Joel Vega


What comes with the tortoise
is the shell, prized
for its lightness,
durability; it bends
into darkened half-moons
for a long-haired geisha swooning
in the old streets
of Kyoto.

I am fortunate than
the turtles from Makassar. I live
in my cave of 50-year-old bones,
my belly a pillow
of contentment,
my thighs tight & steady
on the rough back
of a horse.

I am sheltered in arms
where desire once wept,
wore thin with joy. My knees
mastered the rules of childhood,
my body home & port call,
five thousand miles from
the sea nomads of Bugis.
From here, I will sail.

0-4JOEL VEGA’s first poetry collection DRIFT (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2019), won the Philippines’ 2019 National Book Award for Poetry in English. A two-time Carlos Palanca Literary Memorial Awards winner, Joel lives in Arnhem, The Netherlands, where he works as publications editor.

Author’s note: “In the 16th and 17th centuries the Dutch and Chinese were top importers of tortoise shells often sourced from the Malay Peninsula, prompted by the high demand for luxury objects such as boxes, mirrors, serving dishes made of exotic woods, ivory and animal parts. The practice of harvesting and procurement were replete with stories of ecological damage, decadence and commercial intrigue. These records inspired ‘From Makassar’ which explores the themes of body as ‘shelter’ or home and how it serves as ‘a map’ of physical and personal histories.”

Other works
Canticle 7

These poems are for Flora and Nacian.

Link to Table of Contents.