The balete tree, from the genus Ficus from the Philippines.


My sister had one planted in a pot. It was for a school project in Home Economics. She planted a balete tree and it must stay alive for a good amount of time. The tree lived way past her first year in high-school, though we may have had that tree for longer. My mother replanted it in a huge pot so it had more room to grow. She put it against the red wall of the townhouse we rented and there it spread its orange-red roots. At night, I imagined in blazed like a fire with small electric thunder issuing from its oldest aerial roots. Electricity that hovered in the air, like the tiniest debris floating in the aftermath of a house fire. Electricity that transmuted into words in the air. I caught some and pretended I could make beautiful phrases. It had been the balete all along.

Its leaves look like tear-shaped emeralds. I keep an emerald ring my mother gave me, but it only reminds that I am a burden. Even overseas, where I have made a space for myself and tend to my needs, it is hard to not feel like a burden. Everyday tending to wounds that do not show.


At noon I watched steam rise from a kettle. Writing a book to lead me back to myself. I have a nickname for my child-self: Teapot. And I think about what Teapot liked, what she thought, and how she got out of any situation by talking through. Until she shrank and receded into herself.

I used to keep baby teeth in a box. From time to time, I would open it and feel the ridges at the root of a tooth. It felt as if I could know a deep, forgotten secret by simply feeling those roots.

I want to be incredibly generous. And there are two ways for me to achieve a timeless, infinite kind of generosity: to think only of myself and think of things greater than myself, that shaped this consciousness. When I think of what is greater, I return to the nuanced sea and the sky under which rests home.

“Artists and writers who credit their native traditions for the accomplishments take pride in the fact that they have stamped their identity onto the world by allowing their native roots to diffuse themselves into that world. To be internationally recognized is to be deeply rooted in the cultural traditions of one’s own nation. To be a functional global citizen, one must be firmly rooted in one’s own soil. Our balete is a venerable tree with a broad trunk, a luxuriant crown, and innumerable roots sunk deep into Philippine soil. But its roots are also aerial roots, and we have no need to sever them in order to fly, to soar around the world seven times through our artistic creations.”

“The Music of Pestle-on-Mortar” from Ang Bayan sa Labas ng Maynila/ The Nation Outside Manila by Rosario Cruz Lucero