[New Poem] The star apples are what I remember most: A Portrait of the Artist as Some Brown Girl

A Portrait of the Artist as Some Brown Girl


In the dream that comes just before waking

Let us untether and keen. Let breath,
heartbeat, let cells, salt, memory rest.
Let us breathe. Let us pass through this
weep, let it pass through us. Let us sieve.

The star apples are what I remember most

Let this head nod mean amen. Let dark
open anew. From un-speak, un-make,
un-hear, and un-know, let us be again,
whet and edge, and see. Let us seam.


On the bus, riders come and go, Hot Cheetos and Mountain Dew, weed and rank B.O. It’s eight in the morning, and you have dissolved into a corner again. Elders in wide brimmed fedoras, Stacy Adams zoot suits, wingtips, sip King Cobra cans, jam to Parliament Funkadelic on their smart phones. They can’t see you head nodding to the beat. You can’t help but love the swagger. You witness, and the city lets you to see joy.

The city hardens you. See the young you, the many ambered versions of you, the soft bourgie white loving white fearing you that could have been, but now you set, in the city that toughens your tongue. You belong here. Yes. You belong here. Yes. In disobedience. Yes. Against disappearing. Yes.


It’s a pity that you’re so pretty, they say. So pretty with that filthy tongue, they say. You could have been a gentlewoman, they say; married well, they say; light-eyed husband, they say; light-skinned sons, they say. And so you light. The match.


“In the dream that comes just before waking,” is from Jaime Jacinto’s poem, “Just Before Waking.”

For Everyone Who’s Asking Me for Fil Am and Fil Diasporic Lit, Who’s Asking Me for my Syllabi, This List of 30 Books is for You

As ever, community folks are asking me for Filipino Lit titles, and telling me they wish they could take my classes because they don’t know what/who is out there. So I thought I would compile this list of the books I have taught, or currently teach for my Filipino and Pinay Literature classes for over the past decade.

  1. Alvar, Mia. In the Country.
  2. Barry, Lynda. One! Hundred! Demons!
  3. Bayani, Jason. Amulet.
  4. Bobis, Merlinda. Banana Heart Summer.
  5. Bobis, Merlinda. Cantata of the Woman Warrior Daragang Magayon.
  6. Brainard, Cecilia, ed. Growing Up Filipino II.
  7. Bulosan, Carlos. America is in the Heart.
  8. Carbó, Nick, ed. Returning a Borrowed Tongue.
  9. Carbó, Nick and Eileen Tabios, eds. Babaylan.
  10. de la Paz, Oliver. Names Above Houses.
  11. Galang, M. Evelina. One Tribe.
  12. Hagedorn, Jessica. Danger and Beauty.
  13. Hagedorn, Jessica. Dogeaters.
  14. Joaquin, Nick. The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic.
  15. Kelly, Erin Entrada. The Land of Forgotten Girls.
  16. Linmark, R. Zamora. Leche.
  17. Lo, Cheena Marie. A Series of Un/Natural Disasters.
  18. Mabanglo, Elynia S. Invitation of the Imperialist.
  19. Mapa, Lorina. Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me.
  20. Monrayo, Angeles. Tomorrow’s Memories.
  21. Nolledo, Wilfrido D. But for the Lovers.
  22. Panlilio, Yay. The Crucible: An Autobiography of Colonel Yay.
  23. Poblete, Pati. The Oracles.
  24. Realuyo, Bino. The Gods We Worship Live Next Door.
  25. Reavey, Amanda Ngoho. Marilyn.
  26. Reyes, Barbara Jane. To Love as Aswang.
  27. Reyes, Barbara Jane. Invocation to Daughters.
  28. Sapigao, Janice Lobo. microchips for millions.
  29. Suzara, Aimee. Souvenir.
  30. Tenorio, Lysley. Monstress.
  31. Villanueva, Marianne. Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila.
  32. Wilson, Ronaldo. Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man.

So, this does not count the numerous books I have excerpted, such as Carlos Bulosan, The Laughter of My Father and On Becoming Filipino, or the literary works available in online journals. What this is is a good starting point. Next semester, for Pinay Lit class, I will have new titles (TBA) on my syllabus. I do switch them out or cycle books through. My decision making is based on reader/student response, and also, my interest level. Of course, most important is the availability of books, if they are still in print, or if they are cost prohibitive.

I will also be proposing another course/developing a new curriculum for Filipino American Literature in the SF Bay Area. I haven’t started yet, but it’s on my radar to submit next semester for a 2019 start.

So there you go. Here are 30+ Filipino authored books to go read. Sige na.

Brown Girl Consumed: Filipino Food Poem Revised

Dear Brown Girl,

This is just to say, motherfuckers love your food!

Bon Appetit says the latest craze is popcorn and Gummi Bears® in your halo-halo, and you’re looking at this sideways as others nod in gratitude,

Andrew Zimmern also swears by sisig, you’re the latest craze, you’re an episode of Bizarre Foods,

He says Americans can’t get right with creamy pig brains, so he alters your recipe to make it acceptable,

He exits the metropolis in search of the authentic, he slurps worms dipped in vinegar, pulled straight from a fucking tree, and then he pales at your “dirty” ice cream. What a dick.

