I just wrote this poem

Patron saint of every victim, every plain Jane
Doe, every Juana de la Cuz. Her real name?
Who cares. What matters is she is female,
She is poor. She is patron saint of the humbled
She is a martyr doing right. She is always poor.
She is Christian. She is poor. She is coerced.
She is the grateful, weeping daughter
Patron saint of rosaried, weeping mothers.
What if she were impure in thought and body,
Sharp-tongued, willful. What if she didn’t pray.
What if she were hard, what if ill-meaning,
What if she fought back, what if she declined
To be your victim. So what if you call her
Ingrata. What if she knows herself. What if.


Poem: Continuation of “And the Word Was a Woman.”

It goes without saying that as far as sources go, I love the creation story, especially re-articulated creation stories, each written as prayer, each retold with a different POV or agenda. “And the Word Was a Woman,” will be a multi-part creation story poem, a “long poem,” which is slowly getting itself written. (Yes, “getting itself written,” as I think of Carlos Bulosan’s essay, “How My Stories Were Written.” It sounds passive, but he’s saying something about source, influence — where does story come from, and what is the author’s role in making that story happen/emerge, in creating a story by synthesizing from these multiple sources.)

I have previously posted a draft of part one. Here’s the very beginning of part three (part two is currently a brief one-liner, which I like, but that’s not set in stone. Many things change.)

3 All things were made by her; and without her was not any thing made that was made.

your breakfast, your bed, your benefits package
your myths, your medicine, your maids for hire
your leisure, your pleasure, your cheap labor pool
your tech, your toys, your purchasing power
your love, your lunch, your urban renewal
your realm, your retail, your dollars at work
your trinkets, your tongue, your taste for travel
your savior, your supper, and always your succor

[This, of course, is also subject to change.]

To Love as Aswang: Table of Contents

As a progress report on my manuscript “tinkering,” I offer this here Table of Contents. (In the meantime, various folks will be recording themselves reading these poems, and then posting those on YouTube, so I will have a “playlist” at some point soon.)

04 To Pierce the Heart
05 To Fork the Tongue
06 To Wait
07 To Proceed, You Must First Understand
08 To Witness like Shahid
09 To Read the Newspapers
10 To Sell Sweetie
11 To Conceive Sweetie (10 F Philippines)
16 To Go Along With Others
19 To Remember Something from Long Ago
20 To Sing a Little Ditty
21 To Answer
23 To Answer 2
25 To Sing Praisesong
28 To Violate Convention
30 To Fear the Self
31 To Understand the Current State of Things
32 To Fear Losing Oneself
33 To Love as Aswang
34 To Sing Surrender
35 To Love as Prey
36 To Sing the Battered Body
37 To Slaver
38 To Bless the Meek
39 To Give It to God
40 To Make a Sound from Inside a Box
41 To Write a Poem
42 To Have Come Here
43 To Remember
44 To Have a Home
45 To Be Walang Hiya
46 To Be a Runaway Daughter, Not the Much-Desired Son
47 To Be Disaster Inventory
48 To Be Blunt
49 To Go to Pieces
50 To Be Bound
51 To Call the Ancestors
54 To Scale
55 To Know
56 To Spend and Be Spent
57 To Emigrate (Patriarch Parable)
58 To Remember One Who Escaped
59 To Remember the Tita They Called a Bruja
60 To Recite Tita Bruja’s Credo
61 To Pray to the Goddess of Lost Things
63 To Be Present
64 To Be Babaylan
65 To Locate Our Mothers
66 To Be Interrogated
68 To Sanctify the Body
69 To Break
70 To Survive an Apocalypse, a Girl Needs Light and Power
71 To Love as Mother and Aswang
72 To Spit Fire
73 To Return a Heroine

POEM: And the Word was a Woman

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Woman, and the Word was Woman

And the word was a woman a damn rib an absence malfeasance a (mis)played piece a parcel of speech

And the word was a woman a damned dame a bane to blame to set aflame

And the word was a woman an abscessed peace to please to preen to plea beseeched deity

And the word was a woman a besmirched virtue tidal surging pride purging upskirt urging chiding pervert searching

And the word was a woman a stutter a daughter a dutiful other a beauty to utter and smother

And the word was a woman a bridled bride an invite inside

And the word was a woman just an old bag an old nag a fag hag a chick to snag and shag

And the word was a woman raven ravished a maven brandishing rivers of symbol sinful simple skinfolk

And the word was a woman mnemonic she mimic and cry signing ape she make shit up on the fly

And the world was a woman nuestra señora ave maria salve regina

And the word was a woman maiden made of heaving blade bleeding brave breathing keening unseemly ably she wield her steel

And the word was a woman so loving she salving fevering she birthing grieving she giving forgiving forgoing

And the world was a woman walang nakakilala ngiti-ngiting dalaga mahinhin dalagita magiging manggahasa

