Breaths come in pairs, except at two times in our lives—the beginning and the end. At birth, we inhale for the first time; at death, we exhale for the last.
the beginning, and
in between the
end is a Shakespearean Act played
out—all the world is a stage, every
morning wake up
naked and out of character,
bare bones and back
breaking after a lifetime
so far of breaking
in these feet, and every morning,
dress our grins for the show, smile
lies at everyone we
meet—I am aware, there is
Venetian masquerade is not e
verybody, the way the worst
boys always quip “not all
men,” but we counter with: “enough
men to matter,” enough
piston weight pressure on slouching
shoulders for enough of us to
play the game anyway, count the
cards in our hand and bluff
all the way—jester, joker
smile though your heart is
breaking and you’re
tempted to take your
one last breath.
There’s a beginning, and there’s an
end; there are mornings you need a little
help seeing what waits around the
hope is an ocean inspired suitor, ebbing and
flowing, sometimes here, and when you need him:
disappearing. It is difficult
going through rain cloud seasons with feet
believing in prayers you
whisper when things were
going better. Understand: this
is what faith looks like—take a deep breath in,
and hold it steady. Everyone with me, exhale
slowly. Notice this
reflex arc handy: your lungs
take deep breaths again,
even when you anorexia starve it of
air, chest coup-de-tat fights you, doesn’t want this life to
end. And, maybe now is a semi-colon, a
pause in the story, see,
we all need a little
breather. We all get
hope will arrive
feet soaked through thick cotton
socks after all the pain and the
downpour rain, but meanwhile remember this
reflex: take a deep breath in and hold it
steady. Everyone with me, exhale
slowly. See, then
our lungs welcome the
sky again, we
breathe again, our sighs
out are reminders: this is not the end.
at ten years old, we
climbed skinny trees, and
scraped knobby knees, saw the city
bird’s eye, and listened to the rustling of
leaves, ten years later:
in place of trees,
we lego brick stack concrete
pancake layers: higher and
higher until we need elevators, and
then, maybe they fit the criteria for
skyscrapers. maybe, this time, we’ll find
what we’re looking for:
peer through the glass shoe
window on the top
floor, and won’t feel the need to axe
hack this cityscape down, won’t feel the
need to bring the sky closer to the
ground, to fill our hands with news
paper that says we’ve reached the clouds.
sixteen years ago, there were red winged
butterflies morning greeting
kisses before moving
onto someone else’s plant box—the
all organic liberal player, heart
breaker—we learn from their pollinating patterns
we are all thieves, mercilessly
taking nature’s nectar—let’s army knife carve out a space for
summer pavilions and
canopies, uproot these wide mango
trees and use them for
fire, their bodies are good for
keeping us warm, and this
Nara: sturdy for shelter, and it is human
nature, instinct to reach
peeking through the clouds, and we
soak it all up through bare
burn instead of tan. there are no
butterflies now, because there are no
an urban concrete lego-land on life support, the Pasig
river a clogged up IV line and we try to
scrape at the sides but don’t you
remember, we sent away the
guys who could do it
better on their last
payroll, now the land
rolls down the bank of the
river, where we put dams in place of
trees—as if we knew any better. and maybe I’m a
girl who wants to teach her future
daughter how to climb a tree. If I’m
lucky, she’ll learn to do ir better than me.
identified by drink more than by
name, and espresso caffeine isn’t the
only kind of morning
rush, it is saying my name like
brush strokes and getting
lost after swimming the wrong
stream, down, and no one ever expects to end
up in today’s version of
here, but here
you are: with a friend’s
dr pepper robitussin americano, and another’s
iced cappuccino, and still trying to coin
flip between two kinds of
beans, as if Jack really believed in all this
maybe it’s time we round our
backs, cat stretch
slouch, cave in-
I was sniper
centered on north pole
things. today is equator
different, all kinds of fireplace
warm and no blister
burns. and maybe
Jack was magic bean
right instead of asylum not right in other
places, and maybe it’s Apollo really
bright here, not just an Iris hallucination
lie. and, dr stranger mouths, “how
will you know if you never try”
-out, train for decathlon-like
death, it’s not caving
in if you’re expected to Pokemon
trainer put up a bloody good fight.
