If there is one vivid memory I have of Batangas,
it is of a favourite dish: sheen pieces of bullet tuna
wrapped in banana leaves, with earth-dark kamias,
simmered in a terracotta pot.
If there is one vivid memory I have of that house,
it is the plastic table mat. Floral-printed, sleek
in the light sifting through the window rails.
I cringed at the thought that the mat would coil
when the hot pot was laid.
My grandma’s specialty. Sour-salt to the bone
best eaten with boiled rice, using bare hands.
Two decades on, no one cooks patis anymore.
My grandma, in her wheelchair, calls me ‘sister’.
The locals no longer nap in the afternoon.
The grove of mango and bilimbi, the cornfields,
the water buffalos – all replaced by tiles and lifts.
There is a certain sour-salt taste
I always long for.
On their last holiday, they sat on a reed mat
laid with local delicacies: a bowl of somtam,
a plate of tilapia, cups of khaw, mud-dark,
fish-pickle sauce, and a basket of freshly-picked
greens from his auntie’s garden.
This is how we roll in the province, no need for table
or chairs. No need for cutlery. She gaped at the feast,
his relatives gaped at her. Sweetie try this, try that.
He shovelled food into her mouth. That night,
Orion’s belt came out, while stray dogs
strolled back to their houses. They stood up,
satiated by the meal and their jokes of England.
They walked, with lattice-marked legs, picking up
bits of rice on the floor, like how the gods,
at the beginning, picked out stars in the sky.
“A poem is a meteor” – Wallace Stevens
There’s a volcano in the middle of a lake, in the crater
of a bigger volcano. Meteors dash across the water.
There’s wind and little tornadoes of petals.
But it’s dark, and they could be cicada shells.
I dream (or recall) that place on the night
I have to bed-wash my first carcass.
The volcano in the lake is stiff. Silent. But frogs
and crickets’ songs swell like jaundiced hands.
Rock-hard shoulders. Spots bloom on her lips like petunias.
I wipe the summit of her cheeks, the valleys of her fingers.
I comb the lianas of her hair, flatten her eyelids,
take off two dulling rings, and seal them in an envelope.
And I remember the volcano in the lake. That night
the meteor rain sings to the moon’s nail-clipping.
(These poems were first published in Rice & Rain, V. Press, 2017)
Romalyn Ante’s debut poetry pamphlet is Rice & Rain (V. Press, 2017). She is a Jerwood/Arvon mentee 2017-2018 and a recipient of Artists’ International Development Fund. She writes about culture, tradition, and identity and blogs at www.ripplesoftheriver.blogspot.co.uk