Poetry | Stillbirths wrapped in newsprint

The weather was tomorrow’s collective sickness
not poverty and its predictable longings
poverty was tomorrow’s collective sickness
not the predictable violence of weather
what’s not on the map is the dust of the streets
women who don’t live beyond childbirth until
it disappears the town every noon is salt is steam.


After both sides buried their dead the locals
shook hands with those whose motive for cruelty
was to teach the alphabet that story you know
the roads the hospital were gifts of benevolence
the orphan fostered by a rich widower that story
until an envy-free life made her greedy and show-
off neighbors took turns housing the child savior.


The wartime mayor never hungered found himself
unable to sleep after seeing seventeen of his townsfolk
bayoneted for feeding the guerrillas he fled
to another province once the war ended reprisal
an adversary he needed to outlive because thirty-four eyes
followed him he crushed his glasses until his half
blind war was the one happy decade of his recorded history.


Time being the sociopath that it is guides
the elderly by their elbows they are either
at the cathedral tottering to a pew the cistern
is grime water and a priest’s brimstone sermon
and what is the premised end or dying dead
until the next century the town by the shore
is peopled by the not too astray not yet pious.


When the typhoon hits what’s not nailed down
meets its obvious fate the school roof torn free
the disinterested ocean isn’t news it’s the point
in which an act of god is its share of lives everyone
serves history before he walks toward the plane
his wife gifts around his neck a scapular until
the future makes the benediction a vow a leash.


Soon as electricity lit up the streets they discovered
apart from discontent on their faces what the night was for
they began to think thoughts like it must be tiring
being a bird when it’s desire season or to understand
hardship one must swallow it or to sleep better
place a ghost under your pillow and dream of being young
and brave until in the morning you again aren’t.


When she first made herself known the afternoon
was dead as all afternoons of the town no we were
unstartled from our waiting something never happens
until the blessed virgin she was a stone bridge out of
mist and age her radiance an unsparing cadmium yellow
she was so beautiful an ache bloomed from our lives
the prophet too in confidence they spoke to each other.




‘Stillbirths Wrapped in Newsprint’ is one in a sequence of poems preoccupied with the alleged Marian apparitions that took place in Agoo, La Union in the Philippines in the early 1990s, as witnessed by Judiel Nieva. Swaths of the poem are drawn from the following creators: Ishmael Bernal, Emily Berry, Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson, John Keats, Vincente Minnelli, Gil Portes, Florent Joseph Sals, and Wallace Stevens. A great debt of gratitude is owed to them.


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Mark Cayanan

Mark Anthony Cayanan is from the Philippines. They obtained an MFA from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and are a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide. Unanimal, Counterfeit, Scurrilous, their third poetry book, is forthcoming from Giramondo Publishing in 2021. New work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, The Margins, The Spectacle, and Lana Turner. They teach at the Ateneo de Manila University.

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