Lakeshore Hospital, 2008
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)
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
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.