What the Trees Know

23 Jul

Trees murmur

They whisper secrets to you.

Secrets that you’ll forget

As soon as you get up

From underneath their shadow.

But they are important secrets, nonetheless.

They’ll whisper secrets,

Not only to you

But to the young, tabby cat

Climbing a branch to escape an older, tabby cat.

(Who,  i bet, is bullying the young one).

They whisper

To the fearless squirrel, too,

Who ignores you as it scampers up and down a tree.


Trees murmur.

They’ll whisper secrets to you.

Secrets that you’ll forget as soon as you wake up from that half-sleep

You fell into,  lulled by the breeze.

It’s not easy to get these secrets, in the first place.

You’d need an oasis.

A place with trees.

A place that would be open to you.

Because odds are,  it’s been privatized for the condo they’re building next to you

Or it was torn down to build the condo next to you.


But let’s say you find this place,

Where you can lie down under the tree

In the summer

For, maybe, hours,

To slow down

Even your breathing.

Hear no noise,

No gunshots or cop cars, militarizing your hood.

Then, you might be able to begin.

Slowing down,

Even your breathing,

Calming down from all the fear and rage

Of seeing your people killed again and again.

Once you’ve slowed down enough,

You’ll hear the trees murmur

In the breeze.

Whisper secrets to you,

Let you think about other things —

Other than the fact that you might lose health insurance,

Because tax breaks to the rich is more important than health care for the rest of us.

The murmuring —

It will give you the space you thought you didn’t have

To think about other things

Like differentiating bird song,

Or marking the progress of one determined ant,

Or if you’re lucky, feel the grass grow.

Feel it pushing out of the earth,

Underneath your hand.


In the meantime,

The trees murmur

In the breeze

Whispering,  whispering to you…

Well, you forgot.

But you know it was important,

Because you feel the secret from the tree,

As you return, fierce-eyed, to the battle for your people.



By Melanie Dulfo

Written 2017.07.22




Of Things Past, Feelings Now

26 Jun


We sat on your stoop
On a summer night,
Drinking hard root beer with a scoop of ice cream
And watching airplanes, as moving lights, leave from JFK.

Your house sits on a hill
And the landscape slopes gently down
And in the distance are the tiny markers
Of a city crowded.

In the distance, fireworks erupt
Like flowers on a bed of night.
You played that weird, but good, chill jazz hiphop,
And we talked about:

Things past, feelings now,
A friend who asked you what made you pop the question,
And how do mothers who fight in the people’s armies
Take care of their children?


Just earlier, when we ate dinner
At the barbecue pit, staffed entirely by people of color,
we talked with Lois, the manager, and the woman
Whose name we didn’t get,

About how they catered our wedding,
How it was cool that it was a laid-back wedding
Where everyone had so much fun
Dancing, and eating, and asking for rolls.

We had also reminisced. Things past, but feelings now.
You thanked me for searching for this place
After our first caterer doubled the amount.
You said you took it for granted back then.

The food at the BBQ joint remained amazing,
And you and I joked about eating at the chicken place
Right beside the BBQ joint, for a second dinner,
But we would settle for a hard root beer float.


And much earlier,
As we hung out at the beach,
At the end of the day,
When we could do little but take pictures and talk,

We talked about things past
The forum earlier that day, Iftar the night before
How fasting was really challenging,
and the racist patient you had.

I loved how the sky was blue,
The feel of the sand on my feet,
Though you wished it were warmer
On the beach, and sea gulls away from us.

We actually tried to swim.
But the water was too cold, the waves too big,
And we worried about rip tides.
So, we just splashed and played in the water.


Much earlier, you know,
You came home, from your 12 hour shift, and said,
“Here’s the car, do what you have to do.”
But I longed to stay with you in bed.

I got up, however, because duty called.
Repair relations with an ally, with a replacement bullhorn
Support the collective life, and ensure the safety of others
And go to the summit for workers.

