/ Poetry /
Romela roams through Cebu City Library,
sifting through shelves for me. Romela returns
with the faded spines of Filipino literature,
flips to pages featuring pictures
and the many names of nuts and lychee types—
kubili, alupak, rambutan. Romela knows the pulp
and how the fruit grows
in loose clusters on the lands of Luzon
and Palawan. Lychee’s flesh: whitish, sweet.
She serves up “The Filipino Woman,”
who, even in 1952, could run
farms, real estate, and corner stores.
She could pay for the husband’s suits
and even another carabao if she wished.
She could aspire higher than her caste level,
past decorated diplomas and degrees.
All previous assumptions retreat
as Romela reaches up
and hands me more woman essays—
Romela, from Iloilo City,
praises America and her family abroad,
embraces me like an old friend
upon a second visit. During a reading break,
I blush hard when I admit I don’t know how to flush
the handle-less toilet. Romela shows me
how to dip a bucket of water
from the big bin that’s filled to the brim,
explains that the weight of the pour
will create the downward spiral. Romela
smiles and saves me from disintegrating.
Romela breaches library protocol by ushering me
into the staff’s room. There is fruit in a bag
to enjoy. There is much unpeeling to be done.
Romela raves about kaong,
how it’s more than sugar palm dessert
for tongues, how its leaves can be used
for thatching roofs, for coarse brooms
and baskets, that the black fiber called yunot
makes the ropes at sea and the hairbrushes
that care for the coats of horses.
Look how the tree gets tapped for its sap.
I was wrong all along, only celebrating
the kaong’s sweetmeat for me, only now realizing
the hogs and fruit bats eat it, too, its origins
richer than what the tips of my taste buds can reach.