I. The Teacher, for Sharon Olds
Her tram, a red gift-wrapped box, descended
from the sky. Sitting on a bench,
on this island, I had watched the mechanical sedan
the calculated movements of an automaton
as it wedged itself into the landing station
and let her out. My back to her, I sense her walking past
me on the road a tree shadow away the right, left,
right of her feet on the corner of my eye. I swerve
for scrutiny. She wears a white blouse, not immaculate,
like her hair, ashened by grays, and a green skirt waving towards
the river, a barge plowing through it like a tractor on a field of spinach.
She looks at the water, hesitates, pulls forward, then
back, cranes her watch to her glasses. She walks
along the embankment, weak to the water's allure,
her pace unhurried, calm in its contentment.
Stopping momentarily, she gazes across the East River,
at the skyscrapers of Manhattan, breathing in everything.
Her skirt rides stiffly on her waist, she resumes
her progress, an atom in the landscape.
II. The Sister
When her door was left ajar,
I peeked at the vertical slit, finding my sister
horizontal on her bed, writing. It made
me think of the cross; I knew
somehow what I was doing was wrong.
The intrigue was too much to bear
and I promised to think angelic thoughts
the rest of each of those days.
Sometimes I only saw her legs dangling
in the air like ducks; sometimes,
her curved back, a new woman's body,
lithesome in its blossoming, yet boyish and hard;
and framed by the wooden wall and door,
her face, never had I seen her ethereal except during those times.
One day, when my sister was not home
and the boredom of the afternoon settled in like dust
on a peach, I sneaked into her room, dug
through her drawers, and unearthed
the journal, red, unadorned, inconspicuous.
I dove onto her bed, flipping through pages
of poetry, love poems
she had written, one
insipid poem after another,
all, achingly sweet.
First, a chuckle escaped from my lips,
a covey of sparrows,
then a guffaw, a murder of crows.
Suddenly, I turned and saw her,
in tears, standing at the half-open door
where I usually crouched.
III. The Mother
She took away the crayons and washed
the walls until they were white again.
My mother gave me old newspapers to play with.
My hands itched. I tore
at the gray papers, first, in anger, forming
undefined shapes, later, in increasing amusement,
more intricate two-dimensional figures
the world taken out of the walls.
For years then I drew out of the rectangles the contours
of elephants, carabaos and people.
I ripped a herd of Appaloosas;
tended to the lacerated bodies of my soldiers;
shredded rain for my re-enactment of Noah's Ark.
On the end of each paper-cutting day, my mother
collected the discarded pieces of newspaper
and wiped my hands and face,
tenderly, with a warm towel.
What was she washing away from my skin?
One afternoon, the smudged towel hung
from a chair and I looked at my right hand.
On my thumb, a toppled a, a trapped snail;
a splinter of an i; a fading k.
On my other fingers, the b, d and p assembled
like musical notes; the hairs on the o;
the conjunction ng, a bridge.
I licked my thumb, pressed it on the wall,
and the a stayed. Twice more
until I spelled ako: me, in Tagalog.
I turned around and saw my mother,
her hands on her waist.
She left the room, returning with a pencil and a notebook-
clean, lined paperand we sat down,
my mother showing me the way
as I rest my thumb on the pencil buttressed
by my finger where a corn will bloom.
© Joseph Legaspi