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DRIVING TO KATOOMBA
(25 November 1959 - / Albay / Philippines)

DRIVING TO KATOOMBA

Today, you span the far mountains
with an arm and say,
‘This I offer you—
all this blue sweat
of eucalypt.'

Then you teach me
how to startle kookaburras
in my throat

and point out Orion
among the glowworms.

I, too, can love you
in my dialect, you know,
punctuated with cicadas
and their eternal afternoons:

‘Mahal kita. mahal kita.'

I can even save you monsoons,
pomelo-scented bucketfuls
to wash your hair with.

And, for want of pearls,
I can string you the whitest seeds
of green papayas

then hope that, wrist to wrist,
we might believe again
the single rhythm passing
between pulses,

even when pearls
become the glazed-white eyes
of a Bosnian child
caught in the cross-fire

or when monsoons cannot wash
the trigger-finger clean
in East Timor

and when Tibetans
wrap their dialect
around them like a robe

lest Orion grazes them
from a muzzle.

Yes, even when among the Sinhalese
the birds mistake the throat
for a tomb

as gunsmoke lifts
from the Tamil mountains,

my tongue will still unpetrify
to say,

‘Mahal kita. Mahal kita.'

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