poems by Sasha Pimentel Chacón

My Friend

for Vuong Quoc Vu

watches sunlight dissected
through window lace. As if all of living

were really that swift, that passing.
Beauty the thing before

its loss. Funny, since everything
I know of is made, like poems

poppies, pelvic bones, and paintings–
each a derivative of work

and genetics, layered into shape
by exhausting evolution, sweating

to continue here by necessity,
trial and error, footed desperations

of existence:
stubborn as mold, and deaf.

from Insides She Swallowed: Poems by Sasha Pimentel Chacón
Copyright © Sasha Pimentel Chacón, 2010.

Sasha Pimentel Chacón:

BORN IN MANILA and raised in Atlanta, Saudi Arabia and the NYC tri-state region, Sasha Pimentel Chacon is a Filipina American poet and author of Insides She Swallowed, a collection of poems about immigration, sexuality and hunger, and winner of the 2011 American Book Award. Her poems and essays have appeared in journals such as The American Poetry Review, Callaloo, Gulf Coast, Colorado Review and OCHO, and she is the recipient of a Philip Levine Fellowship and the Ernesto Trejo Prize. A multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, she lectures and performs around the country.

SHE HOLDS an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, Fresno and is an assistant professor of poetry writing and poetics at the University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Creative Writing. Her research also includes Asian American, Latina/Latino and women’s literatures.

My Father’s Family Prepares a Slaughter to Feast The Arrival Of His Bride

What did she permit him to see, my mother, the first time
he brought her to the ocean—the goat, hungry—mewling
in the distance while my mother shrugged her shirtsleeve
down, her shoulder fragile in new day? Or was it her wrist
which implied the unfreckling of her forearm? The susurrus
of flycatchers… softened bleats of fasting. A hawk is circling
closer. What do we see when we see? I can see my mother,
but never my father. His shadow darkens her arm. Her breast

sinks to a curve we three know—, and there’s enough time
for hair to come loose, the popping of a button. A rat reveals
himself in the corner the way a woman tenses in and out
of light—: and my mother is coming to that point of breath-
lessness, humidity speckling her birdwing clavicles—
and the goat’s hooves rustle—: above mud, before harm.


Pomegranates dry in the tree and a train crosses autumn, night’s parchment
pressing the crossing closer. I am calling my father on his birthday, chestnuts
splitting in the oven, the chimney suited with burns, fruit shaking their rattles.
I want to know the sleep of the compacting seed, want the Xs I’ve cut into each
brown shell to crimple—like hair on a man’s chest—, each chestnut opening
its hearth in heat. I walk the cold of houses fastening myself to gas curling
from the kitchen, and in corners: shapes of anger, each on its haunches, known
shadows. I curl my neck into each fogged silhouette, taking the depth of silence
in, having loved the knots in the bodies of men, beginning from my father,
palms dragging my breasts with mentholatum. (I’ve confused coolness, lifting
from pockets of air and heat as love, my pulse stopping in dark blood.) The last time

my father touched me, it was New Year’s, I was in college, we were in Manila
on vacation, and sick with grief (we only returned to bury our own, their distant
bodies) and pneumonia, I stayed in the hotel bed, my mother and brother
in the province lighting sparklers, and my father stayed with me, watching
the pump of the ventilator, mask at my mouth pulling at my phlegm, and ever so
gently, he lifted my t-shirt to rub Vicks Vapo-Rub onto my chest, his hand small,
and chemical, and because I’d grown never to talk against the hard hands
of my father, how could I now speak against this softness, no shoe, no belt, only
his palm laid between the even softer fact of my breasts? He did not go further.
I did not say a word. The fireworks blew into the black square of the window,
crimson clusters, and my chest split open, my heart quiet and dark as seed.

