Jen Soriano


The Vigil for Omelas

A Cento in Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin

I heard this story.
a playwright is elected president.⁠
he went looking for a road
night falls.
The rainbow people pass him
so long a silence
They pick up his tears.

like salt on a dry ground
I started sticking a piece of paper with the number
grieving over names.
here’s where the enemy killed the friend
peculiar patchwork
taken and broken
Exile is also a soft word.

soft hills above a purple sea
the upward spiral song
a wind sound, a shell murmur
cracks the cups of twilight by the house
wild oats and poppies come up pure gold
imagination is the instrument
I cannot describe it at all.

There is a room.
There is a shadow.
In the room a child is sitting.
The day’s count of the dead, in the window.
I beg you to see what it is we must save
reflections, labyrinths, forking paths
We need writers who can remember freedom

We live capitalism, its power seems inescapable—so the divine right of kings
from land to land the dry wind blows
graves in the rock, cradles in the sand
The bringing of light is no simple matter.
hard times are coming
all smiles have become archaic
The offering of flowers is a work of Generations

to flower in a dark country—
terrible paradox.
a dark government. circles of burning flames.
a difference between the circle and the spiral:
the circle is open.
a surprise, a mystery
I have no idea who we will be

who are the people coming with torches, singing⁠?
not from above, but from below where human beings grow human souls⁠4
because they are beautiful, because they are nourishing
they keep walking
singing in the morning
experts in illumination, engineers of radiance
I cannot describe it at all

Sources (all by Ursula K. Le Guin):
A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
A Left-Handed Commencement Address
Margaret Atwood: The Year of the Flood
A Response, by Ansible, from Tau Ceti
Some Assumptions About Fantasy
In the Third Year of the War
From the Tent on the Volcano
“Things Not Actually Present”
The Operating Instructions
The Vigil for Ben Linder
A Measure of Desolation
The Elders at the Falls
What it Was Like
Every Land
For Judith
This Stone




At some point, I will have to take care of business, to answer the call of duty as I’ve been trained to do so well. I squint at the University of Philippines library, its concrete columns stolid in the face of my indecision. A jeepney putters by and I follow it with a longing gaze; the ubiquitous mode of Philippine mass transit is one I have admired for a while, but from afar. This particular jeepney is dull gray, small, and above all, functional. The rectangular sign affixed to its front says “Ikot” scrawled in black letters.

These Ikot jeepneys transport students around the campus loop formed by Osmeña and Roxas Avenues. How appropriate, I think, that these roads are named for two successive Philippine presidents—Osmeña who was the last to govern the U.S. colony, and Roxas who was the first to govern the neo-colony. The two roads join to move you not from one point to the next but in circles, back to where you began.

As I watch the Ikot Jeepney round the bend, I decide my thesis research can wait. I’ve spent the summer working as a travel writer to get to the Philippines, and I can now admit to myself that thesis research is not really why I’m here.

I turn my back on the library and walk a hot three blocks to the corner of Katipunan Avenue and Shuster. Here I can board the Katipunan-UP Campus jeepney heading south. I have researched this, like a good travel writer and a bad daughter; I know the routes I need to take to get lost. Getting lost has been my way of slowly, unsurely, finding my way home.

At the corner two workers jostle a wheelbarrow overburdened with wet cement. Students lounge in the shade, their white teeth flashing at jokes and tsismis. I lean against a fence and shift my posture more than a few times. I can only understand a quarter of the Tagalog the students are speaking. At least I’m wearing the right uniform, I think—a white T-shirt and long jeans for modesty, even in the probing heat, and a backpack that’s channeling pawis into a waterfall of sweat down my spine.

The Katipunan jeepney approaches. With effort I assume a look of nonchalance and wave my hand toward the pavement. Will this really work? Sweat beads off my brow and into my eyes. I am home. I am home. I chant to myself silently. Shouldn’t I feel more comfortable? Instead I feel like a fraud, like an orphan trying to claim another child’s motherland.

The jeepney comes rumbling to a stop and I beam. Challenge one: check and done. I step off the curb and approach its back door, or really its lack of a door, the space where a door should be. Instead of a door, there is an opening. I swing my backpack to my front, step up on the bumper, and duck into the world inside.

