Ants in My Grandfather’s Pants
When I was six, my grandfather recounted a story
about ants and bayonets that my father never told me.
During the Japanese Occupation in the 1940s,
a rifle-wielding soldier chased him and my would-be father
across a field of tall blades of grass at dusk.
In utter dread of bayonets, they both fled
in total abandon that they lost each other.
Lolo hid himself in the grass, kneeling,
praying to God to spare his only son,
as ants climbed up his pants and up his legs
and bit his flesh. He wanted to scream,
anak ko, my child, where are you?
but if he cried or moved one bit
the soldier might hear the rustle of grass
and go for the kill and lunge a bayonet
into his kneeling body, into his beating heart,
then into his son who would rush
to where a wail had burst out.
After hours in the black field of ants,
father and son found each other, relieved
but perhaps sorry to have stayed still alone.
I forgot to ask my father about that night
when they both thought they would die.
Now that they are both long dead,
I think of how fear could stifle speech
so that one could remain alive, even if a hundred ants
bit one’s private regions from which new life could spring.
The Japanese soldiers must be dead by now, but I fear
soldiers like them still lurk in our midst, watching.
I write and make no sound.
What I Knew of Electricity
What I knew of electricity we played out
as we danced: my hands on your love handles
generated bolts of current enough to light
lamps in your eyes and make my long sleeves quiver.
“What is voltage?” our physics teacher had asked.
Years before that I had discovered
my body was a science laboratory.
“Voltage is the force of electric current,” I knew,
but my mind wandered to the wee hours
of the morning way before our class.
Something inside me was going to burst—
was it my heart pounding in my rib cage?
On the dance floor we swayed in slow motion.
I saw sparks shooting upwards.
We were wired for this seeming love:
together we could light up our town.
Right then I knew how lightning jolted the sky
so powerfully it exploded into thunder.
The wind instrument so charged the air
we fluttered, until it trailed off
and shook us down into wakefulness.
I glance at you now as I part my gray hair
with my comb and it emits static electricity.
Days pass and our skin sloughs off
onto our bedsheets without our knowing.
Years pass and the faces we see
in the mirror are no longer ours.
We hold hands and do not tremble.