Yesterday’s Traumas, Today’s Salt
my family dines luxurious—peasant food in crystal bowls:
seven-thousand six-hundred forty-one islands jostling in my soup.
here is Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao—grandmother points to mounds
dunking up & down in the saltbroth. & rice, don’t forget the rice,
which she steamed in the old palayok—earthen pot & lid,
red unglazed clay lending its savage tang to the soft white.
grandmother makes the sign of the cross. archipelago is just another word
for slaughtered, amen, & I chomp on palmfuls of dirt, grease rivering
down my neck—push rice into my open maw. remnants of
a sepia life slosh in the silt of my stomach. because my stolen body
is still burdened with salt, my tongue pinched with its bite, I salt
bitter gourd, drown it in vinegar. I salt fish bellies to dry under sun.
I salt the rice heavy when the meat is low, to trick my stomach
out of hunger. my muscles still remember old aches—as if suspended
in the salt of an ocean I crossed alone. how much can the body take?
a certain kind of pain, this accumulation of salt. I was named anguish
before I was born, crooked teeth crowd my mouth, my fangs rake ash
& soil. will I die when the muck hits my bloodstream. yes I salt, keep—
tuck things away—coins still line the hems of my grandfather’s coat.
I clamor at the sight of salt spilled, grit skidding under broom spindles.
but I pucker from too much salt, fingers withered, oldest ginger. tongue
brined, voice washed by white—my name flapping out of my mouth—
an unfamiliar moth. its chalkwings dust my chin as I swallow
seven-thousand six-hundred forty-one islands: the only home I know.
Ina Cariño holds an MFA in creative writing from North Carolina State University. Their poetry appears or is forthcoming in Guernica, Diode, Poetry Northwest, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, Waxwing, New England Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. Ina is a Kundiman fellow and a recipient of a fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. They are the winner of the 2021 Alice James Award for Feast, forthcoming from Alice James Books in March 2023. Most recently, Ina was selected as one of four winners of the 2021 92Y Discovery Poetry Contest.
In 2019, Ina founded a reading series, Indigena Collective, centering marginalized creatives in the community.