Have you ever tasted dirty paint water?
“No, you’re not that stupid, right?”
No. No, I wasn’t. I never… but have you?

Anyway, I had sweet and warm coffee
right next to my wash cup
Did I dip into the wrong cup?
I dunno. Maybe.
It tasted sweet,
And red, and juicy.
And then I tasted salt,
metallic and red.

The thickness of the red covered my teeth,
My tongue, my lips,
And then my eyes were red.
And all I saw was that taste.
So I rubbed by eyes,
Hence, hands stained red forever.

All I touched was red.
Everyone stared back at me red.
I could not hear their hearts,
All I could hear was clanging, metallic red.

I dare not touch them.
Perhaps I am too too red.
Perhaps I feared theirs.

“Was it quinacridone?”
Nah. Cadmium, I think.


They say…


They say you took away my heart;
I say you’ve taken my feet,
Piece by piece the bottom part,
The skin that touch the ground –
My sole!

I can no longer land;
I can only hover.
Flesh too raw
too hurt
to touch
to stand.
Funny how I hover and shift
I can no longer put weight
on anything.

In a crowded room
I cannot stand
I cannot reach a soul
Was it just my feet you took, my love?
Alas, you took my hands!

I cannot reach, I can only grope.
I cannot touch, I can only burn.
I walk and all that’s read are marks,
No hope for my return.

They say you took away my heart.
Why have I none left
to give out?



a poem

I could have made myself precious:
salons every fortnight,
facials every month,
a bag for every outfit,
a wardrobe every season.

I could have made myself more … pleasing:
trimmer waist,
stick straight shiny hair,
a generous smile,
a witty little brain.

Instead of straightening my hair,
I chose to show every kink, every wave,
all the sharp curves of my brain.
Instead of slimming down my waist,
I chose to gorge on life joys and pains.
I chose to suck on the teat of life –
I imbibed. Too late to realize
That a thick waist will not keep a man
from holding me – or holding me back,
from completely embracing me – or completely crushing my breath.

I could have made myself precious:
Stone-cold marble skin
touched only by the highest bidder,
hands so light, I’d have flown away at the slightest slight,
a jewel, a treasure, a rare coveted delight.

I could have made myself slimmer.
Having more of me meant
more to give away,
more to lose,
more of me spread out on the table.

I could have been precious
but I let you touch.
I could have been precious
but I let you in.
I could have been precious
but I let you partake.

Yet, I can’t really be precious.
I’m not the type of girl that makes friends
or the type that men fall for.

Hell, I know I’m not precious.
Was I too easy?
Did I give too much of me?
I could have made myself precious to you.

Playing Sarah

When I was eight,
my cousins would make me play Sarah
so they could Lavinia me into rags
in our gumamela, dirt, and plastic kitchens.
But that didn’t matter because
I wouldn’t play Sarah with them again.

When I was sixteen,
my classmates all handed me their
black cards
at the senior class retreat because I was so “mysterious”
But that didn’t matter because
they had an after-party
and I went home.

When I was eighteen,
I lost my sight, holding the hands of a boy
I could see him
but I could hear everyone.
None of that mattered
because I pushed him away
and never saw him again.

When I was twenty-six,
I lost my voice at work, stupidly shouting,
“I have a solution!” “I fucking matter!”
But none of that mattered
because they had drinks after work
and I went home.

When I was thirty,
I lost my face
because I am cocky, vain, boring, and weird.
I serve up sour wine
because I wouldn’t
I couldn’t
play Sarah ever again.

But none of that matters
because through this thicket of spines,
the thickest of walls,
the spiciest of tongues,
the sharpest of eyerolls,
There were the aunts who aunt-kissed my face over and over
because they haven’t seen me in ages “How did you get so big, hija?”
There was the friend who would stay on the phone on a school night
just to listen.
There was the prof who would ask me about my work schedule,
“Make sure to get some sleep, hija.”
There was the boss who gave me time off
so I could take the board exams “Go get the top notch, hija.”
There is the man who would learn how to make soup
because my throat hurt.
There is the friend who would ride an hour more
just to have tea with me.

And for them, I would gladly play
a Sarah,
a Becky,
or even an Eowyn.


One Night in Kowloon

Well that was a bad title for a child’s story. But then again, this is not a story for children. This is a child’s story. A story about a child, more accurately.

I recently shared with my husband about how I found out I was different from other kids. I’ve always been keenly aware how odd and off I am. Yes, I am keenly aware that my presence repels people and I find it hard to build real relationships. This realization happened at a small outlet of Kowloon House, twenty-something years ago. It’s still stands to this day, prompting me to give my husband a piece of nostalgia.

I was about eight or nine when one of our tenants celebrated her eighteenth birthday. She had Down’s Syndrome. It was both a debutante ball and a children’s party. Her parents rented a small commercial space on the ground floor of our building so me and my brothers were invited, along with other neighborhood kids.

