Eileen R. Tabios: The Rebel’s Son

Skinny. Toys of twigs, cracked stones,
two matchboxes cradling spiders,
an earthworm in a tin can. Ignored

by neighbors fussing over mother fussing
over father’s impending arrival.
Hums to himself as women weep

over their best bowls and platters
created by foregoing
yesterdays’ meals. What they offer

is meager: also more than generous.
Skinny. Approaches the table
—hears a grumble begin beneath his ribs

at the sight of more food than his home
has ever contained at any one moment in time.
But he waits patiently for father’s return:

it will be the first time his father
will not pass through the door on his own feet.
He will arrive a hero borne

unbegrudgingly on bony shoulders—
a hero contained by a wooden container
mother described with an alien word: coffin.

An eternity earlier, father placed calloused palms
on each of Skinny’s cheeks. Father said, “I must go
to feed your body, your spirit, my spirit.”

Hums to hide his question to the earthworm,
“Didn’t father know I would rather not eat
than have him live forever in that box?”

An eternity later, (still) Skinny marvels still
at the definition of dictatorship—
people eating their fill only at funerals.

—from The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets (Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2021 & 2019).