Karla Quimsing


Self-translated from Hiligaynon

I salute them high-nosed mestizas
who preach “Breastfeeding is best for babies.”

There’s this laundry woman I know 
Nanay Riza, she breastfed all her children.
She’s this tiny lady but hey, she’s so loud and funny.
When she starts hanging her husband’s briefs
she’d let out a guffaw showing her shiny empty gums.
You see, all her good teeth had fallen out
from feeding her calcium to eight malnourished tots.
Always she’d ask for a cash advance
because her equally toothless kids are unhealthy and sickly.

I have this second cousin named Diday
who left for Italy as soon as she turned 19.
She’s this quiet yet courageous kind of girl
who left home despite her family’s disapproval.
Imagine how shocked we were 
when suddenly she came back with a bulging belly. 
Well, everyone assumed she had just gotten so fat.
Three weeks after she gave birth to a blondie
she abandoned the child and flew back to Italy.
Because she needed to pay for her father’s new tricycle
also the supplies in her mother’s sari-sari store are running low
and her younger sister’s graduating from a private school.
You see, if she stayed and breastfed the little blondie
what would become of her and her family?

There was this disturbing news on TV 
about a fourteen-year-old girl
who stabbed her two-year-old son 
14 times with a pair of scissors.
You see, her parents disowned her
then she was expelled from her convent school
so she moved in with her junkie boyfriend
and after giving birth, his Pops and Uncle
came down on her as well.
One afternoon, while breastfeeding her son
the little rascal bit her nipple.
She said everything went dark.
She said she couldn’t remember,
She couldn’t see one flash of memory.

So yes, I salute them high-nosed mestizas
who make breastfeeding fashionable
smiling and sitting on a comfortable rocking chair
with a clean burp cloth on the shoulder.
You see, this is just an illusion for some mothers.



Self-translated from Hiligaynon

After nine months
of nourishing and carrying
a life in my belly (while I was working)
the Philippine Government
will give me compensation
(meaning time and money)
to stay at home and care
for myself and my newborn baby. 

If I have a normal delivery,
I will be compensated
for two months or sixty days.
A normal delivery means I go through
birthing labor for hours or even days
and wait until my cervix opens into a diameter
that will allow a small head to slide through.
In the process the doctor will have to 
cut a few inches of my vagina.
It will be stitched back.
Normally, no anesthetic is given. 

If I have a caesarean section,
I will be compensated for 
three months or 78 days.
A c-section means that I would need 
a surgical operation to cut me open 
so the infant comes out of the womb alive.
Surely, there would be anesthetic drugs. 
I am expected to be bedridden for a week. 
The wound of the six-inch abdominal incision 
will take about (more or less) a month to heal.

If we calculate the tax deductions 
from my salary in the past years that I’ve been
working as “single with no dependents”
this benefit looks like peanuts.

During these two or three months 
my stitched vagina or belly
will be throbbing in pain.
But that will not stop me from dancing
and cradling my baby in my arms.
My breasts will swell and grow heavy.
My hair will fall and thin out.
It would hurt to sit.
It would also hurt to stand.
The baby will always get hungry
will cry every hour
and will suck on my breasts
even if my milk is not enough.
Both my nipples will be sore.
But the baby will keep crying for more milk
even if it’s past midnight,
even if I’m dead tired and sleepy,
even if I need to take a piss,
even if I’m not done with my lunch yet,
even if I badly need some rest
because my body is exhausted.

Two or three months
is just the decent time I need
to learn and understand pain
and how much of it I can tolerate.
By then, I would be in good shape
to get back to work
and leave my baby.



Self-translated from Hiligaynon

Tonight, like last night,
while you sleep
I searched for the scent of milk
on your neck and armpits,
at the back of your ear
between your fat fingers
and your curled little toes.
It is still there.
That warmth, too
when you crawled
out of my womb 
then up to my chest
both of us were crying
until you locked your lips
on my breast and you
fell asleep.



Self-translated from Hiligaynon

The time will come
when I, who birthed
and breastfed you,
stayed wide awake on midnights
to sing and rock you gently to sleep
and pointed that your heart 
is a fist in your chest
will morph into a villain
before your eyes.
Then, you and I 
will always argue about
curfew,  school grades,
and your kind of music,
among other things.
But I won’t worry about that now
on your second May
while this world is still mine
to show to you and the wind
still sings the language I know.
You and I will run
and welcome this pouring rain
with our screams,
jumps, dance, and

These poems originally appeared on Karla Quimsing’s website.


Karla Quimsing is from Iloilo City, Philippines. She has three books: Pansit Poetry (a multilingual poetry book); Tingog Nanay (an anthology of motherhood stories that she edited); and ISLA (a poetry chapbook written in Hiligaynon, her mother tongue). Quimsing writes in English, Hiligaynon, Filipino, and Binisaya. She currently lives in Paris with her family.