“What Chicharras Sound Like” in Two Pieces

Image: “What Chicharras Sound Like” by Trinidad Escobar, acrylic on canvas, 2008

I couldn’t decide which piece to pair this beautiful painting with as I am equally obsessed with both of them, so just for this very one time, I offer a poetic prose piece and poem below, both totally different from each other in theme, but both possessing equal measure of discussion on the preciousness of insects. I don’t think I’ll be attempting this again in a blog post, but it’s not everyday that a woman gets to unabashedly display her fascination over insects. So here goes.


for Trinilyn

Angels are just pretty insects. – Christopher Moore

Trinilyn had ordered a honey wine. I, a cranberry juice. As we sat down to dinner after having not seen each other in months, Trinilyn had paused our conversation as she found a gnat in her wine. On other occasions, I wouldn’t have cared. I ordinarily would’ve fished it out with my finger and wiped it on a napkin. But Trinilyn fished it out gently with her finger, coaxed it out with sweet words and a prayer. “I’m trying to save you,” she whispered as the gnat gulped the sweet honey wine, drowning in intoxication.

Her movements were reminiscent of my husband and another friend, Kay, whom I had gone swimming with the previous Saturday. We were swimming in Kay’s pool when bees began to dive-bomb like kamikazes. The strong scent of the chlorine – their desire but also their doom. My husband and Kay had gone after the bees as their furry bodies flanked the water. “We’re trying to save you,” my husband had scolded while he and Kay scooped them gently into their hands. They placed their bodies on the concrete to revive, but the chlorine and the wet had gotten the better of them as their wings had shriveled. They struggled in chlorinated ecstasy. My husband and Kay cheered them on to live, “Live goddammit! Live!” Sadly, CPR cannot be administered on everyone. Mourning immediately followed as it became clear that the bees were not recovering but taking their last breaths with their wildly kicking legs slowly coming to a halt. I noted the faces of defeat on my husband and Kay. We did not bury them but left them to the open air under a gloomy sky.


Trinilyn gently held the gnat in the palm of her hand and rushed outside to let it go, as if releasing the reincarnated soul of a lost ancestor. Maybe she was. She was gone but five seconds. I felt traces of her prayers trail behind her. She had cared for this gnat, this thing that was probably no bigger than a fertilized human egg and to which she only made its acquaintance for five minutes.

The gnat had flown away, its gratitude reflected in Trinilyn’s smile as she raised her glass to her lips, taking a sip of her honey wine in triumph.


Blog xx The Gnat


“From 1906-1945, a second wave of Filipino immigrants entered the United States, enticed by the promise of jobs and fair wages. In Seattle alone, the US government hired 40 Filipinos to work aboard the steamship Burnside to lay cable in the Pacific. When their contract ended, several of these Filipinos decided to stay, thus becoming the first ‘permanent’ Filipino residents of Seattle. By 1930, tens of thousands of Filipinos immigrated to the United States, of which 3,480 lived in Washington state, including 1,600 in Seattle.” – Cynthia Mejia-Giudici, Filipino Americans in Seattle, HistoryLink.org

“Because of the exclusion of Filipina women’s immigration and the US anti-miscegenation laws, Filipino immigrants endured the loneliness of racial discrimination by creating close-knit bachelor societies and entering into common law marriages.”Mark Schwartz, A Dollar a Day, Ten Cents a Dance

The cultural expectation of fidelity was assumed between spouses during this difficult separation, despite the reality of permanency and not just long-term separation with the hope of reunion. While it was common for Filipino husbands in the US to have extramarital affairs and start second families after the forced and permanent abandonment of their wives in the Philippines, though frowned upon, the mere idea of a wife’s infidelity back home in the Philippines was not only unheard of but, for her to do so, would be an act of social suicide where family and community expected her to be faithful until the end. 


you say you’ll be back
you say you’ll bring me to the land of milk and honey
with your fancy job fancy home fancy shoes
when all I want is
but I can’t come
you write
I write
you can’t carry me with you
no matter how strong your arms
no matter how much money you have
we do not write of faithfulness
I wonder if you are faithful
fear you are not
know you are not
I wonder if you wonder whether I am
trust I am
and fear I am not

I am Penelope, waiting for Ulysses to return


a cruel lover visits my bed
taking the space meant for you
but the space sadly could not wait
the cruel lover stays for a few hours
shedding his molted self on clean sheets

it has come to this –
this cruel lover who seems to win
yet isn’t really part of the game

this cruel lover
meets me once a week
heavily breathing
while my almond-shaped cicada eyes
rattle your name into his
rattle a symphony of love songs
rattle a thousand prayers for your return

My mind cycles underground
buried in wormwood
and this lover cannot even see me
as he whispers my name, moaning
utter delight
and then it is my turn
to change positions:
my elbows, dragonfly wings 
pinned under exhibitor glass
while thinking of

what a horrible time I have had
what a horrible time most lovers have
and then I have to forgive myself
& you
& others it is okay
We have had to apologize
since you have been gone these twenty years
and we spill cruel lovers
into our mixing bowl

I am shutting down until you return 
shutting down for thirteen/seventeen/twenty/forty years
and maybe you will wonder if I have lost interest
or changed my mind

What is left for you after twenty years?
My heart My soul My thoughts
but not my body
a temple
that men simply malign
as vessel

to consecrate

and desecrate

I was never your marble goddess

Listen to my riyari eyes, one of but a thousand
the deafening rattle of a synchronized jungle chorus
crying across an ocean for your return

I love you
(longer than you have known)
To your parents, you said, “Ipatpategka
In my ear, you whispered, “Ayayatenka” –
this wormwood
nests inside my head
as I stand tonight on our veranda
facing the ocean
while the fragrance of sampaguita blossoms
drowns my lungs
and I wish you were the cruel lover
still up at this ungodly hour

Before bed, I scrub off traces
of his molted skin
with the báto
holding the stain
of your own slough

while across the ocean 
your raw skin satisfies
its appetite
with perfumed arms and legs

Do you whisper in her ear, “Ayayatenka”?

I shouldn’t ask

After twenty years, could we blame each other
for starving?

Blood drops from my body –
the cleansing process begun
a stream flows out
This space
should be empty
when you return

Categories Creative Nonfiction, PoetryTags , , ,

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