Victor Barnuevo Velasco


The Emperor of Forever surveys his dead
subjects. His testicles ache delight.
His nipples cream victory. His tongue
splinters into hundred knives
impaling the ground body by body.
This is ecstasy – he tells himself.

His first dead is calculated hunt, his second
repeater’s luck, his third, fourth, fifth,
and sixth exploits to plan and replan.
The seventh perfects his design.
Everything after is pure bliss.

There is no grief in numbers —
he repeats each time —
only exponents he mounts
in steep exhilaration.

The Emperor of Forever surveys his dead
empire. He regurgitates stale words, his bones
rusted iron, his hair acid rain.

We die everyday anyway, why not in thousands?
He counts bodies convulse, gasp for answers.
He has none. Only death is certain. Eternal.
Kill them all — he declares — my empire lasts forever.



Every weekend my mother updates me with prayers
            to the same saint,
            Judas Thaddeus,
            guardian of childhood,
            the desperate and missing.

She recites between static noises her litany
            for a dead son,
            for another in a foreign land,
            for sisters and brothers,
            for a dead mother,
            for a dying father,
            for children of children.

I get the news of the whole country
            from her supplications.

Every weekend she asks about our time difference
            and I respond it is the same only opposite.

Every weekend she asks about the weather.
            I tell her it is summer.
            She imagines the air is scented
            with salt,
            and lime,
            and jasmine,
            and dried fish.

She imagines the humid sun dusting
            the children playing outside.

I look at the street lined with cars of gray and grime.
            I say, it is summer, you see.
            She imagines I am happy.
            We say goodbye. Every weekend
            we agree I am happy.


A Poem in Multiple Choice

Slow days of iguanas – summer steams from your head while you
            a. listen to your own pulse
            b. remember those who broke your heart
            c. list losses in chronological order
            d. rearrange past scenes
            e. melt into nothing

You try to decipher your coded stories, moments filled with
            a. fingers on the back of your knee
            b. circling stars
            c. driftwoods, gravels, and shells
            d. everything vanquished
            e. nothing permanent

Still what never was is more painful than what had been. You
            a. wade deeper into the water, cut its skin
            b. dig your toes in someone’s chest, bruising his heart
            c. shave your scalp, shaking off the hands that ran through your hair
            d. grind memories into powder
            e. comprehend nothing

You think this is the start of something new, staring ahead, sensing
            a. the birth of another island
            b. a rip in the seabed sucking the sand on which you lie
            c. iguanas circling in, clawing their way to your freedom
            d. everything you wished for
            e. nothing

0-29VICTOR BARNUEVO VELASCO currently lives in Miami Gardens, Florida. In college, he founded a literary circle aimed at promoting the Bicol language. In the early 1990s, his prose appeared in The Philippine Graphic, then edited by Nick Joaquin, and issues of Ani, the anthology of The Cultural Center of the Philippines. Since he moved to the United States in 1998, he had been writing requirements documents, project status, and weekly reports. The shelter-in-place order last year compelled him to revisit literary writing. His poems and fiction were since then featured in the journals softblow, Mollyhouse, Impossible Archetype, and TLDTD. He recently completed a project with Tupelo Press, 30/30, writing one poem a day for the whole month of November.

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