The poet dedicates this to her own mother, Lea Belen Santillan. The first poem she has ever written for her.

Under the tangerine sky
           I frantically wore
            my yellow tsinelas
            from an afternoon 
            of bato lata 
            and Slipper X

I dusted myself off
and waved farewell
to my playmates
as their mothers
wiped sweat off their faces
with Good Morning towels

I wonder
why Mother never 
           fetched me
           from the plaza

           made my assignments

           or let me cheat
           on quizzbees 

What does it mean to Mother?

            with disheveled hair
            and grimy fingers
briskly walked home

Afraid of being 
or pinched
or spanked
or nagged

I reached our lawn and found

To Mother
is to grow
            bare and barren yard
            with vibrant fuchsia 
            blooms of Portulaca 
            carpeting concrete sidewalk,

            with native Aloe Veras
            gumamelas, bougainvilleas,
            San Franciscos,
            potted in reclaimed  tires,

            with Vandas and Cattleyas
            coquettishly perched on faded terracotta vessels.

To Mother 
is to guard
            lush and lavish lawn
            with 1.5 liter Coke bottles 
            crammed with soft plastics
            stacked on top of the other
            to make a barricade. 

To Mother 
is to feed
            Butchok and Miming
            the village strays
            with lunchtime morsels 
            on separate aluminum plates.

To Mother
is to fill
            perlites and sand
            the chipped mugs and 
            broken porcelain teacups
            to make home for tiny succulents 

            I stepped inside the living room
            walked towards the kitchen


            left a trail
            of grimy footprints
            on perpetually polished floor

            Mother harangued me like a machine gun

I hosed down 
my hands and legs
by the garden
wiped my feet on the doormat
and snuck into the kitchen

The scent of Sinigang 
overwhelmed me
as Mother stirred the pot

Her eyes beamed

and said,

“You’re home!”


By Mai Santillan

Mai Santillan (she/they) is a multilingual poet born and raised in Cagayan de Oro City. She is currently based in Davao City and is working as a copywriter for a sales and marketing firm. Twice, she has outed herself as a bisexual to her family. But they just brushed it off as 'just a phase.'

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