Milk

Ina Cariño

a brown sister told me someone told her       white people smell like milk                 so I took a good long whiff of one      brought him home with melet him sleep in my bed      he kept me safe      kept me from lonely                 so I kept him from spoiling      from curdling      kept himat night he dripped milk into me      my fingers gripping       his bony limbs                 my brown awash in milk      rinsed & cooled      I slurped it upmaybe he loved me      but only as white boys       love guavas                 from a warm country      pink-soft insides      fragrant othermaybe I loved him but only      as a brown girl      loves a white thing                 a so-called pure thing      makintab      a shiny lie      one dayI met his onion-skin mother      his candle-stump father      we talked                 about Asia      you know      that giant country       onion-mother saidmy English was great      no accent!       candle-father said      I looked exotic                 are you—Polynesian?      they may as well have asked what it's liketo wake up smelling like dung      like tarantulas      burnt rice                 or flies in summer heat      smelling      like monsoon mildew      mudstink bugs circling      instead they asked      if I'd tried dog      asked                 if I've ever once burned rice      because I must be so good at itI don't need a recipe      they all laughed       so later that night                 I took my white boy to my lola's house      pulled down a jarof black vinegar      sukang itim      dipped my tongue in it      kissed him                 you shoulda seen his pale face go see-through      chalk dissolvingreverse alchemy      now when talk of white people      I tell my brown sister                 baho      they stink of milk      so I let mine goshe still shakes her head at me      says bobo      why are you so stupid                 says I was lucky      to be so close to one      who smells of milkbut when milk turns sour      ferments      blooms fetid under the nose                 the only thing to do is pour it      down the drain

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Ina Cariño is a FilAm writer with a 2022 Whiting Award for poetry. Their work appears in the American Poetry Review, the Margins, Guernica, Poetry Northwest, Poetry Magazine, the Paris Review Daily, Waxwing, New England Review, and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman fellow and is the winner of the 2021 Alice James Award for Feast, out with Alice James Books (March 2023).

New Gloucester, Maine

"'To be other is to read badly-/drawn maps,' writes Ina Cariño, 'to hum / with a revolutionary's love song.' I love the vividness of these poems, the language of the senses that's so alive on each page of FEAST. But these poems aren't just beautiful, sensual lyrics. There is more at stake here. Cariño is a kind of poet who claims family and identity with style that's akin to spell-making. 'I dream in a tongue not my own' the poet says—and we see it instantly: Here, even a simple act of cooking rice can become a ceremony, a rhapsody of liberation. All of this is done not with literary pretension but with vulnerability and honesty. If Ina Cariño says 'names are spells,' it is because this poet aims to write actual spells, and not just with the pen, but with breath: ‘I am the last spell, the only song left. deliberate utterance of bone’. Here, we are in presence of something special, I think. Bravo.”
—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa

“…We are hungry to understand our histories and our families in all their gluttony, temperance, and appetites. We want to know their stomach pangs, their favorite flavors, how they like to eat and how we can prepare that food for them. We are hungry for a poet who can put all this into words. Graciously inviting us through twilight and rain with the guidance of their balintataw, Ina Cariño provides us with this luscious, mystical, defiant Feast.”
—Amanda L. Andrei, Barrelhouse

“Cariño’s collection adeptly grapples with the tensions of existing in the United States as an immigrant and a queer person alongside the beauty of Filipino culture and lineage. Their debut feels boldly autobiographical, and Feast does not hesitate to use the physical body as a canvas to explore these themes. … There is no doubt that Ina Cariño is an important poet of our age, one who will not hesitate to share the stories they find in beautifully gripping detail.”
—Lena M. Tinker, The Harvard Crimson

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