Throughout, because of the hot summer morning,
I was struck with homesickness for the Philippines
Throughout, as we talked about the conditions
Of legalized slavery for more profit of the few,

And as I had an informal chat on legalized modern slavery
With the staff of the church, as I worked on a white paper
For conditions of massage parlor workers,
I felt how things past had filled us to the brim.

Of feelings now. Feelings now.
Of anger, and grief at the deaths of our people
In Marawi, of Charleena, of Philando, of Nabra
Of those in Finsbury Park.

How all we can do is
Resist, rise, and come together
On days like this. And reassure one another
That with our action,

That T-visa will come for that worker,
That one day, Philando and Charleena will have justice,
That those like Nabra will not have to fear,
That our homes will not be bombed.

We live with a few perfect days
In an imperfect world, without justice.
We live still loving one another, because in the end,
This is what they cannot take away.

Our intense love for each other,
Wherever, whenever we are.
by Melanie Dulfo


18 May

Sometimes, all you need is the people
Sometimes, far away from the place of struggle
Living in the belly of the beast
You feel as if the struggle is no longer your story
No longer your narrative
But remember
That the struggle of the people
Of the poor
Of the masses
Is your story
Your own.
That no matter how hard it has gotten
No matter how disappointed you have been
Or how demoralized in the fight
The struggle is ever-present
And the people only wait,
Even as they continue the fight,
Continue to die,
In the wars that you never see,
And continue to fight the battles never heard,
Like Freddie Ligaw
Who died because he wanted to protect his people.
They only wait.
The people only wait.
Know that you are integral to the movement
And the movement is integral to you
To you feeling free
Feeling free from being dogged down
By a 9-5
That looks only to profit from you and your labor
Feeling trapped
By your student debt
Not being able to help your family survive
Not being able to start your own family
Not being able to ride the train
And be free from the sight of poverty
See how many
Have lost their homes
Their loves
And their lives
Lost in that gap
That gap between
Having and not having.
When all that is valued is profit.
When all that is valued are things
You become a thing.
The struggle is part of you.
Your everyday life
Is submerged in the struggle
Although you never see it
Although it seems far away
Because you being free
Isn’t cast by a ballot
But is bound up
In the liberation of your people.
Even if it is hard
Even if you are dog tired
Even if you feel like you are useless
Come and be part of the struggle
To feel free
All you need
Is the people.

Written for A Special Evening with Norma Capuyan
March 18, 2014

Kahit ang Ulan (Even the Rain)

9 Mar

Kahit ang ulan

Even the rain. 

Kahit ang ulan

Even the rain.

Nanakawin nila kahit ang ulan

They will steal even the rain.

Hindi ka ba natatakot?

Do you not fear

Na nanakawin nila kahit ang ulan?

That they will steal even the rain?

Mas higit pa sa pagnanakaw ni Juan ng apoy mula sa mga diyos

More than man stealing fire from the gods

Ninakaw ng mga diyos ang tubig mula sa bayan.

The gods have stolen water from the people.

Nilagyan nila ng mga bakod ang mga lawa

They put fences around the lakes

At ang mga ilog

And the rivers

At sinabi nila na wala tayong karapatang uminom mula sa mga ilog at lawa na ito.

And said that it was not ours to drink from.

Kaya’t inantay natin ang ulan

We waited for the rain

At nilabas ang ating mga dila

And held out our tongues

Uhaw at tigang

Parched and thirsty.

Tinutukan nila ng mga balisong ating mga leeg

And they held a knife to our throats

Pinagbawalan tayong uminom

And told us not to drink.

At sa huli

That in the end,

Nilagyan nila ng buwis ang tubig

The water was taxed.

At sa huli

In the end,

Kahit ang ulan

Even the rain

Kahit ang ulan

Even the rain

Ay ninakaw

Was stolen.

Tantohin mong kahit nagdala ka ng armas o hindi upang lumaban

And know that whether you had taken up arms or not.

Nanakawin nila ang lahat

They will steal everything from you

Kahit ang ulan

Even the rain.

Kaya sinasabi namin sa inyo:

So we say to you:

Magdala ka ng armas

Take up arms

At lumaban ka

And fight.

