White Bodies Splayed on White Sand

1.

There is no mapping out a space
definable only by the pigment

of its occupants. In these shores,
the economy of skin and hair

and eyes outweighs the mandate of coin.
An island local jokingly quips:

the border that outlines General Luna
from the rest of Siargao is determined

by the sudden, sporadic presence
of white bodies splayed on white sand.

A German tourist at a local nightclub
takes out his phone to film six

brown bodies across him, cheeks
blushing pink, teeth polished

and gleaming like mothers-of-pearl;
an ornate display of what attempts

to be the finest catch in an island
best known for its clam and fish—

their scales silky, slippery; guts strong
like shells carrying saltwater; mouths full

and seething with a language
so broken it is almost beautiful.

2.

On the day General Antonio Luna
was assassinated, the sky broke open

unleashing glacial wind over tropical
seas for the first time, his corpse

lathered in red amplitudes, purple
spreading on his meaty back barely

leaving any trace of brown on his skin—
such is the betrayal of man, how once,

the Kawit guards struck him on the head
with a bolo, life slowly trickling from his

still-warm body, a most swift decay
of his voracious, unforgiving name. Now,

the name General Luna sits on maps
that point a surfing capital known best

for its pristine whiteness, forts of bamboo
sticks shooting upward like white pickets,

transient beds laced with blonde hair
and freckled limbs, then, the brownness

of the soil yielding to the sand’s sprightly
shimmer: a carnage of shells, mollusks,

splinters of corals—fragments sprawling
dead across a shore bleached so white,

I might’ve overheard giggling children
once proclaim it looks just like snow.

3.

In a packed city of thirteen million
you can always count on a body

lying still, a disruption of space
and movement so palpable, the world

can’t help but stop dead in its tracks.
In its stillness, mortal and mutable

at the core of every life, you can always
count on the chalk that outlines

the body as though all it takes to keep
liquid from spilling out of a wound’s

gaping mouth is a white line that cannot
be crossed. On my flight back to Manila,

I carry the weight of the sand still stuck
stubborn on the creases of my khaki,

my body a repository of grain fine
and wispy as gunpowder: something

lethal to fuel this rage with. I take
my bags and forget the island; this city

prefers things fleeting. I shut my eyelids
on the ride home; this city thrives

in darkness. I watch sand spiral above
my shower drain, in a city frozen

to a standstill, where the closest thing
alive is water swirling, breathing, white.

Alfonso Manalastas is a published op-ed contributing writer, a poet, and a touring spoken word artist who has performed in over 15 cities around the country. He was invited to perform and speak for TEDxUniversityOfSanCarlos (Cebu) in 2017 and TEDxRoxasSt (Davao) in 2018. He was also accepted as a poetry fellow for two National Writers’ Workshops in 2018 and 2019. His op-ed articles have appeared in Rappler, Scout, and Inquirer, while six of his poems are part of the 12th edition of Likhaan: the Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature (UP Press).

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