Bringing the Outdoors Inside – (Day 3 of My Coronavirus Journal)

I know I casually talked about feeding the farm in my last post, but we didn’t always have these many pets. We had Ringo and Gidget when we moved to our new home in 2019. Ringo was our elderly schnoodle, black with specks of grey, and the appetite of a hungry school of piranhas. Gidget is a 6-pound possibly Maltese terrier whose boundless energy and sweet disposition endear her even to the pet-aversed. My husband and his coworkers found her abandoned in a community garden untagged and unchipped; they all thought she was a rat as her fur was covered in dirt. I thought we would just foster her for a few days as we already had a dog and my 16-year old cat Mila, who passed away in 2018, same year my mom died. Well, Gidget had me at first lick. My friend Anna aptly named her after the mischievous teen played by Sally Fields in the ‘60s.

When the pandemic hit, I started imagining a garden in our living room. Couldn’t go outside so why not bring the outdoors in. I took an old curtain rod and installed it above the windows. Instead of curtains, I draped it with hanging plants. One, two and now there’s eight of them.

Luis wanted a project too, and he thought about getting aquatic turtles. Where you gonna put it? I asked. He said downstairs with the bearded dragon and the snake my son decided to raise. But I thought it was perfect to have a pond in the indoor garden, and so we built it with a concrete mixer tub and some rocks, one of which was from the ruins of the old building where I used to work.

The turtles came in the mail. They were the size of a silver dollar! Luis named them Bonnie and Clyde. He has an affinity for any old-school gangster. We got Curly, the goldfish, along with Larry and Moe, at Petco. They were feeder fish worth 18 cents each. Larry and Moe died within an hour of release in the pond. Curly lived and is a hefty four inches long! He steals turtle feed and holds his own among the growing turtles.

The parakeets came after. My friend’s co-worker has had enough of their squawking during zoom meetings and the mess they made with their bird food husks. I wanted to get a canary after I read that they learn songs the way humans learn language — from their caregivers! But I didn’t want to spend $150 for a male canary! The females are worth half the price because they don’t sing, or their songs are “broken”. Parakeets sing too, just not as melodious. And these ones came as gifts. I named them Pepe and Pilar.

I love working among the plants and with the sound of water running through the filter. I think my plants have kept me from being sick and the house, oxygenated. The birds, I notice, do like joining in on discussions. Needless to say, I can’t teach remotely in my “office” unless I cover their cage but I don’t like doing that in the middle of the day. So, I drive to work to teach remotely. Well, it’s not the only reason. I leave home to teach remotely elsewhere because sometimes my garden is not enough. I need an actual workspace. Because when you’re a parent, the “Do not disturb” sign on the door is just a suggestion.

So today I drove to work like I used when remote learning was not a thing. Talked about writing a definition essay to my students via Zoom. (Note to self: I have to write a definition essay.) Chit chat with my embedded tutor Josh who was a former student and is now becoming a friend. As I was packing my stuff to leave at the end of my “office hours,” I found out that my colleague and good friend just lost her best friend to covid. I had texted her about a deadline we had yesterday, and she texted back distraught about her friend’s passing. I told her to take a break. I got this. I got her. I asked Luis to take care of dinner. I unpacked my laptop and took off my jacket and got our task done within an hour.

At home, I lay in bed to rest my abused screen-weary eyes. We had yummy Mexican food from the carniceria. Always a winner. We saw an episode of 90-Day Fiancé, our 15-year-old’s current obsession. I tried to do homework in vain. Rinse, repeat.

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Rinse and Repeat- (Day 2 of My Coronavirus Journal)

This is the first day of my birth month. To be honest, I’m not as excited to have another birthday. Not anymore after I turned 50, and then later on, my birthday became a grim reminder of my mother’s death. In 2018, she died three days before my birthday after being in a coma for 15 days. I stayed with her every night, probably the longest time we stayed together in one place after I became a teen and her worst nightmare. We cremated her the day after I turned 55.

