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  • Writer's pictureMarías 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.


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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