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—