All my life I lived in a city named after a tidal wave, though I didn’t know it then. I did know, was told, not to lean over the thick embankment obscuring the water, once blue, now a distinct brew of the city’s refuse.

It’s in our blood, though, the sway. As it is in the uneven roads, the perilous sidewalks that dip and rise like barren hills. The instinct to go around a rock, collect fallen debris, and build from what is gathered. Crowning cement fences with shining shards of broken glass. All this is sea.

Even on earth we see the curves of the sea embedded in our etymology. Caloocan, where my father was born, means by the bay. My mother, in Surigao — spring water or water current, linguists still debate. I come from a lineage nurtured by water. Its tender ferocity and ancient wisdom. Its torrential forgetfulness.

The street I grew up in morphs slowly and sheds its stores and apartments year after year. The chain-link fences and residue of weathered posters remain, joining the city’s riverbed where everything is held, forever, and carried like a small coin in the back pocket. Imprints we forget are there, even when their portraits are pressed against our skin.

I know that when it rains all the water first floods elsewhere. It rises in villages with fantastical names, in roads with perpetual disrepair. A riverine gift, until the river overflows, revealing the clumps of hair, broken slippers, Megamall receipts. A curse, too, of those who deface such sacred seats.

All my life I lived in a city named after a tidal wave, though it wasn’t always its name, and this name bears more than one tale. Once it was not even a city, and once it was only a fragment of another, and, long ago, they say it was a kingdom that traded in gold. Named and unnamed, in honor of heroes and human waves. But the river, once blue, has been always there. Yet never the same as it empties into the bay.

Somewhere here is a lesson on sailing.


Lian Sing has been published or is forthcoming in Meridian, Quarter After Eight, Unbroken, The Journal of Southeast Asian Ecocriticism, Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere. She was born and raised in Manila, but currently lives in a tiny home in central Texas.   WEB