I do so much in a day but I think the thing I do the best is waste time. I play scrabble after every thing I do that I deem worthy of taking a break for. I stream shows on my device and, if I’m feeling too carefree, on the big screen TV.

Today, I woke up at 6:40 and did what I usually do. Drew my face on with tinted moisturizer and an eyebrow pencil. Turned on my plant light and fed the farm. The turtles, goldfish, parakeets, and two dogs. Made coffee and had it with an egg and buttered blueberry toast. Walked the dogs and made breakfast of fruits and ham and cheese sandwich for my remote-learning high school freshman. Then I embarked on grading papers. In between, I set up a doctor’s appointment for my child and appliance repair for our broken Electrolux dryer. This is the nth time since we bought it that we had had to get it fixed. Why they refuse to replace it when it’s the same damn issue frustrates me to no end. It’s like they’re waiting for the warranty to expire so we can just buy a new one or pay for repairs cost ourselves.

In the evening, I made Filipino paksiw na pata for the meat eaters and panang curry mung beans for the vegetarians. (I decided to be vegetarian with my 18-year old son three times a week!) I snuck in an episode of Law & Order as my husband rested in our room and then we all watched my daughter’s current obsession— 90 Day Fiancé. At least not Dr. Pill Popper or 600-Pound Life, thank God.

My son came home from work washing dishes at a chicken place bringing food that customers forgot to pick up. We’re getting a bit sick of it, really, but he’s so sweet to bring it home. Like most teens he rarely thinks outside his own needs and wants. I tried to finish my homework for my Linguistics class called First Language Acquisition. Truly fascinating how babies acquire language over a very short period of time. More about this later. I didn’t sleep til midnight but still didn’t finish my homework. I’m worse than my students sometimes!

Breakfast of champion remote learners!
Tried to finish homework in vain. 🤣
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Family Outing in Downtown Chicago

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Coronavirus Journal

I’ve decided to participate in the National Women’s History Museum’s project to document women’s daily experiences throughout the pandemic. If you are interested to participate, please feel free to sign up. My hope is that it will get me writing on a regular basis. Here’s the link. It’s been a rough year for most everyone, which is why maybe recording daily events may help me focus on what’s in front of me. In the last seven months alone, I have lost three dear friends to cancer and perhaps Covid-related stroke. And then there are the 400,000 people and more gone in the U.S. alone. Part of how I document these tragic times is by writing poetry. They are not as intentional as a journal may be, but words and images come in fragments like grief. They are embedded in the everyday, and they just want to come lose sometimes and present themselves in text. They may not have value beyond self-therapy or a need to release pain, but that is what a journal is, isn’t it? And if by chance someone reads them and connects with them, then that is a good thing. I think for many women for whom compartmentalization seems more of a challenge, getting through the monotony of lockdown activities is worth reflecting upon. Here are some poetic grieving in the last few weeks:

Ann (1/27/2021)
Grief in America can be put on hold
It is like waiting on the phone as elevator music plays in the background
Must clean kitchen
Must help with homework
Must grocery shop
Must make fun fifteenth birthday

Must schedule dental appointments, appliance repair, meetings with students
Must keep things from breaking
Must do this to keep from doing that which hurts

I can smell laundry soap on my shirt
Perhaps I have no covid
My car is buried in a blanket of virgin snow
My daughter just texted I love you, too
But your face hovers like a cloud

I’m having a hard time wanting to live with your dying
It doesn’t seem fair
That I should keep breathing
Keep appreciating the fine line of snow that makes this tree so beautiful
And now a pinging 26 days after you wrote 30
But how can I help celebrate your birthday now that you’re gone?
Fuck Facebook

Alex (1/02/2021)

It is 3:30 p.m. and the clock is heavy
The painted smile fades on the ceramic clown’s face
Snow covers this house that is not in Puerto Rico
A music box clown spins slowly as the music plays
Fur Elise, of course
A punk rocker’s secret delight
It is dressed in gold and black tiger print,
Same as the bathrobe you liked to lounge in
On your bed, your shirts lay spread as if for wearing
But you are already gone
You took your painted boyish smile with you
And left your candles burning
Your records playing
Your beer chilling in the fridge

The carpet trapped the dreams you whispered
I vacuumed the dust that muffled them and hope
Perhaps now the colors will be free.

