Prose: Okir and Bone by Jean V. Gier
The naga's curve and spiral carved into the grave-marker; the nautilus shell, the curled tip-end of a camote vine, orchid tendril. A branching out, expanding to leaf, to green shelter in a summer storm.
Its children are oarsmen and helmsmen, translators, slaves, travelers and exiles. They lean on the memory of the okir, spurred by the emptiness of the long dry land's barrens and solitude, the barbed cacti and pale deserts of the Americas, whose cliffs rise up sharply, and stretch on and on, instead of curving and cupping the water in snug veridian inlets and bays.
Children of the okir abhor the vacuum because, in the archipelago, vegetation simply is; it covers everything, embraces and envelopes emptiness. It clasps your hand, and slides its palm along your waist. It turns condominiums into family compounds, ornamenting the windows in iron curlicues and leaf-patterned screens.
Even when the vegetation is burned, plucked, uprooted, buried and poisoned, it transforms itself into a word, written upon the earth, upon the walls and in the smoking garbage. This word swallows the dead, the children, men and women; it branches out into choked, syrupy rivers; its alleyways burrow into cities, into the brains and memory of a woman standing on the corner in front of the Virgin of Edsa, selling cloth to cover your mouth and nose. Even now, exhaust spirals into your nostrils and behind your reddening eyes. The okir's single word deposits black fractals in your brain and testicles. It leaves a film of grit and oil on the skin, covering us, embracing us all.
The north is sparsity and obedience to bones. It begins in nothing, it ends in nothing. It desires everything. Its poets chant the hard edges of things; north is a university of categories that separate and calcify each element, bringing it into sight bearing the clarity and whiteness of bones.
Of course this is myth; the myth of clarity and purity. In truth, the north's snow white covers a thicket of branches holding the secret of cranberries and purple berries and red berries fertilized by last year's dead. Even snowflakes embellish themselves in white crinolines and soot. In spring there is a blooming and in winter the dying away, the freeze. Then we think of emptiness, and our desire grows big for sunlight and flow. We long to break up the ice that locks us in place; we long to move and to grow like hair, like wheat under an empty sun, and to run everywhere and to be in everything and in everyone's desire for certainty.
Remove the straight lines, the surveyor's grid, and you have a land that at its western edge grates like a snake upon its own skin, and at its eastern edge stratifies into bedrock. In its utmost extremities it stretches north and south. North towards the white of bones and the terrible thunder of glaciers; south towards the mosses and swampwaters of the Manilla Men's Barataria and Terrebone, and the southern okir of Quetzalcoatl, Patagonia, and the Amazon.
It happened for a brief-no a long-moment, one dark morning in Manila. My husband out drinking with my cousin. Laying in bed, the fissure between body and spirit widens, the separate realms begin to divide, again and again. I travel from self to self. And in the dark, the electric fan hums, rippling the sheet; now and then a slight click, a rustle, as of fingernails along the wall... But where are the vampire's feet? Where are her legs, her lower half? She hovers just under the ceiling, waiting for that moment of vulnerability, when you slip over to the other side, preoccupied with a journey or a voice. Then, she will lower her head over your body; her serrated tongue will descend and scoop out the contents of your loins and belly, the lower half-the center of gravity with its heavy load of blood. She is looking for that center, that prime meat, loob, the ballast that will anchor her to home, give her legs and feet so that she can walk once again on land, and feel wholeness, like any other woman or man.
The center, the weight, the point of gravity. The seed giving birth to itself. A snaking of energy moving outwards, moving inwards, and knowing its power rooted in earth. The interior of a house on the corner of Bonifacio and Padre Ramon, the dark wood, narra, mahogany, polished every day, so that what little light that enters through the window screens shines secretly within the cupboards of the heart. No, the center is leaf-mould and twigs contained in a tin can and sparked with fire, to warm the gold-miners' camp in Tulitos and Ketchikan; the manongs slue the icy rivers for a glint that will send them back home. And then, loob is the flare of a match lighting my ninong's cigarette in the dark. Lighting the crumpled letters he has never sent from San Francisco to Dapitan. They lay on the stained china-plate, blackening to ash. His one-room bachelor's apartment imprisons him, a dry and wrinkled seed, in its husk.