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Kabel Mishka Ligot

​Kuwán

[noun/verb/adjective] Filipino (standardized Tagalog): 1. a placeholder for a word that eludes the speaker at the moment of utterance; 2. a filler in speech, signaling a pause to think while indicating that the speaker has not finished speaking.

A quick search for definition

reveals it came from the Spanish

 

¿CUÁL? meaning which? meaning somewhere, at some point

in language’s history, ¿CUÁL?’s lingering /l/ of questioning became

the /n/ of finality, cutting off a flight path, meaning

I must yet again make peace with a word, attribute it to

 

another synod of mouths. This system isn’t always 

what has taken place: the province of Antique was named

not after the Castilian adjective ANTIGUO, not LA ANTIGÜEDAD,

meaning old, meaning DE ÉPOCA, meaning paradise

found again in the East Indies, meaning primordial 

 

state, presumed dead. Instead, the land was christened 

ANTIQUE after HAMTÍK, a word in Kinaray-a: large black ants that limned

the trees in droves—the soil, the island. Onyx antennae and thorax cocooned

 

the coast conquistadores thought

they discovered, they so deftly mapped. Now, say KUWÁN

when the word evades you: Please pass me the KUWÁN. The chicken you cooked

is very KUWÁN. Something— KUWÁN —happened last night

when we were at KUWÁN. It is said KWA in the dunes and mountains up North, last letter

evaporating into the fog and thicket of uncertainty. KWA, naming an open yawn. Further

down into the archipelago the word is pregnant with urgency

and intent: KU'AN. Nearly the monitor lizard in the backyard clicking KU

AN,     KU     AN, almost 

 

the crickets cajoling the furrowed field

into bloom. KU'AN as if suddenly stumbling, mind’s foot missing

the last step on the staircase. We hiccup and limp 

towards doubt: KUWÁN, KWA, KU’AN, cobweb on the fringes

of comprehension’s guestroom. I bumped into KUWÁN this morning, she’s become 

so much more KUWÁN since I last saw her. KUWÁN meaning taxonomy’s holy tug

of war, meaning word nearly found. Meaning please, dearest

proxy, postpone recognition. 

Obscure and blanket; conjure

 

a veil of insects crawling over a known thing.

Umay

There’s a word for when you’ve grown

sick of what you’re eating, no matter how much

you wanted it when you were hungry. 

The meal’s oil no longer a glossy blanket floating on the earthy

sauce, but a whole new atmosphere, pool of amber, stained

glass roof housing the meager meat and vegetables.

The rice, now limp, begins to sop up the spill. 

Suddenly the whole plate is covered in grease; your throat,

the diner walls glisten in a sheen of lard. You trudge

outside, ankle-deep in a current of fat. The sun’s a tanker

on its side, graying the sky’s ocean in swathes. It’s all inside

and outside your body now: heady smell of gasoline

unfurling from the highway, each passerby’s face

a tableau of fried-egg stains on a paper towel. The city air

bubbles into a stew of moist dust and bones. The restless

 

sleeper of your tongue starts to turn and drown

in the sticky bedsheets of your maw. I made us

dinner once, slicing peppers with ease, until the knife

 

I held loosely slid across the chopping board 

in an impressive glide. The kettle sang

and clouded the kitchen air. The nick in my palm

 

pulsed and out marched the words I once held inside like a crime

scene on the kitchen counter: I’m not sorry. I want 

to leave. I lick my wounds, anoint my mouth. I’m not sorry at all.

Juan dela Cruz

(1) Apparently, there was a Juan dela Cruz. Son of Jewish conversos,

a Catholic mystic who wrote sexy poems

to God. He was a saint, too, but he’s no Filipino,

never set foot on the islands, never donned

a salakót. Nothing to do with the caricature

standing in for a hundred million undulating bodies, begging

to be named. If we aren’t ethnically ambiguous

religious nuts stroking the tender

flesh of our stigmata, babbling O cautery that freshens! O treasure

of a wound! in an unlit cell, then what are we?

Not saints but a demonym, some filigreed statistic. (2) A Scot,

Robert McCullough, wrote for The Manila

 

Times in 1902, did court reports for the first English newspaper

circulated in the colony. Christened each

unnamed criminal in his ledes with the most common

name he could muster: JUAN DELA CRUZ STEALS SUCKLING

PIG FROM MARKETPLACE. JUAN DELA CRUZ SENTENCED

TO PRISON FOR MURDER OF BROTHER. Until now I owe even my anonymity

to an archive of petty crimes. (3) My Uncle Sam is a real person, too.

He drives a tiny car; he is deaf in one ear, blind

in one eye. He is a registered Republican, lives in the outskirts

of Vegas, clay-colored townhouse plastered floor to ceiling

with Kansas University memorabilia. A smiling bird’s

eyes track my every move in their suburban

house. He loves Filipino food and watching

football. He is terrified of Arabs, suspicious of Mexicans

and sends me a check in the mail from time to time

calls it ‘foreign aid.’ For lunch I cook Korean noodles

and he constantly asks if the dish is Northern

or Southern. (4) In Henderson, jets bisect the blue sky with furrows

of white. His wife, my grandmother’s sister, refills the glimmering

bird feeders in the backyard. At night, coyote

nibble on their plastic cactus like Halloween treats. Spilt sugar

water from the feeders crystallizes on their pavement. While watching

last night’s broadcast of Filipino news on cable he inquires

about the Muslims living in the south of the country: are they

immigrants? and I tell him they’ve been there just as long, possibly

longer than my own ancestors have. A part of me somewhat

envious at his audacity to think that, like him, I hail from a place

so desirable, where others want to live. (5) Is this the suffering

required in order to be canonized? He isn’t even my uncle, just a man

from Nebraska. But surely he must be family

to a people who’ve coined a term even for “parent

of your son or daughter-in-law.” In his presence, sleeping

in his wallpapered guestroom, Sean Hannity bleeding

through the hardboard walls, I become the Filipino

everyman, squashed in the newsprint corners

of an editorial cartoon. Out of my head grows a straw hat. I turn

browner, walk barefoot, juggle coconuts and carabao

milk across their immaculately vacuumed floor.

(6) Tomorrow, I will scour all of Vegas for a river,

do his laundry with my bare hands, scrub until the stars

and stripes on his top hat glisten so bright he won’t see

how I’ve metamorphosed in the hinterlands of his vision.

 
 

Kabel Mishka Ligot was born and raised in and around Metro Manila in the Philippines. He holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received the 2019 Jerome Stern Teaching Award. Mishka’s work has been published or is forthcoming in RHINO, Waxwing, The Margins and other journals. A recipient of the Don Belton scholarship at the Indiana University Writers’ Conference and a Tin House Summer Workshop alumnus, he currently lives in the Midwest, where he works at a high school library. Get to know him at kabelmishka.com