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How to make salabat

By Kay Ulanday Barrett

For Cecilia Ulanday Barrett

Hoy! Listen,       This is how to cut ginger, it’s a root, she said from
Chicago basement on first snow of the year. It’s the 90’s. Snow is
a big deal. Tear salt missing ocean salt, she cleared her throat.
Based on where we’re from, nothing can prepare us for frozen.
Fast forward:    college friend asks How do you make that tea again?
The one you used to drink when it started to snow.
      I want to say:

My ma is dead. She made this every time it began to snow.  I buried both
my parents by age 25. Have you called your mother? Have you checked to
see if there is a tumor slowly living under her skin? What I recall most was
her crying. 
        Which is a lot like making any drink really, a pouring,
which reminds me of something a friend once mentioned— If you only
write about crying and death nobody will buy your books.

What I really do is listen to the same voicemail            over and over where
my mother’s throat is miles away. Mouthful of liquid, steeped tea bags
for lungs,  just waiting for the right time to let go. What I actually want
to say all the time is      Grief is the full-time job.         What I say to my
friend only mentions directions— Which leads one to think

about when my mother finally went back,  a visit, she coined it, vacation,
which was code for for good. Two weeks later she says in calling card
staccato, I’m in bad shape, anak.  Which is migrant code for death.
Words have multiple meanings.  My mama taught me that.  In essence,
she was my first poetry instructor. This is how mother tongue is whittled dull,
abandoned building, once a home. When mother dies, I couldn’t say that

phrase for years,                couldn’t say        she’s dead. How in three languages,
I don’t have words for absence. A mouth becomes thud. English becomes
harder to swallow. Did you know, on the worst days I forget what her
favorite song was but the tiny eruption of her cough   repeats  
in loop                  all the time now?




Listen as Kay Ulanday Barrett reads How to make salabat.

Added: Friday, November 3, 2023  /  Used with permission.
Kay Ulanday Barrett

Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet, essayist, cultural strategist, and A+ napper. They are the winner of the 2022 Cy Twombly Award for Poetry by Foundation for Contemporary Arts. They have been awarded residencies from Tin House, James Baldwin Fellowship at MacDowell, Baldwin for the Arts Fellowship, and Millay Arts. Their second book, More Than Organs (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020), received a 2021 Stonewall Honor Book Award by the American Library Association and is a 2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalist. They have featured at The United Nations, MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), Lincoln Center, The Whitney Museum, The School of the Art Institute, The Hemispheric Institute, Symphony Space, Brooklyn Museum, and more. Their contributions are found in The New York Times, Academy of American Poets, Literary Hub, Vogue, Poetry Unbound, The Advocate, The Rumpus, NYLON, them, Al Jazeera, & more. Visit their website or @brownroundboi on Instagram.

Image Description: Kay Ulanday Barrett, a brown, round queer with short black hair, performs at a microphone with transgender and rainbow flags in the background. They wear a gray blazer and glasses.

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