School Terrorist Exercise

Sapulpa, Oklahoma

Exactly after the end of prayer, the principal
asks us to crouch and slide our bodies into the spaces
below our desks, our elbows angling from the metal
legs and their rusted feet, to duck the wads of gum
that generations of second graders have patiently
compressed with their tongues and then

their molars, and finally their busy fingers, the pink
and yellow cities hanging above us, such pliancy
stretched like telephone wires, each piece
trying to string back to the mouth who molded
it. This could be fun, and certainly the children
laughing in front of me think so, a chance to start

our lessons with the fluorescents still off, dark morning
burning through the window. For me this is work,
this trying to silence their escapable mouths, one
hand shielding my head and the other jutting
my index finger again and again against my lips.
What if a man, M-16 tucked in, his thumb just

on the button of a nearby bomb hears us, one giggle
enough to push him from the hallways and into
our classroom, a single sound enough to trigger
the flashes which destroy us, our faces brightening
then dissolving, and all these cinderblocks fall
to flatten our desks and our sneakers? Part of me

thinks this is ridiculous, another part half hopes
to see his face squinting through our wired
institutional window, eclipsed by the construction
paper we teachers had been asked to tape
to our doors, which we did, as the children scattered
in, as if a square of blackened paper could save us

from hurt. I imagine him winding the knob, the red tip
of his barrel announcing his hands, how I might try
to squish him between the frame and steel door,
having all my life huddled in hallways, on planes, having
exercised such different impending dangers. Here,
Dhahran, or Atlanta, no matter the city my body’s in,

there is always a possible fire, quake, or worse,
and officials teach us to lace our fingers tightly
onto our neck bones: that if we can just kneel
patiently, steady our foreheads to the tile, an act of God
against the other acting God will happen. On CNN,
my mother and I watched the Khobar Towers crumble

where our friends in Saudi slept, each level of living
space falling one on top of another in the middle
of rising sand and smoke. All the calls long
distance, the wringing of hands when we found
a volcano in our homeland had ruptured.
My mother searched each of the passing faces

on the bulbed screen as if every gray, caked oval could be
her own, the announcers busy saying: devastation, Pinatubo,
those poor people in the Philippines, how unfortunate that
exactly at 1:42 pm Tropical Storm Yunya was also passing
through, officials are trying to evacuate the villagers now
but tephra, that’s a mixture of volcanic ash and water, Pat,

is raining: so, even if hugging your knees to the sound
of Lola singing each Hail Mary worked, if for such
recitation the right terrain gave way
to guide the lava away from your home, all you needed to do
to die was to step outside and breathe. Emigrants kiss
their rosaries, thinking it wasn’t us. The exiled sink

to carpet, imagining themselves coupling, ash to ash,
finally home again. Today I shush each laughing second
grader, stare down Cheyenne Sweeney loud with spit
bubbles, my mother would’ve said she was making rain.
Once, watching a plane and the first building compress
to ruined accordion, I left my T.V. to run into the city,

searching for someone to hold. The man next to me
lost his cross in the evacuation, though I didn’t help him
to look. In disaster, every ward has a plan of escape,
how best to spill from the wreck, and in schools we stop, drop
and fold, arranging, arranging our limbs for the siren.
In Oklahoma, tornado speakers flare across the green,

unforgiving land. We crouch under our desks, our makeshift
bodies contracted. Cheyenne’s lips glisten, blowing
rain, her bubble growing then popping, saliva expanding
from her mouth pink and wet with breath, and we wait,
holding ourselves until the speaker clicks, for the voice above
to say: good morning, you can come out now, it’s over.

Touched By Dusk, We Know Better Ourselves

You map my cheeks in gelatinous dark, your torso
floating, a forgotten moon, and a violin

crosses the sheets while you kiss me your mouth
of castanets. I believed once my uncles lived

in trees, from the encyclopedia I’d carried
to my father, The Philippines, the Ilongot hunting

from a branch, my father’s chin in shadows. I try
to tell you about distance, though my body

unstitches, fruit of your shoulder lit by the patio
lamp, grass of you sticky with dew, and all

our unlit places folding, one
into another. By dead night: my face in the pillow,

your knuckles in my hair, my father whipping
my back. How to lift pain from desire, the word

safety from safe, me, and the wind
chatters down gutters, rumoring

rain. I graze your stubble, lose my edges mouthing your
name. To love what we can no longer

distinguish, we paddle the other’s darkness, whisper
the bed, cry the dying violet hour; you twist

your hands of hard birches, and we peel into
our shadows, the losing of our names.

– See more at: http://www.thebakerypoetry.com/pinay-poets/4/#bride


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