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Spring '24




She hears the voice of god in her mother tongue. Her god asks whether she thinks she is wrong. She told her she did not want to shrink her into something angry and cruel. She said they did not have a home for her. Where she came from, it would not have been possible. The forest lush and thick is not for seeing. The land crushed under the weight of promise is teeming with bodies. Worship is theory and concept. It is not a means to an end. It is merely a way of passage. When the dark cradles calloused hands and silence is pierced with restlessness, they bow in supplication. The leaves rustle in sync with the meek. Her god asks, how do you measure time. How do you know that this will breathe. She answers back. Time will eventually narrow down the boundless potential for possible life. Different directions hollow a concrete and singular reality. She no longer recognizes this force or this truth, but of this breath she is sure. Her god went quiet. 


It was never about the suffering, was it. You came prepared. Everything was sharp and charged and you knew this was integral to what you wanted. It was never about the suffering. You will never insulate yourself from the very things you tried to eradicate. You left a life carved out for you. You could not grasp why your life is secure while theirs is wretched. And now you’ve seen it. You’ve seen it all. When they burned the hut that nestled the women. The hut where the elders suckled the young ones. The hut where the men in uniform thrived in humiliation. Men who come undone under the thrashing of feet and pounding of fists. Whose pleasure demanded blood. Whose taking always came with a lurid flourish. Whose languid afternoons consisted of long chains to pliers, of smearing the whip made of carabao hide with oil to prevent it from dulling or flaking apart. They always wanted the worst. You were prepared. But preparation is not always consolation. 


You get no privacy here. This life well or notoriously, shamelessly, regrettably lived—they get to decide, not you—allowed a penchant for the usually unbearable. Drought, famine, bodily fluids, regurgitation, shit. It has become commonplace. A placeholder for something even worse.


You remember crouching low, struggling not to make a sound when just a few meters away she unmoved beneath the seventh man. You aimed and fired, straight at the devil’s mouth. Her face a bright crimson underneath the unforgiving moonlight. You apologized to her for not coming sooner. A mindless compulsion. She turned and her face melted away, unveiling all the others you failed to save. You wake up and the earth shakes. A man in uniform whisked you away. 


They gave you the chance. They offered you respite. Speak their lies and everything will be alright. They asked you for names, cornered you to recognize faces. They asked you to turn yourself in. How could you, when they just turned you from the inside out. How could you betray those eyes who shed tears the first night you asked for your dead mother in your sleep. How could you betray those hands who so gently mended your clothes after an ambush. How could you betray those lips that spoke of the kingdom of the people. They told you this self-denial is not holy. This will never bring you glory. This self-flagellation will never make you a saint. But you were never after any of those things. You only wanted it to breathe. 

When she listens hard enough, there is a voice calling out to her. There were alternatives she would play out later: the sky weighed down with roaches of gnawing hunger. The mangoes and bananas she brought earlier that day. It remained lodged in her memory: the details of the frogs croaking, the cicadas and their cries, the snarl of the thunderclouds at bay. The tremor when she pulled the trigger. Instead of death another kind of relief washed over. They destroyed a beehive moments earlier. The bees released unsure where they would go. She witnessed a fierce battle between flies over festering sores. The healer, with his thousand remedies. He stuffed leaves into his mouth and chewed. Her throat closed in from thirst. She smelled it and knew. An incense was burning for her. Before sleep came, she thought of the eternal new mornings ahead. She heard it breathe.

Ma. Crisley Mae T. Espada (she/her/hers) is a working law student, reader, writer, and former instructor based in the Philippines. Her interests include Marxism, ecocriticism, as well as queer and postcolonial studies. She believes the place we deem as home plays an essential part in our own making and unmaking as an individual and as a collective. Mae believes that we write to express, commune, and resist.  When she grows up, she aspires to become a rainforest or a long river, running.

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