Two Poems on Extrajudicial Killings

By David Jayson Oquendo


(This poem first appeared in the blog Kill List Chronicles.)

I fear that my life rests on the trigger finger of a stranger I am to entrust my safety into,
and that my face
and my body is a target that once resembles another could bring me to my doom,
and that I am in the middle of a war I never wished to be a part of,
and that my family and my friends are in that war,
and that we are divided,
and that our mouths no longer create the sound they used to,
and that our ears are becoming more eager to hear gunshots,
and that it has become normal to kill and be killed,
and that if you did nothing wrong, you don’t have to worry,
you’re just going to accept that you’re going to get killed
either by the government or by someone you do not know,
and it’s okay.
Tell me, please, if you’re so adamant on making me shut up,
if you’re convinced that there must always be a trade-off,
that the world operates in binary logic,
tell me,
if this is war, where do we evacuate?


Death By Fear

(This poem first appeared in the zine Resbak.)

This will be the picture you will paint
with the tips of your fingers, indelible
as the ink that will seethe through your nails:
Blood trickles down the concrete roads—
traction stronger than asphalt, thick and black.
And then it flows like a river.
In the middle of a valley of lifeless bodies,
lives transfigure into numbers in an infographic,
names and memories morph into statistics,
eyes hazed with fear are zeroes
to the kill count rounded to the nearest thousand.

After that you lift your hands off the canvas.
You will look at me in senseless wonder
and then you will ask me what it is that I want,
tell me, “How is it that you complain of change
if change is what we always yearned for?”
and I will answer, fist clenched and yearning,
that I want to be alive,
that every dead man ID’d with a cardboard
packed in a garbage bag and duct tape
might as well be me,
or my brother,
or my dad.

And I will tell you that I want peace of mind.
I want home to feel like it and not a prison,
not a place where our words hold no power
under the night sky, permanent, serrated
its cold whimper a lullaby for children with no homes
empty of pity, where at gunpoint our lives begin to lose value,
where our minds will stretch in prayer
because our fingers will be unable to move
where our necks will pave way for the noose holding our epitaph,
where no one will know how fear is deadlier.



By David Jayson Oquendo (Poetry)

It was there where we first met, in the middle of the elements
the earth and water in constant contact over sand
grainy as the sound of your voice in my memories
and I wonder if I ever really knew you or were you
like the ocean so vast hiding so much deep down where the sun dare not go.

But I grew up by the sea and mysteries like you are like undiscovered dive sites
waiting for my body to discover and be one with. And so I dove.
And you were welcoming, and kind, and beautiful,
and the lust for adventure I had was stripped down
into a cautious whirlpool of emotions,
a maelstrom of what ifs and I wish’s and the only thing
I could ever do was leap into the centre
in hopes that you are not a calamity.

and surely you weren’t, or at least not yet

In you I found Atlantis, a kingdom I knew not of before
and I was the king, in place inhabited by only the two of us we were,
under the blanket of stars and the bellows of an open universe,
alone, and complete, like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden right before the serpent came.

It wasn’t home.
Suddenly, we began to become numb,
Suddenly, I had shortness of breath,
Suddenly, I felt like I wasn’t me,
the way your hands do not look feel and look like yours
after submerging it underwater for too long.

We would talk for hours.
But in the long nights your voice were beginning to sound muffled
and when I’d reply I’d taste seawater and I’d choke.
And suddenly, like water at sea, you were beginning to drift away.
Or was it me? Or was it the both of us?
Caught in a force bigger than we were, we went
sweeping away the names of our children we decided
over marshmallows and a campfire
written in big letters in an island for all the world to see.

Time passed, but the scent of the sea still lingered in my body.
Your love is still warm in my skin,
Realizing what fool I was to let go of you I ran to you.

I swam,
knowing the dangers I’d be facing if I chose you.
And I remember
the feeling of the waves rocking me at sea
of how it lingered on my body even hours after I got out of the water
and it reminded me of how I never got over you.
I remember
the salty wind on my skin
the subtle embrace of a fleeting breeze gently pinching
and it reminded me of how I thought you’d never leave.
I remember
the taste of seawater
abrupt and strong
like a hundred little jabs at the back of my throat
and it reminded me of how your words tasted,
they were rash and unnecessary but they kept me afloat.
I remember
the sea itself, in all its immensity
dense enough to capture and muffle even sound
big enough to drown one’s thoughts and one’s own voice
and it reminded me of how my cries never got through to you.
I remember swimming through foam.
I remember swimming through a mixture of warm and cold temperatures
and I never stopped moving my hands and my feet because
they were starting to feel like lead
and I was afraid that like the metal
I would sink to the bottom of the ocean.
This reminded me of how I never gave up, until I did—
until I finally realized that the waves were against us,
that something as powerful as the moon was pulling you away from me;
until all I could do was to pray for the tides to wash me ashore

And there
I shall wait for you,