Years Later, I Confront Unopened Balikbayan Boxes

I came to Illinois the same way I left the Philippines: bony
suitcases thundering the passage rite like ancestral
drums, not that I know exactly who my ancestors are.

If your life was a movie what music
would haunt you like a history, a wound, a ghost.
Filipinos don’t trace the age of trees

like Americans do, too aware of their fragility,
how easily they can be uprooted in a hurricane
like a doll thrust into the Balikbayan box.

I have nightmares about the ocean
or the realization that an island is just land
drunk on water. My father once told me

it’s enough to know that the Spaniards, the diasporic
Chinese or whoever found the Philippines’
palm trees attractive were likely a part

of my ancestry. Sometimes I wonder how many
Filipino women kissed their foreign lips in hopes
of a prelude to an easier existence, and how many were

forsaken. To this day, I have a fear of islands.
We haven’t finished unpacking even years after
we had our last taste of Oishi crackers at the Ninoy Aquino

International Airport. In the dusty recluse
of our Balikbayan boxes, I am still finding shards
of wrecked picture frames and doll faces, forfeited

like a wave’s sheepish regurgitation
of flotsam, the creased arrows wrinkling
the boxes’ last admonition: Handle with care.