The Siblings

Marlon Hacla’s latest book, Melismas—translated from Filipino by Kristine Ong Muslim—was published by OOMPH Press. A bilingual volume of his debut collection, There Are Angels Walking the Fields, will be released by Broken Sleep Books. His poems translated by Kristine Ong Muslim have appeared in PoetryNashville ReviewWords Without Borders, and many other journals. He lives in Quezon City, Philippines, with his cats.




 
Leonardo, the eldest, is always the last to wake up
And so this is why each time a chicken dish is served,
He is given the chicken’s eyes.
“This is why we are dirt poor,”
The blind Linda chimes in with her usual retort.
Linda’s room is lined with mirrors.
Buboy is nowhere to be found every dinnertime.
He spends a lot of time in the traveling circus.
He has fallen in love with a mermaid.
Toto is his rival. Buboy does not know
That the mermaid’s tail is a real fish tail.
That the mermaid is, in fact, a real mermaid.
Toto knows this, though.
Noel, no longer living in the family house, is in hiding
After stealing a diamond from an elderly person,
After raping five young women,
After destroying all the pigpens in the barrio.
All these allegations, he denies.
One time Sabrina enters Leonardo’s room
To ask him for help with her homework.
She catches Leonardo reading a magazine
And with his shorts pulled down.
Sabrina rushes to the sink and throws up.
Buboy asks her if she is pregnant
And Sabrina blushes, because the other day
She was with her boyfriend until sundown
At the dumpsite for damaged dolls.
Toto, once he began working as a gas boy,
Always gets home with a dumbstruck look on his face.
He keeps to himself inside his room, and he sketches
With his pointer finger an elephant in the air.
He had joined the traveling circus and then returned home
When the mermaid died.
Linda keeps asking in secret
What the word love means.
Sabrina keeps asking her for advice
On how to quit being a cheater.
Leonardo is gay. Noel is the first to know
Because one time, Leonardo has been called Rica
By his close friend.
Linda’s close friend
Is the one Leonardo is having a relationship with.
Their father gets wind of this and kicks Leonardo out of the house.
Day and night, Leonardo says the name of their mother
Who had long since died.
Monthly, his siblings write him a letter.
The last letter Leonardo gets is the one from Toto
And it has only two sentences:
“Come back home. Father shot himself in the head.”
The wake spans nine days, and only Linda stays up all night.
Because Noel is unable to return home,
He simply mails a letter enclosed
With a picture of him bawling his eyes out under a banana tree.
It is Buboy who throws the gun in the sea, and the next day,
He is also the one who dives in to recover the gun.
Toto makes a necklace out of the remaining bullets.
Their half-siblings want to pay their last respects
But the siblings refuse to grant them entry.
After Linda’s eye surgery,
She asks for her mother’s body to be exhumed.
After the coffin lid is lifted,
She kisses the top of the skull.
The siblings figure that moment is perfect
For picture taking.
The picture they send to Noel.
Toto is the only one who gets to inherit something.
A whistle.
Buboy covets the whistle, so every breakfast,
He leaves very little rice for Toto.
Toto becomes a cop, and his first mission
Is the capture of Noel.
The last letter that Noel gets
Is from Sabrina
And it has only two sentences:
“Come back home. Toto shot the police chief in the head.”
Linda marries her close friend.
When Toto gets out of jail, he decides to become a fisherman.
Noel returns home and plants a banana tree in the yard.
Leonardo becomes a cop. Sabrina becomes the wife of a cop.
Buboy falls in love with a woman who eats chickens alive,
Joins the traveling circus, and has never returned since.


