Upon Overhearing Bahasa Indonesia

Kabel Mishka Ligot

                   after Fatima Lim-Wilson

It rains too, in the Midwest, gentle

                sheets of mist almost floating. Nothing

like the wet shrapnel of June

                and July back home, sundry fish in hot oil

crackling on the corrugated metal roofs

                of your house. In Wisconsin rain

pedestrians don’t bolt and scurry under

                awnings at the first menace clap of thunder.

Hard to believe that this is the same

                rain that once shooed you home every afternoon

on the other side of the world. But for now, you stand

                in that rain, awaiting the 81 that will take you

back home. Droplets alight on your face,

                almost dry, like dust. And then peals, suddenly

not rain,

                        but laughter, boisterous charging downhill

                though the gutters. Banter the warm

gust of wind that slips up the hem

                of your sweater. Is that — could it be — yes

it is. There’s a group of friends on the corner

                creating rainfall, appropriate typhoon

most familiar to you. O,

                Diyós ko, you want to dart across

the street towards the hurricane

                and cry, kamustá! Saán kayó galing?

International students, din? Matagál na ba kayó dito

                sa Madison? Do you know how long it’s been

since I’ve spoken like this outside overseas

                phone calls and conversations with myself

in the cavernous jaw of night? Isn’t it sweet

                to hear one’s language left

in the ordered streets? the sparse

                chatter filling you whole, whole

with the lullaby din of tricycles, the call

                racing toward the open

                                                        market? Your body

stops on the ball of your foot. Huwág,

                no, don’t run towards them,

not yet. Don’t be the fool with garlands

                of tears in your eyes, regurgitating gratitude

for their singsong signals.


                                        Instead, strain

                your eager ears — what are they

talking about? where are they going? and how can this

                rain possibly be so soft, yet drown

out the familiar? And there: Selamat

                malam! one calls out as the group begins

to fracture. A pair of mouths remain

                on the corner while several others

continue walking down the street into mumble

                of darkness. It’s not salamat, wasn’t thank you,

it can’t be. They didn’t say ingat! before parting

                ways. Then, the screeching brake of lightning: it wasn’t Tagalog;

                wasn’t Filipino. Maybe Indonesian

or Malaysian. Maybe something from some Southern

                islands, only if you were really lucky —

The American rain starts to build

                almost the same gibberish downpour you know

by heart, by skin, by mouth. Ayos

                                                    lang. It’s okay.

                Eventually you’ll forgive the fishbone

lodged in your sorry throat, choked up

                with all the language you will ignore

later: the neon signs, reflective boards

                with their codices of bus schedules,

the waterlogged man on State Street, begging

                please, please. I’ll take anything you have.


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