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By Ina Cariño

my dead grandmother’s young
             Japanese maple was uprooted     stolen
                         last week       scattered leaves crushed

under a stranger’s foot. to recover
             from this loss I spelled my name red
                         in alphabet soup—mashed the letters

together until they resembled my face,
             which is as my mother’s—skin of ginger
                         & violet tuber. on split lips I wear my papa’s

name      passed down from his father’s
             fathers—a century of men called darling,
                         cariño by Spanish priests. I am still named

after all of them, here where my brown
             face is my first language, where I carry
                         a muddled tongue. words I try to forget:

darling, cariño, native, empire, earth. in 1909
             the Supreme Court gifted my forefathers
                         their native title for being dark on their own

dirt. to (dis)prove myself native       I honey
             my mouth with prayers for untainted soil,
                         because I was schooled across the ocean

in a convent—nuns cracking on my knuckles
             with splintered rulers & taking five centavos,
                         my rusted allowance, for every word not

spoken in English. a trickery      this germination
             of my nonexistent accent. & I place blushed
                         begonias newly-potted on my windowsill—

sad replica of my childhood garden. still, I wept
             when my grandmother’s tree returned—
                         replanted messy by surreptitious hands.

I tally my fortunes     count new freckles
             blossoming every year—stare at the mirror
                         until I am my mother’s mothers, even if

             I can never tell which empire I mimic
as I am shuffled from one to the other.

Source: Poetry (September 2021)

Poet Bio

Ina Cariño
Ina Cariño is a Filipinx American poet and the winner of the 2021 Alice James Award. See More By This Poet
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