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WORD GIFTS FOR AN AUSTRALIAN CRITIC
(25 November 1959 - / Albay / Philippines)

WORD GIFTS FOR AN AUSTRALIAN CRITIC

I bring you words freshly
prised loose from my wishbone.

Mahal, oyayi, halakhak, lungkot, alaala.

Mate those lips,
then heave a wave in the throat
and lull the tip of the tongue
at the roof of the mouth.
Mahal. mahal. mahal.
‘Love, love, love'—let me,
in my tongue.

Then I'll sing you a slumber tale.
Oyaiiyaiiyaiiyayiiiii— once,
mother pushed the hammock
away—oyaiiyaiiyaiiyayiiiii,
the birthstrings severed from her wrist
when I married
an Australian.

So now I can laugh with you.
Halakhak! How strange.
Your kookaburras roost in my windpipe
when I say, ‘Laughter!'
as if feathering a new word.
Halakhak-k-k-k-kookaburra!

But if suddenly you pucker
the lips—lung—
as if you were about to break
into tears or song — watch out,
the splinter cuts too far too much—lunggggggg—
unless withdrawn—kot—
in time. Lungkot.
Such is our word for ‘sadness'.

Ah! For relief, release, wonder or peace
in any tongue. ‘Ah!'
of the many timbres;
this is how remembering begins—ah!—
and is repeated—lah!-ah!-lah!
Alaala. This is our word for ‘memory'.

How it forks
like a wishbone.

Mahal, oyayi, halakhak, lungkot, alaala.

How they flow
East-West-East-West-East
in one bone wishing
it won't break.

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