Magdala ka ng armas

Take up arms,

At iyong mga bala

With your bullets,

Na gawa mula sa boses ninyo

Made of your voice,

Na gawa mula sa kamao ninyo

Made of your fists.

Magdala ka ng armas

Take up arms,

Dahil nanakawin nila

Because they will steal

Kahit ang ulan

Even the rain.



Strappy, Strappy

30 Oct

As if I had known you
As if
There had been no time
That I did not know your story
Or the way you
shone in the sun
Or the way you
gleamed in yellow street lamps

This must be
How it feels
To want to tear it
From your skin
To want to rip out
The want.
The wanting.
Even if it remains
The way
That your scent
Only known
In the huddle
For heat

Because you know
That this is inevitable
The endless
Of eager feet
Flying to
Your side
Of flying to your side

Counting down
On every stop
The time
Could stop
While I came
And closer
Then wishing
Time could stop
Or the night
Did not end
Or the sunrise
Did not come

Even if the sunrise
Had no face;
No mouth
With which
To say
It stopped us,

And so
I wonder
How will this grow?
Will it
Safely remain
Diffuse into the ether?
A scent,
No. Not even.
Merely a whisper
Of something
Called want.

Or will it
Make itself known?
Over and over again,
And calling
To my blood,
And thighs.
And red,

Tell me.
Tell me.
Tell me.


Real Indiana, or All the Things I Saw Today

26 Jul

Indiana Jones was the coolest person I knew when I was ten years old.

Hat, whip , and all,

Climbing mountains,

Swimming in rivers and seas,

Saving damsels-in-distress.

And in general, being an all-around-bad-ass


Indiana Jones was the coolest person I knew when I was ten years old.

Fear of snakes and all.

And while all the survival TV shows

Of manly men dropped in deserts, arctic wastelands and rainforests

Could be, sometimes, just as cool,

They just couldn’t beat out good, old Indie.


Now, while Indiana Jones was the coolest when I was ten,

The coolest I know at almost-thirty

Is one of the F15,

Gwiyomi-dance and all;

And one-half of Doi Nomazi

Red Bull energy drink and all.


See, the best thing from Indiana Jones

That I learned at the age of ten,

Was that I can scale mountains.

I can take on 14-foot waves.

Me, in my little boat,

Off the coast of Florida.


And this is the best thing you can learn when you’re ten.

Because when 25 people, the richest in your country,

Have the same amount of money as equal to the total money

Of billions of people in the same country,

You need to believe

That you can scale mountains

And swim against tidal waves.


If you live in a time when

Every 3 hours, a Filipino gets HIV,

Well, you need to believe

That you have strength, courage, and tenacity.

That you can reach the top

While working on the rockface in front of you.


If you see a picture of an elderly woman from your town.

Unable to work,

Living in a shanty,

And just asking for a fistful of rice

“Usa ka kumkom bugas “

You have to believe that you can scale mountains.


The best thing I learned at nearly thirty is this:

I can beat the bad guys.

I can make them quake in their boots

Simply, simply

By standing up and telling my tale.

Just that.  Stand and share.


Share this:

“I am a mother and a daughter.

And I decided to work overseas,

Going to far-away places, like Dubai

Separated from my son

Because I wanted to give him a better life.

And when I got to the Land of the Free


“I was trafficked.

In Tagalog, ‘niloko kami ng agency namin,

Hindi pinasahod ng ayos o tama, nawalan ng visa,’

No jobs, no papers.  As promised in the contract.

Even though I paid so much to get here.  Legally, too.

And the company had been endorsed by the government.


People’s families in hospitals.

And there was still nothing.

Nothing from employer.

And so I decided enough was enough.

And I, together with my comrades,

Stood up and said we would fight.”


Now, say this:

“I will fight.

I will continue to fight.  Tuloy ang Laban.

Because I can scale the highest mountains.

I can swim in the deepest seas

I am the real Indiana.”


Do not ever forget:

You and I can

Scale high mountains.

Swim deep seas.

We can.

For we are powerful.



