You ask me how it is I came to poetry. You want to know how I came to bring
words together to become a poem. I want to tell you about my girlish handwriting
in pink, strawberry scented ink. I want to tell you about typing my words on a
manual typewriter, its carriage return, no correction tape. I want to tell you about
liquid paper, about drafts upon handwritten drafts, about the smell and feel of so
much cream and Florentine marbled stationery, about cutting class and taking a
good part of the afternoon to choose a writing implement. I want to say I was
waiting. So much ache. So much breaking. I want to say so much silencing and
Remember those diaries we were gifted as young girls, pale pink and floral,
golden curlicue embossed. Remember that tiny golden lock. Remember wanting
to crawl inside. Remember how not speaking yielded so many secrets. Remember
how you’d write and write, like if you didn’t write, you would just die. Remember
how you safeguarded that key with your life.
When I was 19, my poems were so coated with honey, so precious. My language
was not really my language; it was sugary, airy, so fancy. When I was 19, I blew
my paycheck on a Waterman Laureat mineral blue fountain pen. I chose ink
cartridges in Serenity Blue. I transcribed my finished poems into a matching
hardcover, blue marbled, perfect-bound journal with gold leaf edged pages. I
loved the feel of that scratch — gold plated nib onto paper. I loved how each page
air dried before I turned the page or closed the book. Dear Pinay, nobody ever
read my poems. But then again, that wasn’t the point.
After I stopped wearing skin tight, backless, lycra minidresses and black cherry
lipstick to class. After rolling my eyes and crying a lot. I learned to say fuck you. I
set my ex-boyfriend’s stuff on fire. I scared the hell out of my roommate, who’d
been playing house with some ugly white boy. He drove a sportscar. He bought
her things. They convinced me to douse the flames, just ditch my ex’s stuff in a
public locker downtown. When I cut off all my hair, blunt scissors in our gray
basement apartment bathroom. Swilling Absolut, blasting The Cure’s
Disintegration on my boombox . No, I never cut myself. Yes, I dropped out of
college. No, I did not eat. When I wore nothing but the torn up black 501s that
lived on my bedroom floor, ten-eye, second-hand Dr. Martens, some old black
T-shirt. When I learned to chain smoke. When the black circles appeared under
my eyes. When I became too old to run away, I just stopped calling home.
You want my skin, liquid and bottled, a boutique bronzer for that honeyed, island
glow. When they tell you to go back to where you came from, when they ask
you if you are the help, the nanny, the maid, the janitor, the dishwasher, when
they ask you how you learned such good English, when they ask you if you were
purchased online, when they accuse you of shoplifting, when they push you into
the gutters, when they ask whether your mother was a green card hunting whore,
a nudie dancer near the military base, a drug addict, a welfare cheat, an illegal
alien, when they tell you you are a monkey, when they ask why your people eat
dog, you can dry your eyes and wash everything down the drain. They
were talking to some brown girl, and that wasn’t you at all.
After Ana Julaton
We do not tap out. We slide our way out of your hold. We spring back up when
you sucker punch. We bite down so hard, our mouths break inside, tin and tart.
When we get back up, you mispronounce our names. Still. We’ll correct you,
sometimes. We all pick our battles. When we speak up, you step back, big stance.
We bend our knees, we open our hips. Pivot, and there’s our left jab in your jaw.
We bob and weave, we block and swing. Right cross, left hook. We are not too
dainty for this grappling and grounding. We don’t care if you don’t like what we’re
wearing. We’ll take you down, we’ll choke you out. And then we’ll walk.
For Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach
Brother, I roll lumpias wearing this tiara, this much mascara, and my fave black
skinny jeans. I shoot selfies with millionaire ballers, starstruck by my sequined
glow. My eyebrows so sharp, they slice you so clean, you don’t have time to
remember to bleed. I sprint up your mountains in my five-inch pumps. I trained
myself in seven. Your ass is in the dust.
I step into the room, native looms get clacking. Clopping cobblestone. Swishing
silk. My genteel countrymen swoon. My jusi couture, my capiz shell terno has
siete cuchillos, if only María Clara could have cut with these. My evening gown’s a
river plunging, you cannot fathom its depth. Its gemstones shined by typhoon,
rush, and the rawest force of will.
You cannot airbrush me. There is no need. You cannot translate me. I command
your tongue. I thwack your knuckles with my curling iron, when you do not
step back. I sing karaoke, loud, and off key. No, you really can’t quiet me.
ContributorBarbara Jane Reyes
BARBARA JANE REYES is an author and educator based in Oakland, CA. She currently teaches in the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program at University of San Francisco. Find her online at barbarajanereyes.com.