Georgette Howington

NOT BAD AS WAR

My Mother stirs sweet rice pudding
on the stove, her walker within reach.
Scent of coconut and vanilla remind
me she’s from Pampanga Province
where they say the best cooks are from.
She’s sheltered-in her home for two weeks;
           I’m her only visitor.
This is to keep you safe, I say, but she
stays in her pajamas all day now,
sits in her chair staring into space
           with memories
except when she cleans or cooks.
Stirring the bubbling rice she tells me about
when twelve years old they were forced to
leave their house; she remembers too clearly.
They lived in secret hiding places for weeks,
bombs exploding, fighter planes overhead,
kerosene lamps, canned rations, mangoes
and sweet potatoes she and her sister dug
up in the old farms at night. And when
caught ran. Fast. Over bodies on the road,
bodies in the fields; stumbling over bodies
in the square; sometimes knowing the face,
or that hand or shoes. Falling over a body
landing on unforgiving earth.

Pudding done, she ladles me a bowl, and
we sit to eat,
           she says a prayer of gratitude

and says, “This is not bad as war.”


GEORGETTE HOWINGTON is a poet, conservationist, gardener and naturalist. Her poems are published in Iodine, Sleet, Poeming Pigeons, Sacred Grounds, Poetry Expressed, among others. Her poems placed at the North American Women’s Music Festival, Ina Coolbrith Poetry Contests and the Benicia Love Poem Contest. As a horticulturist, her niche is Backyard Habitat and secondary-cavity nesters. She is a County Coordinator and the Assistant State Program Director for the California Bluebird Recovery Program (www.cbrp.org), an activist in the conservation community in the SF Bay Area for over 30 years and a UC Davis Naturalist of the Mt. Diablo Region. Georgette is also a published garden and environmental writer.

Author’s note: “When my Mother came to the United States from the Philippines when she was 21, she had a 6 month old baby and was married to a GI. Her marriage was arranged by my Grandfather because he hoped she would have a better life in America. The pandemic and sheltering-in is traumatizing to her. She has believed that America is immune to such disasters. How could this possibly happen here?”

Other work
California Poppies

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