By Sigrid Gayangos
When nights simmered like a lazy summer day,
and months went on without rain,
the ancient ones of Samboangan swim up
to the shore, take off
their scaly clothes, fins and tails,
and tested the land’s hospitality.
But these ancient ones, these fish-folks,
always felt vulnerable on land,
confused by the ways of men, so
they calmed their nerves by taking part
in manly vices on hand:
they drank their fish-hearts out, traded
stories with other alcoholics, over-ate
piping hot bowls of satti, crawled
into bed with women
whose husbands were at sea,
and men whose wives did the same.
At dawn, after all the merry-making
and wandering and love-making,
they wear their scaly clothes back,
shake their heads and disappear.
They would return to unknown depths,
then swim with the current, once more convinced
that they were not suited for life
bereft of water.
On warm, pink sand we sat,
our legs bronzed, backs hunched,
looking out on the smaller islets before us.
“The southern tip is a gravesite for sea gypsies—”
sea people, you corrected me.
So we talked of ancient ways,
navigating stormy seas on houseboats,
love lashing like waves between
men and women who swore to grow
as old as the skies.
The beach is a young maiden;
the waves, its relentless lover.
Their love is the rapturous kind:
it bites on rocks and reefs
and lines the coast with goose bumps
leaving a trail
of soft kisses and promises.
Our afternoon whispers
were windows to the fear I held
in the pit of my stomach.
My frailty was the power that allowed me
to grow a second skeleton outside,
a bony shell, itself, divided into halves
and I sucked in
enough air to last a lifetime
until my ribs ruptured
and I fit just fine, in my new turtle-home.
You were sad but knew that I had to leave,
so you gifted me two sets of flippers.
Two in front, and two for the rear
and you warned me about plastics.
(I looked at you one last time and prayed
that your kindness will grow you wings.)
I see better now underwater—
the ocean floor dusty with history,
everywhere else blue and green and black.
Other creatures mumble scanty greetings
but everyone just heads to the wreckage
down on the sea floor, beyond recovery.
At times, I resurface and look upwards to the sky,
a blue, friendly face that listens to my pleas
but I grow restless and wait and wait and wait
and nothing arrives.
Memory is a secret whispered by the wind
to the ocean’s ever changing mind,
it ripples and swells and I just swim with it.
Sandy silences are embankments.
The world is mostly water—
yet it is mostly all attraction.
People dip, others linger,
but no one truly enters.
Its mercurial temper unnerves
even the strongest of us.
Until one day, I,
that which came from the sea,
and of the sea,
will swim back to the pink and warm sand
to remove my bony shell
and discard two sets of flippers.
My human legs will grow once more and I
shall spread it out for an afternoon thaw,
where I wait for a winged-boy
as old as the skies.