How to Become Legible

Somewhere on a microblogging platform, someone complained of the seeming need of people to separate introvert from extrovert, as though a person could be so neatly divided into two.

Somewhere, ghostly, I peer into the snippets of horoscopes, of people near my birth. Today, you feel annoyed, but let not the storms touch you. Today, you will face a quandary at work. Don’t let the past endanger your future. Your aura today is blue shadowed green, stay away from red.

There is a calm that only generalities can reach, and a suspicion which is delicious when suspended, though some are tempting precisely because the death of stars is tangible, like milk from the carton, or the scrape of eraser against paper. Likewise, your trail of dust may reveal the secret to the universe, or may be brushed aside to mean:

Your existence tempts no one.

Tonight, I will ghostwrite your horoscope and it will look remarkably like mine.


Interest kills.

Once, there was an island they prided for peace, the way a poet once said Provence (when it was Provence), and we made sure that the stories were true. When love was still pure and vanity was still striking, I liked to say that this island is me and you. We are archipelagic in scope and tragedy: to reach one another, we must make an effort, pack our bags, drive to the airport, endure the pungent presence of people, pretend that a moment is worth the distortion of paradise; yet we remain moving with plates underneath us, ever drifting in tectonic, poetic justice. If you were me, and I were you, I would have severed sovereignty long ago, cradled myself against a motherland less broken, more inherently fragile, easier to love. But love was love long before people set foot on an island, before they knew the curve of rock pounded until it becomes fine powder: so grace is merely what is left when we have left ourselves. I have been told of this narrative before. When longing was still raw and insistence was still adamant, I demanded distance as long as you claimed destiny. I will outcry the loss of heaven, but airfare will convince me otherwise. If I were you and you were me, this would have ended more neatly. As it is I have attracted your interest, you have lured me to your hammock, the strings swing but do not break, their knots press meat against bone. I am you and you are me, but it will take some time until this island catches my interest again.



You look at the sky, you look at the sea. You wonder about intentions, and tourists, and how a landscape looks like a broken body after it has been subject to collision. The mind is a wonder in itself. That it is able to ponder collision, before its advent. Your mind understands this: the mental pulling-back, the instantaneous fear before two bodies meet, the intimacy of impact, the turn to either away or down. Your heart fears this: that many other travelers have walked here before you; that they know what you will say, having said this themselves. Time and again in photographs you will see them marvel at what they do not have because they will claim it is what they want. This is a lie. The vendors can read between lies. They know the hobble of a native that knows the sharp slide of sand-rock against the gentle curve of a foot, burdened with weightlessness, of a hunger they will not understand because it is a wanting that is defined by its existence, the refusal that is at the heart of deprivation. You swim, you run, you walk, you sleep, you smile, you love, you ignore the nagging feeling that behind this city-painted anomaly of ever-repentant waves, you are weeping, not for the place you have traveled to, but for one to which you will never return.



She imagines turns of memory:

He has to let go of her hand when he reaches for the salad dressing on the grocery shelf, and to squeeze himself against her body when the aisle isn’t enough for the old woman’s cart and theirs and the amazing pyramid of mayonnaise (Perfect for Any Sandwich!) on the side.

Turnstiles, she thinks, are useless; she tells him as much, because she expects an exchange. He nods absentmindedly. His eyes are on the dairy. He wants to go there, he says, We’ve run out of cheese.

She knows the gaps in dialogues are not scars. They are not lacking, they are pockets for when the cashier lady has swiped the last item and they’ve received their change, and on the way out he turns his head away from her, just when she thinks, Should I give him a random kiss on the cheek, to look at the turnstiles, where a mother with her toddler-daughter is urging, Go on, sweetie, push!, and he says, I guess, but they make their own nostalgia, you know?


There is a distance that cannot be walked, there is a peace that cannot be named.

Here, she unwraps them for the young girl that has been given to her care for all of the afternoon. She points out the remnants of her project, a work in progress.

Sometimes, she says to the little girl on her lap, there are some conversations that you will not want to have. She pauses, although the little girl is reaching for the mess of matte paper and shiny photographs before them. She does not want the girl to misunderstand.

Not because you do not want to talk, but because you’re not sure if there’s much of yourself that you can give away. To help people, I mean.