Ang Magkakapatid

Si Leonardo ang panganay at laging huling nagigising
Kaya sa tuwing manok ang ulam,
Sa kaniya inihahain ang mga mata.
“Kaya tayo isang kahig, isang tuka,”
Sabat palagi ni Linda, ang bulag.
Ang kuwarto ni Linda ay napapalibutan ng salamin.
Si Buboy ay laging wala sa hapunan
Dahil sa paglalagi sa peryahan.
Umiibig siya sa sirena.
Karibal niya si Toto. Hindi alam ni Buboy
Na ang buntot ng sirena ay totoong buntot.
Ang sirena ay totoong sirena.
Alam ito ni Toto.
Si Noel ay wala na sa bahay at nagtatago
Dahil sa pagnanakaw ng diyamante sa isang matanda,
Dahil sa panggagahasa ng limang dalagita,
Dahil sa pagwasak sa lahat kulungan ng baboy sa baryo.
Itinanggi niya ang lahat ng bintang.
Minsan pumunta si Sabrina sa silid ni Leonardo
Upang magpaturo hinggil sa kaniyang takdang-aralin.
Naabutan niya si Leonardo na nagbabasa ng magasin
At nakababa ang salawal.
Tumakbo si Sabrina sa lababo at nagsuka.
Itinanong ni Buboy kung buntis siya
At namula si Sabrina dahil noong isang araw,
Inabutan siya ng takipsilim kasama ang kasintahan
Sa tambakan ng mga sirang manika.
Si Toto, simula nang magtrabaho bilang gas boy,
Ay lagi nang umuuwing tulala,
Nagkukulong sa silid, at gumuguhit
Ng elepante sa hangin gamit ang hintuturo.
Sumama siya sa pag-alis ng perya at bumalik
Noong mamatay ang sirena.
Laging itinatanong nang palihim ni Linda
Ang ibig sabihin ng salitang pag-ibig.
Lagi siyang nilalapitan ni Sabrina upang humingi ng payo
Kung paano tatapusin ang isang pagtataksil.
Bakla si Leonardo. Si Noel ang unang nakaalam
Dahil minsan, tinawag na Rica si Leonardo
Ng matalik nitong kaibigan.
Ang matalik na kaibigan ni Linda
Ang karelasyon ni Leonardo.
Nalaman ito ng kanilang ama kaya pinalayas si Leonardo.
Araw-gabing tinatawag ni Leonardo ang pangalan ng inang
Kay tagal nang sumakabilang buhay.
Buwan-buwan siyang sinusulatan ng mga kapatid.
Ang huling sulat na natanggap ni Leonardo ay mula kay Toto
At naglalaman lamang ng dalawang pangungusap:
“Umuwi ka na. Nagbaril si Itay sa ulo.”
Siyam na araw ang lamay at si Linda lamang ang laging gising.
Dahil hindi makauwi si Noel,
Nagpadala na lamang siya ng liham kalakip
Ang larawan niyang tumatangis sa ilalim ng puno ng saging.
Si Buboy ang naghagis ng baril sa dagat at kinabukasan,
Siya rin ang sumisid at nagbalik ng baril.
Ginawang kuwintas ni Toto ang mga natirang bala.
May mga anak sa labas na nagnais dumalaw
Ngunit hindi pinapasok ng magkakapatid.
Pagkatapos operahan si Linda sa mata,
Hiniling niyang ilabas ang bangkay ng ina.
Noong nabaklas ang takip ng nitso,
Hinalikan niya ang ibabaw ng bungo.
Naisipan ng magkakapatid na sa tagpong iyon
Magpakuha ng litrato.
Ipinadala ang larawan kay Noel.
Si Toto ang tanging nakatanggap ng pamana.
Isang silbato.
Nainggit si Buboy kaya tuwing agahan,
Kakaunti ang itinitira niyang kanin kay Toto.
Naging pulis si Toto at ang unang misyon
Niya ay hulihin si Noel.
Ang huling liham na natanggap ni Noel
Ay mula kay Sabrina
At naglalaman lamang ng dalawang pangungusap:
“Umuwi ka na. Binaril ni Toto sa ulo ang hepe ng pulis.”
Ikinasal si Linda sa matalik nitong kaibigan.
Nang makalaya si Toto, nagpasya itong maging mangingisda.
Bumalik si Noel at nagtanim ng puno ng saging sa bakuran.
Si Leonardo ay naging pulis. Si Sabrina ay naging asawa ng pulis.
Si Buboy ay umibig sa babaeng kumakain ng buhay na manok,
Sumama sa perya, at hindi na kailanman nagbalik.


Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of nine books of fiction and poetry, most recently The Drone Outside (Eibonvale Press, 2017) and Black Arcadia (University of the Philippines Press, 2017). She co-edited the British Fantasy Award-winning People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! (2016) and Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines (Gaudy Boy, 2021). Her numerous translations include Marlon Hacla’s Melismas (Oomph Press, 2020) and Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles’s Three Books (Broken Sleep Books, 2020). Widely anthologized, Muslim’s short stories appeared in ConjunctionsLiterary Hub, and World Literature Today. She grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines.

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