Kadalamma speaks to me

Everytime I meet the sea I call Kadalamma at the Corniche, it calls me her kadal-kutti, her sea child, floating inbetween the gaps of land. Kadalamma says I will come back to her. Kadalamma came to me through my Ammuma’s flowing voice, the malayali folklore of a sea mother who is as mothers are: benevolence and rampage all in one. My hair’s waves are not the only way I am water, she speaks through the moonlit breeze combing my hair. My Amma is the storm of which I am the eye. My ancestral mothers bled seas before they bled life. Kadalamma carries the women whose clothes she soaks to protect their children from the fires of this funeral pyre earth. Kadalamma says we forgot we have come from her. We forget no fire we have learned to make, no earth we break, no air we poison, will destroy Kadalamma. We forget these borders we burn on the edges of the earth cannot hold her fury.

Image by Nada Al Mosa, “It’s Raining”


this poem began in the belly of a fish in the south china sea, which was then caught, fried, and served as a seven-dollar meal, rice included, at barrio fiesta in lucky plaza. this poem began on a yellowing page in an unchecked library book about jose rizal’s noli me tangere. this poem began as the first word of spanish my great-great-grandmother spoke to the officer. this poem began when the fortune teller in metro manila wrote the characters for my name long after i was born. this poem began as a tagalog love song in a karaoke bar barely open for business. this poem began when i forgot how to write the water radicals in traditional chinese. this poem began as a flooding of rice terraces and a dance of bamboo poles. this poem began when one of my distant relatives sent the boy on the boat away from fujian. this poem began the fortieth night of the wake, when we rustled through my lolo’s notebook and found an unfinished family tree. this poem began embroidered amongst the roses on my lola’s girlhood maria clara dress. this poem began during the japanese occupation of the philippines, when my grand-uncle was shot retrieving water for the family. this poem began in the kitchen where my great-grandmother taught my mother how to pickle green papaya. this poem began in toa payoh, which means ‘big swamp’, where my parents rented their first apartment in singapore. this poem began when gabriela silang discovered her husband’s body in the river and drew her blood against the spanish. this poem began when i told the taxi driver i was singaporean. this poem began on the 100th anniversary of philippine independence, when gabriela silang’s statue was commissioned in makati city, and the hospital recorded my race as filipino. this poem began as a flute solo the day i sang majulah, singapura. this poem began when magellan sailed to the future-philippines and was killed by lapu-lapu, the village chief, who legend said turned into a fish. this poem began when the neat print on my nric told me i was chinese. this poem began long before there was anyone on the archipelago. when there was just translucent body, water, the silver stream of several thousand scattered islands.

Artwork by Juan Luna “A Do Va Nave”