Denver Ejem Torres is author of Hate-eating Birds (Xavier University Press,
2018). His poems and essays have appeared in various magazines, journals,
and anthologies in the Philippines and abroad. In 2020, he judged the English
category of the Singapore Migrant Worker Poetry Competition, and delivered a
lecture called "Memories, Stones, the Shape of Poetry, and the Watchtower," to
the 27th Iligan National Writers Workshop as a Senior Writing Fellow for Poetry.
The lecture includes his poetics and his little theory on realm-shuttling in poetry.

The Unchewed
for Profs. Jane G. & Bomen G.

In the dining table we sit, fully pleased,
staring at our food, say a bovine or porcine dish.

We've defeated four-legged beasts
that once walked the earth.

Dining no doubt is the true measure
of how powerful humans are.

Breakfasts, lunches, dinners are all, ultimately,
events proving our superiority.

Rarely do we imagine ourselves being chewed
as we chew our food.
We close our eyes to the idea that a toothless,
tongueless invisible mouth could be chewing us

as we chew our food.
If Aquinas is correct,

we belong to a chewing chain,
that somewhere up there,

sitting at the biggest dining table,
at the very end of the food chain

sits the Unchewable,

Tam Coc

A man appeared before me,
a few meters away
from where my friend and I were having coffee.
We were talking about a faraway place:
our country, and its characteristics,
its characters.

The man stood in the middle of the rice fields.
Like a farmer, he was half-naked.
His perfectly chiseled torso exposed
like the chest of the limestone hills of Tam Coc.

The man looked like a hill,
hard, strong, towering over tender things,
except his smile towards me:
warm and soft.

But the man was gone
the second the white birds came
and took the moment away.

The Immortal Crab

It is clear to me now why that crab still crawls along the shore of my mind; why my mind insists that the crab my mother bought from Cogon Market over 20 years ago is still alive and kicking. I imagine it is leading a successful life. Maybe it is now a monarch ruling over a subterranean crab kingdom beneath our old house in Camaman-an. And maybe it is thankful that my fear sent it flying out the window that night.

A crab is not supposed to go that way. I am in my mid-thirties now and I still convince myself before I go to bed, as I've been doing since I was a child, that I am not a murderer. That I am not responsible for its improper death.

The old people in my village say only those among us who have a clear conscience can sleep sound at night. How else to tuck myself to bed all these years—but to keep believing that that crab is still alive?

The things you realize in your thirties

The things you realize in your thirties
are most often than not useless.
Thirties is the time of your life
when the sight of guava leaves
leads to a discovery
of a meaningful moment.

This is the time when
the image of a handful of
carefully chosen young guava leaves
boiling in a pan of water, years ago
ferments into memory of love,
a father's love for his son.
Because the young you only saw
the facade of anger, nothing more.
The young you is only capable
of seeing meaning in a harsh speech,
and nothing more.

The father's fingers finding the right
temperature of the water he'd use
to cleanse the wounds of his son
is invisible to the son.
A boy is blind to the fact that warm water
is a consequence of care.

To a boy, none of this is special,
just scabs, blood and pain.
In your thirties, you ask:
how do you post a thank you letter
to a dead man?

Back to Front.