batang bahay

Designed by Cassandra Sanchez.

Image Description: a child in a purple t-shirt sits with orange and yellow watercolor rings behind them, building a small house on stilts out of dust.

i speak in an american accent
when i talk to my great-grandma
in tagalog.

(she really speaks illocano, but
they don’t teach that here.)

i speak one word, and she laughs.
“opo,” she chuckles; yes, with respect.

i see my family at christmas for the first time in years
stranded in the middle west of the u.s.
snow on the ground and chill deep in my bones
my lola gets me a filipino cookbook
and i spend an hour poring through its pages

in my tagalog class we had a presentation about filipino architecture
(my notes are in taglish, rudimentary and scattered)
modern architects in the philippines diverge in their styles:
some embrace the bahays of the past

mangoes and hibiscus on art deco theaters
buildings like rice terraces with greenery facades

some ignore it completely.

later, over a st. louis style pizza,
my grandparents and i talk about visiting the philippines.

we own a plot of land there
where a house hasn’t yet been built.
in my dreams, i’m building it
laying each stone myself
i’m trying my hardest to stand on a foundation of nothing
crumbling gray concrete ash,
trying not to build a skyscraper;
an international business center
a midwest city with windows like boxes
trying not to build from the top down,
the way i’m learning grammatical categories

i tried learning tagalog once before, when i was seven
but with no one to practice with
the language eroded in my mouth
and i swallowed dust

in my dream, dust becomes mud
becomes bricks
and i build their house from the ground up
my great-grandparents’ home
the shuffling of house slippers and
mambo music in the background

i make adobo for my friends
and share my bistek with my roommate
they’re too peppery,
dust spilling out when i pour black powder in the pot
but the chicken is tender
and the company is good
and my lola even complimented it at christmas.

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