You are Parts Unknown, and so Anthony Bourdain also comes to bat for your balut. He throws back his head and swallows Emily Dickinson’s beaked and feathered hope,

Next time, he’ll sip this strange little salty bird, he’ll crunch this little baby’s bones, wipe his mouth, and the world will learn Filipinos are so poor they’ll eat anything, a people with so much resilience —

Your archipelago is a culinary adventure! You should be so grateful, you are on our map!

Remember when your classmates teased your stinky lunch, your marrow bones, soup, patis, and rice, your spoon and fork,

Remember when they told you that you eat dog food, and you didn’t know how to go home and cry to your mom because she was just too busy working —

Well, fuck all that, because now you’re cool,

you’re pork bellies sizzling in cast iron cool, you’re organic free trade leche de coco simmering cool,

you’re edgy piquants and aromatics, you’re umami, you’re pricy speciality grocery items, spilling out of the suburban supermarket’s ethnic aisle,

you’re urban food trucks at an art show cool, you’re vegan man bun hipster cool, you’re deconstructed lumpia cool,

you’re wine pairings lightyears from the go-to passé Rieslings (yawn),

you’re cooler than California rolls, than chop suey, and people freaking the fuck out over kung pao chicken at Panda Express don’t know how cool you are (they’re gag reflexing at the innards we third worldlings eat) —

They’ll never know the 12 hour workshifts of TNTs sweating into high end catered meals for lesser than minimum wage, under the table, nevermind subsistence,

they’ll never know about street kids scrounging for pagpag,

they’ll never know the recipes of our cataracted grammas who stayed home and never learned to read, or the ones who can still recite José Rizal’s “Mi Último Adiós,” from the heart as the nilaga stews,

Dios mío! The tsismis around tables of itchy gabi leaves and roots and malunggay fronds, elders’ manicured hands like luya (sige na, anak, they say, clean these tables and we’ll play mah jong later),

Dios mío, talaga! Our spinster titas, who singlehandedly took the sharpest machetes to the pigs’ (and to some men’s) throats, bled those tasty motherfuckers, flipped handrolled tobacco with their tongues, with their chorus of boning knives, these works of art no metropolitan museum would ever show,

Dios mío! All the breaking necks and bleeding, all the flaying and the cutting, in pambahay, tsinelas, gold rings, anting-anting. All this after morning mass, all this before noon. This is where you told them about your broken heart, this is where they said, ay babae, he was never good enough for you. This is where they wiped away your tears, and said, anak, you are a good girl,

Fuck these first world gourmands swearing Filipino cuisine is the next big bandwagon to ride to the bank, fuck their rebranding for bourgeois Western palates,

Fuck all that, girl, go on get down with your kamayan and your banana leaves, your slurping fish heads, your extra rice to soak up the crab butter, your chicharon and San Miguel with your crooning titos, your dad’s canned Ligo sardines, salted eggs and tuyo cooked on the backyard grill, your green mangoes with ginisang bagoong, dear, deep red, so sweet, so cool.

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#allpinayeverything 2: micro-reviews of 2016-2018 full length pinay and pinxy authored works

IN THE COUNTRY by Mia Alvar. In these stories, economic inequities and political repressions drive a diaspora of workers and asylum-seekers. Migrant workers and expats plot their own personal revolts. Sally Rivas in “The Miracle Worker” calls them little mutinies. They’re a repudiation of a role Alvar’s characters are relegated to or have passively assumed. Alvar’s stories deliver insight into the issues of immigration, family, community, and country, of how the past intersects with the present, and how the political is often at the root of our little mutinies. (Reviewed by Donna Miscolta. Read the full review at https://www.hypertextmag.com/review-in-the-country-by-mia-alvar/.)

LOLAS’ HOUSE: FILIPINO WOMEN LIVING WITH WAR by M. Evelina Galang. There is a language of rape. The words differ depending on who’s speaking. There are the words used by the perpetrators. There are the words by the deniers and the words by the blamers. There are the words by the victims when they can manage to speak them. While all these words are part of the stories in M. Evelina Galang’s Lolas’ House: Filipino Women Living With War, it is the victims’ words that Galang rightly honors, giving them the pages they deserve. (Reviewed by Donna Miscolta. Read the full review at http://www.seattlereviewofbooks.com/reviews/the-language-of-justice/.)

BENEDICTA TAKES WING by Veronica Montes. When I read these stories, I am immediately immersed, falling into the lives, hearts and minds of the characters as I do when I am entranced by such stunning storytellers as Isabelle Allende, Marlon James, Lois Ann Yamanaka, and Jessica Hagedorn. Montes’ stories are a profound collection that moves us fluidly among and beyond physical places, myth, real and dream time. Each story feels like a mantra bringing us back to center, in longing and belonging, reminding us how we lose and find each other in the world. Montes’ voice is our collective voice, her characters are each of us in our abundant beauty and flaws. (Reviewed by Arlene Biala.)

