by Lakan Umali

My brother knew all the secret
nooks in our house and could fit
himself in the tightest corners.
I found him squeezed in the hollow
of a tree in the abandoned lot next door,
in a wooden trunk in our bedroom,
under a pile of blouses in my mother’s closet.
Then, my mother had spanked him
after he got dirt stains on her favorite floral top.

My brother never contorted himself
to fit inside my mother’s commands.
The length of his back would ring red with tales
to his disobedience. The punishments always
came in twos because she had to be mother
and father. If your father were home,
she would say, in between thwacks
of her belt-buckle on his behind.

If your father were home
she would say again many years later
as if death were another country.
Then, my brother had brought home
a baker from the cold valleys of Norway
because they were the only bakers
who could afford crossing oceans
to look for love. The baker’s head grazed
the ceiling of our little house
and his hair was as yellow
as the sunflowers on mother’s
favorite blouse. When my mother’s
stare fell upon my brother’s hands
entwined in the baker’s, her eyes
then fell on the slippers
lying near the doorway.

Weeks later, after the sepulchral ride
to the airport and the forced goodbye
she asked me, why couldn’t your brother settle
for a baker from Cubao?
Was a green card the only salve
for his stinging behind?
And she wept, saying she had slapped
him so hard, she had sent him flying
halfway across the world.



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