Selected Poems by M. T. Vallarta

Jan 26, 2024

At the Huntington Gardens


Something monstrous turns

my way but is blanketed by the prettiest lilac down

all gushed in purple-white.

—“Mourn You Better,” Muriel Leung




Lotus (nelumbo nucifera): once cherished in [ ]; the flower that rises from the [   ]; continuity; harmony; the belief that your [   ] won’t kill themselves and leave you behind.



I salivate at the thought of your survival.

You wear your cowboy hat and heart-shaped glasses. You send me a picture from the toilet. You already look like a ghost, all burnt and blacked. Like the specter who lives in my auntie’s house in the province, only showing herself when someone is there.





A name is a gift. Yours, bestowed by a king.

I laugh at the thought of our families, interconnected. Your grandfather, a diplomat to the Philippines; mine, a ticket dispatcher at a bus terminal. We take pictures of phallic cacti, and I sense their needles birthing into us. 





Golden barrel cactus (echinocactus grusonii): the largest is more than 85 years old.

I thought you would live to see 30. I wanted to see that crisis. I wanted to see you with your tits out, lips plump, ready to shovel dirt into your grave. I was ready to carve myself onto your tombstone; my finger; your red tomato knife from Costco.





how to stop saying sorry:

1) sew a hook and eye into your mouth


2) regale yourself with the story of the girl from uc [    ] who was stabbed to death in

the student organization offices. blue pixies glow, spreading their dust around campus. if uc [    ] still has a building named after d[   ] b[  ], the same man who f[ ]ed g[  ]’s country, then maybe don’t apologize for caring.


3) makahiya:                  the one that literally             clasps shut






Corpse flower (amorphophallus titanum): it is made of several different compounds

stinky cheese boiled

cabbage       garlic               

rotting fish   sweaty

socks   alcohol dex-

tromethorphan  sodium




If you think about death as much as I do

how long until the stench

becomes solid



I want to call your father

I am so sorry   I loved [ ]    I loved [ ] so much

I want to say I named you sunflower

Like him your

flesh gushes

into petals

Are you a True Filipino? A Quiz!


1. What is your favorite food?

a.   Adobo—the national dish of the Philippines. With the saltiness of the soy sauce and the sourness of the vinegar, this dish can last two weeks in your fridge. Not to be confused with adobo seasoning used in Latin American countries. (3 points)

b.   Spaghetti—the most bastardized dish in the Philippines. Food scientist Maria Y. Orosa thought, “Hey, you know what would be cool? If we threw hot dogs, Velveeta cheese, sugar, and banana ketchup together in tomato sauce.” (2 points)

c.   Balut—because I’m exotic and adventurous like that. (1 point)


2. What is your favorite book?

a.   Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. Need I say more? This book is the reason why the Philippines even exists. (3 points)

b.   Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters. I was assigned to read this book in my Filipino American Studies class, and it didn’t make sense, but I know Hagedorn is the mother of Pinay lit or something? (2 points)

c.   Wattpad novels like Diary ng Panget. I want to write a Wattpad novel one day. I hope ABS-CBN buys the rights to the movie. (1 point)


3. Do you know how to speak Tagalog?

a.   Oo, syempre. (2 points)

b.   No. My parents wanted me to assimilate, so they never taught me the mother tongue. But I am interested in taking classes. (1 point)

c.   Tagalog isn’t the only language, dipshit. Ilocano, Visayan, Waray, Cebuano, Chavacano ftw! (3 points)


4. Do you have a partner? If so, is your partner Filipino?

a.   I’m single. Bakit? Interesado ka ba? (2 points)

b.   Puti ang partner ko. Our kids are going to be so pretty! (1 point)

c.   Hell yeah, Pinoy pride all the way! This is a FULL Filipino household! (3 points)


5. What is your opinion on the political state of the Philippines?

a.   Corrupt. Corrupt, corrupt, corrupt! Everything is corrupt! (2 points)

b.   I have no idea. Is Duterte still president? (1 point)

c.   The Philippines is a neocolony of the United States, so commenting on Philippine politics is also a comment on U.S. foreign policy. (3 points)


6. You are at a party and your Tita points her lips at you and then gestures toward the food. What does this mean?

a.   She wants a kiss? Ew. (1 point)

b.   She wants me to eat—Filipinos point their lips instead of their index fingers. (3 points)

c.   She’s commenting on how fat I’ve gotten, and how I shouldn’t eat too much food. Typical. (2 points)


7. Last question, lucky number seven! What is your favorite fact about Filipinos?

a.   We all sing, dance, and play guitar so well! We’re such a multi-talented people. (2 points)

b.   We’re such a happy people, the most cheerful third-world country ever. Depression, who even is she? It’s more fun in the Philippines! (1 point)

c.   We are mongrels. Malay, Arab, Chinese, Spanish, African, Japanese, American. What even is a Filipino? (3 points)


Now, tally up your points! See how much of a true Filipino you are below!


21 – 15 points 14 – 8 points 7 – 0 points
Congratulations, totoong Pinoy ka! Subscriber ka ng TFC at nagpapadala ka ng pera sa Pilipinas. Ilan pamangkin ba ang pinagaral mo? Bagong bayani talaga! Seguro Fil-Am ka. Marunong ka mag guitara at sumayaw ka sa PCN. And you’re dating a white person. You can’t wait to go island-hopping on your Philippines trip next year. You’re not Filipino. Why are you even taking this quiz? Oh, but maybe you’re some selfless American kid who’s going to be doing their mission trip in Tondo? If so, God bless you. Try some pagpag, and leave your wallet.

M. T. Vallarta is a poet and Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Their forthcoming poetry collection, What You Refuse to Remember, won Small Harbor Publishing’s 2022 Laureate Prize. A Kundíman and Roots. Wounds. Words. fellow, their work is published and forthcoming in Shō, Alien Buddha, Madwomen in the Attic, Nat. Brut, Apogee, and others.

IG: @__melkteaa X: @itsmelktea

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