My Next Tattoo / A Promise


Poem by Aimee Suzara


"Bangka" © Alec Dy-Liacco; Creative Common license

“[T]he boat then possesses its own soul, which is fundamentally related to the tree that had been used for its construction.”
—Maria Bernadette L. Abrera

My Next Tattoo / A Promise

The bangka that would sit on my lower back
Floats in twilight after a torch-lit night,
Empty, anchored, buoyed over crabs
And fishes, sharks and corals, seaweed flickering
Above the ocean floor.

I imagine this boat tattooed: the engraved
Wings reaching in each direction
Indicating those early sea voyages.

The wings form a question mark:
Could I ever return to a home
That is unstable, shifting?

The bangka on my altar is filled with rice,
Sits beside the wooden purse my Lolo gave me
Which once contained a map of the Philippines
Which I’ve since misplaced
As I’ve misplaced many important things.
Beside this purse sits a picture of my Lolo,
His feet propped on the gravestone
Of our ancestor, so casually.
Beside this photo sits one of him and his sister
My Lola Remy, the teacher who kept
Our ancestral home even after its foundation
Was flooded by typhoons.

Maybe the bangka will take me home
If I tattoo it on my back,
Home as a shifting, unreal thing.

Will this home be a house, a foundation, the doors, slanted
Wooden floors, where my cousin saw a hunched-over
Ghost-woman waiting by the kitchen
Upstairs, where my Lolo and Lola’s marriage bed
Bears their names etched into the headboard,
Where the little dog that haunted my stories
Whimpers as it pulls on its chain,
Captive, as other dogs run the dusty village streets?

Home, as unstable idea,
A construction
Not even a construction, but a sketch,
The blueprint, the promise
Of an indestructible architecture, dreamed
In light pencil on flimsy, ghost paper,
The vision of this bangka on my back.
The promise of a place
To reside in:
Is home like that?


Publishing Information

  • Opening quote: "The Soul Boat and the Boat-Soul: An Inquiry into the Indigenous 'Soul'" by Maria Bernadette L. Abrera, Philippine Social Sciences Review, January 2007.

Art Information

  • "Bangka" © Alec Dy-Liacco; Creative Common license.

Aimee SuzaraAimee Suzara is a Filipino-American poet, playwright, and performer based in Oakand, California. Her mission is to create, and help others to create, poetry and theater to provoke dialogue and social change. She is the author of the book Souvenir (WordTech Editions, 2014), was a finalist for the WILLA (Women Writing the West) Literary Award in 2015, and has been featured as a guest artist nationwide. Her poems have appeared in publications such as Kartika Review, Lantern Review, and the California Language Association Journal. Her theater work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and a YBCAway Award. She currently teaches at De Anza College in Cupertino, California.

For more information, visit Aimee Suzara's website or on Twitter @aimeesuzara.

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