Derivation: Micro-Essays on Water, Family, and Self

by | Mar 25, 2021 | Creative Nonfiction



The shoreline is just as much a part of me as the street I grew up on, as the first poem I wrote, as my very foremothers. I remember standing by the black Batangas sea, webs of foam clinging to my ankles, while the moon watched tenderly. I do not know if I left a part of my heart with the waves, or if water has always been a memory in my bones.


  1. I am a Capricorn. I do not care much for astrology, but I’ve always been fascinated by my place in the stars: a reminder that a body is only a body as you make it. We are depicted as a sea goat, possibly connected to the Sumerian god Enki, who also took this form and ruled over wisdom, water, and creation.
  2. I dare you to find something water has not represented at some point in time. Healing, destruction, balance, life — they are all part of a larger thing. We are connected in ways we cannot imagine.
  3. The Philippines is an archipelago. That is, my family line runs from over 7000 different pieces; how could I not be wonder upon wonder?
  4. Have you ever tried to keep water in your palms? Have you ever tried to make something stay?


My name is Narisma because it comes from my mother. Her mother came from Leyte; we cannot trace ourselves back to a title, only a location. I do not know if this will change. In other words, I only half-chose this name, but I will keep it until I die. I vowed to keep my grandmother’s memory alive through me.


She was a pastora, and there is no other way I would have rather learned of water than with God written under my lips.


“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”

(Isaiah 44:3, NIV)


Water is primordial, the Spirit hovered over it before light itself. My God promised His people that their land would not go thirsty. And as the Israelites were consecrated, my progenitors were also delivered, and today I call myself blessed.


The moon is quiet in her restitution. Both war and remedy. Like the tides, my people’s beauty has been shaped by the way she’s pulled at their faces. Despite this, my eyes were one of the only things I liked about myself growing up. I thought the brownness was warm, like fists of wet earth on my face. Now I look at myself in the mirror and consider my eyes a memento of my mother. Here, even when she no longer is.


I have a secret to confess: I did not love my mother enough when she died. My chest was a pit of embers and I thought nothing would ever be enough. And yet the grief consumed me completely. Am I still my family’s son if my psychiatrist says I’ve been depressed for years now? Am I still my family’s son if I resented the person from whom I came? Am I still my family’s son if I tried to kill myself at 16?


Ica Sadagat wrote: “My body is an archipelago, and you a seafarer / My body is an archipelago, and you are making nests out of me.”

The thing is, I can only let people love me if they will take all my little shards. The first girl I loved convinced me she would stay. She did not say goodbye, and I do not know where she is now.


We know of blood. Blood between legs, blood on blade of machete, blood on pearly teeth; blood as poem, as revolution, as old promise. It refuses to be labeled either life or death. I am slowly learning that almost everything around me is a duality. Moon and ocean, hunger and fulfillment, giving and taking. My mother said “I love you”, and it’s still in my stomach today. Even if it hurts. Even if it’s a barbed object stuck in the flesh. Did she never say it enough or was it me? I can only hope that something can still grow in that throbbing ache, in those toothy thorns. May it take all that I ever lost and turn it into something new.


(There is a beauty to mourning, take my word for it.)


My sister and I visit our kuya from time to time. He has a small house near the countryside with his wife; they have an open lawn and two dogs that will do anything to bite us. As children, I thought I could never be angry like him. Now I know that a flame is still a flame even if it is inside the body. Kuya hurts the same as we do, but we know how to survive. And I know I adore him.


A river does not hesitate to bend into the forest ground, yet this dirt is not necessarily lost forever. It is simply carried away with the downward flow, finding new resting places, even when completely broken up. This is a way to remember. Sometimes, I might run silver through my fingers, or sit down to pray, or dream of whiteless hair, all in tribute to my grandmother. This is a way to remember. Even in that foreign land, I will not let my name escape me. My breath is still my breath, and my lungs shall not forget. A story exists even if no one speaks it. This is a way to remember. Death is only an ending as much as you allow it. This is a way to remember.


I’ve watched someone hang suspended in the air. I’ve watched dew form on the petals of a hibiscus. I’ve watched my father’s face light up when we meet him at the airport; nothing can compare. He lives hundreds of miles away but I’ve realized that love is not always about proximity.


As Nayyirah Waheed said, “we / return to each / other / in waves. / this is how water / loves”. Don’t you understand? This is just as much about retreating as it is about returning. And now I choose to return home. To my people. To you. To myself. Myself.


I lay awake in bed last night, imagining all the ways our lips could touch. My fingers wrapped in your hair, all heat and skin and longing. I know we do not have enough time, and that August may never be ours, but I hope this is enough.


Humans were never made to be creatures of destruction, yet here we are. Abel’s blood spilt on the soil, and now all we do is war against the earth and war against each other. If humans cannot destroy the enemy, then they destroy themselves. This is what happened to me. Except now I have a better time believing that love can find me. Now I know that a flower will only bloom once you break the soil in. Some days, I take my antidepressant and it does not feel like an act of self-pity. I picture all my neurons reaching out to one another, gliding in a cloud of flesh and water. Healing only works if you allow it to.


My childhood house had a swimming pool; it gave purpose to my summer afternoons. When I was in middle school, the pool got clogged and turned into a poisonous swamp. It had to be drained and we never used it again — I like to imagine there is a metaphor somewhere there. My etymology will take whatever meaning I give it. My family line has been knotted and strained, but tomorrow is already so close. It will be like pulling a bristle from a wound, or taking a gulp of sinless morning air. There is a poem waiting to be written. A story waiting to be told. A legacy waiting to be fulfilled. There is a body of water waiting for my touch and I am running, I am running toward all of it.



Photo used under CC

About The Author


Narisma is a writer and artist from the Philippines. His work has appeared in Body Without Organs, The Faith Review, Kiwi Collective, and the poetry anthology Remnants of Home by Untwine Me. He is currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Find Narisma online at @_narisma_.