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Hay na kus at the 2019 Babaylan Conference

I had the honor of presenting at the conference with my beautiful bff, visual artist exrraordinaire and community activist Melanya Liwanag Aguila, and we enjoined participants to write to find home/to be home/to make home. Most of them took the challenge of writing hay na kus, a form invented by the fabulous and among the most prolific Pinoy poets I know, Eileen Tabios. Here they are:

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A Name Like the Desert

This beautiful young woman walked into my classroom, one day and 30 minutes late. She had pursed lips, dreamy eyes, glistening curly hair tied tightly in a long ponytail, and a pair of starkly white earbuds. She had a name that sounded like the desert in the wintertime, and she wore a short, black, tight overalls/onesie? Not sure quite what to call it. She stayed for a day, barely there, talked about a twin sister that does not want anything to do with her and keeps her from seeing her niece/nephew, when I asked students to write about a problem they have concerning their neighborhood.

The next day, she asked to talk to me outside, motioning me with her beautiful ear-budded head. I was distracted at first, trying to do the stupid grammar diagnostic with my students, which I think intimidated her. We spoke by the window at the end of the hallway, and I closed the book after a few words. She said she’s not made for the classroom or that education is not her “thing”. That she belongs to the streets. Only 20, she works in security, and I could not imagine that brave bold body in a boring security uniform. I told her I am not going to convince her otherwise, if she believes she’s not ready for college.

“You don’t understand; I’ve taken this class three times. I know myself. I’m not gonna pass,” she reiterated.

In my head, I wondered why she was telling me this. Did she want me to convince her otherwise? Did she want me to reassure her that, yes, it’s gonna be fine. You’ll make it this time, eventhough I wasn’t certain.

At the beginning of the semester I always tell my students not to be deceived by my calm and patient demeanor, because many have failed my class because they simply were not ready. Not emotionally. Not mentally. Mostly emotionally, really. They are still in high school, cutting classes or coming to school glassy-eyed, submitting crammed homework peppered with run-ons and misspelled words. Why should I give reassurances now?

At the end, I felt that we talked but did not really have a conversation, because I was not really hearing what she was saying. I just wanted to get back to a classroom full of students who actually wanted to be there.

When we got back in, she took her stuff and left. I wished now that I had listened better, because I think that’s all she wanted. Someone to talk to, someone to reiterate her beliefs to. But I can’t deny that I was not annoyed by her nonchalance, the way she thought she could just waltz in to my classroom as if she was going to a party, dressed to impress, fashionably late.

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Visiting Carole

I was not expecting

to see lake Michigan so blue

between tall scrapers casting

hooded shadows at 5:04

on St. Patrick’s day

You, crumpled in despair

between wrinkly pallid sheets,

fatigued, turning on your side,

a chore; talking, all the more

I wondered if I’m imposing

my presence on you

my being here

but you wanted me to stay

and we talked about folks at

work, my kids, the day I got

married and there was no

music so everyone sang —

Dan dan dadan, dan dan

dadan, dan dan dadan dadan

My fake wedding that has

lasted 15 years. I told you I

couldn’t think of any other

way to get married, and you

agreed, smiling, because

laughing would have hurt.

My mother was in a coma

same time last year, but I do

not dare remind you

two weeks I stayed with her,

almost every night, without

the privilege of “not wanting

to see her like this”

Not like my siblings who saw

her most days, some not her

best, often made her smile

when she wasn’t feeling up to it

We had honeymoon days, she

and I, the week-long

sweetness between us

lathered over past battles,

having discovered our

humanity across the ocean

That’s what distance does,

I suppose.

