balsam pear. wrinkled gourd.
leafy thing raised from seed.
pungent goya, ampalaya: cut
& salt at the sink. spoon pulp
from bumpy rind, brown half-moons
in garlic & sparking mantika.
like your nanay did. like your lola did.
like your manang braving hot parsyak—
you’ll wince. you’ll think of the taste
of your own green body—mapait
ang lasa. your sneer. masakit, dugo’t
laman. it hurts, this smack of bitter.
yes you’ll remember how much it hurts,
to nick your thumb as you bloom heat
in acid, sili at sukang puti—to grow up
glowering in half-light—to flesh out
& plod through your own grassy way,
unfurl your own crush of vines.
after you tip it onto a mound
of steamed rice, as you chew,
the barb of it will hit the back
of your throat. look at yourself,
square. you used to snarl at moths,
start small blazes in entryways.
woodchip fires, flaking paint.
look, tignan mo—see your lip
curling in the glint of your bowl.
unruly squash. acrid vegetable,
you’ll flinch. you’ll want to see
nothing, taste like nothing. but
when you disappear your meal—
when you choke on the last
chunky morsel of rice—you’ll slurp
thirsty for more—a saccharine life.
huwag mo akong kalimutan,