Pacification, 1901

On Immaculate Conception Day
just in time to ruin Christmas
came the order to move
to “zones of protection”
– a disingenuous phrase.

You asked us to fetch petrol, then
doused our homes and burned them down.
Our paper faroles, already hanging,
quickly flared amid the flames.
Our desecrated memories
the color of ash.

Near the concentration camp
a blister on my heel burst open
and for a moment the pain was gone
but a minute later, excruciating hurt
even worse than before, as with each step
my shoes rubbed raw the broken surface.

The crowding was an abomination –
30,000 where only 3000 should have been.
We were packed together so close
in our living spaces that I could count
the goose bumps on my neighbor’s skin
when he took ill with fever and chills,
his pallet drenched
with a sick-smelling sweat.

Within six months the parish burial records
in Batangas and Lipa more than doubled
from the camps, where cholera and measles
festered. Everyone had diarrhea, and if
we weren’t vomiting from disease
we were throwing up from the stench

and filth in which we lived.
How I longed for clean water
to wash with and drink.
I would have asked for a jug
if I could have been sure
you wouldn’t, out of habit,
hold me down at each extremity
to force the water down my throat.


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 DewdropFOLIOLucky JeffersonHeartWoodThe Good Life ReviewSmartish Pace, and others.


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