On the Difficulty of Vigilance

by Luisa Igloria
For James Balao
Roosters’ scalloped cries deflecting to the tin roofs.
Coffee in the percolator, an egg on the stove.
It is September in that part of the world, early morning.
Nearly six months after, I am still trying to recall what I might have been doing;
if not at the particular moment of the abduction, then at least on the day in question.
I’d wanted to make a dish and was disappointed they’d stopped selling kangkong at the Asian grocery.
It’s illegal now, the store clerk said; no way to pass the FDA, too many people get sick.
Dark green vegetable—poor man’s food sautéed in hot oil, crushed garlic with a splash of soy.
Suspect; sort of like crack, but not quite.
But dissident.
Hollow, tubular stems grown lush in brackish water.
Runners of green leaves lying close to the ground. Rows of potato creepers.
He may have knelt just to look, perhaps touch them. I think I know enough to say he was
that sort of man.
Through the low mist, reluctant sightings of the white van that pulled up and took him by force.
There are reports he carried a blue duffel. That he was overpowered.
On a website I read a scanned copy of his father’s letter. I did not know his mother
had Alzheimer’s.
I thought by this time he would have been married, have a wife, one or several children.
In our last year of high school he came to my house one weekend with a stack of college reviewers.
My mother served us lunch, said as a girl she’d gone to school with his father.
We drank instant coffee; he was quietly earnest, never abstract. I could not solve properly for the hypotenuse of a triangle (which looked to me like a roof blown off a house).
Once, he’d written for the newspaper about the dictator’s monument, a bust carved into a mountainside; a hydroelectric dam.
Of the villagers that lost their homes for want of paper titles.
This week on the internet I read about another victim: a young schoolteacher tortured, raped, and thrown into the river; only twenty, the same age as one of my daughters.
Little green sapling, little dissident.
Someone is already awake while the rest of the world sleeps.
Coffee in the percolator, an egg on the stove.
Roosters’ scalloped cries deflecting to the tin roofs.
The industry of women hanging up the wash.
Do you wonder why they beat the laundry on the stones with so much sorrow and fervor.