I said to my son on our ascent,
the volcano is extinct –
we need no longer fear it.
Immediately he felt at ease.
He had faith in his mother’s word.
He trusted me to keep him safe.
We walked in the path of Allah,
and for that moment, the path
was an uphill climb.
We scaled the heart-crushing slope,
sometimes crawling on our bellies
to press against the steep angle.
I had to pause many times
to catch my breath.
In the crater our crops thrived –
potatoes and rice, nourished by spring water.
We greeted each green growing thing
with the same joy we shared
with newcomers from Jolo.
We were only a few hundred
in the beginning, but by the end
we were a thousand,
our very own barangay
in the bowl of a dead volcano,
turning ourselves five times a day
toward the sunset ridge to say our prayers.
All of us, women and men alike,
were ready to fight and die for our faith.
We had large knives, short swords, spears,
and a few rifles. But our tiny cannons,
almost like toys on the crater’s edge,
were no match for the shelling that began.
The booming and shaking scared us as much
as a lava explosion, and our children began
to cry. I wished I could hold my six-year-old
in my lap, feel his heart like a hummingbird
against my chest, and tell him everything
would be all right.
But how could it have been,
when we were inside a crater,
and you fired at us from the rim?
You who had called us,
when your grand project started,
your little brown brothers. We all know
what happens to your little brown brothers.
Look at Wounded Knee. Look at Samar,
where your General Smith said
the more you kill and burn
the better it will please me.
We had already heard from the north
of your occupation, concentration camps,
water-torture, genocide, the order
to kill everyone over ten.
Predictably, that day in Bud Dajo,
when we were screaming inside
the crater and you were a battalion
of bayonets through and through us,
only six of us survived.
In a photograph of you
standing over our corpses,
– a woman’s exposed breast,
perhaps mine, in the center –
your faces are hard to read.
The image is too grainy and old
to show the stark contrast
between a troop of white men,
hands on hips, and a ditch of brown
Muslims, five layers of bodies deep,
your little brown brothers and sisters
in a crater we had made our home,
shot for refusing to submit to you.
My son was only six. I can’t
find him in the picture.
Cristina Legarda was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to Bethesda, Maryland. She is now a practicing physician in Boston. Her work has appeared in America magazine, The Dewdrop, FOLIO, Lucky Jefferson, HeartWood, The Good Life Review, Smartish Pace, and others.