Armin Tolentino is the author of the poetry collection We Meant to Bring It Home Alive (Alternating Current Press 2019). He earned an MFA at Rutgers University-Newark and is a former Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship recipient.
When we were little, we’d delight
in the season of caterpillars. They’d crawl
on the trees, and we’d scoop up a couple
to wriggle in our palms or tickle our legs.
When I moved away, I learned most people
call them leeches, but where I was born
we had so few words, everything had to share
a name or went its existence unmentioned.
For example, wolf could mean pet,
but also mother or rusted machine or
tree where tired angels rest.
When I first moved, believe me,
there were lots of misunderstandings.
I’d just point to things constantly,
That’s what I mean! You call it what?
A gaggle of caterpillars could nuzzle
a dead wolf down to bone in a few hours.
That was great joy and relief, especially
if the wolf belonged to one of us.
Where I was born, love meant blind,
the tea that soothes stomach ulcers, or
anything you felt all the way to your pinky toes.
I’ve been away a long time from where
I was born, but every now and then I
still make mistakes. I’ll reminisce and share
a memory like the troll we loved to rub
as kids in the woods.
And when I get blank stares, I just say,
“Oh, I guess you had to be there,” which I’ve learned
in my new home means connection lost, reboot or
I’ve given up on trying or
you will never know the real me.