23 Jan

I wonder why they say heartfelt.
Such a tame word.
When a more proper word would be visceral.
Really the deepest emotions are raw.
Coming from the viscera.
From your guts.
Whether it’s love or anger or anguish.
Is when you
See a sad movie.
Is when you
See Ondoy or Sendong
Unfold before your eyes.
Is when you yell
At your sister
Over unauthorized borrowing of your things.
Is when you realize
That floods happen
Because they profited from your trees and your gold
And stole your people’s lives.
Is when you are moved
To help someone stand up when they trip.
Is when you are moved
To stand up and speak about yout know is just and right and fair.
Heartfelt does not compare to visceral.
Heartfelt is Hollywood.
But visceral is real life.
And this here, you and I,
What we feel is visceral
Raw love
And anger
A feeling that you do not have to think about.
That will have you on your feet
Even before you think.
A feeling that moves your body.
A feeling that crosses
An ocean
Back to our homeland
A home lost
Because we had no jobs
And we were forced to migrate
A feeling
That our people feel in the homeland
As if we and our people back home
Were twins in the womb
Feeling one and the same.
Like, we were
Like water
Indivisible from one another.
Keep this feeling
You, the youth
Whose blood and fire cannot be quenched
And we, the people.
Whose rise cannot be stopped
Will not only recover the road, our road
But our land
As well as our home
And our hearts.

Performed for Road to Recovery, November 2011

I Could Love You Like The Sea

21 Sep

I could love you like the sea.

As mysterious

As wide,

As deep,

As vibrant,

As passionate

As the sea.


I could love you like the sea


That snakes as rivers,


And bubbling brooks do

Into land, mountain, and jungle.


I could love you like the sea

That is closest to the sky

In the water

That falls up

And comes down

In vapor and cloud


I could love you as the sea

That cradles your adventure,

Your myths,

Your tragedy,

Your stories.


I could love you like the sea

Where I am born and

Where I die,

Rhythmic and circular

Full and self-contained

As complete as life

More so than the scorched stars in heaven.


I could love you like the sea.

And even if they lay claim upon it.

Put borders on what could have no borders.

The sea

Is something they could never hope to control.

It rises against them

And seeks to be free.

And they will see,

That tsunamis and storms

Will sink even their guns

And it will defy and outlive



I will love you like the sea.


Written on September 21, 2012

From the books of “To Felipe Asuncion”

Volume 2

Story of Us

19 Jun

4,000 Filipinos leave the 7,100 islands of the Philippines everyday.
From streets that you know like the back of your hand,
From a history that you know so well because you live it,
From the words that you understand, curses, jokes that need no explaining
Because you have a place in this space and time,
To suddenly being wrenched away,
To airplane interiors dark with sleep,
To gray skies half the year,
To silent, suburban neighborhoods,
To subways full of strangers.

And one day, you see a face like yours, that might have ridden the same jeepney as you did,
And you blurt out your hello in Tagalog.
And of course, it runs like a movie:
He stares at you in a funny manner, and says, almost rudely that he does not speak Tagalog.
And that is that.

2,160 hours later on a bright autumn day,
You enter a room in your college and who was the only person there,
But him.
And you speak to him in English —
Because he does not speak Tagalog, mind that he’s American-born —
And he’s not a rude guy after all.

After some more time,
Specifically, 2,160 hours more.
Of casual acquaintanceship, of being each other’s people-you-know-from-college, of dinners on the fly, of careless hugs and easy affection,
One day, you sit on the arm of the chair he occupies,
And he snakes an arm around you
To keep you from falling
And you feel…
That the silent streets are no longer lonely
Nor the subways so full of strangers.
That life is not so gray
In fact, you feel that it could have been a movie:

Slow motion, heartbeat as an isolated soundtrack
And pupils dilated,
It’s something you might want to stay and watch.
Stay and watch
As you both move to the couch,
As he draws you against his chest,
As you lean your head back on his shoulder,
As he puts his arms around you,
As you weave your fingers through his.
As he lightly kisses the corner of your lips,
As you turn,
As he kisses you,
And all of this,
In a room full of people,
Everyone speeding up as your world and his slow down.
Without speaking one word.
English or Tagalog.

