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English Letters

By Miguel Barretto Garcia

She sent letters only to throw them away: Mama

Writing about the dull English weather,


The sachet of Milo she found in Chinatown,

The Oolong tea filling her fine bone china,


Her heart full of longing for the tropics and

The children she had left to swaddle in the sand.


Pinalangga kong anak, she began. Mama misses you

Every time she holds another child in her arms.


She presses the skin like a footprint before

It dissolves as sand, between the spaces of


Her hands, she presses the letter on her chest,

Enveloping her like wool until a school of star-


Fish constellate on skin. Until the cloth thins into

Coconut leaves swinging like the pendulum creaking


Her cluttered room in Earl’s Court. Akong Gugma, she

Ended, sweating the seal with a full a day of work.


Mama misses you so much, and she lingers her fingers

On thin envelope until it bladed her thumb as


A compact signed by blood clot, vowing before

The spirits that her bones will grow wings to fly,


To clutch fine sand again, to touch her children’s face

Again. But she sent letters only to throw them


Into the litter, along with the emptied Milo sachet,

The bag of Oolong tea, the broken bone china,


And the dullness of her English that trapped

The summer sun inside a bottle of blank spaces,


Silenced Cebuano words pressed into margins

And footnotes. When I brought Mama’s letter


Box to the center, I blew the dust until

A map made of fingerprints leaped out from


The paper, unraveling Mama’s secret

Language inked in stains of sweat,


Tears, paper cuts, tea bags, rubber erasers.

How I wish I could decode your love letters,

Mama, how do I fold your body

Into a thousand floating lanterns?

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