Lakan Umali is a student and writer based in Metro Manila
(Philippines) who placed 1st in the 2017 Maningning Miclat Poetry
Competition (English Division), and received an Honorable
Mention at the 1st Kokoy F. Guevara Poetry Competition.


My mother loves plants. Once most of her children grew up and found other lives, she learned how to cultivate a garden in the middle of the city. Our house's margins are filled with flowers and vines, plants that live in pots because the streets are too toxic for their roots. I want to give her another place, something more green, but this is what we have.

Lessons on Christian Living

The afterlife has many known knowns and many unknown unknowns, as well as many unknown knowns and known unknowns, that God Herself has to maintain a database of all creation powered by the universe's rivers. I do not know if I will see my parents in the afterlife. I do not know if I will enjoy the afterlife. There might be Marxists and conservatives and libertarians and dog whisperers in the afterlife. In the unexplored southern regions of the afterlife, there is a palace made of frozen chocolate, where each part will regenerate once bitten off and swallowed. Defecation is allowed in particular clouds. No one has ever tried returning the afterlife to a pharmacy and requesting the generic version. Here bloom many kinds of trees, and from their branches come either lollipops or snakes, depending on how many beggars you've ignored in your lifetime. Perhaps God in the afterlife will take the form of a young brown woman, and ask all the rich, white men, where were you all this time? Of all the known knowns, I know the afterlife has a street, with plants that grow tall and do not need water or sunlight, though those are all in abundance. You will face windows looking out into a cool, bright evening that never ends. But as of now, you are some place else.

Urban Studies

Of the many memories that may have not happened, I remember clearly when we disobeyed our mothers and ran down the street and took a left at A. Rita, speeding by our old nursery school, and marvelling at the buildings, houses, and fenced-off gardens we had previously never seen, far beyond our sanctioned playground. We found an abandoned lot with a few medium-sized trees scattered around it. We took turns climbing them, playing monkey until we got tired, and decided to play hide-or-seek. I shouldn't have agreed when you asked for two minutes to hide, forgetting how fast you could run. We hadn't yet demarcated our newly-found territory. I might have spent hours looking for you. I walked blocks and blocks away from the abandoned lot, taking note of landmarks to guide me back, because I was — and still am — terrible with directions. When the sun was about to set, I prepared the speech to tell our mothers that would hopefully lessen the tongue-lashing. I trudged back to the field, where I found you sitting on one of the branches. I asked you where you had been. You said you wanted to go home.

San Juan City Blues

We're lucky to have a roof over our heads. We're unlucky that this roof often shelters over the empty. We're lucky to live in an area where the floods don't usually reach us. We're unlucky the first contractor cheated us, leaving us an initial house with ceilings that grazed our heads. We're lucky an uncle was an architect and agreed to do renovations for cheap. We're unlucky that the rain gets in everywhere, dripping on plasters of saints, treated wood, staircases, old sheets, family photo albums. We're lucky there is space enough for everyone. We're unlucky that some of us have moved on to different, more cramped spaces. We're lucky we live on a quiet street. We're unlucky when the quiet is sometimes broken by very drunken revelry, tempting us to poke our heads out windows and lecture the partygoers on the basis of class struggle. We're lucky to have running water. We're unlucky when the water chooses to run everywhere. We're lucky to live somewhere that opens to everywhere. We're unlucky that everywhere has heat, smoke, and dog shit in the most public of spaces.

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