Roda Tajon translated by Kristine Ong Muslim


Translated from the Filipino

Your callused palms have been thickened by sap
from encrusted tobacco. This mortifies you
when shaking hands, even when extending
a hand, the roughness and spasmodic twitches
from daylong contact
of the arms, the body
to harsh heat and sudden rain.

You are not yet sixty, to my knowledge
you are only fiftyish
but already lined with sorrow:
your face,
much like your children who in their youth
have been wizened to old age by the continued hoarseness
of having to beg for morsels.

It would have been nice if the callused pads of your palms
were as thick as the pocket of your old shirt—
you would rather work yourself to the bone all day
as long as a festive bounty lines the kuribot
and pasagad of your husband.

The forced smile cannot hide
the bleak outlook. Groaning
is the stomach that twists
from the prospect of backbreaking
labor and monumental
effort in exchange
for a few coins.
Roda sits on a dark wooden bench, facing forward. Roda has dark hair pulled back, and light brown skin. Roda wears a beige or khaki long-sleeved shirt, and a scarf in reds and browns. Roda sits beneath several framed images, and with glass display cases to the right and left, containing small, dark statuettes and other objects. The framed images above included, nearest Roda, a two page spread or set of rectangles side by side, longer vertically, each with a round red shape at the center; nearest the top of the image, on a field oxblood, a brown charge bordered black, with a small dot of black within from the border in the top right and left, and bottom right (sinister) corners, and a round dot white within from the border in the bottom left (dexter) corner. At the center of the image, an ornate design of concentric motifs, first oblong red shapes with black outline and azure interruptions; next, a ring of white dots; next, a ring of pale blue shapes, next, a round white dot, at the center of which, a red shape. Offset to top center of the design, a round black dot with orange border, flanked above by two blue trapezoidal shapes.

Roda Tajon works for a non-governmental organization that advocates for indigenous peoples’ rights. She currently lives in Ilocos Sur and Quezon City. 

Kristine stands outdoors, facing forward, with foliage behind. Kristine has long dark hair, and light skin. Kristine wears a scoop-necked, sleeveless shirt of a grey or beige color.

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of nine books of fiction and poetry, including The Drone Outside (Eibonvale Press, 2017), Black Arcadia (University of the Philippines Press, 2017), Meditations of a Beast (Cornerstone Press, 2016), Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016), and Lifeboat (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015). She is also the translator of several bilingual volumes: Marlon Hacla’s Melismas (forthcoming from Oomph Press) and There Are Angels Walking the Fields (forthcoming from Broken Sleep Books), as well as Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles’s Three Books (forthcoming from Broken Sleep Books), Hollow (forthcoming from Fernwood Press), Twelve Clay Birds: Selected Poems (forthcoming from De La Salle University Publishing House), and Walang Halong Biro (De La Salle University Publishing House, 2018). Widely anthologized, Muslim’s short stories have appeared in Conjunctions, Dazed Digital, Tin House,and World Literature Today. She grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines.