Eileen R. Tabios

Disaster Relief #2

(after "Coals to Newcastle")


Once, Manila hosted
a massive steaming
garbage dump called
"Smokey Mountain"

near which sprung
the shanty town "Tondo"
for residents who lived
by foraging through smoke
for food
or items repairable for resale

The inevitable happened:
an open cooking fire
raged up, quickly spread—
killed dozens

The U.S. Rotary Club,
Manila Branch,
decided to help.

They brought trash cans
(freshly painted red)
filled with sand to Tondo.
The Rotarians thought
the Tondoites could use
the sand for dumping
on future fires

What the people who live
from a trash dump saw
was not "fire prevention"
but garbage cans

inexplicably filled with sand

One Tondoite strolled over
and stuck both hands
deeply into the sand, feeling
through it as if
he were looking for a
prize in a cereal box.

He pulled out his hands,
opened them up under
a sunlit sapphire sky
He made the Rotarians
watch the sand
rain between his fingers
until his palms were empty
once more

He kept his hands
empty and open
for several minutes
before the Polo-shirted ones

suddenly decimated
by charity—


How does any story end?

Here, you can insist:


Or you can remember
charity and replay:

…the Polo-shirted ones

suddenly decimated
by charity—

then saved by the same
a girl in a dirty dress
approaching them
with a scavenged
torn but still blooming

red rose

Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry
Issue 1 | June 2010 | pp 35-38