top of page
Maria Bolaños
February 2024

Maria Bolaños (she/they/siya) is a Filipinx American poet, co-Founder of Sampaguita Press, Managing Editor of Marías at Sampaguitas literary magazine, member of the writer & artist collective The Digital Sala, and Board member of Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA). Working and writing on unceded Tongva land, she is committed to building spaces that make publishing more accessible to marginalized communities. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net in 2021 and 2022 and published by Locked Horn Press, Cut Fruit Collective, and decomp journal, among others. They are the author of SANA (published by Sampaguita Press, 2022). You can follow siya on Instagram @mariabeewrites


tell me the first name was the sound of beak against bamboo,

the sound of a tree splitting when we emerged nameless

sameness. One of us they called Crisostomo, and he became man.

One of us they called Maria Clara, and I became ghost.

I tell you I have two names. My parents wanted to double their chances,

give me two fates. They dreamt of me before I existed. Me, a vision

in piña, sitting on a high-back peacock throne, hair curling softly, demurely

weeping as I worked my fan, wind and water, goddess of small typhoons.

Taghirap closes like a crocodile’s jaw clacking a tiny snap

of neck. I tell you the way to deal with separation is to pretend

there is nothing tragic about the fact that I can’t speak

my grandparents’ language, have no words for the day dims

distant in the playback of my mind. Every memory starts with you

had to be there, when I have no way to say this the way that I feel it.

I hold the feeling, the small clump of knowledge, an inch of earth

on a turtle’s back, the gnawing awareness of perhaps

this is the piece hardest to let go. That nothing is how I remember.

Sarap is a manufactured beehive hum, gold plated palabok red-ringed

in violence. If every new story is a groundbreaking freedom,

it’s time I walk the broken ground.

Crack the can of spam open: this is how you make war

rhyme with comfort. We eat the rations you didn’t want and we drive

the cars you left to rust. Five hundred years ago you manifested,

a storm gathering at the end of the world. Trauma rolls fresh thunder

and the rain is salt on my tongue. No man is an island

because the island is a woman. I have been an island ever since

I first saw the ocean. Ever since a great bird flew me across the sea

dropped me into the snow and told me, this is what it means to be

alone. And I looked out across the winter white city

and the cold cut my black hair and tried to make me forget

the large mountain and the flowing river, the land of my name.

But I will keep searching for it. I tell myself I will find it.

This is the only way to reach you, when the sky is an uncrossable bridge

over an impossible ocean. Hinahanap is the breath escaping, a drip of red

slipping slowly from my nose. What an idea: in place of language, a rupture

of capillaries. The word still finds its way out.

I tell myself stories in order to live.

I emerge myself from jungle leaves.

I am a yellow head with horns.

I open my one thousand eyes.



Portrait of the artist as manananggal. Of manananggal as ghazal. How do I name

this skin? When in the end I am not art and everything is a monster?

Jackfruit cracked yellow jewels of skin. Rotting meat belly stretched ready

for blood. Bully among classmates. Blessed art Thou amongst monsters. (1)

I am a winged child spilled in half, drowning my blood in the work, twisting

tongue around pregnant pauses. My hands open the last can of Monster.

Tonight, the dim ways of kiss: the chiming hands, the ribcage gates of Troy. Savage

her body to the pale clocks. My tongue’s a long scar they mistake for monster. (2)

I fly over the rooftops of all the places I came from. My wings rupture the pale

moon, casting new shapes over the sleeping heads of conquered monsters.

Astride sea gates, the imprisoned Mother of Exiles conquering

limb and name. Give me your tired, your tempest, your teeming monsters. (3)


Portrait of ghazal as found poem. Portrait of found poem as severed name.

Portrait of name as given history. History as blackout. Blackout as monster.

History is a hideous female severing intestines, sprouting huge. The Tagalog separates

itself. Crushed by sunrise. The west, salt and holy. Takot ka ba sa monster? (4)

Saltwater gulps at my toes, smooths the hard edge of remembering. Fate

is crossing water when we die. The land forgets: we are each other’s monsters.

Where is the dark rich land we wanted to wander? Subway train lurching, hatred

passed through. Machinery of memory, a harshness. My monster. (5)

Tear me through the middle like paper. Throw my heart to the jungle, my feet

to desert. This way I am loved and lost, living like mother’s exiled monster.

So much an address it was like something living. Years after, you do not know

what the address was. It is not a name, not a thing that exists, but some monster. (6)



The italicized couplets in “Portrait of the Artist as Manananggal” Parts I and II are found poetry. Each

couplet was composed using a different work:

1. “Blessed Fruit” by Isabel Garcia-Gonzales, Kuwento: Lost Things

2. “Lorca’s Red Dresses” by Natalie Diaz, When My Brother was an Aztec

3. “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

4. Wikipedia entry: “Manananggal”

5. “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger” by Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

6. Excerpt of a letter by Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography

bottom of page