2 Poems | Ina Cariño

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.