Mother, i often think of my life
as a series of photographs.
in one, i am growing
out of the palms of your hands.
propagated, cut from strands
of hair as dark as coal
and fed siphoned blood
as red and
sweet as rambutan,
plucked with your teeth
from the backyard trees.
you used to call me your
because the flush on my cheeks
was so apparent against my pale skin.
even when i matured, bruised, rotted,
into a dark brown thing.
in another photograph, i am intertwined
with a woman.
her hair rosy and strawberry-blonde.
her fingernails digging
under the thickest parts of my skin.
her lips are pressed against my neck
as if to claim the curvature of my spine
with the tip of her tongue.
she is completely unaware
that i am still growing
into an image of you.
my favorite photograph of us, Mother,
has me swaddled in your arms.
fresh oil smeared on my forehead,
as if anointing oil is a fine substitute
you’re looking at the camera,
afraid that if you turn your gaze away
and trigger-happy tongues,
you would wither away.
but i’m looking at you.
a babe wrapped in a blanket you found
on the walk over.
the next photograph of me and a woman
smells like lemongrass and sweet tea,
a different woman, her knee
is pressed into my stomach
as my body melts into hers.
she broke the clock in her bedroom
so that she had an excuse
to keep me in her arms that night.
and so that i had an excuse
to watch the dying sunlight
from the safety of her body.
Mother, we lost most of my childhood
photographs to the fire that devoured our house
back when i didn’t know the meaning
of the words
i sprouted through
the flame-kissed earth,
turning ashes into oxygen,
photosynthesizing our memories
on the back of each of these photos
is a confession.
written in a language you could never hold
and that i could never let go of.
they go like this.
i confess that i can never be you.
i confess that i can never be her.
i confess that i can never be enough for you.
i confess that i can never be enough for her.
and i confess that i want.
i want, i want, i want.
i must confess:
i am unhappy with who i am.
the women with me in those photographs,
their lips scarlet and bleeding remorse,
are always white.
just as you’ve always wanted.
Moon to Moon
I worked on this exercise between the time when the moon was at the degree of my natal moon in Pisces (October 7th, 2022 at 1:28 am) and at the approximate degree of my mother’s moon, also in Pisces (October 7th, 2022 at 11:58 am). Symbolically, I wanted this chunk of time to mimic the gesture of a child walking towards their mother.
There are things that are difficult to communicate and know, things left unsaid and buried between parent and child. So I attempted to walk, moon to moon towards this sea of (un)knowing.
Using Bhanu Kapil’s 12 Questions from The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, I collaborated with my Spolia tarot deck to beckon the intelligence of a not-me, mother-me.
1. Who are you and whom do you love?
Nine of Swords: Worry-things. That which is most vulnerable, that which I worry for the most is what I love. I puncture them with the point-end of my words. These are my worries, this is how I care for you. I lay my fears upon you, a pile of swords; I urge you not to walk the thorny path I walked.
2. Where did you come from / how did you arrive?
The Star: I took flight across waters. I did not know whether I was running from fate or towards it. Anywhere but here, anywhere but where I am alone. In hopes of some horizon beyond this one I fled the life before, chasing the qualities of stars, the ones huddled together against the vastness of space.
3. How will you begin?
5 of Coins: Struggle. Isn’t that how nearly every story begins? I try to conserve everything that I fear will be taken or destroyed. So much falls through, between fingers, missed time, the forces that compel one to land on one’s knees. Hands clasped together in prayer, what am I holding? What do I have? What am I left with?
4. How will you live now?
6 of Coins: What falls into my outstretched hand. What I drop into another’s. The push and pull of actions and consequences. Butterfly wing-wind becomes a storm. I am caught in that storm, in that disorienting sequence. Sometimes, my movements make the scales dance. I hear the intimacy of things bumping softly, then metal clashing and screeching.
5. What is the shape of your body?
King of Swords: Molded by all that I endured.
6. Who was responsible for the suffering of your mother?
Page of Swords: I told you about storms. I did not know she would be taken so soon. None of us did. Given not the truth, but a faulty prescription.
7. What do you remember about the earth?
Justice: The cut edge of the sword. The fickleness of scales. Promises and pacts given breath, then tethered to form. I did not inherit the earth before it had a name. I was pushed into the struggles and pacts of man.
8. What are the consequences of silence?
3 of Cups: Freedom from the tyranny of English. There is delight in the knowing glance, there is protection in the placid mask.
9. Tell me what you know about dismemberment?
5 of Coins: At some point, you are outside. Utterly outside the circle.
10. Describe a morning you work without fear?
4 of Wands: Laughter. I notice the sun rising, as if for the first time. I do not feel or think that it will be my last. The light is enveloping.
11. How will you / have you prepare(d) for your death?
Knight of Cups: To the sea. Scatter me there.
12. And what would you say if you could?
Queen of Coins: I made do with what I could. Sometimes it wasn’t enough. And sometimes, it felt miraculous what I—what we—could make of things.
Imagine making a dish from your childhood on your own for the first time. You stumble your way through with uneven chops and unneeded stirring until something familiar surfaces. Then, you taste. And drop to your knees, sobbing. It’s exactly how you remember it.
Part of my process was explained in the piece itself, but I wanted to create a ritual and practice that anyone could recreate or augment in order to try and come to knowing via a tool (in this case, tarot cards) about someone or something in their lives—perhaps a distant parent, someone who is difficult to talk to, or a topic that is full of risk. I used Bhanu Kapil’s 12 Questions as a launchpad for the piece, but approached the process of answering those questions by using astrological timing. The Moon represents mothers so it was important to me to time the beginning and end of the writing process to when the Moon was at the degree of my natal moon to the hypothetical degree of my mother’s (I worked off the approximate birth time she gave me). It was an exercise in collaborating with the facts and limited knowledge I possess of my mother and the interpretive guidance of the cards/images. This piece arose from my wondering how much I really knew about my mother and if I could somehow see the hidden without being extractive or exploitative (which is always a concern for me when and if I write about real people).
Seren Kilig (they) is a Filipino writer, illustrator, and activist. They have been awarded a fellowship from Periplus (‘22). In addition to writing fiction, they spend their days studying art history, pondering the preservation of storytelling, and playing video games.
Kris Shin is a Korean-American writer, 2021 Periplus Fellow, and a member of the Heung Coalition. They are an unrepentant dilettante focusing on fiction, hybrid genres, the occult, and liberatory / abolitionist politics.