Poetry: Like Clockwork by Catherine Quesada

I gave back—I threw back—
a tight smile and a dry laugh
to the blur of aunts and uncles.
They always said,
among the hugs and holiday gifts,
with crooked eyebrows and keen smiles:
“Getting big again, huh?”
When they looked at me,
they pointed at you.
Words and knives—what’s the difference, really?
There’s only the same, deep, sharp
cut in my gut.
But I couldn’t find it,
stem its bleeding,
and stitch it up.
But you probably don’t know anyway,
not how it feels
to flash your go-to mechanical smile.
Reaching for the big bag of chips,
the start-up meal,
I tore it open and air gushed out,
the bag deflating in my hands.
I wished that it could be that easy.
The cheesy powder clung to my fingers.
An evidence, a reminder,
that I would get to taste again
But still, we sat together,
ate together, because we’d never
see each other again
until next Christmas.
I reached for the roast chicken
and hit a jackpot
with the leg and thigh.
Then I saw you
with a portion of the white meat.
How is that any better?
I piled a mountain
of rice.
You skipped that altogether.
I reached for the ham,
cut myself
a slice.
Then another one.
And then—
oh, fuck it.
I knew the drill:
act as if the food I shoved in my mouth
could block any glance, any murmur.
But then there’s the knife again.
In my gut. Open wound. No blood.
Maybe it never left me at all.
You gave me a look.
I shrugged,
stood up,
excused myself,
went up to the bathroom,
made sure that there’s a bottle
of mouthwash in there
and locked the door behind me.

About the Poet

Catherine Quesada’s work has been published in Anak Sastra Literary Journal, Latag: Essays on Philippine Literature, Culture and the Environment and Novice Magazine. Armed with a Creative Writing degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman, she’s been slowly climbing up from the bottom of the food chain by writing for and about women, children and the environment. Find out more about her work at catquesada.journoportfolio.com.

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