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this charms the buried light of stars –
this deflects bullets – this unblooms a war –

In some Filipino clans, parents pass down to each child an agimat, an amulet or charm, in the hope its magic will protect and empower them. In a world of daily pain and loss, Romalyn Ante’s second collection asks how do we keep safe what we hold most dear? At the dawn of the pandemic, the poet – a practising nurse in the NHS – is thrown onto the frontlines of the war against COVID-19, and finds herself questioning what it means to fight, and what it takes to heal.

Past conflicts swim into the now: when the poet falls in love with a man of Japanese heritage, it forces a reckoning with her family’s suffering under Japan’s brutal wartime occupation of the Philippines. Elsewhere, we meet the irrepressible, many-breasted goddess Mebuyan, the poet’s alter ego. In Philippine myth, Mebuyan nurses the spirits of departed children in the underworld, but here she watches over young people in crisis – a girl who can’t stop cutting herself, a teenager who has leapt from a railway viaduct. These are poems of strength and solace – they quiver with heart, feeling a way toward hope.
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