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The Secret Language

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I have learned your speech,

Fair stranger; for you

I have oiled my hair

And coiled it tight

Into a braid as thick

And beautiful as the serpent

In your story of Eden.


For you, I have covered

My breasts and hidden,

Among the folds of my surrendered

Inheritance, the beads

I have worn since girlhood.

It is fifty years now

Since the day my father

Took me to the school in Bua,

A headman's terrified

Peace-gift.  In the doorway,

The teacher stood, her hair

The bleached color of corn,

Watching with bird-eyes.

Now, I am Christina.

I am told I can make lace

Fine enough to lay upon the altar

Of a cathedral in Europe.

But this is a place

That I will never see.

I cook for tourists at an inn;

They praise my lemon pie

And my English, which they say

Is faultless.  I smile

And look past the window,

Imagining father's and grandfather's cattle

Grazing by the smoke trees.

But it is evening, and these

Are ghosts.

In the night,

When I am alone at last,

I lie uncorseted

Upon the iron bed,

Composing my lost beads

Over my chest, dreaming back

Each flecked and opalescent

Color, crooning the names,

Along with mine:

Binaay, Binaay.



Maria Luisa B. Aguilar-Carino