Back in high school, and throughout the first year of university, I had a brief (let's call it an intense) interest in Asian dramas and pop artists. It’s a bit out of character. I generally shy away from TV shows, celebrities, and the whole tinsel town experience. I’m usually the last to know when a personality gets into a scandal. I’m not even entirely sure I can get through an entire r&b song without changing the station. The scene is not something I’m attracted to. So, to have a brief history of watching rather predictable love stories, listening to Asian rap, and googling Asian names just to see what they were up to is something unexpected. In fact, it’s become a bit of an embarrassing joke for me.
Looking back, my attraction to the Asian scene had little to do with compelling Korean lyrics (I can’t understand Korean),or interesting plot lines (Taiwanese dramas are notorious for being predictable). Subconsciously, I think I was looking for someone to identify with, and I found that in Asian pop culture.
When I was younger, my favorite characters in TV shows, or comics, or movies would be the Asian girl. There weren’t many of them. Many articles suggest that children have a hard time delineating TV with reality, but I never felt like TV was real. No one looked like me, my family or my classmates. Everyone on screen had sharp noses and yellow hair. Everyone wore casual clothes to school. They went out to the mall after class hours. Everyone I knew had dark hair. And we all wore uniforms to school. We had to ask permission from our parents before going out even on a weekend. The culture was very different. But I think my longing for relatable figures extended beyond seeing non-Asians on screen. Even in the Philippines, my friends and I are considered exotic. Most of us have Chinese parents, and look extremely East Asian. I barely speak my mother’s Filipino tongue. In college, the most common question I got when meeting someone new was “so, where are you from?” or something along the lines of “you must speak fluent Chinese.” In many, many ways, I felt very other. I was unable to identify with local celebrities, and foreign celebrities. I was unable to identify with people outside the culture I grew up with.
Late into high school, suddenly, just as I was becoming an angsty teenager, my class got a young Chinese teacher who introduced us to modern songs, my dad took the family to Taiwan for the first time, and the k-pop scene boomed. All at once, I had so many things I could identify to. In a way, it felt like there was a subgroup I had an affinity to—a part of global society where people didn’t ask me if I was attracted to people outside my race, or a part of society where people also found it culturally uncomfortable to talk about sex or deep seeded feelings in general but completely comfortable to talk about diarrhea or some other “embarrassing” medical condition. I’m sure this isn’t the case across the board, but the point is the feeling of belonging to a sub group. Being exposed to different cultures is great, but when you’re always seen as the one from the exotic culture, it is nice to find a space where you don’t have to explain yourself.
And my experience with Asian pop culture has been overall enjoyable. In high school, we used to sing along to 光良’s 童話 after Chinese class. My cousin, a few years above me in school, first introduced me to Jay Chou. My Korean classmate and I bonded over K-pop back in the beginning of college. I’ve been back to Taiwan every year (sometimes more frequently) since I first went. If I remember correctly, Japanese anime heavily influenced the way I dressed throughout high school.
I think, in some ways, I fell out of the pop culture habit because, obviously, the experience of being Asian is not homogenous. As I grew older, I realized that I didn't identify with the Korean or the Japanese culture--mostly because I am neither Korean nor Japanese. But my stint with their pop cultures have, in some ways, given me a greater appreciation of the culture they hold. And, in some ways, I can see the overlap of my culture and their culture. If only for this purpose, I'm grateful for my short obsession with K-pop and Japanese anime. It's broadened my horizons, and helped me appreciate my own heritage so much more.
I also think there's value to obsessing over something closer to home. However odd that sounds. It makes you lean into your culture instead of away from it. I never felt ashamed of looking Chinese, or felt like I would be prettier if I had western features. I think part of that is because I was more enamored with Asian personalities than Western ones. If that makes any sense.
Earlier this year, an old friend sent me a link to Big Bang’s new song. The title was shamelessly suggestive—something unheard of in K-pop when we were in our late teens. It’s interesting, we both thought, how things have changed. Still, watching a pink haired young man sing about sex seems more identifiable than watching a blonde sing about an ex-lover. My friend and I have not talked since, but this is the way things go. You remember each other fondly, then allow the memory to stay in the past.
As a closing statement to my long ramble, I’d say I’m pretty much done with my K-pop and Japanese anime phase. My connection with it was, to be honest, on a rather superficial level rather than a deep, cultural one. I am still inclined to put on Jay Chou once in a while—and I mostly understand the lyrics now so I don’t have to feel so embarrassed. Now that I'm older, especially, I get touched by his song about filial piety. I think it’s important for anyone and everyone to feel like they can identify with what goes on in the media. I suppose it’s partly the point of entertainment—we’re supposed to feel a degree of fondness with personalities. The goal is to make us (the audience) feel something, and that draws heavily on how we were raised, what we value, what we aspire towards, etc. But at the same time, I think it’s important that minorities are represented. I think it’s important that our stories are told. It’s bad enough that we feel as though some people fetishize our culture. What’s worse is seeing its value diminished and its essence misrepresented just because there are people who aren’t better exposed.
