I’m haunted by scenes I’ve taught myself not to see.
Feelings I deny follow me.
I do not turn to face them.
I walk on.
I call my refusal of witness self-rescue.
I say I must preserve my own interior.
But why do I deserve protection?
In the darkness of a sleep I am not owed, disturbances gash my unconscious.
Sudden lights through a thick canopy, sharpening into commands.
THE DISTRESS OF THE WITNESS MUST TRANSFORM INTO DUTY
WE MUST TAKE ACCOUNT OF WHAT WE OWE THE WOUNDED, THE DESTROYED
THE BODIES ON BEHALF OF WHOM OUR FAILURE WAS TOTAL
but when I look behind me—
the naked fear and pain on the boy’s face
the blood that streamed from his eyes
the pale indentation of the handcuffs
they never used
the rusted paint can
the coroner used
for another boy’s head
the dazed exhaustion of the survivors
as if a next-to-their-ears explosion
had deafened and confused them forever—
the makeup artist for the dead
he said he’d grown accustomed
to the exploded faces,
the blown-out backs of heads
—here. The obvious:
to witness death is not the same as dying.
And yet I can hardly look.
The questions cut me.
HOW TO DISCERN MY DUTIES?
HOW TO HELP THE LIVING KNOW THEIR OWN?
the wounds that
are not ours
and yet are only
the only animals
on the basis
sometimes I wish we were stripped
of our capacity for story
the way I wish we were stripped
of our weapons
a silent god—
give me a use
for these wishes
This morning I woke to another island’s peace.
Birds I don’t know the name of sang, summoning the day’s rising heat.
I tried to summon gratitude.
For too long I have believed gratitude alone might redeem me.
A reverence for ancestors—
A faith in the inevitability of goodness—
I want to throw my voice across the ocean.
Give it to someone else.
I stand barefoot on tile, waiting for hot water.
Still I fill with prayer, as I did once, when I was a child—
O bodies undone,
O you whose pain and death
we did not prevent,
we should have fought
to keep you here
we failed to answer
your final prayers
from now on
may we name and face
may we keep
to witness you
may we one day build
we denied you—
before we join you
before we join you
before we join you—
Laurel Flores Fantauzzo is the author of The First Impulse, which was shortlisted for the 2018 Philippine National Book Award. Her writing has appeared in World Literature Today, the Mekong Review, the New York Times, and CNN Philippines. She currently teaches at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
Roberto Jamora was awarded a 2018 Artist Community Engagement Grant from the Rema Hort Mann Foundation for his project “An Inventory of Traces,” a series of abstract paintings inspired by the stories of immigrants in NYC. He has participated in artist residencies at Joan Mitchell Center, Ragdale, and Sambalikhaan. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans, Topaz Arts, Page Bond Gallery, ADA Gallery, JuiceBox Art Space, Norte Maar, Shockoe Artspace, Good Enough Projects, Quality Gallery, Scott Charmin Gallery, Fouladi Projects, The Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, Open Space, Outlet Fine Art, and ArtHelix.