Ellen Hagan is the author of Hemisphere (TriQuarterly Books, 2015). She is the director of the poetry program at the DreamYard Project in New York City.
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Before Your Arrival
the ones who brought your father here, come. Bring
with them whole almonds, dried berries & clementines
wrapped in cloth. Their clothes & smart shoes too.
They come looking for the place I've taken your father.
Looking for the New York City that could rival home.
Your Abba loves the East Village, its graffiti, trash
& all the languages on all the streets. On 14th & 1st,
we visit the Phillipines. Elvie's Turo Turo.
But this trip, he wants to see more. So,
we travel to Little Philippines, Queens, 69th
off the 7 train, off the 7 the whole of Queens
opens wide for us. Travel agents & whole-
sale, send anything back for cheap, travel
for cheap, return, return. We buy OK
magazines by the handful for gossip
Tagalog with English subtitles, glossy
photos, Pacquiao, his chiseled grin, everywhere.
And we eat. Krystal's where they serve
marinated pork belly, sinigang na baboy,
kare-kare, pancit bihon, & lumpiang sariwa,
I listen close to it all. Deep fried ruffle fat,
poolee noodles with shrimp, milkfish.
Your Abba fake orders pork blood stew
but I am sure I would eat anything here
because this is how much I trust the two
who brought your father up in the world.
We eat sing-sing & pork in tamarind soup.
This is how to say snack in Tagalog: Merienda,
Merienda is snack. This is how to say ice-cream
in Tagalog: halo-halo, halo-halo
is ice-cream. This is how to leave your country.
Don't look back. You will only see the islands
melting away. Halo-halo. This is how to say snack in tagalog.
Merienda. This is how to feel of one place & of one more.
Back home, we sit, get caught up. I read
about mansions in Manila, how to make millions,
facelifts & silken hair, red lips, muscles & beauty.
In Tagalog, I muddle through, while your Abba
laughs, translates, translations get muddled too.
This is how to raise a baby in two places at once, & how
it feels to live and move in two worlds. At once.