But you do not think you’ll

have that with your little one

No decided discoveries

between you two

Only nine and mutinous, and

you sulked over her

overextended iPad use, but I

promised you that things will

be alright, as if I’ve suddenly

become an expert on

childhood development, and

you simpered because that’s all

the energy you have for, and

we stayed silent together, as I

tidied up, arranged cold packs

and heat packs in a pile; threw

out used hand wipes and half-

eaten fruits as the sun sets on

the other side of Chicago,

leaving but a bar of faded

orange above the still lake.

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The finality of farewells

Home again in the same year. I’m not sure why, really. I tell everyone it’s to be with family. First time spending Christmas without Mom. Truth is I just want to be close to where she used to be. This time the trip is not for her or for family. It’s for me.

I just need to feel her presence somehow. Not that she doesn’t pervade my thoughts everyday. I miss her so much. I wish I had recorded her as my mother. Not her as Miss Tapia, the television character. Although she had embraced that role, when she let the bun down, she was just my mother. Mythic in her own way, but also quite vulnerable and given to fits of fierce frustrations.

Maybe I came home to feel her absence, too. I came home to not be with her. To not sleep beside her, listening to her every breathe. To not watch her put on make up before going to work. To not hear her distinctive voice calling my name (after two or so incorrect references, usually my other siblings’ names), a voice that had grown sweeter over the years. To not feel her hug, her kiss, her caress that had turned more generous, an effluence of affection, which she withheld before like coveted holiday confection. To not watch her give orders about how she wanted things done, especially the Christmas tree and the lights and the watering of the garden in the late afternoon to keep the moisture in the ground through the night.

To not be with her, period.

It was easy to pretend she’s only waiting for me to come back home like she always did and always sweetly urged me to do, arms open, smiling… but she won’t be.

Not this time.

#losingmom #anaknitapia

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On the flight back

The night before I was to go back to Chicago, my brother Dodgie, my niece Zyra and I were stuck in traffic at 12 midnight. I had gone to my friend Ling’s art exhibit opening and hung out with her until 10, despite people telling me, “Don’t hang out too late, you’re going to get stuck in traffic on the way home.” I guess it just didn’t register. My mind refused to believe that there would be traffic at midnight on a weekday. My siblings kept explaining, “Don’t you get it, there’s a lot of construction. They could only do it at night because during the day it would be impossible as there is traffic all day.” In my head, I was protesting, how could that be? Why would people be driving around midnight on a weekday. It didn’t make any sense.

It must be the same crazy thing happening in my head, refusing to believe that you are gone, no longer with us, passed away, dead. It isn’t right. No effing way. I was just FaceTiming with you, just a week before you were rushed to the hospital. No falling down the steps at the mall or the crippled chair at work, no breaking of bones, or a botched surgery. It was just you, feeling well, texting your dubbers for a rescheduling of auditions one moment, and the next, throwing up, and then, in a coma, and then… How could that be? And now I’m going back home to Chicago, a motherless child. No longer anyone’s child. Just an adult with all the negative connotations.

I’m wearing your toe socks and black sweater – the one I wore at the cold airconditioned room at the hospital. I kept looking for pictures of you on my phone. I guess I don’t always take a picture of our chats. I thought about the times I came home. Every year since dad died in 2009. The longest times I had spent with you since I left for abroad were a week or two. Before I had my own family, I’d visit for six weeks sometimes, half of which was spent somewhere else – writing about a new beach that opened, having an immersion among canning workers, climbing a mountain, marching to protest another corrupt president, hanging out with friends. And you would be working, too. Always. You loved being busy with work. Even when I was a child. You’d always say, “Nagkakasakit ako pag walang trabaho.” I’d get sick without work.

Two years ago, when I took my son with me for the first time, you got sick and were confined at the hospital. I stayed with you all of the time, refusing to leave your side. I remember how my friends came to see me there because I didn’t want to go anywhere else. Then, you got better. I knew you were feeling better when you started asking for a mirror and putting on your lipstick for possible visitors. We went home three days later, and then I had to take my son on a five-day adventure with my friends. Did you resent it that I went? I remember you saying, “Ang bilis naman!” Your visit is too short. And now I can’t help but agree and wished I had stayed longer each time.

