Ina Cariño


                    Lakeshore Hospital, 2008

Identifying information:

                    in the mirror          shadow-hair
                    thighs swollen as dripping langka

                    & I remember my city of moss
                    how my night-beak was muzzled

                    by strangers who took my bra away
                    I guess I’m a statistic now

                    it makes me walk funny but
                    I can still say my mother’s good name


                     once I took a hot iron to my chest
                                         little ginger-plank girl brooding
                                                             at a window in front of a busy street—

                     imagined my reflection engulfing red
                                         jeepneys & rickshaws hurtling straight
                                                             between my legs          black fuzz teeming

                    once          I was able to enjoy sunlight
                                        catching on a man-made lake
                                                            I was curious about how rain soaks

                    into soil          sometimes I read stories
                                        about plundering          & these days
                                                            I sleep alone (though I love many)

Presenting problems:

                    I am moments away from fission.
                    I am unaware of the loss it surely brings.

Do you currently take any medications? Please list them all.

                    mornings I wake to the sound of my lola frying eggs in the kitchen. I listen to the pop of mantika
                    spraying on her arms, remember she is dead.

                    at noon I sit on the porch, feed on the breeze under beetle wings.

                    evenings I forage a feast for the body, skim fat from yesterday’s soup for tomorrow’s stew. woodears
                    grow in the sinews of trees (they taste of fragrant dirt).

                    during monsoon I push my hands through the window. I think the squalls are made-up, but thunder’s
                    only frightening when it’s real.

Do any cultural or social factors affect treatment?

                    when I make love
                    I am surprised
                    when my left hand
                    reaches out
                    touches my right



names are spells, & I have four—

the first to tether me to a man called my father. the second for grace, the third for foraging with finches. the last, silence—a thrush in the mouth, something precious I can’t touch. a broken name, & what is chanted broken is holy. am I broken, am I worthy & real. tutoong Cariño ka? tao ako—I’m real. I honey my tongue with hands dreaming of family ghosts. split lips—stung petals, armor. I remember cold women staring as I sucked on melting red berries. I know they spelled me, named me not. not now, not ever part of. but I am not never. I am as mother in a marrow tongue, as mirror spurning shadows into fractals. I thought to spell my name with flight, to whisper shameful pleas to an unforgiving god. but I know my name bloating into furious sugar could never burn bitter. yes I name myself. I am the last spell, the only song left. deliberate utterance of bone.




everyone knows it’s normal to sleep without sleeping
                     in towering concrete—brutalist library, boulevard
to the sky, steel beams bared to grit-grey sun.

                     once a professor brandished Foucault in his office,
grubbed his fingers under my shirt & when I knocked
                     the book out of his hand he said you’ll never understand

community. my spaz-out—such vertigo. that first year,
                     next half-year spent swinging, dangling from light fixtures
(the moon didn’t count). & I never did grasp it

                     when they sat me down: chuckling panel of old men
in oxfords & bow ties. you’ll hurt someone, so don’t
                     come back. before I left, I spun dizzy in the snowfall

on the auditorium’s wintery roof, crouched on icy
                     blanket underfoot. jumped up & down: flapped
in circles. I wanted the snow to melt into my eyes—

                     pretend tears. I felt for a moment as a crooked tree,
reaching for sun after last chill & frost. limbs unwithering, finally.
                     instead, snow sprayed off my sullen coat as I hopped.

with each boot stamp, I relished the cut of wind in my lungs.
                     & inside the auditorium a chandelier unhinged, crashed.
people spilled out on the sidewalk, squawked hey, what are you

                     doing up there? that nearly pinned a student! so I pushed through
a narrow window into the men’s restroom—zagged downstairs,
                     slipped into the growing crowd as they tried to find me. so

maybe they meant it when they said I’d hurt someone.
                     so maybe it was myself, living a vertical sense of space & time.
& in those runabout throngs, searching for the roof-dancer,

                     I saw my figure in shadow-periphery, walking away
                     from that boulevard—refusing to drop out.


Ina Cariño holds an MFA in creative writing from North Carolina State University. Their poetry appears or is forthcoming in POETRY, Poetry Northwest, The Paris Review Daily, Apogee, Waxwing, New England Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. Ina is a Kundiman fellow, a Best of the Net finalist, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a recipient of a fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. They are the winner of the 2021 Alice James Award for their manuscript Feast, forthcoming from Alice James Books in March 2023. Most recently, Ina was selected as one of four winners of the 2021 92Y Discovery Poetry Contest.