Ate Keng & Other Poems

by Erwin Ponce

Ate Keng

There is a woman hanging laundry out to dry in the heavy Manila sun.  She loves the child of the household and the child loves her.  She fries, she scrubs, she helps with homework.  She goes to primary school ceremonies and the child beams with pride when he shows her his Award For Most Improved In Math.  She sends money to her mother in Pangasinan every week.  She used to be scared of Manila.  She used to think it was full of sin.  The child’s father is nice enough.  And it’s a pretty house in a pretty part of the city.  Right down the street from the Church Of The Great Jesus Christ.  Keng is so sad she cries for days when she leaves the child for a job in the UAE.  It’s a different kind of sunlight there, and there’s a different kind of night.


Got to Believe in Magic;

Bankaw Leads a Revolt in Cariaga, Leyte in 1621 and/or 1622

He prayed to Christ for fifty years.  He treated Miguel Lopéz de Legazpi like a lost friend.  His grandfather welcomed Ferdinand Magellan.  But a woman helped bring him back to diwata.  Our gods.  The hands of women have worked the earth; we can turn their soldiers to clay with fistfuls of dirt.  If that doesn’t work we were dead already.


Josephine Bracken; His Sweetest Stranger

Look at me — a real revolutionary!  Trudging through this beast jungle, barefoot and bleeding.  This rain.  If JR could see me now he would have a fit then write an essay about the fit.  I can still see the small fluttering black birds at the ceiling of the chapel.  Poor old JR, who never even wanted a gun.  I heard people cheering for Spain.  While his family wept.  They say old JR tried to face the firing squad. I believe it.  We got married right in that little chapel.  The Father looked me straight in the eye and I didn’t ever blink.  And now these bleeding feet.  These footsteps, this mud.


Manananggal; Dance All Night

There is a woman in Manila rinsing pig intestines in the sink.  She will turn them inside out then rinse again.  She lives in a high-rise off Roxas Boulevard in apartments facing the bay.  At night she likes to stand at the window like a deity.  She’s tired all the time now.  She can’t drink the way she used to.  She’s tired all the time.  She can’t flit around the city all night.  She used to stay out until five in the morning and end up at just the right spot.  She could smell life like ripe jackfruit.  She had nothing but disdain for ghosts haunting mirrors — so full of self-pity.  She’d make eye contact with misshapen children and smile right into them.  If there is a small black bird that lives inside her throat all it ever did was make her want to sing.  Morning and its smell of burning draw near.  She’d end up at just the right spot.  The freshest meat.  She’d eat and eat.  Fuck salt and ash forever to daylight.


Maria Makiling Loves Me to Death

I thought I saw her in the mist by the river.
Then a smile was next to me in the darkness.

The long black hair, her long white dress.
I looked into her eyes and we were naked

on straw mats over a dirt floor. Her bamboo hut.
Our love is beautiful but I’m lost in it.

And I feel like I’m wasting away —
like wasting away was all I ever wanted.

But every morning I wake up depressed.
Every evening she wanders the forest.

When I sleep I sleep the sleep of the dead.
I have no dreams but pure black in their stead.

But when we love it is of love undead.
Not Jesus himself could stir us from bed.



There is a woman in Manila. She slinks through the city like a lifeless river.  Sometimes she feels like a swamp.  People try not to stare.  She takes what the city gives her.  She stares back at the city and wants more of it.  More of the nightmare.  She remembers and forgets and remembers again.  She regrets almost everything.  She’s sad all the time now.  She keeps writing the same love letter over and over.  But sometimes, like when the rain is right, and the city is at its worst, so close, so stifling, so pure, when it’s falling down and drunk with shame, it becomes binary again, her double, a mirror image that could still be mistaken for something beautiful.


Ate Keng & Other Poems

Print Friendly, PDF & Email