Orange

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She turned to me and asked, “And how do you spell orange?” A smirk played on her lips. That and the cheap lipstick she just bought from the pharmacy.

I wanted to tell her that orange is what happens when the sun of her smile kisses the sea of her lips. That orange is a flower blooming on her perfect mouth. I wanted to tell her that orange is the fruit Eve tempted Adam with and of which he happily partook. I wanted to tell her that orange was what I wanted.

But the truth was I wanted more.

“What do you think?” she asked again.

I went to her and pressed a thumb lightly on the corner of her lips. Orange rubbed off on my finger and I sucked on it, running my tongue over the color, looking for the faint trace of her taste. I wanted to drown her in my poetry and shower her with complicated words which will never explain half of what I feel. I wanted to breathe my literature into her mouth when she finally gasps for explanations. I wanted her to die with her last breath in my lungs. I wanted her more than anyone or anything in the world.

But the truth was I wanted more.

“You look pretty,” I said.

She looked pleased as she held a palm to my cheek, her eyes examining my face intently. “But I’m still not as pretty as you.”

Dreams of Red Beijing

They’re memories, lilies in a stagnant mind
Feet weren’t stepped but left prints
Ripples in the air perfumed with sweat and the scent
Of dimsum

Red Beijing, with women raven-haired
Shy eyes setting over ocean smiles
Their skin salmon pink or blue
Red Beijing, as in movies, touching
Is loving or fucking

Cigarettes as lanterns burning bright in starving mouths
Red Beijing as red lips seeking warmth
Women raven-haired and softly shedding
In some far away country that never was
Alive as ghosts in a dreaming mind

On Smoking

The first time I smoked, I was in Los Banos, partying with college friends. I was 22 and felt like I was no longer doing anything new with my life, and I wanted new, I craved new. So I went to the biggest, baddest smoker in the group and asked to be taught.

That night, I had seven cigarettes.

The habit didn’t kick in until a month later. I was living alone in a room for rent that smelled of cat piss, overlooking the damp, gray city that was QC. With melancholia seeping through my brain, and with loose change in my pocket to burn, of course I found myself knocking at the window of the nearby sari-sari store. It was sixty pesos for a pack of Marlboro blue.

And for the first time ever, all alone, I lit one up.

And I puffed.

And blew.

And puffed.

The smoke was icy air going down my lungs.

I blew.

I held the cigarette between my stubby fingers the way any 1950s femme fatale film character would. I was not wearing makeup but I had red lips and a cat eye. I was not trim, but goddamnit, I was gorgeous.

Today, some 20 months later after I lit my first one, I am tentative about quitting smoking. For a few days now, I’ve been having difficulty breathing and the doctor had already asked me to get an ECG and a chest x-ray. It’s a bitch to be sure, not being able to breathe and all that, but I am hesitant about drawing the line between my pack of Marlboro blue and me because I don’t want to give up something that made me feel—

Beautiful.

I remember creating a character who talked about why actors smoked in scenes during dialogues in movies. I got the idea from a professor in playwriting back in college, who hated characters who smoked. I gave the script to a friend and he said it reminded him of Ayn Rand, whose female characters all smoked because it was empowering.

Empowering.

Fashionable.

Those were the words he used.

Pair that with the stereotypical image of the Western European artist, with deep-set eyes, full lips, and a cigarette between his bony fingers. It must be my fault for watching too many French films, that I’ve held in high romance for so long the image of the smoke-inhaling, crisis-plagued, self-destructive, madly creative and yet constantly misunderstood artist. But in my mind, it was everything I wanted to be.

I want to be.

I want to look.

Feel.

Like art.

Hey there, gorgeous.

Unhappy pretty girls with languid eyes
lusting behind long lashes, their lips stained
with purple and smoke, last night’s kisses
and vodka. Unhappy pretty girls, in love
with both men and women, longing
for the same brand of misery.

They sit in bars gleaming with glass goblets
of gin and tonic, breathing in the gaiety
of strangers in the dark, lives ungraspable
after a distance of two feet. Unhappy

pretty girls who will never
grow flowers in their lungs despite a protest
of menthol cigarettes. The night

turns weary of your sorrow.
The dawn is sick of your solitude.
Morning shies from your breath of coffee.

But you’re a beautiful mess, aren’t you?