Telltale

Allan Justo Pastrana

Philippines

What eventually stayed was a detail
you never got to name: what the eyes meant
when they flashed like enemies, protecting lie
after lie, or how it was any different to shape the hand
into a fist at opposite ends of the house.

This was exactly why you believed in it—the oppressor
as father, lover, all the same. The hero’s nature
was to pretend he was still alive, the war
inside his head going off like a blank bullet, the first
shock of the body received with too much faith.

At fifteen, you could have pinned your hair
into a neat coil, the nipped one-day flower
on your chest marking your heartbeat. Anticipation
was a surrogate lover: the waiting hands (clammy
on your lap), this one-step-closer, the boy

whose name appeared more than once
in your diary. But you knew what was real—
setting out with other women from the village
with a map tucked underneath your vest,
a sweet guerilla knifing her way through thick underbrush.

The legend followed you around like a mad dog, the face
of any Japanese soldier with a bayonet aimed at a child’s
heart resembling that of your father’s. You believed him
to be strong which was how your mother described him
in her stories, the way he left just like that, never

like a thud but rather a hollowness that grew
between your teeth where your breath wheezed, escaped.
The injustice happened because memory
was never alien (though we were fond of corrupting the details).
It was a simple enough fact, edgy,

with exact references. Go on, I want to know
how well you remember. The day your Abuelo
taught you how to mount the butterflies on a frame,
your mother found you, all hands and feet
beside a tub filled with water, crying.

Holding the tip of your chin, she blew
a thin whiff, touching your eyes. There were many
ways you’d go blind. From then on, you would learn
to wait for those black globes to stare back
like a doll’s, static yet silver with expectation.

When the old brass clock intoned the hour
of six, you must learn how to count. Then
mathematics was confused with the dailiness
of everything—one brother would die
inside your mother’s womb; two wives

your father would try to love; three
last words before he died, his eyes fixed
on your uneven curls. Mi querida pequeña.
            The violence would come years later because
absence is noisier. Do not pretend

that the rest of the story got told
just below hearing: El angel del Señor
anuncio a Maria y concibio por gracia
del Espiritu Santo.
This
was not how it went—only,

you believed the low hum of voices
in a darkened room would raise your father
from the dead. Devotion was never a form of faith
but merely an obsession for one’s own greatness.
That was why you left

everything, the rest of history trailing
behind. I am retelling the whole tale for you,
how the crumbs that mark your way back will be swept away
by a soft storm of wings. Forgiveness means you lock
yourself up in someone else’s house like any authentic sadness,

a true rebel whose business is to stay silent.




Allan Justo Pastrana is a Guest Contributor to Panorama.