• Marías at Sampaguitas

Poetry by Jason Magabo Perez

Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish


Here, inside of this sentence stretching toward


the Pacific, set deep, still on Kumeyaay land,


here, in the thick historical present, out front


of a foreclosed single family home, past a









dried-dead yellow lawn, past plastic-covered

furniture of the evicted, out front of a one-

bedroom apartment, each wall lined with

bunkbeds for migrants since long ago, here,









out front of another out-of-business Filipino

restaurant, here, along a sidewalk of abandoned

shoestrings, receipts, and grocery lists, here,

on the corner of Black Mountain and Mira Mesa,







the smell of beef broth and basil and gasoline

and turmeric and cilantro and fresh asphalt and

deep-fried rice paper, here, waiting at the bus

stop with students, tech workers, lolas y abuelitas









in straw sunhats and visors, their reused plastic


Target bags sagging with bleached white socks


and the salvaged of yesterday's chichiria, here,


where many un-English languages are familiar









music, familiar longing, familiar refusal, a tin


and garlic glottal syllable every now and again,


here, now at this very bus stop, amidst the screech


of brakes and the hum of traffic, here, in all










of these clauses, lives, so quietly, so humbly,


at the helm of divine laughter, this unremark-


able man, his brownness an archipelago of


eczema and radiation pink, his nailbeds tinted









chemical green, his oversized blue and orange


Pendleton full of single threads running and


running, his unevenly hemmed groundskeeper


khakis consistently starched, his Florsheim









loafers freshly polished, Solvang cap still


stiff on his head, still stained with coffee


and brandy, his same spectacles bent, resting


crooked and uneasy, here: a labor of a man,










who at the end of this sentence, this mourning,


this story, shall be remembered simply as pare,


amigo, kasama, compa, lolo, asawa, tatay, tito,


tío, uncle, manong, abalayan, stranger, ninong,









labor, that widower who could never petition


his familia, that sometimes lettuce-picker,


sometimes strawberry-picker, laid-off bellhop,


laid-off postal worker, freelance maintenance









worker, freelance custodian, retired grounds-


keeper, comrade who plays chess and waxes


geographic with fellow elders at the sacred


Starbucks on Camino Ruiz, that 82-year-old










who when diagnosed with walking pneumonia


again and again this whole past year eventually


for one last time stops by Seafood City to scarf


down the saltiest of dilis, who drinks a six-pack









of Red Horse and cries through his throat, who


boards the bus, and sings for the dead at every


streetlight altar along the boulevard, who travels


down the 805, to La Jolla Village Drive, where










he once went on strike at the Marriott, where


he once at a hotel bar fantasized about rushing


a white man for calling him stupid and dirty,


down to the VA hospital, here, now, he smokes









a handful of Reds, and hikes down the hill, passes


archways, condos, and mansions where wealthy


white people live, where university chancellors


hoard bones of indigenous people, down to









La Jolla shores, across grass, into sand, past


college kids drinking cheap vodka in water bottles,


past weakly lit bonfires, that lakay who at this


moment remembers then forgets who he is, what









is ghost, what is bone, what is subject, he is


migrating again, this old man who for this one


last time shall remember then forget his name,


his song, lyrics aflame and escaping through










cracks in his lungs, this lolo who disrobes himself


one final time of that pressed Pendleton and those


starched khakis, this lolo who, here, now is walking


and whistling along the shore, still in white briefs,









white socks, Solvang cap, and bent spectacles, this


lakay, whose skin is quickly becoming all scales,


who is walking and whistling into the waves further


and further until he needs to tread, then swim, and









now he is swimming and swimming, and his arms


become fins, his legs twist into a thick tail, his


walking pneumonia no longer, canals of water in


his lungs no longer, no longer cracks in his breath,










or his throat, or his lungs, or his song, his body now




gills all over, now there, all the way over there,




beyond this, beyond this sentence, is that lakay, his




body now bursting and bursting so full of the Pacific.





NOTES

This sentence was composed through several iterations of performance, revision, remapping, and undoing. Some of that creative process is documented in the series Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish: A Labor of Grief: The Uncle; The Homie; The Collaborator; The Colleague; The Cousin (The Operating System: Field Notes, 2020).

A version of this poem was also published in Issue 2 Mahal: Who We Are, What It Cost Us, & How We Love.




Jason Magabo Perez (he/him) is the author of Phenomenology of Superhero (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016) and This is for the mostless (WordTech Editions, 2017). Perez’s prose and poetry have also appeared in Witness, TAYO, Eleven Eleven, Entropy, The Feminist Wire, The Operating System, and Faultline. Previous Artist-in-Residence at Center for Art and Thought, Perez currently serves as Community Arts Fellow at Bulosan Center for Filipinx Studies and Associate Editor for Ethnic Studies Review. Perez is an Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at California State University San Marcos.

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