sari sari stores. Her younger brother obsesses over XBox and the Nets game on TNT. You clean rice in the kitchen–rinse by hand three times. Cold water. You feel it in your knuckles. It’s snowing only enough to be nuisance.
plant dying on your desk
When she calls you brother, you bristle. She has taken your parents as her own–adoption in reverse. She plans their anniversary party without you because she knows you’re busy. You are only months away from sleeping on couches and collecting unemployment checks, but for the moment–the hour-long drive home might as well be twelve hours. You minimize windows on your computer. The economy of language in poetry is only awkward silence in the company of loved ones. You smoke cigars on the porch of your half-double well into the heart of Fall but never wear a jacket.
dull plastic knife
in a garbage bag
New Year’s Eve and you wall your corner of the kitchen with wine bottles. You keep saying “raw oysters” because you like how inarticulate you’ve become. It keeps coming out “Roy Owbisters.” A few more swigs and it’s just “Roy Orbison” and sloppy laughter. You have been sleeping on a red leather couch and your friends are playing Connect Four between crushed tallboys and grilled savory meats. You shut your phone off around midnight; shortly after talking to your parents. It’s harder and harder for them to stay up to see the new year. You fall asleep on top the neighbors’ jackets.
she writes down
her wrong number
Last Christmas felt like your first Christmas home in years. You watch your parents make lumpia in the kitchen. The dough is tissue thin. Cabbage. Carrot shavings. Crumbled sausage. Adobo seasonings. Your mother’s fingers look like oak branches in winter. Arthritis is your inheritance. Patience is the lesson today, though. Every once in a while, a wrapper tears. Your mother gives your dad enough shit for being too much in a hurry. There is a grotto in their back yard with a virgin Mary statue behind glass. You will wrap it in Christmas lights later. Your mother will lay out your clothes tomorrow morning. Tonight, you cup your palm in front of the rice as you pour the starchy water down the drain.
a little mascara
wiping soy sauce
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, New South, [PANK], and The Minnesota Review. He also thinks you should be listening to Strand of Oaks. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.