For some reason, medical school is when I develop frequent sore throats. I'll call it what it is: my health is very poor, and I haven't been taking care of myself for the sake of my academics. Here are the consequences.
A professor once said that at one point in your medical education, you tend to think you have one of the diseases being described in the textbook. We just saw a kid with a bad cold the other day, so I'm now wondering if I've got what he's got.
I probably don't, but it makes for fun poetry.
grape cluster tonsils in the
admit it: we only mouth the
words to sound like we understand what it
means, and that starfish doesn’t look
like anything. it is all
tentacles and no stars. and
marks are just squiggles
someone else drew. nothing
more than temporary
tattoos. you and I—we are
real. these words are just brush
strokes, but we think it over
again, and laugh at everything.
this particular hobby of mine isn't meant to age well, but it's heaps of fun while I'm young and reckless.
these days turn
to rheumatic hinged
hips, and fibrous hanging knee
caps, and hindsight spikes we don’t
hearts with it.
win us all over.
Dani: There was a big bush here yesterday, and now it's little.
Truffles: Little? Yes, it's gotten little. When will it grow back?
D: Months, years, who knows? Never if you keep chewing on it.
T: Never?! Should I sample all the ones in the back?
T: I should, then, just in case I can never have this one ever again.
D: You're happy today.
T: Happiness is relative.
D: To what?
T: How much pellets are left in my bowl.
D: I'm home!
T: Took you long enough. What do you do behind that big black door anyway?
D: There's a lot to do behind the big black door.
T: Well, there's none of me there, so I don't understand why you'd go.
D: It's a little more complex than that.
T: Maybe I should go with you next time.
D: I don't think so.
T: Well then, don't go!
Happy 4th of July from here in the US of A!
My summer is nearly over, so my muse is once again restless. Thus, more poetry. Hurrah! Anyway, a word on the land of the free: America, to me, has always represented equity, and opportunity, and hard work, and freedom, and (extended) family. Despite the current political climate, I still believe that there can be hope and there can be peace–the thing people migrated to America for years and years ago. Spending the 4th of July here is interesting. It's made me believe in all the "naive" hopes and dreams I once had when I was seven.
Maybe that's a good thing?
4th of July: we are crazy
dancing, feet instinct
moving to live band
In the horizon the sky is
neuron synapsing: hand grazing mine
electric, cliff diving
lips pressed against mine.
One day. The hope of it.
lips curled up to your eyes.
There are film reels of me
dancing to jazzy
And the horizon: gentle
pixie dust fall—wonderful,
awestruck, believing in fairies
again. And forgiveness
again. And grace
You have become the
eyes underneath her
bed, the darkness in her
closet, the anxiety shaking her
bones, the way you always promised you
I watch your
horns prop up your
halo, and you’re still
mirrors, believing in your own
In e.e. cummings no capitalized letters style
A brief Truffles update: she is no longer all that small, but she forgets how long she's grown. She still tries to fit into pots meant for sproutlings and baby bunnies. I have no idea whether this hurts her feet, but she's a trooper.
A brief update on my life: I've got a month and a half before turning it in for the summer! Here's to one last sprint to reach this year's finish line. Send prayers my way because I'd really like to be promoted to third year medicine.
Anywho: onto the poem!
we are a pair of thieves, merciless
-ly taking—her from the leaves plants air out to
dry, and me from the female counterpart of father
time. she never seems to side-eye judge my
greed—and I twisting tongue justify hers.
there is serenity in communication
barriers: no words just the pounding of paws and
feet, no fear just exhale
confessions into pointed
me more than my
race understand how to be
human. it is an odd species i family-belong to, and
black-sheep wish i could understand you instead of ghosts of
men drowning insults in sweet nectar kisses—i can hear the innuendos in their
snake-smiles, can taste desire in their gaze, can feel heart pounding punchlines miles
primal. politics is
civil, so, we go on, one-night-stand
pretend it's no big deal and virgin shame
conservatives, and tiptoe around
feelings, utter cover up
confessions meant to feign
embarrassment while shutterbug taking
memories of what we really keep
my truth is not silent, and, therefore
i am primal—hair tossed in the
wind, right side shaved
short for the brevity of our time
together, for the
sweltering summer months i spent
out in the open road to
if i could steal the hands of
time, wind it back to twenty
fourteen, i’d steal leaves aired out to
dry instead of glances in your direction.
i’d steal star-crossed
dreams and words from
civilization, shake out excess
instinct and keep going.
i’d find her earlier, and
learn how to use paws instead of
hands. it is our handshake language:
i call her name, assume she listens, and she
puts her head in my palm, assumes my constant presence.