I think the best times we had together were not those spent at expensive beach resorts or having spa days at the mall. The best ones were when we were home together, in your room, chilling, watching TV and old movies until we fell asleep. You’d always say you couldn’t sleep, but I knew you were sleeping. Few hours here and there. I knew because I would lean close to your back to listen to the sound of you breathing and your heart beating. (That was actually when I insisted you go to the hospital that one time. Because I could hear you wheezing.) Those times I’d notice how fragile you had become. How easily you could be taken from us. And so you were. And I still can’t believe it. It is like a bangungot, a bad dream, I want to wake from already. I keep wishing that there’s an alternate universe in which you are alive and we are talking and eating, joking around, watching TV, getting a pedicure, or you are laying hands over me, and I don’t mind, really I don’t, because I love you mommy and I miss you so much, and I don’t know how to face a another day in this real world where I have become a motherless child.

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Assessment Plan/Rhetorics/poem-in-progress

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This is not your hand;
This bloated fish in my latex-gloved hand,
hematomaed like the drowned corpse I saw
when I wrote about night hawks who
forage after 12 for decaying remains,
blood-debt killings, a small ice pick stuck
to the temple of a gambler who owed 10 pesos
in pusoy, a security guard ended by
swift slash of a cheated husband’s bolo,
the top of his head dangling, sad lid
of a tin can, fodder for the sic o’clock news.

This body heaving under faded print sheets,
hooked to a machine, furrowed forehead of a familiar face
This tentacled body, flanked by beeping
sentries that sometimes malfunction

This is not yours.

But are your gestures yours?
Shrug of shoulders, crease of brow,
shudder of tears, when I sing, when
your siblings are here, when we pray,
when my sister and I forgot you were
in the room and talked about that
time I was molested by someone you know.

Found in your dresser drawer, in cursive,
“My life support is only God Almighty
and His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Never artificial respirator,” written
posthaste in front of envelope with
“Open in Case of Death” scribbled
across seal, your familiar script,
many times forged for excuse slips,
fieldtrip forms; now here we are,
me, your reluctant signatory; and here
you are, unwitting accomplice to our
betrayal; breathing, but not on your own.

At 3:16, a message sent in frantic electronic
squawking, orange light flashing, a minute to
let settle, the sound of pandesal
peddler horn forever defamed.

Another day, another 3:16, above
a text message from one daughter to another
the one not easily swayed, your faith excursion
companion; believer of lost mothers looking
for redemption, receiver of unwanted
faith healing, dubious witness of transfigurations.
Do you remember? The Santo Nino’s hands
embossed upon the sanctified swindler’s?
You whispered, “Look, look. Upon her palms,
images of little Jesus’s tiny hands?” And I
thought maybe I wasn’t blessed to see, but
I pretended, exclaimed “Oo nga.” Yes, I see!
I was nine years old.

These pedicured toes, still golden but
tumid, ripe with unwanted fluids; these
are not yours. This swollen knee, bearing
surgical scar; that time Tita Et warned you
through her clairvoyant cards to be careful,
watch your step, but you slipped upon rain-slicked
driveway, broke your patella, typed your scripts
at the hospital for weeks, while your knee
healed, all the time exalting your friend’s
psychic powers, saying you should have heeded.

Should we heed now? Is this you sending 3:16
messages? Are you now telepathic? Psychic?
Do you wish perhaps you that you did not cut off
supernatural friends, sinning skeptics from your
born-again life? Do you wish I were less sinful?

Do you wish you were?

And now your fate lies not in God, not in Et
not in your hand or your children’s
but in a committee of suited men in white robes
that pray to a God not too different from yours.

Why is it that to play god is fine, but to honor
your wish is an affront to the Divine?

29425360_10160248676530385_1822741935253618688_o Continue reading

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