Saturday, December 3, 2016


Five poems from Black Arcadia forthcoming from the University of the Philippines Press:

Early Death

Wild and ageless one-eyed monster,
tell your damaged darlings not to stay out too late.
Tell them to dream of rare moments, of clarity.
Dream of light nibbling at the bald heads of strangers.
Dream of hats for the headless. Dream of summers
and white sheets drying on the clothesline under the sun.
Dream of what’s pure, of sorting through excesses.
Dream, for once, about not being duped by beauty.
Give your books and paintings away
to the one who could look you in the eye
and say that he found redemption
while marveling at your tortured scrawls.
Settle down. Let’s talk. There’s still time.

Born of Flood

The land of passage dwindles enough
to accommodate the water’s course, the sluice
of channels drawn toward the lowest point.
At last the water recedes, exposes the floodplain
where members of the search party gather.
They announce the names of survivors.
They can’t tell the rogue sailors from the deckhands.
They don’t recognize the bloodied mutineers whose
insides glisten nightly for want of knives to sheathe.

We would have once found our new trappings odd,
what with waterproofed filaments and artificial
dorsal fins protruding from our backs.
This tells us that the landlocked dwellers
of this colony are sorely ill-equipped, expendable.
Only luck separates us from the ones who drowned,
the ones whose bodies had become bloated,
irreversibly deformed—bodies that are no better
than woven sacks that yield in the presence of water.

Days like these, we dream of drought, of anchorage,
of tyrants choking on their waterlogged wishlists.
We are the country of the lonely. We raise
our monochromatic flag. We arrive in little boats,
singing the song of our marauding ancestors,
deluding ourselves how this, too, shall pass, how this
flood carves terrain like blunt cleaver on telltale flesh
wound—flesh wound that will not strike bone
and extinction, flesh wound that will soon heal.

Days like these, we dream of drought, of anchorage,
of foghorns that call out our names from the gloom.
The rare swimmers among us hold their breath
underwater, hold their breath long enough to haul
what stays alive, what can still be salvaged.
In the after-storm, beyond the floating wreckage,
across the water that laps at the outskirts
of the new city, the swimmers span the slight
concavity imposed by surface tension.

Little Boats

We are Little Boats. We dip our flimsy oars
in the sea of Return, hoping for buoyancy
and steerage across the channel, through the fog

where landlocked savages have built towers
they call lighthouses, lighthouses with
foghorns that cry out our names in the gloom.

We sail farther into the listless blue of the Pacific—
the ancient basin that will never give up its water.
In the trench, we find the great sea beasts, the ones

whose dark apertures are rarely exposed to the light.
They ignore us, for we are small, unwieldy,
always looking as if we were about to capsize.

They ignore us, for we are invisible when we glide
along the path of good weather, away from squalls,
cutting the water surface without making a splash.

We are Little Boats. We row our flimsy oars
to reach your slowly shrinking inlet to the sea,
your harbor, your island, the murky water of your city.

How the Empty Came for Us

Again and again, we ask Ms. Martha,
who caught the Empty on her left palm,
her left palm that has long since
disappeared to the wrist,
“Does it hurt, Ms. Martha?”
She shrugs, a shrug that says either
she doesn’t care or she has given up
fighting the ravages of the Empty.
“I’ll be gone before the year’s end,”
she says. “And no, the Empty doesn’t
hurt, even as it slowly renders you
invisible. It’s a peaceful way to die.”
Everywhere, the Empty takes one of us away
bit by bit. Oh, how little we understand.

Us and Them

We may not be aware of it yet, but the people
of the farm can see us, see us and our dense fog
trailing behind us but slowly gaining momentum,
stride as lively as those who have fled to the cities.
But what do they know—these people of the farm?
Don’t they know that we are all in this together,
in this blissful cathartic wave of extinction?
Back home, clay wives still blush in the kiln,
silences waft under the doorframe, rickety fences
grow overnight to invade the neighbor’s yard.
We saw the birds before they turned invisible,
and it wasn’t the birds that changed but us.


Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of eight books of fiction and poetry, including most recently, the short story collections Age of Blight (2016) and Butterfly Dream (2016), as well as the poetry collection Meditations of a Beast (2016). She serves as poetry editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, a literary journal published by Epigram Books in Singapore, and was co-editor with Nalo Hopkinson of the original fiction section for the Lightspeed Magazine special issue, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction!. Widely anthologized and published in magazines, she grew up and continues to live in rural southern Philippines.

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