Christopher Santiago

El Pollo Loco, West Los Angeles

A Restaurant in Makati

Ibong Adarna

El Pollo Loco, West Los Angeles

they split the tibia, sucking out / the dense marrow. / They use up love, they swallow / every dark grain
                                                                                           — Ellen Bass, “Eating the Bones”


And why wouldn’t he—crack
open each wing & suck out


what he found? He was my host
but not by blood: for me bones


were like relations—uncle, ulna,
tito, tibia—a class whittled down


to a core. Bakit ka nasa Los Angeles
was what it looked like he wanted


to ask instead of making small
talk about God & God


particles, the purported source
of all mass. Because of a girl!


Because a girl said I seemed to suck
the marrow out of wherever


I happened to be. I watched him lick
each knuckle & whorl. Then he slapped


a bus token down on formica—for me—
to cover the sights (one way at least) & buy


his apartment a few hours walang
intrusion. There were locks


on both sides of his doors—deadbolts, pin
& disc tumblers (kasi if they get in


I’ll be damned if they can get out); a jungle
potted & hanging; & the bear he claimed


to’ve put down himself—knotted
cascades of fur; as hungry for sound


as a black hole for light—a fucking

bear! We gaped at each other


the next morning, when I woke
with the flu & the landline


ringing like tinnitus behind his bedroom
door. Locked:


so was the front. Uncle Buddy had gone
to work—whatever work was—& forgot


to leave a key. The beach was brighter
& colder than I’d thought, the climates


compact, unpredictable as zip codes.
I looked out across the Pacific—far


across that crushed up recycled light
sprawled untold acres of


bones, bones
that if struck would make mine


sing out too—

A Restaurant in Makati

The stink of patîs & vinegar must make

the blind mariachis blinder.


They belt anyway: harmonies

stacked & strummed on steel-


strung chords, charro-svelte, except

for the bass player, who might be


a nesting doll for a native god.

It’s a fashionable neighborhood


with even an Hermés

patrolled by a guard slung with a grin


& an AK-47. We eat with our hands

kamayan style—innards & knuckles, bone


hole, kare-kare, sizzling sisig—

my uncle, the dissident


turned capitalist, & me, a backpacker

afraid of the ice. God only knows


is what they sing & dahil sa iyo &

上を向いて 歩こう—whatever

the currency calls for. Praised

& paid, they shuffle out in single file


the blind leading

the ostensibly blind & I wonder


why this fear I’m being conned?

Even the harelipped boy


the day before outside the KFC— the way he’d chanted out his hands.


Had his own mother

maimed him so we’d give



what little we gave? On warmed towels we wipe our hands, before


my uncle takes me back

to the terminal, before he asks if I’ve got any yen to spare


for his schemes & he peels out into the lawless traffic


through which the mariachis wade to the spaces they’ve hollowed out


or leaned against someone else’s, doffing the accoutrements of mariachi


becoming in sleep indistinguishable from

all that isn’t blind.


Ibong Adarna






The Ibong Adarna: a bird, Rose explains in delicate English, that a dying king sends his sons into the forest to capture: its song can make him young  again. It lulls the sons to sleep & with its droppings turns each to stone.





Rose can’t believe I’ve never heard it—it’s as basic as bread or Coke. We’ve just met. We’re related somehow; blood.
















The father gets worse. He doesn’t want the youngest to follow but of course the son goes anyway: takes a flute. Some coins. A knife. The  jungle  presses down until he feels a dream coming on — grey shores — gulls —





but he shakes it off — sleep’s whole note & thrall — by gouging his arm with the knife, by dousing the wounds with calamansi. (A hybrid of citrus & fortunella. Like lime but sweeter. More delicate).












The scars on my arm make her think of it: spaced like a tally; a guardian angel’s. She waits for the  host to call our name. Silence is easy: from Manila  to Kalibo, I kept my mouth shut to pass — on buses, jeepneys, ferries — though the next passenger could’ve been kin.





The first time I came to these islands, I chased my older cousins down to the trees. I was three; Rose hadn’t been born. Funeral clothes—for our lolo — mud. We chucked rocks & sticks at some monkeys until one scraped me up to its jaws—











Aunts rushed out a door & carried me to the next town

—strangers fitted a mask to my—a white-

hot sprouting below my shoulder like the first limb of a new body—




Neither Rose nor her mother recalls if the boy saves his brothers, if some countermelody turns them back to meat, if their napes still green with moss. We eat. Something at the table takes root in me, begins to knot me up like poison. I will fold & unfold all night & dream the islands I passed through to get here:











The island of clove smoke & metallophones; the one with houses made of rain; the twenty dollars out of each paycheck I plan to set aside so Rose & her mother can rely that much less on the father who will never come home—





the father, queued up at a window in Abu Dhabi, chewing on a pencil, clutching what might be a race- day program, a remittance form. I pay for parking tickets, overdraft fees, a son, and then another, & in between a stillness. I send no money abroad.










The boy catches the bird & his father spends the rest of his days devising notation. Or, the bird takes pity on the boy & goes into the cage to stop the damage. Or the boy has three sons of his own who suffer from insomnia & tinnitus. He lets the bird go & the bird turns him into an island covered with forests—