Allene Nichols is an avid teacher, writer, backpacker and photographer. Her poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including: Veils, Halos, and Shackles and Impossible Archetype. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English/Teacher’s Education at Mississippi University for Women. Her blog is at https://allenen.wordpress.com/author/allenen/.
Home was a house with wood floors and a tree painted on his wall. Home was where he woke and where he walked and where all adventures began and ended. And then it was gone.
I tried to be home to him, the thing to which he could always return. Through four moves and four cheap apartments, nothing stayed the same. Except me. And even I could be mercurial.
So he sold pens in exchange for souls. He wrote dark poetry and refused to use the school bathroom. He had his own fan club, with a president, and a song. Sometimes I think he glimpsed home in these.
He begged them not to sell the home of his childhood memories, where adoring grandparents hung ornaments on the Christmas tree and took pictures of him hiding behind chairs and sleeping in laps.
Then he started looking further back, to ancestors who spoke words he will never hear and fought and died for causes that no longer matter. Where they lived matters more to him than when or how.
When home is ripped from you like a band-aid, leaving a gaping wound that will not heal, you will cross oceans of water and imagination and history to cling to the one place you could have loved.
Noelle Q. de Jesus
Noelle Q. de Jesus writes fiction and is the author of two short story collections, Blood Collected Stories (Ethos Books Singapore, 2015), for which a French translation by Patricia Houefa Grange was published this year by Editions Do, and Cursed and Other Stories (Penguin Random House SEA, 2019). The year of the pandemic brought work on her first novel to a halt, but it appears, she has written some poetry. Noelle was born in New Haven Connecticut, was raised in Manila in the Philippines, but has lived in Singapore for the last two decades and considers it home. She and her husband, who also writes, have raised a daughter and a son. Noelle works as freelance editor and copywriter, and she has an MFA in Fiction from Bowling Green State University.
Sip after sip, stories are uncorked
this way from wine bottles, from there flow
heady remembrances and sudden tears
tastes bittersweet, pungent, awakening
as stars rise and shine on dark nights
and make visits home amazing, lifted
by the multitude of tales, clarified, finally, parsed,
unpacked in intoxicating shots laced with gossip
through lowered tones, secrets are drunk, telling
of the way things took place, what really happened
falls fast from tongues of women, kin and close,
kindred and far, why they fall, so easily, scattered
even while they struggle to steady, you focus
the spirit, hide your clapping ears, make efforts not
to show surprise, keep eyebrows calm and exclamations, unexpressed,
instead wildly wishing for a pen and paper, you squeeze
tight the tale and commit it to flawed, faulty memory.
And then later, much later, when eyes begin to
fail, when tongues tire and faculties flag,
that’s the time to ask
the question you waited to ask at first
kept till last, kept till now, you say,
may I, might I, can I write this, please?
Laughter crackles in the cool, dark
night air as they nod, yes, yes, yes
yet in the morning, forget what it is they gave
what they gave up and gave you
precious cherished secrets you hold tight
gripped hard in your hand that is your heart.
FILIPINO COTTON FRUIT
Even when you say its name in English
Santol yields scant recognition, only
puzzled looks so we then describe to them
this peculiar fruit, its strange tart taste,
the sour, subtly sweet outer flesh
that requires softening by
a hundred or more cuts from the sharp
blade of a cutting knife, and then it is
squeezed against rock salt and dipped
in dark brewed vinegar, to be enjoyed,
consumed to the last threads of the
fleshy, cottony seeds which we feed upon
work them in the mouth for pin-points of flavour
mild sweetness that we suck till nothing is left
just gross, sad, tasteless sucked-up pits. The pits.
And they say they don’t get it. What on earth is
the appeal of yearning for something
that doesn’t look like anything at all from the onset?
What is the point of wanting so much from
something destined never to give anything more
than its own woolly cotton nothingness?
And then they see what happens in our country,
the leaders and politicians and their empty words
promises landing on the shallow surface of the hearts hopeful,
tireless, sad, forgetful people and slowly, they nod
and blink, and maybe begin to understand
On and on it goes, the mud brown ground, wending
its way, a path feathered by green, stretching on as leaves on branches sprawled
on the ground’s mossy thickets thickly green in deep, multiple shades as
vivid as the sky’s blue dips and veers, buoying clouds so white, we cannot
see beyond our flawed and faulty steps, our sweaty elbows sometimes
touching by accident
or in deliberate act to point out a second too late,
the sharp yellow of the black-naped oriole in a rush or the piercing peacock-blue
wing of the white-throated kingfisher in mid-dive—
sights refresh exhausted eyes,
lending ease and blessing minds with nurturing forgetfulness
far from the chronic conflicts, the quarrels quotidian, the hurting mistakes,
heartbreak aches, and why
just the whole worn-out, warring, wicked world that wilds and withers us and on we go, stepping light for green makes a carpet soft and easy to tread, and forward is the pulling action by which we are led towards a different space that makes familiar hues new—
the ivory of the egret graceful is the not pearl of a porcelain plate
nor is the blue grey of a heron the screen of slate we face of late.
And as the hour passes, so pass the glances we trade
the hand finds hand, the eyes lock in moments
the way fingertips touch, and all the creatures
signal each other and another world by which to measure our measures
to keep its rhythm with footfalls, scan the waterways and monitor the monitor lizards
dawdle as the turtles, alter with the otters that scurry and beckon to us
Come, come see this other place, somewhere else, elsewhere,
for change and for pace, for being here, not there, now and not then,
and amid green and bark and sparkling air of white and blue, allow us
movement and growth and yielding, connection.