by Jonel Abellanosa
My back like blackboard,
My head like ball of paper in water.
Filling her fictionalized story with
Pearl, eggshells, bird bones, teeth, rock salt –
Anything to recall the tutoring days.
Picturing her Buddha statuettes, stringed
Sampaguita, joss sticks, smell of rice steam,
Food offered to our ancestors. I want to feel her
Behind me, our cheeks touching, her wrinkled
Hands enclosing mine in prayer recited
In Mandarin: I knew we asked for long life
Her salty noodles and century eggs stood for.
Gold paper burned for grandpa’s afterlife riches.
I conjure her presence with pencil and notebook –
Instruments of how she guided my boyhood
Chirography. Unless I memorized her prayers,
She wouldn’t adorn the small blackboard I carried
With calligraphy, nor reread aloud her cockroach-
Smelling books: tales from China of the emperor
Collecting disobedient children’s teeth; pearl-eyed
Peasant who ransomed the world; rain dancers
And bird bones, eggshells, rock salt.
I’d be sleepy, lulled by her voice.
No one loved me more than papa’s mother
And I keep reinventing her story
Till her ghost shows and scolds me.