4,000 Filipinos leave the 7,100 islands of the Philippines everyday.
It is a movement of people that carried
The heart and soul of your people
That carried the movement along with it.
Your love story
Is embedded in the story of the movement
Of the people whose hearts and minds have been in diaspora.
You become familiar with new streets, new histories, new words
Because you, your mother and father, your grandmothers and grandfathers
Had no land, no jobs
Nothing but the history of struggle that is the soul of why we are Filipino.
You are a migrant
He is a child of migrants.

Yes, your love story is embedded in the story of the people,
Of the movement.
Because 17,520 hours later
You, torn from your homeland,
Found faces that could have ridden the same jeepney as you did back home.
And you found the people, you found the movement.
Because 4,000 Filipinos everyday bring with them
The movement.
And you feel…
As if you have returned to streets you know
As if you understand the words and need no more explanations,
That you found your place.
It could have been a movie:

The rain starting to pour,
Faces up to the sky,
Placard held high
Your umbrellas abandoned
In unison.
In Spanish.
In English.
In Tagalog.
Feeling your heart
Boom against your chest.
Keeping rhythm
With the hearts of hundreds of thousands.
Your voice no longer just your own
When joined to the voices
Of the many
No longer feeling alone
In time or space

Yes, your love story is embedded in the people.
Although he didn’t see it this way, at first.
Child of migrants
Who thought he had no place
In the national liberation struggle
Of your homeland.
It took 17,520 more hours
Before he found that place in the struggle
Like a love that he found
When he was without you,
When you had gone to the homeland.
And its rather like a movie:

A march of 5,000,
10,000 feet pounding the ground,
From pavement to pavement filled,
Spirits soaring,
And hearts hard to contain,
And you lift up your flags,
That flutter against a background
Of bright, blue sky,
Audacious and courageous,
You yell, answering and calling out to one another
In English,
In Tagalog,
You chant, answering and calling out to one another
So that 4000 Filipinos everyday
Could see their families again
So that 7,100 islands will be free,
You turn your head,
Heart beating
And you see him,
Marching beside you,
And you weave your fingers
Through his.
And you both move forward.

*Written June 1-15, 2012

Silence is also Violence

17 Mar

This must be what it feels liks.

When a car crash happens in front of you

Or someone gets shot right before your eyes.

Disbelief, at first.

Your mind completely blank,

Unable to comprehend that you saw what you just saw

Or more than that,

That you had been unable to do anything

To prevent it

And you felt completely and utterly


What happened this morning may not have been on a scale

Of a car crash or a murder.

It was simply this:

A crowded train,

A sister jostling someone by accident,

And the brother, an older gent, suddenly turning.

Kicking her in the shin,

And saying, “‘Scuse you.”


It may not have been on the same scale,

But as I locked eyes with the sister,

Both of us shocked,

It felt like

Scale or magnitude did not matter.

Because both of us, unable to say anything…

Felt complicit.

I felt complicit in violence.

(Even knowing that there may have been

Extenuating circumstances

Such as mental health disorder,

Poverty,  stress, emasculated manhood,  someone else dissing him).


The silence.

My inability to say–no, my choosing not to say,

“Sir, there was no need to kick her.”

Or even to ask the sister, “Are you okay?”



Like I had no courage to stand against the violence

Done against women of color,

Throughout the ages.

But you know,

Let’s even take it out of that:

Man, woman, privileged class, low-income.

I just felt complicit

In violence.


I am accountable to my silence.

Whether it’s standing by when a woman

Gets kicked in the shin.

Or saying nothing

When someone laughs and says, “That’s so gay,”

Or keeping silent

When U.S. military intervention comes to Libya.

Well, maybe it’s true that this is

Not that serious.

But I just want to throw it out:

To the brother, who kicked a lady in the train:

“Sir, there was no need to kick her,”

And to the sister who was walking though a packed train

And got kicked out of the blue:

“Are you okay?”