Utang Na Loob


Virgie lays the plucked
carcass on the oaken
chopping board
so that its naked body
lies spread-eagled,
breast up and headless,
a decapitated infant
ready for dissection.

She slices the flesh,
widening the anus,
removing the loops
of intestines,
the odd lumpin ovaries
filled with unshelled eggs
of varying size.

She sets the ovum
in a bowl to the side.
To this strange cluster
she adds the kidneys,
which she rinses
in bleached water,
and the dark liver,
the darkest flesh there is.

The lungs and heart
come out in a bunch,
trailing the gizzard
like a knobbled tail.
All of these organs go
into the blue bowl,
save for the heart.

It is cold and pale,
in the way a reptile’s is,
though I know
the blood which
propelled it was warm
when it flowed.

It is an odd, flat thing,
shaped like a pressed rosebud
with a rime of yellow fat
around the light pink aorta.
Virgie hands it to me, saying
‘Do you know what this does?’

I have I have been palpating
the bowl full of ovum,
the subject
of our last lesson,

‘where baby chicks
come from.
They have no shells yet
so that the cocks
can add the seed.

People are different,
sometimes they can
have babies without men.
Your father put you inside
the womb of you mother,
and yet you are mine
as much as theirs.’

I have a strong desire
to put my flesh-mottled fingers
into my mouth.
Virgie slaps my hand, absently,
upsetting my balance.

My fat-yellow
skirt swirls at my knees,
my bare toes curl
around the lip of the stool.
‘Do you want to get sick?’

She presses the heart
into my fingers,
her wet brown hands
leave prints on my wrists.
I do not yet know
what the heart
can make happen.

Virgie makes me hold it
between finger and thumb,
she moves my hand
with her hand
so that the chambers flutter,
open and closed.

‘The heart is the engine
of the body,
it propels the blood
which carries the soul.
This is a weak heart,
so pale and flabby.
Your heart is stronger,
and much larger. It must be,
to carry your blood.

My heart is like yours,
but now mine is larger.
If a heart is weak
it will break and you will die.
Or die in part.

So keep it strong.
One day it will be as large
as mine, and capable
of powering through
a great many troubles.

Your father says to me
Utang Na Loob,
and he is half joking

in the way he jokes
when he calls your
sister Little Brown.
But this is something you have
which a chicken has not.
The debt of the heart.

Your heart beats now
because I feed it.
I and your parents
keep you alive.
When you are older,
you must repay this,
and the weight of our lives
will make you beautiful and strong.’

I can do it myself now.
I pump and pump
the chicken heart,
warming the weakness
with the heat of my hand.
It is almost alive.

Virgie takes it from me finally,
joining it to its brothers
in the full bowl.
She says, ‘It does not need
so much exercise now
that it is dead.
You do not want
to toughen the flesh.’

She bends forward
quickly, careful
not to brush her hands
on my cheeks.
She lays her kiss
upon my forehead.
I totter towards the sink
to wash the blood
from my fingers.


About Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope was named by the Huffington Post as ‘one of the five Expat poets to watch in 2016’. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described her latest collection as 'poetry as salvation'.....'This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.' Bethany has won many literary awards and published several collections of poetry. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in 2016. Her second novel, Ordinary Lives: The Ballad of John and Mary, was published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter @BethanyWPope

Posted on June 3, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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