Joseph O. Legaspi

In Medias Res

“A mother is a story with no beginning.” ~Meghan O’Rourke

Suddenly fried fish appears on my plate beside the jasmine rice,
   which moments ago were submerged in cloudy water, dented by my mother’s
   measuring fingers.

Mother of milk and mist and enchanted hands.

Here is someone who bore me, I passed through her like an egg through a serpent.

I’ve never thought her born, until I’ve understood the intricacies of my grandmother.
   Shards of stories of burning cities and cave dwellings during wartime.
   Being watchful but not seen. History told through silences.
   The temporal light reaches towards ever so faintly.

Nasaan ka?, the boy asks. Where are you?

There she is on the plate. Again, when she wakes me in the still-dark morning,
   child dumbed into believing he was resurrected in night’s sickle-moon cradle.

She saves the sausage oil.
Pours hot water into bathwater.
She disappears, then, after school, reappears.

When I see her is always a beginning.

She’s a child’s power to divine. She swoops down the glint of my presence. Greek
  verses, chorus-sung. Tragedies tidily wrapped up. Oh, to believe in that magic.
   Formerly I was not here, then—.

I arrived nearly in the middle of her leafing,
   she once a tendril of a girl with a chipped front tooth floating in a lake.

Narrative: a woman falls in love with a man as her son will fall in love
   with a man. Until then, the son disappears into sleep.

Mother Houdini, chained to my fever dream.

Unseen is the past where my mother, fitted with a white veil, sat.
Unknowable as a photograph.



Ókúrú

after January Gill O’Neil

We slice heads off

the okras, strewn

like mutinous bounty

on the kitchen table,

my sisters and I giddy

with small knives,

helping to feed

the family pods,

fibrous, tough,

mucilaginous.

Our mother heats

the pan, throws in

the adobo mixture:

holy triumvirate

of garlic, vinegar,

and soy sauce,

pungent pepper-

corn, inedible,

flavorful bay leaf.

Then beheaded

pentagonal capsules

simmer and soak

while we gather

the adhesive tops,

stick one each to

our foreheads

as if we’re unicorns,

or on our heads

like fire hydrants.

Multiple caps on

our faces: horns,

spikes, boils as if

our bodies are

diseased, but we

know we’re going

to be fed, will

survive another

day. In the future

we’ll learn its name

is derived from

Igbo, ókúrú,

resilient sojourner

on our plates.

Meanwhile,

the vegetal

gumbo thickens,

the rice pot puffing

its tympanic lid.

Joseph O. Legaspi is the author of the poetry collections Threshold and Imago, both from CavanKerry Press; and three chapbooks: Postcards (Ghost Bird Press), Aviary, Bestiary (Organic Weapon Arts), and Subways (Thrush Press). Recent works have appeared in POETRY, New England Review, World Literature Today, Best of the Net, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day. He cofounded Kundiman (www.kundiman.org), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing generations of writers and readers of Asian American literature. He resides with his husband in Queens, NY.