I called you Ima (Hebrew) and not Ina (Tagalog)
when I was small and
I looked to the sky, but you had me look down at my fingers and toes
because God was everywhere.
Mother, it was what you wanted.
You never wore sunscreen when you were growing up
and your skin grew brown and tough-
later on you would try to shed it so hard
that you would sweat beads, breaking from your necklace,
flinging themselves at studio mirrors and broken barres.
You never wore sunglasses either
and so your eyes would seep pink from your dark irises
but you were okay with that because you looked up at the sky
and knew that somewhere beyond it was
America where it snows.
I called her Lola (Tagalog) and not Grandma (English)
when I was small but
to you, she had always been the white return address label
on the miniature cereal boxes
you kept for months
in the pantry the termites had already claimed.
The postman-smudged typewriter ink
told you she was a doctor
and your Lola told you she was your
You called them “dedets” (unknown) and not “dedes” (Tagalog)
to me, because I could not pronounce the hardness of the “e”
and you marveled as I stumbled, glossy-eyed.
Our word, our own word!
But the palm trees littering the long dirt roads and
shrunk to the little sprigs of bamboo we kept in jars on the windowsill
and when I began to grow dedets and could see them
glaring at me in the mirror, I was reminded
my vocabulary was short a word.
You say “be-emet” (Hebrew) and not “naman” (Tagalog)
after your sentences and
bless me every Friday night with words
you promise are those of your people.
Age 16, Grade 11
Hunter College High School