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A Brief History of Her Pain

                              I will keep Broken Things.

                              I will keep You:

                              Pilgrim of Sorrow

                              I will keep Myself

                              — Alice Walker

1996 AD

Jennifer S.  Asian.  Nineteen years of age.  Junior.  Clinic visit due to pain “like lead shooting through arms.”  Average build, average height, flat affect.  She clenched then twisted her fists, repeated, as if juicing two lemons ’til dry.

Jennifer S. received standard procedure for cases like this. The Wartenberg wheel: steel teeth rolled across inner forearms and palms to assess nerve response. The tomahawk hammer struck against wrists, knees, and elbows to elicit deep tendon reflexes. Posture examined as well as muscle strength. Mental examination waived by the attending practitioner.

Results: no nerve damage detected by Wartenberg wheel. No delay in deep tendon reflexes elicited by tomahawk hammer. Patient status: Normal. Slumped posture. Weak grip. Pain likely due to over-reaction to college stress.

Jennifer S. sent home with naproxen, medical report, reminder to schedule a pap smear. Patient exited the clinic with difficulty, shoulders caved and arms cradled, as if nursing a porcelain baby.

1800 BC

In Egypt, the Kahun Papyrus is written — a text entirely focused on women’s health. This ancient text becomes the first comprehensive medical document known to man.

The Papyrus mentions a condition of mysterious pain and mercurial emotional states lacking apparent physical cause. This is what will later become known as hysteria. It also reveals that though seemingly mysterious, the condition does indeed have a physical source, a dislocated or starved uterus.

To treat the condition, sweet oils must be applied to the vagina, or unpleasant things must be eaten to lure the misbehaving womb back into place.

The Kahun Papyrus may not only be the first medical text known to man, it may also be the first text written by women. The authors may have been priestesses, since healing was within the domain of spiritual leaders. But being women, these priestesses may have also had misplaced wombs, and therefore may have also been physically pained, emotionally disordered and hysterical.

2013 AD

I am waiting patiently for the doctor to say something. She moves her reading glasses to the precipice of her nose and examines the grey film at arm’s length. Silence. She shifts in her chair, flicks her hands so the film goes thwack, and moves it up toward a sickly florescent light.

“Your uterus is tipped,” she finally says. “And see this?” She points her pen at a cloudy curved line. “That’s your fallopian tube. But where is your ovary? It must be hiding behind your uterus. And see the other one? The other tube is like a slinky.”

My husband looks at me like he’s afraid I might faint. Instead, I bow my head to suppress a chuckle. Leave it to the fertility doctor to discover what I had long suspected: something was amiss in my womb.

I smile because it’s amusing to learn there is so much interesting activity down there, the fallopian tubes contorting like acrobats, the ovaries and the uterus playing hide-and-seek. I am entertained by the thought of my reproductive organs performing a three-ring circus, since that area of my body — the life-giving viscera, the motherly matrix of me — has always felt comatose, near dead.

                     Diagnosis: Hysteria tipped
                     to hear water bone ancestors
                     sobs buried, alive

Read the rest of “A Brief History of Her Pain” at

Razing Boys

They come like a murder of crows.  Six still small boys toting toy guns shaped like semi-automatics.  A troop of tousled hair and soccer shorts, they descend on the playground with aggression too large for their years.  My son, startled from his sandbox world, drops his tiny shovel.  He gazes openly on the newcomers, soaks in their shouts of I shot you, I’ve got more bullets, you’re dead.  A mother walks across the empty concrete wading pool, her toddler son’s wrist gripped tightly in her hand.  Her eyes dart left then right at the circling boys who rend the air with war cries. The mother touches her son’s head, almost in benediction, then tugs him forward by the sleeve of his miniature bomber jacket.  The gunslingers growl and aim.  They shriek and shoot.  Bam! I got you, they laugh.  My son laughs along with them, his face bursting into dimples and milk teeth.  Still smiling he returns to the sand.  The tiny shovel lies abandoned at his feet, so he begins to dig a hole with his sneakered toe.  The sand is wet and pebbled, the color of bone.  Not unlike the sand of that distant Turkish shore where Aylan Kurdi lay face down, palms up and belly resting in the sand.

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