If you would like to contribute a micro-review, please do so here. Please remember: Full length Pinay and Pinxy authored works, published in 2016-2018. Four to five sentences please. Salamat!

With Praise for the Work of the Poets

There has been an ongoing theme in many of my poetry and poetics discussions — one of transformation.

Much of this comes up as we talk about process, at the same time we talk about ways of resisting consumerism, objectification. Ultimately, we try our best to keep in proper perspective this thing called “market,” and “industry,” which is ironic given that little money actually changes hands in the poetry industry.

But it’s also very real that we have a perception of capital and “worth,” in this industry. We have hierarchies of value in this industry. We acknowledge those we perceive as having “cachet.”

So, where does transformation, and transformative experience “fit” in this industry.

My grad students and I had been hinting at these things all semester, sensing that some works did something to us, and we tried our best to give that “something” words. Work that was “meaningful,” respectfully engaging its constituents, thoughtfully crafted and executed, had implications larger than what was presented on the pages, that had emotional resonances, such that readers came away from the work with more than when they entered it.

One of our senior faculty members came to visit our class, to observe my teaching this semester. We were reading Philip Metres’s Sand Opera that evening. Before our mid-seminar break, one of my grad students asked for their thoughts on Metres’s work — it’s an important distinction, our senior faculty member responded, the poet who transforms an experience, versus one who merely transcribes.

And all of our light bulbs went bright with our collective, “Aha.”

We already know of the kind of poetry that merely transcribes. We describe it as underwhelming and even pretentious. We describe the work ethic as lazy. I want to be generous though, and understand transcription as a preliminary part of the process. Yes, we do transcribe, the things we hear, words that strike us, that come from mass media, social media, popular culture, phrasings that make our ears perk up, clever bits of language we mishear or overhear in the world.

I keep a notebook full of these glimmers, intimations. Sometimes real gems of poetry come in these bits of brevity. Those are gifts.

And sometimes they remain just glimmers, with nothing added to them. Bits of untapped potential. Ephemera maybe, at best. Maybe the writer did not know, maybe the writer doesn’t know yet that the glimmer is just the beginning, and that in order for a glimmer of an idea to become poetry, the real poetic work must be done.

This is where I make my confession. I have a major peeve — those who pass off as the most profound poetry what are really just their clever bits of language and observation, transcribed onto the page like mass printing fortunes to stuff into cookies, those who think these fortune cookies are enough; poetry is that cheap, easy, and mass produced for immediate consumption and utility.

Poetry is art object, this I believe. Art objects, exquisitely crafted — here, I think of Jaime Jacinto, Fatima Lim-Wilson, Marjorie Evasco, Merlinda Bobis, Angela Narciso Torres. Just gorgeous to behold, and insisting on being rooted in our social realities. But it’s also true a lot of exquisitely crafted art objects are beyond our reach, inaccessible. That’s not necessarily my cup of tea, though also, “inaccessible” is a relative term.

There are found objects whose beauty and intricacies others have discarded/disregarded. The poet elevates this, transforms it into art or transforms our perception of it by offering different angles/views. Here, I think of the deceptively simple, street-level poetry of Al Robles and Tony Robles. And I also think of Amanda Ngoho Reavey’s re-purposed official documents, and Janice Lobo Sapigao’s rewriting of Silicon Valley. I kind of think of myself in this category as well.

And then there is kitsch. I won’t name names, because that would be mean. And it would be equally mean to not include these as a kind of poetry, though I am tempted. I suppose “kitsch” is also a relative term. But I feel like kitsch, stuff that takes up space, is akin to this transcription. Little risk has been taken.

As a palate cleanser, I will end with this poem from Fatima Lim-Wilson, from her collection, Crossing the Snow Bridge (Ohio State University Press, 1995).

The Dangers of This Craft
by Fatima Lim-Wilson

For your own good, do not claim to be a poet.
-Advice of a well-meaning friend.

How we sing, even as we are boiled alive.
Those who torment us strain to sustain
our last notes. In a landscape
of sameness, our crooked towers scrape
sensibilities, the well-trained eye.
Why, when starved, do we thrive?
Remembrance of childhood’s bread
rising. The taste of dulcified
droppings of air. Our well-
meaning friends beg us, please,
speak in the measured tones
of the mediocre. Show off
our mastery of muteness,
the ambidextrous virtuosity
of work-stained hands. Let
those knitting needles, heavy
handled axes fly. Why must
we hear voices? See the moving
parts of still objects? And so,
we insist we no longer see
through white-washed walls.
We confess our dreams of flying
have ceased. We scheme,
the miracle of money keeping us
awake. Our pleasure lies
in memorizing the exactness
of recipes. We are found to be
most eloquent when quiet, even
as we argue happily with the teeming
inhabitants opening doors in our heads.
We stare seemingly unmoved at the fire
of our burning books, all the while
enthralled, reading secrets in the flames.
They think they’ve killed us off
even as somewhere, everywhere, a child
recalls the beat of the ocean womb.
They dance upon our tombs, unaware
of how they have fallen
victim to the rhythm
of our singing bones.