And the word was a woman she slang soul searing swagger straying straining not abstaining

And the word was a woman thorny crone on the approach crouching unbound slow honing horns growing

And the word was a woman a handsome missus sandwich fixin’ hands for dishes washing rinsing hands delicious banishing our angst our ash axé aché to her we pray

And the word was a woman a kitchen kitten whisking fixture

And the word was a woman’s lady parts parted lady parsed farce

And the word was a woman eyes her straight razor gaze gotta turn away she burn you son

And the world was a woman puta que bruta siya ay bruja kontrabida y demonia wala siyang hiya ay que bárbara

And the word was a woman lowing lowly of homethings sewing hopes stings bowstrings consoling

And the word was a woman a mother a weathered withered other cursed and mercy thirsting

And the word was a woman chanting incanting her spell she can’t recall it all

And the world was a womb a wound a ruin a ruby entombed

And the world was a woman third world baby throw you shade she crazy ain’t no lady

And the word was a woman riot rhyming stylin’ in the night high as the almighty smiling wired diving wild dying child

And the word was a woman speaking womanspeak singing womansong sirensong succorsong singalong

And the word was a woman not a beautiful thing not the way you think of beauty a caged thing a waged thing a thing to be tamed and blamed and hewn in two

And the word was a woman a bitch spitting witch splitting the hissing hussy tongue fussy

And the world was a woman well warned well worn will torn spurned scorned

And the world was a woman wheel-turning water-bearing barely breathing

And the word was a woman working weaving webbing wellspring waxing

And the word was a woman an unmapped space a basketcase

And the word was a woman laden ladylike diminutive as advertised she came when he culled

And the word was a woman spitting guttural strange on the tongue caught in the throat a fishbone a needle a spine an impolite whine

And the word was woo and woe manhandled wholly man-made unholy man-entered hole

And the word was a woman trope token tokin’ blowin’ up this joint smokin’

And the word was a woman a brassy broad a bitch a boss

And the word was a woman tsismosa she loca y loba disgracia borracha usap-usap bunganga

And the word was a woman a whore a chore a deity of need

And the word was a woman nothing but a thing nobody but an owned body of everybody a no one of everyone

And the word was a woman rendered illegal tender beat her spend her meek girl bend her

And the word was a woman splayed a mislaid doll a little star a mauled thrall mewling muling she a musing she a monstrous bejeweled thing

And the world was a woman pearl serving girl whirled and hurled slurred and hurt herded dirtied blurring

And the word was a woman say hey baby she taint your taste unchaste wasteland

And the word was a woman she cupcake fuck bait funk fake hunt take cunt snake truncate drunk hate run straight she luster and flush she funk fake blood plait booty shake

And the word was a woman a venus a phoenix a fox a polygot remix

And the world was a womb’s warm walls


Some Thoughts on Poetry, Difficulty, Language

Belated thoughts here, on my last lecture in Pinay Lit, in which we read Janice Sapigao‘s microchips for millions, and my For the City that Nearly Broke Me. This thing came up about use of languages not “readable” or readily accessible to readers. In Janice’s work, it’s the pervasiveness of the binary code. In mine, specifically the piece, “Malaya,” it’s the Tagalog/Indo-Malay “mash-up.”  

First, we recognize that binary code is indeed a language. We agree that it is a language, and we agree it is a language used widely in Silicon Valley, which is the setting for Janice’s work. We also agree that while we cannot read it, someone (or something) does; many someones (and many somethings) read it, function in it. It is directly related to the affluence of this area, the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

If we cannot read it though, then is it enough, for us as readers, to have that recognition which I just described? Does that make the appearance of the language in Janice’s text effective?

Consider also, that while we readers cannot read this language, do the low-paid, overworked immigrant labor force of Silicon Valley, who are central to Janice’s poems read that language? Or are they as “in the dark” as we are, not knowing what is being communicated in that language? And if they are in the dark as we readers are, which I suspect is the case, then as readers, does that help us create a more layered reading experience?

(Similar questions arise regarding my “mash-up.” Can you read it? Probably not. If not, then what do you “do” with the poem? What is this poem about then?)

And does the presence of these languages in these works make the works, “difficult.” And if so, then is this a “bad” thing, this difficulty? In our communities, where so many readers and community members expect and demand narratives to be handed to them in the most non-threatening manner ever, especially narratives authored by women, and especially narratives authored by “younger” women. This perceived poetic cleverness, what I call a willingness to handle difficulty, is a thing if not disliked, then definitely discouraged. Anti-rigor.

I am thinking more and more about layers in poem, and layers in bodies of poetry. I am thinking I can’t write any other way, if I mean to write what and how I mean to write. And it is a challenge to write a layered, multilingual thing that both immediately disturbs you, and also unravels itself over time with a lot of thoughtfulness, and for readers and editors, it seems to become a terrible inconvenience.