They asked my two darling brothers to dance in the cotillion. I didn’t realise or even wonder why I wasn’t asked. I was too busy playing. Perhaps I was too tall and awkward for any boy to be my partner. I was only happy to attend, I even accompanied my brothers to watch the rehearsals. I remember the other kids also didn’t care so much for the celebrant. We all just wanted to party.

This was an entirely new experience for my eight-year-old self. I felt miles away from home. The Kowloon House outlet was a good hour away from home and looked small in front. The dance rehearsal was on the top floor. The actual party was going to be in a bigger, fancier branch specifically for events. A lady tried to choreograph a dozen pair of kids to the tune of Blue Danube. It took the entire day.

It took a while for the boys to give in to the fact that this kind of dancing involved holding their female playmates. It didn’t help that the other kids, including me, poked fun at them and made pretend camera-flashing gestures.

The other girls shrank in horror at their antics, my antics. When the day started, I was too busy playing to care about how girls treated me. This was the moment that I realised that they never played with me before, and I realised that they never would.

I looked out at the awesome view from the rooftop and saw the neon lights beyond. I spotted the neon lights of a very familiar mall. That mall assured me that I’m in my lolo’s town. I wanted to get out of Kowloon. I wanted my lolo.

So I started walking. They caught me just as I was about to cross the highway. I spent the rest of the evening looking out towards the mall.

I’ve never been able to put a finger on what exactly what was wrong with me. I wasn’t exactly a happy kid. I was a cry-baby, a fact that my cousins took delight in. Perhaps I was too serious and irritable for a kid. I wasn’t exactly smart, pretty or charming. That combination just made a boring and annoying child.

A few years after, my parents hired a child psychologist to figure me out. They never talked to me about my diagnosis. I tried to self-diagnose as I was growing up. I read books about personality disorders. The closest that I got was that I have a highly-functioning sociopathy, a frightful case of self-centeredness, an inert personality or simply that I am a misplaced introvert. Mental health is so taboo and expensive here, it’s not even worth mentioning.

I’m still struggling with building relationships. I’m far from accepting myself. I find that for me to accept something fully, I have to understand myself. I’m quite comfortable with the few strong friendships that I have but I still find it hard to connect with the people I love. I try my best but I am annoyed with the fact that I have to try. I am frequently amazed by people who find it natural to be friends with others. I am amazed by people who put up with me.

I’m still that kid on the rooftop, looking towards the neon light. Often alone.



Mira was born on New Year’s Day. My brothers had such a hard time breaking the news to me amid firecrackers and mechado. They all fled to the hospital, a mere five minutes from the house. I decided to stay because I didn’t want my mom to be alone on New Year’s Day. I don’t remember everything exactly.

They said it was a beautiful and funny moment. Much to my step-mother’s chagrin (i.e. extended labor pains), the doctor wanted to wait until midnight so the baby would be a New Year baby. And so she was.

New year, new baby, new life. Mira being born meant everything has changed. I can’t remember feeling anything when she was born. I just knew that my father was no longer solely ours. I remember when my step-mom broke the news that she was pregnant. Poor thing had such a hard time finding the words. I knew I was supposed to feel something then. But I didn’t. I was fifteen or sixteen then. I can’t even remember.

I haven’t felt anything since then.

But then I would be lying about not knowing things. I knew my parents were separating. I knew that my step-mom was pregnant. I knew that my brothers were bouncing off the walls. But I pretended not to know, pretended not to care. I had boys and school and books, and that was all that mattered.

Mira is now in her tweens and I watch with both joy and horror at how similar we are. Her obsessive love of books, her quirky unfeminine tastes, her frighteningly quick development, her awkward reserved nature around people.

She truly has the face of an angel. She is not hard to love. Heck, even my husband, who dislikes kids, said she is his favorite. He calls her Little Manang, while I am called Big Manang. He has odd tastes. No wonder he married me.

I take weird comfort that she inherited my father’s long and lanky genes. I am big and round from my mother’s side. She has a beautiful and kind face, without the awful sharpness of my eyes or my tongue.

I’ve heard my relatives say that she is no longer cute now that she is no longer the family pet. She has grown up too fast, too smart, too serious and has become boring. She now prefers biking, reading and writing than playing with the other kids. I hope she knows that being an introvert in a house full of people is okay. Damn them all with what they say.

She has better study habits than I did growing up. I think that she has more friends than I do.  I think she will be adjusted to society than I am. I think she’s funnier than I am. I think she has better fashion sense than I have. I am glad she did not inherit the stick I have up my butt that naturally repels people. I am glad she is kinder and better looking than I’ll ever be.

But if she grows up feeling odd and different from the other kids, I hope she will read this and not feel alone. Growing up too fast sets you apart from the other kids. Believe me, I know. At age twenty-nine, I’m still coming to terms with that being okay.

I hope she knows that I love her, as similar or as different as she may be from myself. I love her with the fierce kind of love that only sisters have. I love her with the gnawing fear that she become like myself. I love her with the growing hope that she will live a better life than I did.

I am still getting used to feeling things again. But I feel a lot for Mira.