What Does the Little Death Feel Like Coming from a Woman?
I walked before I crawled, refused
to splay limbs across dusty rugs,
and when yaya pinched my feet
I never flinched. then 1991—
mountain ashes cloudcrept into me
from Pinatubo’s maw. my lungs
turned to wrinkled quinces,
while outside, lahar charred earth—
landscape raked, scorched
by encanto: a sylvan woman.
so mama said no running,
afraid for the sickly fruit of me.
threat of skinned shins. cherry
glow of lola’s clove cigarettes,
smoke plumes sealing my throat.
or on my cheeks, plum rashes
blooming from playing in witch-
willow. these days, I don’t run much.
but I was only seven when I broke
a girl’s front teeth. was I cruel—
I’d thought to take her for my wife.
she found a boy instead. so I bury myself
as star seed from caimito, always
under a scarlet dusk, as if pain makes me
special. as if the world knows I’ve only
been with men. I braid garlands
of a history I convince myself is real,
thread them jealous through my lover’s hair.
I’d like someone to take me for her wife.
I always end up with a boy.
when I kiss a man in the park, fumble
awkward with his belt, I always finish.
I think I’ve grown up. mornings,
I touch myself, watch in the mirror
so I can pretend. still, my bones knock
unfamiliar in my rind—withering husk,
heaving. nights, I dream of woman,
toothless diwata. she peels me
into scraps. siniguelas pip. cruel
damson stone. bruised remains: uneaten.
Snapshots of Girl with Galaxy of Spiders Drowning in Sopas
I’m bone-child on a stool stripping longbean spines for pay snapping stem from crisp green body
mackerel on the stove bawang at suka peppercorn bay leaf I hum over the milkscent of
bubbling rice & on the back burner broth at rolling boil simmering gingered with—stars : tiny
charcoal bituin bobbing on the surface I stir the pot on tiptoe dots swim frantic miniature
cogs little brood spinning into their own deaths what brought you here straight from nest?
I toss the lot hatchlings & all sayang pero there’s the beans there’s the fish & before the
family sits at table I sneak stewed cheek with spit-shine spoon careful not to forget the pearl cradled
in eye socket maalat at maasim brackish sour fat lining skeleton slips easy into my mouth
I slurp suck it clean splutter white sphere onto palm where it goads take the other one so I pinch
jellied meat scrape it with teeth jagged jutting until tongue finds little curve & I swallow it by mistake
I remember that night I dreamed of dying stars silver isda winding canals in my gut searching
for their cousin’s eye dead nova but the globe was gone dissolved by the sour soup of my own
green body fragrant as mud good brown earth insect-leaf sediment soil oh what alchemy
& instead of metal to gold it was calcium to acid magnesium to water chalk to oil I wanted to
be as world outside as oceanscape universe in small kernel but waking I rubbed crust from lashes
looked : in the mirror soot girl stick girl sweeping-the-steps-with-walis-ting-ting girl girl tinik-
thin straight from her nest left with her marrowless bones
Ina Cariño was born in the mountain city of Baguio in the Philippines. After immigrating to the United States as a child, she has since struggled with the denial of her dual existence as an Asian and as an American. As a poet—especially in the political climate under the current administration—Ina feels that art is perhaps one of the only viable tools people can use to work against the negation that people of color experience on a daily basis. She hopes to work on poetry that integrates stories about the complex acts of cultural fracturing/amalgamation that she constantly negotiates as a POC. Ina’s poetry and prose appear in Tupelo Quarterly, Nat. Brut, Sakura Review, VIDA Review, Raleigh Review, New American Fiction (New Rivers Press), One, and December Magazine, among other publications. She is a candidate for an MFA in creative writing at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC.