I apprentice to an old woman
Of three-toned skin:
Light in the feet,
Dark face, darker hands.
She tells me rules
I must follow
Before I can break them.
Dipped into the depthlessness
Of each other’s eyes, our nets
Yield ocean secrets—
Small fish, tough wings for fins
They truly take to flight,
Like Huey helicopters, droning.
In the shallows swim
Silver fish, fat
Like the full moon at sunset,
Scales shivering riverlight.
Mata’s’adlaw, sun’s eye, they are called.
Staring back, knowing
Dead River Crossing
We steer a boat-
Load of fish along a river.
It is a river of tar.
Rowing is difficult, the waters
The catch in the boat, fresh
A Certain Way To Fish
There is a certain way
To catch a certain fish:
In ponds by the swamps,
For milkfish old enough to die,
we drain to brackish mud-bottom.
Our feet caught in the gripping
Mud, we catch each leaping flash.
Then comes this stranger, casting
Hook and longest line.
Only mudskippers dangle
From his gorged pocket
And the windowholes of his hat.
We, Salmon of Willful Memory
Shiver of song and the still
Need to return, whole or broken:
Salmon through the estuarine reaches
Until a dam, sudden and glooming,
Breaks our homeward-wandering.
“Squat rock, eh.” mocks
The oldened woman. Rules to break now
Even as they break me?
“Go. Leave … !” Urgent
in the rush of water, Old Teacher blesses me
Free. Free now to will—
After her, I leap into high
Air and quiet
for Grace and Onang
When you teach breastfeeding
to the village’s young mothers, I was told,
the rudiments obvious—
cleaning the nipples, how
to tell when the milk goes sour or stale,
the clam soup with lemon grass
and horseradish to keep the nourishing
expect these girls to bare their own
lessons for barter.
I expect nothing vast or vital, only
something of immediate use, like
how to make easy the backbreak-stances
of shore gleaning for drift
weed or shell at lowtide, but
Today Laureana asks if I’ve heard
Of the news over the radio
How in Paniqui, Bulacan a woman—
clouds inside her belly swirled,
the eddy of flesh there
moltened into her first
child of a mudfish.
Fifteen-year-old Maria dreams
out loud, I wonder
the wonder, fishmouth
the shape of a little star sucking
the lukewarm yellow
Valeria, hawker of crabs and fish
entrails, would like hers
an angelfish, fins silent
white wings underwater,
its eyes so full
of nothing no clawing
screams to rival her own hoarse voice
braying past the village huts
and by the blacksmith workshops.
Then giggles Valeria, but we have to
learn new tricks to keep away the cats,
teach ourselves the habit
of breeding mosquitoes for babyfood,
find out exactly how a suckling fry would smile,
giggles Valeria the peddler, giggling
as if to save herself from some pain.
My own thoughts ripplerush
like the tapwaters I carry along
within the pufferfish
swell of my womb, my oddhearted
eelchild, swimming in the slow
ooze of red mud
to the rivermouth
of the vagina.
I will name you
Milk. Or Gold,
or Faith. Or Consuelo,
from the former conquerors’ vocabulary,
Or Mistral, after the dry wind and for her
who wished a fisher’s daughter a dreamful
of fish, leaping and aglow.
You see, for us it is not difficult to believe
Though, of course,
we do not call them makebelieve.
They are waters villagers dive
into, far below the tethered
purse seines of reason and reality. We keep them
simple and true, these stories
our living stirs afloat.
Today, in this school of mothers,
nipples darken, and rise.
All our dolphin minds together
somersaulting and somersaulting forward.