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POETRY

Danton Remoto

Cooking Laing

(For Lola Juaning, my grandmother)

This is how you cook laing
For your Filipino friends:

First, go to Lucky Plaza on a weekday.
Look for the driest bunch
Of taro leaves you could find
And the fattest dried shrimps
Curled in their plastic bags

Like orange commas.
Then get three tall cans
Of coconut milk,
A piece of ginger
Shaped like your toes,

Bulbs of onion,
A small ball of garlic.
While your friends
Sit in the living room and talk
About their dates last Saturday night,

You slice the onion,
Its layers translucent like glass,
Flatten the garlic
As if it were one of your enemies,
Slice the ginger into the shape


Of slanting rain.
Then turn the flames on
(Blue is always the hottest colour).
Pour the canola oil as slippery
As the islands you have left behind.

Put the garlic, ginger, and onion
Into the wok’s wide, open mouth.
Then pour the cream
Of coconut milk
As pure as your grandmother’s dreams,

She who taught you
How to cook laing
In the hometown’s dirty kitchen
Many, many moons ago.
Open the glass jar

Of shrimp paste and mix
Two teaspoons of this pungent
Thing onto the lake
Now simmering in front of you.
Hold the leaves of taro

As if they were green
diamonds
And lay them gently
Atop the bubbles of coconut cream.
When your friends


Smell the fragrant laing
And swarm around you, noticing
Your face turning
Into a blur
In all that blazing heat,

Just tell them they will eat
A hearty feast later.
Shoo them back
To the living room,
Telling yourself that the water

Now filling your eyes 
Comes from nothing else
But the onions you had
Sliced earlier,
Translucent as tears.

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