She lifts the little girl, who squirms, and kisses her on the cheek before setting her down again. For no reason that she can tell, she reaches for one of the stuffed dogs and hands it to the girl. But why?

For after all, she wants the girl to remember this afternoon of someone else’s memories, like a looping conundrum with no resurrection, until the child finds why leaves fall, or even that leaves falling can bring no desired emotion whatsoever, no matter how poets ponder them.

She tries not to look at the clock–it is a trial that counts–the little girl will get picked up soon, they ought to enjoy the few, pristine moments together (there are snacks on the counter and music in the background, things the little girl has a deeper understanding of for all that her mind is distinctly recording each second precisely: the snag of her shirt, the tug of hair caught between fingers, the faces of strangers on photographs; for these are the things she will remember in the split-second before womanhood).

The future rumbles in the distance.


It is not that she does not want to do it (having heard how therapeutic it is), but that her imagination beats her to it. The project has its wingspan in front of her, complete with all the materials: the thick string, the wooden clothespins, the photographs (she and her mother, or her mother and her mother before her; he and his cousins, his father and him), the pieces of poetry she had written behind notebooks, or on her old report cards (especially the bad ones), the pressed, wilted, moth-gentle petals of an old sampaguita off a young vendor whom they said was simply part of a syndicate. It was going to be her visual love letter, a time off from graduate school and the kitchen, friends who wanted time with her, the part of herself that wanted only a manicure or a haircut, the look in his eyes that said “I know you even before you speak,” when all she wanted was to strip this heavy household of words. The project would draw the eye in, let visitors know she was more than she seemed, remind them again of the joy in togetherness she didn’t know could ebb into, not lack of passion, but rather a flexibility: an acceptance of the sight of a discarded sock or the lack of dinner, whereas before they went at each other for hours and hours, convinced that life had to be everything, pictures and ancestry and flowers and wood and yarn, thick, thick string that looked frayed but was sturdy, every little thing, every little thing, or nothing at all.



And after the long day: the neighbors whispering behind their hands, over the broken glass of the firewall (to keep thieves out, you know), See how the husband only pecks her on the cheeks whereas before he’d hold her and they’d scream and giggle like teenagers, the small brown birds never now swooping for the breadcrumbs she didn’t have time to throw, It’s so easy to see they’ve been arguing, the silence says it all!, the debt of her father and her father’s father, and the bank calling, “Why, Ma’m, we’ve a new credit card program you’d be perfect for!”, and her professor from grad school sending her an email, where old technology met new: a scanned page of her story, encircled, embattled, underlined, crossed out, proof that so many of her words needed conversion, being merely, her mentor said, subterfuge. But he of the eloquence, never addressed what she said, neither in the space between them in bed or the backyard where, one Sunday she looked up from their homemade gin pomelo and said Perhaps the santol tree needs to be cut down, and he said, No, leave it, we need the shade, even when, in her life, she’d never been as vibrant, nor as confident: being so completely bronzed.


Figures of Speech

Over the weekend, I am told I will have time. To declutter my existence. To align the bottles on my dresser; to separate photographs from notebooks; to fold clothes and put them into piles; to align my shoes and keep them in boxes; to fill the yawning cavities in my bookshelves. To eliminate the waste of too productive a life. I apologize. I cannot concur. Time only exists in the spaces between action. If I have time, there is no action; if there is a mess, I am certain of compensation. My important documents are in a folder. My folders have no sense of Time. They are kairos, not chronos. I know when waste is excessive, and when it is time to give up. Mea culpa, mess is excess in itself. I have tried order. Things disappear over time: receipts, drafts, bookmarks, earrings, nostalgia. There is satisfaction, but there is also mediocrity. The trick is in finding the line that separates the two and casting yourself far away into a clean horizon or a dusty corner. Let production trap you there, before you counter it. Little by little, see that clutter too, is ordered. There lies your metaphor.

2011 photograph, Philline Donggay. The semblance of deviating from routine.


To keep your balance in a moving train
                   you must stand parallel to the doors,
                     feet wide apart,
                     one hand outstretched to a safety handle; you must love
                     movement. Do not fight the force–
                     and should other bodies attempt to displace you
                   (like checkerboard or chess), you must stand ground, else crush
                     the bodies seated in front of you

                   And lest you forget yourself, there is that face on the pane
                     imposing itself on the city, reflection and perception both.