What even are we?

By | 1 June 2022

I remember calling you Donkey Kong
because it matched your initials.
And, you called me “Ate” (ah-teh) –
big sister in tagalog
because our culture is big on respect,
big on our titles for those older,
but I’m not sure what else.

As your older cousin
I did a poor job, didn’t I?
When I showed that hand, our family magic.
(I didn’t know it was a secret, but
I’ve learnt intentions don’t really matter).
That flashy crystal my mum used to love
to parade around on school day drives and shopping trips,
“Your uncle is addicted to methamphetamines,
Tsk, always asking your grandma for money”.

I laughed the way she did when I casually
mentioned your dad’s time on ice
not knowing how inappropriate until
I saw you blank
then blink
and say,”Oh.
…I didn’t know.”
You recounted how he would disappear for months;
no one ever told you, or your brother, anything.
Sometimes he’d show up only to leave.
You thanked me, you finally knew why.

We said we’d meet again
and we waved each other off.
I stared at the sky blurred with periwinkle blue
and delicate white
as I replayed the day on my way home.
I had finally seen you for the first time in years.

My dad messaged me
saying to leave your family alone
as if I had stuffed you all in a box
and shaken the whole goddamn thing.

Your dad took over your phone
telling me he would get me.
How he knew someone who worked at the
Roads and Maritime Service;
he’d get my address.
How I’ll never see you again.
How my father was no angel;
he had done it too.
But, here’s the difference:
I knew.
Not that he had dabbled in meth
but had smoke shrouding him all the time
or maybe I just didn’t have any expectations.
So, I didn’t care. I always tried not to.

Perhaps our fathers,
being immigrants, were easy enough prey
to the helplessly sweet caress
of a seemingly endless haze,
a glass full
of always happy
or perhaps it was a self-aware hesitation
toward the direction they were running.

I don’t know when it started
but I hate being Filipino.
Everyone is always loud
but not about things that actually matter.
Everyone always cares
but only so they can talk about you later.
Everyone always wants to sing.
Have you noticed at every Filipino party
there is always a karaoke machine?

I spoke to my therapist of my sudden urges to sing,
And he said it was a release: a way to gather oxygen,
and blow out the stale emotions.
Who knows if it’s true –
God? He doesn’t bother me anymore.

Maybe, all of us are a muscle, drumming though
and navigating this mapless, dusty,
copper landscape with song.

Maybe, it’s a shared subconscious trying to clear
and make way for something better than the past.

Or maybe we’re all just so traumatised,
don’t recognise it
and just keep belting tune after tune.
Everything hidden under layers of
of loudness and oily, fatty, delicious, fried food.

You and I, we should be careful,
heart attacks pulse through our family.
It’s the leading cause of death in The Phils
it transverses oceans
and is grasping to find
another rhythm.

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