by Laine Harrington
With thanks to Matthew Dickman’s “Lents District”
Whenever I arrive, walls
weaken the swell of the bay, someone passes around
a jug of rice wine, rides a caribou, gets married
in the jungle, kills an animal then
drinks its blood, lights
a fire, roasts a pig.
It is a marvel, each time
clouds of peach, rose, and
a sunrise that envelopes, then below
7,000 islands of green.
And if by sea,
sailing into Corregidor,
the Spanish corregir, “to correct,”
a way of making peace.
All of us have host families, mine
with geckos on its walls, the road to it
so pock-marked they call it
the moonwalk. Jeepneys try to navigate,
their jingle-jangle baubles
an odd accompaniment to the melodies that
scratch from loudspeakers, the Beatles, Bee Gees, Bread.
Here, the matriarch, her policeman husband
and their son named Boy. Can you imagine a whole country
with grown men named Boy?
Each night I checked
the dogs, making sure we were not
having them for dinner, calling them my kapatid
(siblings), the only living beings I had to hold.
Here, I almost stepped on a python, there where my host brother
climbed a tree like a monkey
where my feet swelled with mosquito bites.
Where I slept sardine-like with 16
mothers and their children on the bamboo floor
of a hut, animals bellowing below.
The toilet, a hole in the ground
around the corner.
It is a land of infinite rice paddies
against a sky of inexplicable
blue, and all of it
incongruous to Manila, its bus stations
leaking diesel, a fog so heavy
it is difficult to find a bus.
This is where we saw the babies,
their distended bellies and monstrous eyes,
hungry. And there, a busload
women, occasionally stopping to pee or vomit
by the side of the road. Some
have dysentery, you know what
In a cathedral of
feminist nuns, an impoverished
sings Imelda’s favorite song
angels, her shoes and money a trope for disdain.
I like to imagine martial law
a giant rat, its long and lanky whiskers
sweeping the midnight streets
then letting them go.
When the monsoons come, the rat hunkers
down in the alcove of a whorey motel.
There are so many.
The day the hijackers took over the plane, guns in hand
and grenades tied to waists, she forgot
it was her birthday.
Dear Manila, dear Mindanao, even if bullets whiz
over the head of the boy I like, but mostly
I was your first Peace Corps dropout, your
dream exalted, then run aground.
In the end, someone sleeps in a hammock by the river, someone
lunches with the mayor, someone gets
dengue fever, someone cries
on a street corner, and someone
understands finally, a new language,
the threads of imperialism
that stitch together
of our sinew. My god, all of this
in my bones!
Laine Harrington is a writer, artist, and actor. Her publications include poetry, book reviews, and essays in various journals; presentations include numerous conference venues on the work of French philosopher Luce Irigaray. A California native, Laine has lived in the Philippines, Japan, and France. She holds a PhD from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley and is in constant training for a triathlon.