Maria Isabelle Carlos

she would sing, the last syllable sashaying
from her mouth, and I thought it meant
“auction”: that epic yard sale where we’d hear
a sharp-tongued man’s nasally voice drumming
through the speakers as we approached,
turned into a gravel parking lot the size
of a football field. We’d enter the warehouse
and I’d beeline for the concession stand
where all the old ladies knew my name,
traded a can of Diet Coke and a fudge bar
for my fistful of quarters. We’d pace the aisles
between long tables weighed down with dusty
porcelain dolls, antique clocks with gilded faces,
accordion cameras, dull kitchen knives taped
into the slits of their faux-wood blocks.
I’d sit on every plastic-covered couch pushed
flush against the walls, climb wooden doors
stacked like decks of cards, my mouth rimmed
with sugar, fingers leaving sticky chocolate prints.
Decades later, I learned the root word:
pasyal, to walk, as in my mother’s slow stroll
through aisles of storage-room junk and squeaky
bicycles; as in, her steady tread with hands
clasped behind the low canyon of her back,
shoulders hunched forward as she’d drag
her gaze from the rotary dial on a telephone
to a pocketknife collection, pausing to sip
her Diet Coke while lifting an object and turning
it at eye-level, inspecting every angle; as in,
her leaving me alone to roam among strangers
while I imagined past lives for everything
anyone touched: a lifetime of dinners on a chipped
China set, an electric sewing machine with
a block pedal, its ridges worn smooth by
the house slipper of someone else’s mother.

Suppose the Aswang

Maria Isabelle Carlos

If a woman. If a lovely, lonely woman living
on the outskirts of the village. If a mother. If your
neighbor. If a healer. If muted and inscrutable
in the way she regards. If black irises bearing
your inverted image. If bloodshot. If shy. If
the babaylan’s hintura oil trembles in its glass vial.
If soundless in movement. If a sound like a stuttered

tik-tik in the trees—the further it seems to shake
through the leaves, then the nearer she is.

One hand petal-bent around the cucumber, Ma carves
a white-bellied snake, a two-toned ribbon; cuts coins
into a bowl of vinegar, dusts with salt. Moisture
pearls on the flesh. Eat, she says. Lifts a limp peel
to her mouth. It hangs between her lips like a tongue.

Maria Isabelle Carlos headshot

Maria Isabelle Carlos is a writer from Missouri. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Tin House Online, Hyphen Magazine, and elsewhere, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and Best of the Net. She is the winner of the 2020 Penelope Niven Creative Nonfiction Award and received Honorable Mention for the Rita Dove Poetry Award from the Center for Women Writers. She earned her B.A. in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the Thomas Wolfe Scholar, and is currently an M.F.A. candidate in poetry at Vanderbilt University. She is the editor of Inch, a quarterly series of micro-chapbooks from Bull City Press, and resides in Nashville, Tennessee.