At my Lolo’s and Lola’s house, everything has eyes. Everything is kept whole. Bangus leaking grease onto paper towels, its gelatin eye dried and sunken in. Squid, first gray and soaking in the sink, then pink once cooked, their tentacles still intact. Miniscule fish—dilis—barely longer than my pinky fingernail lumped together in a plastic resealable bag. Small, but each eye is distinct in the mass. My father takes spoonfuls of them and heaps them onto his rice. I swear they blink, their eyes winking like a constellation, its name a slipping past me in the water.
My cousins and I, we peer at these oddities. My father invites us to try a bite of bangus, but we wrinkle our noses and turn away. For us, our Lolo cooks pancit, adobo, sinigang—dishes made with chicken and pork. He knows we will not touch the seafood. We are American children with American palates and sensibilities. We only eat meat that has been mutilated beyond recognition.
I press my American tongue against the computer screen, hoping that pagkain, pag-ibig, laman taste familiar as they ferry through Google Translate. A wet trail left behind by the strongest muscle of my body. My lips know the script of this static kiss: the saliva I’ve left behind in the mouths of other people, the longing that drips off my tongue and into them. Nothing calls back from the depths of their throats. No lost syllables rise and stagger from the tombstones of their teeth.
This is as close as I will ever get to speaking the mother-tongue: longanisa leaking juice onto eggs, the molten chocolate that drips down volcanoes of rice, the mangoes and pomelos bleeding like hearts in my hands. My Lola’s arms wrapped around my back, her breath in my ear, like she is trying to cross the membrane between our bodies, like she is trying to give me the last of the Tagalog living in her lungs, like by osmosis I’ll come to know the mother-home by its untranslated name.
Kimberly Ramos is a queer, Filipina writer from Missouri. They will begin a PhD in Philosophy at Brown University this fall. Their work has been published in Southern Humanities Review, Jet Fuel Review, and West Trade Review, among others. Their first chapbook is set for publication with Unsolicited Press in 2023.