Man-ikik & Other Poems

by La Verne


An Isagada tradition of catching birds

Foresight beats the quick.
The heavy September clouds sweep
low and cap the mountain tops
hiding the moon and stars from sight.
The kerosene lamps glow.

Hands clamp the poles
of the bird nets tight.
Foresight beats the winged,
that birds will admit to the light.
The nets close in.

“Look,” the guide says,
to show me that life is thinnest
between the shoulder blades.
The gentle pressing of the thumb.
The thrashing of a body
like a man in climax.

The feathers melting in the fire–
The crackling of salted skin–
The mouth closing in–


The Snake Revisits Eve*

Of course, she’s older.
bowed knees, bowed back.
The minute hand of a clock
walks faster.

The snake coils
into his patience.
He has all the time in the world
like all snakes. But she

can go no further,
can see no further
than the skin of her nose.
It’s the years under the sun

cultivating corn in May,
sweet potato in August
in the yard where the snake slinks
in and out unseen

as a snake should,
for the sight of a snake
makes men shed their skin
to behold the animal beneath:

terribly a prey, terribly mortal.
What does it matter
that its kind doesn’t bite, or poison,
or swallow a man whole?

The old woman speaks
to the human in the animal,
as they’ve been doing
for hundreds of years.

May the harvest be plenty.
May the water be sweet.
Find your way through darkness,
Find your way home.

She turns around
and climbs the steps.
90 years old, she’s never heard
A snake talk back.

But it has to be done
The getting rid of it.
The grandson lays a trail
of rice on the ground.

Did the moon move an inch?
Did I hear leaf hurrying out of seed?
The rice waits on the ground.
The daughter shuffles her feet.

“Poke it with a stick,” she says.
Poke, poke.
The snake wiggles a few
then snuggles beside a flower pot.

Poke, poke.
Patience is a predator
lurking in the shadows, but
we make small bargains where we can.

The boy picks the snake by the tail
And throws it unceremoniously
over the small fence into the yard
where grandmother grows corn in May.

*In Sagada, a town tucked away in the mountain regions of Cordillera, Philippines, elders offer ritual prayers to snakes that “visit” their homes. The snakes are harmless.


I Love You More Than All the Pine Trees in Sagada

whose trunks are still as a monk in prayer,
but whose needles are easily distracted,
and when the wind goes rough,
they cackle and grunt and hiss and spit.
Sometimes I mistake their hissing for the rain.

I love you more than the wind
that comes to rattle the trees
so the old needles fall
and turn the bare earth below
into a carpet of fiery red.

Some afternoons a mist
haloes the trees,
touching their green beginnings
but not quite.

Today I sit under the shade of a tree
to watch the town turn into day,
and the day into the slow rumbling of cars.
At once, the squat fog lifts:
the houses reassemble into view,
and the view reassemble the people,
and over the tree tops,
a hawk makes the sky
immense and singular.
I love you more than the hawk and the sky.


Man-ikik & Other Poems

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