with scrimshaw-handled comb,
double-sided butterfly, mama tends
to my hair — rakes fine-toothed wood
scarlet across my scalp, its spine
carved with peonies dappled gold.
the instrument glides easy enough
through oil-slicked locks, to sift
kuto: head lice, scourge of parents,
of every grade-school classroom.
it is a collaborative effort, slow
hunt shared in swathes of sun
streaming past ikat curtains.
we count crawling parasites.
we pick the eggs with thumbnails,
liquid bug bodies still unformed.
edge pressed to keratin edge —
pop! — until the sacs burst & spray.
tiny teardrops, harmless.
sometimes, there is blood.
soon our lunar cuticles are dotted
with my own wet crimson.
I want to smear the same ruby shade
on my lips, jewel-chintz glinting
even at night. I want to click
down stairs, down sidewalks —
heels four inches high & cigarette-thin.
mama says I’m too young.
I still reek of playgrounds
at dusk, still rub heads with kids
whose kili-kili drip sweat
from scampering down alleyways,
past neighborhood sari-sari stores,
their cheap wares beckoning:
berry-colored Chinese Haw Flakes,
homemade lychee ice pops,
bags of chicharron for soaking
in suka at sili. my mouth
still withers pula, raisin-like
after sucking on the last
soggy pork rind — acid lifting skin,
edges curled. I suck & suck:
little louse puckering.
mama says I’ll bleed soon.
nights, before bed, we read chapters
from a book naming things
that sound celestial —
cervix, vulva. labia majora.
she points on a diagram to a nub
in the middle, above an opening —
small guava pip waiting to grow.
I tell her I’m not afraid of red.
I’d skinned my knees before, felt plenty
strong when punched square in the gut
after calling a boy bobo, pangit.
putangina mo, he’d said, your mother
is a whore — & his fist hit swift,
trying to go straight through me.
I didn’t even buckle. mama laughs,
whispers, women bleed together. no secret:
but I feel myself untethering, just as cord
was cut from womb — curse passed
down from daughter to daughter,
to daughter to daughter.
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