Root Systems

By Kay Ulanday Barrett

For Yolanda P. Salvo
I have this assignment to write on origins.
All I can think about is your rellenong
talong at sunrise, garlic thick air,
wisp of your floral dress sways on linoleum
as you commit to careful chemistry
of fried egg.

To say I have roots means all us kids,
knee deep in dirt. Means I only know how
to eat because you brought backyard, earth
soaked, each bite caressed by sweat of
forehead. The land gives us what we need
not like this country—

We didn’t get it then, you training us for end
of times, or maybe, bringing us back to our beginning.
Bold brown knuckles turned into baon, lunch time
snacks folded of banana leaf. To unwrap
gift every noon, map illustrated of rice, speckled
in sea spinach, while others ate bland

mashed potatoes. A spark of sili, proclamation
of patis, we held up sliced mangoes sculpted into bouquet.
Every summer, you took small seed, harsh stone,
harsh light, profuse cackle, grew it into momentum
to fuel every star speckled report card on the fridge,
every trophy shimmer slung over shoulder.

Our last photo together, San Fabian, July 2007—
96°F heat, palm tree silhouette on cheeks. You said
you liked my haircut, So Pogi! Big smirks. Fingertips
pressed on lychee skin, our version of prayer.
Not to mention, the way you taught me to pick
apart until we found tender.

How we knew somehow together,
there could be sweetness. You asked me to open
every fruit, juice like sprinkler from our old house.
This breaking apart. This delicate pouring.
This bulbous bounty. This bellyful harvest
was always ours, no matter the soil we stood on.