Jonel Abellanosa

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Pinakbet

A dish I watched my grandma cook with
zest. I was six or seven.

Bitter gourd because I’m diabetic, my
yearns for sweets squash-yellow.

Canola oil sizzles, the air adorned with garlic
expressions, wafts of red onion.

Drizzles of black pepper, and I
wonder if this spice will let me live longer.

Eggplant will tell me if the dish is ready, if
verve of aubergine is soft to the

Fork. I add a tablespoon of fish sauce, and
use a pinch of sugar. Water is a

Guarantee, an assurance that my personal
touches blend into originality.

Hunger is like the need to remember: I’d cut
string beans while Ama

Instilled cooking wisdom. I’d observe,
ready to try the spatula,

Juices of grandmotherly care stirred, love
quickened. Her

Kiss smelled of garlic, her hand I’d
push against my nose. I

Loved to inhale. It was my earliest
olfactory lessons, my precocious

Mind overwhelmed with smells that turned
numinous, ways the whiffs

Nurtured memories. Thoughts of grandma
make me repeat with care the

Only dish that alleviates anxieties, now that I
live with the disease she passed on to me.

Perhaps as I dine I’ll feel her protection. She
kept me safe and filled. I long for

Quiet days, when I don’t have to worry, eating
junk food and drinking Coca Cola,

Reading my favorite poets till sunset.
I long to be a child again, in siesta

Silence, lying with my head on Ama’s lap,
her stories lulling me to sleep.

This invocation for my beloved teacher, this
gratitude as I see the shrimp paste

Ubiquitous with its pointillist scatter. The
flame taught me temperance. To my

Vision she gifted recall. I’ve stopped
expressing my fears to my doctor. I

Wish to accept and live with what ails me,
done with life-prolonging labors,

Expecting peace of mind. The days I
couldn’t forget when I was healthy,

Yesterdays when Ama’s presence was
between me and what would fail me.

Zoned in her comfort, I’d eat with gusto –
assured, guaranteed, kept well

Note: “Ama” was how I called my father’s mother

Interlude

Between the bamboo grove’s appeal
To my focus and ambiguities tugging
At my eye’s side for me to turn so it could
Shape, and in my mind form its name,
The split second of silence, transitory
As a rustle in the mid-afternoon of
My search for a shade. Between
The sun and the dust my feet stir,
The dry smell making me squint.
I remember the torrential rain in
The book I’m holding, the river’s
Wild rush for stillness beyond
The traveler’s longing for rest as
The story enters its final gloaming.

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resides in Cebu City, the Philippines. His poetry has appeared in almost two hundred literary journals and anthologies, including Rattle, Star*Line, Poetry Kanto, The McNeese Review, Pedestal Magazine and Mojave River Review. His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Dwarf Stars and Best of the Net Awards, and shortlisted in the Rhythm Divine Poets chapbook contest in India.

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