Limpieza pa’ la Tristeza



Estoy triste
so I’ll light my candles
one by one
and when all the candles are on
and all the lights are off,
i’ll draw the blinds open
so the neighbors can’t see
and the moon can trickle in
to heal the wounds
the daylight sun rays left behind,
i’ll open the window
to change the air in my room
the way doctors change
the blood in a dead body for preservation chemicals,
the way a snake sheds its skin to grow a new one,
and then I’ll light the incense
while I turn on the shower

I’ll take a hot shower, with the bathroom door open, so the steam will fill up my bathroom, and then flood my room, empañando el vidrio, fogging the glass, and with the heat, my pores will open, like cactus flowers in the morning sun, and to remind myself I’m in my body, and it’s all I’ll ever own, I’ll clean it like a cat licking its fur, slowly, to heal, to enjoy it, to move on, to pass the time, to feel, and when I’m still in the shower I’ll scrub my hair with apple vinegar and water to take out the bad luck, spirits and oil like abuela and Reema said, the water will trickle down my face, flooding my wide pores, and I’ll wash off the salty remains with my face looking up at the sky and then I’ll rinse it all off, I treat my showers the way characters in books do, a shower or a bath is rebirth in my high school English class, now naked and still dripping, I’ll step out to the sink, look in the mirror and think how odd my body looks when the steam fogs the mirror, it makes all the colors blur, shapes get confused and I can’t tell where my hips end and where the toilet seat begins, I’ll dry my face to tone it with rose water and lavender extract and then I’ll spray it with the aloe I blended with hand-picked rose petals, I’ll dig up the coffee I don’t drink to exfoliate rub my face my butt my stretch marks, my bloated belly and swollen feet and then I’ll lay on my floor to rest until my thoughts start slipping away into a light dream, that’s how I’ll know it’s time to get up and shower again, a final cleaning to wash off the salt, I’ll rinse with cold water and think about the candles, they have been burning for too long, and I’ll realize my aloe also needs a shower, my journal needs ink, my head needs my pillow, the book on my window sill needs to be read, and my dried flowers need to be hung so I’ll rinse and step out again,I’ll feel a bit better, clearer, more fresh, but before crawling in bed I have one last step, a thick Aztec clay mask, I’ll spread it evenly on my skin, with a brush I’ll pretend my face is a canvas and the clay the paint, I’ll spread it until my face turns grey like the moon on my looking glass, and then comes the music, a fifteen minute salsa freestyle dance between my bed and my desk with a broom sweeping the floor and my hair tucked tight behind my ears and when the last beat sounds, I’ll wash my face with cold water again and then add a drop of maqui berry oil, I picked maqui in Santiago when the days got warmer and my skin got darker, I’ll spray one more time, moisturize in a circular motion with the tip of my fingers and I’ll be fresh, I’ll blow out the candles, read, sleep and I’ll be ready to wake up again.


Image by William Eggleston


Flow with the Water

Flow with the water
Everyone’s stream is different
Rain clouds approach

Közeleg az eső
S megissza a mező
Körforgás, szerető

Aus Erde geschaffen
In einer Wolke
Die Inti in Kreisen folgte

Pes pestro preskočil prúd
Vietor veje
Zemeguľa žije

La tormenta vinió
Ya llegó la lluvia
El pequeño río tiene sed

Photograph courtesy of author.


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”

marula café, barcelona

my first instinct is to reach
for your words. i am hungry.
your spanish is the colour of tomatoes.
poppies. the lights of this dance
floor spin. whisper into my ear
torso curving
a treble clef round
the stave of my chest
i curl myself
your home

just for the night
a little rickety shelter
of ripe new words
i am told i have it in me already
the latin rhythm

a sound snailed into the music
wordless beautiful dance
    taste it again
the spanish sung
the music swung
        my hips
like tomatoes
ready to


drop down from my lips
fertile and
on their way
to bruise
to rot

   spill then




Artwork from Augusta Salsa Club, Atlanta

study abroad

chocolat viennois.
white cream drowning out the aztec
full but swallow a small sip
of the history of the modern world in a kleine cup
just until you’re sick
and then one more.

chocolate squares
stacked in the corner store
small enough to be pilfered
by the college student behind the counter.
like dark little congolese hands.
congealing on your palms thick
on your tongue 
like fresh blood.


knafeh. cheesy
to the point of cliché,
or statistic. 
freshly knifed
and arranged like plots of land
up for grabs at a campus party.


tiny vial of karak. bitter
this ‘kadak 
zindagi’ and
dark as the ‘immigrant’ but
deluding sweet, hot as the desert sun
or glass windows high up
or optimism perhaps
or the kindness of the driver in a sweaty
taxi at some exit.


the sticky rhyme with “retort”
the foreignness of the waiter who talks back
in a slow shout.
you understand.
you just didn’t hear.
later your cheeks are dough
with teary rum in the metro.


biryani. a pot
of luxury 
labelled specially
on the menu in invisible ink
as ‘home’
cooked by a plump nepali man hidden behind
a door: insignias of your childhood, pride pins of your culture
tacked on the wall in the middle of europe.
what beautiful decorations!
the foreignness dissolves in one spoonful
and a sigh. the ache in your chest
and in the small well of the nepali man’s back
evaporates in the steam of the pot.


today, in a large pan for sharing.
imagine yesterday, hot on the tongue
and piping like privilege.
the south american continent somewhere like a slice of bread
ready for the touch of a knife. cut
and spread the shrimp soft pink like a tongue
once bled from a continent buttered up
with a colonial language.
i do not speak it.
i do not know.
these words are so beautiful
and i am their bile and their bastard.


Painting by Youqing Wang, “Bread with Cherry Preserve and Butter”