Filtered Sestina For an Upset Stomach

There’s nothing shocking about the muted comfort 

that comes with this late-night detox—a cellular,

viral reminder of how my body rejects this land.

I avoid it. I wash hands, purify, wipe clean

the lip of the bottle. Pass the water through, filtered.

Yet the stomach still knows, understands the gap.

The process began earlier. Words formed a gap

between me and my grandparents’ comfort,

voices put on speakerphone and filtered

through my mother’s interpretation. Our cellular

connection didn’t make the break any more clean,

and it takes a decade for the joke of my alienation to land.

When I was five, though, I would look down at the slat of land

as I deboarded the plane in Guate, would hop over the gap

separating Guatemala City exhaust from the cabin-pressure clean

of sanitized air. Elmo in hand, I found comfort

breathing in the sunny smog of the airport. On a cellular

level, this felt like home unfolding on the tarmac, unfiltered.

It takes decades of seeing Guatemala filtered,

a rose-colored, government-censored, trauma-free motherland,

for me to question whether cellular

inheritance means enough. Whether my claim to the gap

that is diaspora is sufficient to comfort

me as I sit in this bathroom, bowels clean.

This cycle of upset stomach feels like coming clean:

an acknowledgment that even when drinking water filtered

through plastic jug and fire, the body finds a sick comfort

in immunizing itself against my attempts to pass through this land

that feels like it should be home. Instead, it spies the gap

in my lips as I fumble a conjugation. Its attack is cellular.

Tomorrow we’ll send samples to the lab. For now, I pick up cellular

phone, detach myself from the smell of clean

bathroom bleach that sticks to my skin, the gap

between the curtains letting in the filtered

light of a moon that I’d rather see from my own land

right now, where I can stomach this discomfort.

There, I could fill this gap in gut bacteria, eliminate the cellular

difference in comfort—with apple cider vinegar, not Pedialyte.

I could let the clean flow of filtered water fill my mouth in the shower,

not worrying where it will land.


Patrick Mullen-Coyoy is a queer, mixed-race, Guatemalan poet, college access advocate, and Capricorn based in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, MI. When not facilitating students’ access to higher education, he enjoys exploring the place of queer Central Americans in the U.S. through poems about Ariana Grande and other fragments of pop culture. His writing appears or is forthcoming in The Acentos Review, The Kenyon Review blog, and The Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the United States (Tia Chucha Press). He can be found on Twitter at @aguacatemalteco.