My Grandmother, In Increments
After dinner, when the plates rest
on their rack, drying, my grandmother
ambushes me at the kitchen table.
She hands me a contract, a term
of payment for a plot of land at Rose Hills cemetery.
She asks me to calculate her leftover balance.
While I add and deduct, in long hand, she sits
there, her eyes the color of foliage
on the brink of autumn, her lips curve
as always in that wry near-smile.
Her hair was red
in her youth, born in a brown equatorial island
to Caucasian parents. It was the first thing
my grandfather noticed, she once told me.
I can still see them in the summer
of their lives, a mustachioed man with deep
tamarind eyes and his Dancing Flame
waltzing together, their feet gliding across the bamboo
floor which moaned like a violin.
On the table, my grandmother pinches the ripe
bananas; a gray wash of numbers waterfalls
down the page before me.
I glance at her grand hips which bore her
fifteen children, three died in infancy, my mother
in between two deaths.
In W.W.II, Japanese soldiers, mistaking
her for an American, confronted
my grandmother with three children in tow
and my mother inside her. It was the early phase
of the occupation, when citizens deserted the cities
for the safety of demilitarized camps
where my grandfather awaited her arrival,
where they spent weeks in a cave
that muffled the thunder of nearby war.
A soldier pulled my grandmother by her hair, threatened
her with his bayonet.
Her neck arched, she only had the sky
before her as she screamed
Spare my babies repeatedly in Tagalog.
That year of the war, she might as well
have given birth to me, too,
this woman who is nine-hundred-and-eighty-seven-dollars-
and-sixteen-cents away from a peaceful death.
Joseph O. Legaspi