Two Poems

Poetry / R.A. Villanueva

Balikbayan

Name a brother’s son Pterodactyl, hold
him to the sky and watch the boy compare
your face to his father’s—shape of the eyes,
folds of a mouth. When he brings his forehead
to meet yours, see the mark, there, a soft red
same as the bruise between your brother’s eyes
(gone now) left by a fastball to his face
that summer on the front lawn. You told Dad

it was nothing and hoped he’d miss the seams,
the blood just below the skin. Years ago,
in Batangas, Grandpa wanted to see
the ocean, so you cut his hair, took him
to the coast, and sat him on the sand. You
spoke of salt and home; he practiced your names.

The Anatomy Lesson

Copenhagen Zoo, 9 February 2014

The children circle Marius,
watch as his hide is peeled back from
around his forelegs, watch haunches
and neck opened to expose bone.

His keeper speaks of rifles, wild
dogs’ jaws, and acacia thorns, points:
Those tigers care only for blood;
these hyenas only for rot.

A boy plays with his spit. Somewhere,
a truck hauling garlic erupts
into a bus; a mother’s heart
fills with water; an armistice

falls dead. And what of mercy? Harm
is the norm. The doom should not jam.

R.A. Villanueva’s debut collection of poetry, Reliquaria, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize (U. Nebraska Press, 2014). New writing appears in Poetry, Guernica, The American Poetry Review, Prac Crit, and widely elsewhere. His honors include a commendation from the 2016 Forward Prizes, the inaugural Ninth Letter Literary Award, and fellowships from Kundiman, the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, and the Asian American Literary Review. A founding editor of Tongue: A Journal of Writing & Art, he lives in Brooklyn.