A few weeks ago, just before another grueling round of exams, I met Truffles––the adorable, the curious, the furry.
At two and a half months, she's (quite literally) a handful. She's been sampling our garden plants like an epicurean, and she's mad for my mum's ferns. I'd say she's settling in quite well, apart from her spoilt rejection of her dried hay in favour of fresh garden grass. After a few days of opposition, Mum's accepted our new member of the family.
As for myself? I'm completely attached.
Truffles the Smol is here to stay for (hopefully) a very long time.
Last year, I wrote this poem for my cousin.
We both have the tendency to trade God for golden idols we really have no use for, but fortunately, we've found our way home... After a bit of a stumble and a rumble and a tumble.
She just turned twenty-two on this lunar year March 6th
Just about to throw away her textbook and see the world
But, she realized there’s much trouble she needs to face
Sometimes she wishes she could return to when she was twelve
When her only responsibilities were going to school, simple, without worries
She’s like a flower bud full of hope
The days between January 29 seem to draw closer together, and filling them in with a series of nothings seems easier—these blue skies meld in and out of each other too fast for me to follow. This is what writers mean when they say life is short: life in itself is a series of long drawn out days that converge into a single moment, gone before anyone ever acknowledged its existence.
I’ve been thinking of Paul Kalanithi’s words: A sigh, and the earth continued to rotate back toward the sun. In some ways, the fact of my own mortality hangs above my head. I am reminded of it daily—my medical books are elaborate descriptions of ways to delay death, my patients are flesh and blood reminders of how debilitating disease can be, my classmate(who was faithful, kind, and God-fearing)’s very recent passing is a painful reminder of the unpredictability and brevity of life.
Am I more like Grindelwald? Shall I die just a little as the days crawl past? Shall I feel my youth wane and my joints grow heavy? Shall I feel my skin sag and smile helpless as my (eventual) grandchildren toy with my chicken wing arms? Perhaps I shall. Even this slow wasting seems like a brief moment in the greater scheme of things.
We know this: humanity has lived long enough to become aware of our ephemeral existence. Still, we press on and attempt to carve out something substantial out from our numbered days. Still, we get up. We get dressed. We eat. We live. We read. We write.
I am not anxious about dying, or dying in pain. These may well be my end. I fear wasting the days before my demise. I fear blinking, and opening my eyes to another year gone without having improved myself, my relations, the world in the time span. And though I’ve been told (indirectly) that faith is not something desirable to have, I fear losing my faith. I fear watching it wane until it becomes ghostly and irrelevant to me. I fear my God turning away from me. I fear myself aiming for the earth again, and losing heaven in the process.
So, may this be the year I get up. Get dressed. Read. Write. Live. Act. Do. Resolve. Believe.
Perhaps, then I shall come into the next year satisfied with all my hands have done, and all my eyes have seen.
Send me skyward, to parts unknown, to paths feet have yet wandered, to prayers I have muttered. Send me onward. Though my shoes long to stay cement glued to the ground, send me forward. Away, to countrysides and skylines, to parched lands and endless seas, to scorching heat and biting cold.
I will follow: open armed, eagle spread willing. I will go: backpack ready, shoes on when I sleep. I’ve learned what it looks like to stay static, always fighting time and space and God. I’ve learned what it looks like to play with fire, taunting flames until one of us gets burned. Most often, the victim is me. I’ve learned what stars look like from the wrong side of the earth. I’ve learned reckless hymns, sung to justify my wrongs. I’ve learned the path of least resistance. I’ve learned contempt.
Send me forward, and I’ll learn to want better things: the steady turning of gears, a well oiled machine. Send me onward, and I’ll learn how to steer past pirate ships. I’ll learn how to keep dreams in my pocket, tend them quietly until they grow into realities. Send me patients, and I’ll learn how to love them. Send me typewriters, and I’ll learn to write again. Send me more, God, and teach me to have more faith again.
Send me skyward, and I’ll grow wings again. I’ll learn all the flying I’ve forgotten.