Stone Telling

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The Exile, i.

by M Sereno

Here the sky is scarred with silence.
Here the soil is seamed, seared
by sun, and more than sun. Here sprawls
a vast plain that has forgotten mountains;
here no dreams of sleeping giants woven
to mantle the dark-glittering night.
Only bareness, scorched. Hollow eyes
gouged into bloodless flesh. Each day blots out
what gold used to mean, how deep reds can go,
how the world can be pulled apart and shaken.
I am learning to forget colors, cloth, fugitive music,
the balance of earthquakes, the sound of my name spoken.
My mouth is a well stopped with stones, strange words.
My eyes, athirst. They have filled my lungs
with dust and courtesies. No, my tongue cannot run dry.
To be silent is to die, and oh
how very quiet
this sea-split land.

So I dream.
Of a woman larger than mountains
asleep on green plains, and her dreams
paint the sky with stars and the bloody purple
of betrayed magic. Tahan na, Maria. I dream
of a bird who ate a princess, incandescent lamp
in a night spangled with the bells of deathwatch,
and she sings gold and glory and all the killing despair
that's carved in stone. I dream of closing ragged fingers
around the blade of a knife. Holding bitter fruit, round and rich.
I dream of witches, stories. I dream of cities haunted, nourished
by tiktik and aswang. I dream of towers sheathed in mirrors
and a swarm of unseen swords, I dream of churches
consumed by forest and sea. I dream of my city
swallowing the bones of unnumbered children; I dream
that its maw gapes for me, yawns my name. I dream of the ocean burning
and wave after wave ablaze, I dream, oh let me dream

for all that I am alone under the immensity of night.
For all that I eat dust and bone and forgetting.
For all that I sleep smaller than the dry land's silence.
For all that my throat chokes on music, half-words,
cannot answer: Tahan na, anak. Matulog ka na lang.
When I was a child I woke into a dream
of ravenous Barracuda and a world of little fish
ensphered by fear. Save for Linggit, the red eye. Singing: Come to me.
We face the sickle-teeth of a mouth hungry for our scales.
Red and silver. Dark and dark. We will not be eaten.
Listen, I dream because I have lost my sea, and as I dream
Linggit's music threads itself aglitter through the waves
and the little fish flicker into the shape of a red-eyed shark.
You will not swallow us up. We sing in water and blood, we
the smallest of the small! Anger, a-swell: I think I hear the music
as Barracuda swims away, taking the shadows with it.
You will not consume us — the song rolls over my sleep,
and the world is ocean and fire lighting up the night,
gleaming gold tapestries onto dying mountains. Here I dream
so I can live again: in earthquake and typhoon, destroyers
and flood. In the color of my blood. In the syllables of my name
this land will not speak. In the lightning of my tongue. In the furnaces
of cities that birthed me. In sound, in sound, in sound. Awit.
Umawit ka. Awitin mo.

In dreams,
my song runs like the sea.
Umaawit ako.

M Sereno is a queer Filipina artist who immigrated to Australia for True Love. She is a calligrapher and illustrator whose current projects merge baybayin and inky re-imaginings of her homeland's stories. She lives with her partner and two ridiculous Pomeranians in regional Victoria. She is on Twitter as @likhain and keeps her online version of a badly tended garden at Likhain.

Photography: adapted from Barracuda Silhouette, by Tim Sheerman-Chase.