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A quarterly international literary journal

Romela, Romela

/ 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. 


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