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Tamarind

Tamarind

By Patrick Rosal

This morning, my cousin Joseph and I both stink
from drinking too much the night before,
pumping into a karaoke machine enough coins
to make wages for one family’s
week and a half of work. In this country,
you don’t have to walk too far or listen too hard
to hear such miserable hymns. Ten years
out of jail, Joseph has hands like twisted copper.
He can go weeks without a razor to his face,
tells me he half embraced the man he killed
by cudgel during a drunken scuffle.
Today, it’s our job to fill a couple buckets
with a few kilos of sour fruit we’ll soak in vinegar,
a remedy, our uncles teach us,
to douse the thousand rum-sick
monkeys howling between our ears. Lucky,
it’s October, when one good rain can detonate,
from the smallest sprigs of the oldest tree
on my uncle’s farm, hundreds of swelled-up
tamarinds overnight, and those limbs,
weighed down, will sag so low their tips
will graze our thighs, half a year’s worth of light
stewed until a whole tree’s acidic nectar
turns to a sticky, thick bounty of fat husks.
Even hung over, we can’t contain ourselves,
hoarding, with one hand, two and three tamarinds
at a time. Joseph is humming some version
of Sinatra when I drop my bucket to snatch
one fruit twice the bulk of a big man’s forefinger
bulging off its branch, but the pod (which I barely
pinch with three fingertips) bursts
to dusty fog and a couple brown flakes
clinging to the ruined fruit’s few limp veins.
What’s more, the busted husk has unfurled
a fine line of burgundy around my hand and wrist.
Turns out, a mass of ants has hollowed out
the tamarind and left its dry, fragile husk
intact, until I crushed it open and set loose a delicate
rivulet of dark red run up my trigger finger and thumb,
swarming now my wrist, splintering several swift paths
around my elbow, a thin sleeve of fire writhing
around my forearm. I stomp both feet hard
to shake the critters free. Joseph, by now, has lost his mind,
laughing, and I’ve lost all good sense too. I’m still brushing

the last dozen little beasts from my armpit
when Joseph takes my hands in his and claps them,
as if that could make them clean. Today, I’m grateful
to dance beneath a tamarind tree
beside a two-bit assassin instead of the woman I adore.
We will spill the tamarinds across a table
and our aunts and uncles will break from work
to join Joseph and me as we peel the fruit one by one,
lick the drippings from between our fingers. We taste
sap and salt in our own skin’s grit. We suck the fruits’
sour green pulp down to their smooth, ruby-hard pits,
these seeds in our mouths click against our teeth
before we spit them out and rattle them in our palms
—like so many muddy gems and so many bloody stones.

Biography

Patrick  Rosal

Patrick Rosal is the author of three full-length poetry collections. His latest book, Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive, was honored by the National Book Critics Circle and the Academy of American Poets. His collections have also been honored with the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, the Global Filipino Literary Award, and the Asian American Writers Workshop Members' Choice Award. His work has been published widely in journals and anthologies.

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