To My Nanay, in Memory

My last memory of you would not be
at your funeral which I would find out
days after you were gone. It wouldn’t be
how beautiful the dress, I imagine, seemed to fit the thinness
of your aging body, lying inconspicuous for each visitor
each friend, each eye to study closely after each breath,
each whisper of prayer and farewell. It wouldn’t be
of the familiar faces gathered in a small congregation
I would soon see in the pictures, imagining them
singing the all-too-familiar song we used to sing together
hours after those Wednesday prayer meetings have long been over
as we made our way back home, your soprano rendition
and my basal tone –
It is well with my soul.

Instead, it will be on that particular afternoon in 2011
a year after I left and came back
wanting to tell you that your little boy is gay:
You lie in bed in that small room
both you and Tatay share. Remember the clutter?
The dusty old books. Those carpentry tools. That old red and white
briefcase full of old pictures, old letters, stashes of old paper.
Disassembled furniture parts. Empty plastic bottles. Packed dirt beneath our feet.
Because we couldn’t afford the cemented floors
I’ve secretly wished we had.

Light passes through the window and I see you.
Your long wavy black hair you used once
whipping my skin to relieve me of the pox I had as a child
now short and graced with adorable white strands.
Your face which bears the meanness of old age,
the deep sockets in your eyes – until slowly your eyelids flutter.
And then you see me at last.

It will be this memory of how your eyes swelled in tears
at the instant recognition of seeing my face
and the first word you uttered which brought me back to childhood,
the name of the boy you knew and loved, Loy
this is what will remain.
You ask me, minutes later, if I have found myself a girlfriend.
I laugh nervously, trying to test the water. No, I say.
A smile escapes your lips as you squeeze my hand around yours
and without a pause you say, Good. Not yet. You’re still too young.
A minute passes and you find yourself asking me again
the same question I wish you’d forget to ask. You are giddy
like a child waiting for a treat.
No, I say.
You surprise me this time, your thin hand still resting in mine.
Why? I want to have a grandchild. A slight disappointment, the same child now embarrassed,
hiding behind your gentle voice —
this too will remain.
It is my turn to squeeze your hand. Something to throw in the quiet.
When you ask me this again the third time, I lean forward
careful not to hurt you with my embrace, for even small acts of kindness
in its seeming purity can still make one shudder. No, I say.
You smile. Good. You’re still young ¬—
this too will remain.

Some time in a few years when it is time to go home
it would be my turn to look for you
as you must have done in the years of my silence
before you went to sleep each night. I do not want to imagine
the things you must have asked yourself or the one
within your reach, Where are you, Loy? When will I see you? Do you still remember me?
Each question like stone
you’ve secretly lodged beneath your pillow
in my long years of absence
‘til they all piled up, making it more and more difficult to sleep.

It is too late now for kind words to be spoken
and apologies long overdue. But one day
at your grave, I will be there.
I will light a candle for you
perhaps on a Monday
and I will tell you a story.


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