Awitin Mo

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Hello!

Welcome to my writing blog. I write poetry and fiction of the speculative sort.

Recent publications: Brown woman at Safety Beach, Victoria, in June in Uncanny Magazine 10.

I keep my art at Likhain, and I have a Patreon that supports my creative work — if you like my writing or art, please consider checking that out! If you need to contact me, you’re welcome to email me.

the center does not hold

I was on my way to the kitchen when I saw the tears in my partner’s eyes. After some coaxing, she said she’d just read an article about my country, about what our new president is doing. I knew things were bad, she said. I just hadn’t realized the extent of it. And then she gave me a look I knew well: she was gauging whether this would (as it has so often in the past) push me closer to breaking.

I said, It’s okay. Don’t worry. I know. I wasn’t looking at her; I had my gaze pinned on something featureless and inoffensive, like the wall above the kitchen cupboards. Sometimes you avert your eyes not because you don’t want to see, but because you don’t want to be seen. It’s fine, I repeated. He will destroy everything the past years have built. We knew this from the start.

Maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to be. These days I don’t spend much time guessing.


How I cook: butter and heat. Let the edges of the food turn a rich brown. Take it to the point of caramelization, tip it over– but only just.

Try to stop short of burning.


If I could afford to have eyes for the future, I would try to guess: is my motherland set so firmly on this path that nothing will sway it? Are we wholly bent on our destruction? Most importantly: is there anything we can do (was there anything we could have done) to stop it, to turn back, to somehow keep from falling apart–

–but you see, these are questions I cannot ask, because I cannot look ahead further than the next day. Give me anything after tomorrow, and I lose myself in thoughts of abyss.

Instead here is what I can think about: what do we have in the fridge, can we afford to have the heating on tonight, are our meds close to running out? Is it time to put the bins out; to pay the gas bill; to shuffle accounts around for rent? Am I unwell, and if so, how much household work can I do, will this impact my deadlines, can I take a nap? It is mundane and ordinary and perfectly, excruciatingly small, and sometimes — those few times when my thoughts try to turn to larger things, just before my mind shrinks away from the immensity of it, all the sun-struck terror blazing forth from grandeur — I think this smallness will damn me.

(It is difficult, when the choice is: be small to live, or act in large ways and risk dying. It reminds me of prey.)


This is what I did after my conversation with my partner about my country:

I sliced mushrooms. I sauteed garlic. I set about boiling water for pasta.

I did not think, we will fatten the fish of Manila Bay with the corpses of our people.


Sometimes poetry burns itself into you. Like this:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I used to think I would rather be the worst, and burn with all the force of my belief, than give nothing to the world but an insipid existence.

These days I’m revising my opinion. I’m seeing what passionate intensity can do.


I wanted to ask, where does this leave us? but again, I flinch away from that question, its scope.

I do not want to say: we are doing this to ourselves. That may be true, but if so, it’s not my place to say it.

Nor do I want to say: this is what happens when the ends justify the means, even though that’s true — it’s a darker and more awful trail of thought to follow than what I allow myself, these days.

Instead: listen, I’m afraid, and in pain; I’m a small thing of flesh and scarred skin and the instincts of prey, and I live in a world where the land that bore me is bleeding itself to death and I can only watch in horror. Listen, I don’t know what more to do, it’s hard enough just to live.


And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


I will keep hoping. I will stand witness.

(And write and weep and remember, and — perhaps — not break.)

It may not be enough. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

For the smallest of creatures, each day survived is its own defiance.


Note: Excerpts are from Yeats’s The Second Coming.

Liner notes: Adarna

If I put footnotes in my poems, they would be at least twice as long! So I am putting them here. With bonus commentary that is not half as serious as it should be, but if I worried about coherence etc I would never write this! I hope it doesn’t break in-world immersion too much.

Adarna was published in Strange Horizons in its 21 December 2015 issue.

May isang ibong maganda
ang pangalan ay Adarna,
cun marinig mong magcantá
ang saquít mo’i, guiguinhaua.
—from Ibong Adarna, author unknown

Or, more correctly, “Korrido at Buhay na Pinagdaanan ng Tatlóng Principeng Magkakapatid na anak nang Haring Fernando at nang Reyna Valeriana sa Kahariang Berbania” (Filipino for “Corrido and Life Lived by the Three Princes, children of King Fernando and Queen Valeriana in the Kingdom of Berbania”). I don’t know that I entirely agree with the ‘history’ on its Wikipedia page, but the summary is useful, though in the many many versions of this I’ve read and listened to, pretty much everything is secondary to the events surrounding the magical bird.

“Ibong Adarna” is an epic poem that was one of my first fairy tales as a child; it’s very special to me because of its scope, and– I will say, I didn’t have very many grand fairy tale quests rooted in my motherland, growing up. So what I did have, I clung to fiercely. As I grew older, though, I always thought that the Adarna was treated incredibly unfairly, and if some retellings I’ve encountered were true — that the bird was an enchantress, itself — the story was broken. And this brokenness planted a seed that grew into this what-if (I’m a huge fan of AUs): what if all the princes failed? And there was a fourth child, a young princess, who would succeed? And what if the price of this success was something terrible and costly, something she had not known to expect?

There’s a story in me about that; I’ve held it inside for over five years, I may hold on to it for five years more. But anyway, this poem! It got written.

Princess, they say: find her in the garden of bone,
feeding hearts to the soil.

In some stories, and certainly in my head, the Adarna has been so highly sought after for her magic that she’s turned scores of men into stone. It makes sense to me that she would set them up in a garden of hers. I mean, it’s practically canon. (Look, I really love AUs and messing with canon, it’s how I was raised.)

paniki, kuliglig, salagubang

Bat, cicada, scarab beetle. I admit I included salagubang because of this song.

sharp kalamansi

My favorite scene is where the prince(ss) cuts into their palms with a knife and squeezes kalamansi juice onto the wounds so they would stay awake. I am more than a little outraged that the Wiki page used “key lime” — kalamansi is different, and far sharper!

dream-eyed waling-waling, violet mouths open
on galaxies of alitaptap

Waling-waling is an orchid; I remember being baffled when, as a child, I was told it was the most beautiful flower in the world. These days I can see why it’s called the queen of orchids. Alitaptap is firefly, and a very good example (in my view) of how words in Tagalog sound like what they mean. Doesn’t it sound like the winking on and off of fireflies’ lights?

from entrails massed, sampaguita’s sweet swell.

Entrails are aswang’s primary food, of course. Sampaguita are among my favorite flowers — Wikipedia tells me its English name is Arabian Jasmine? — they are white and delicately lovely and dizzyingly fragrant, and garlands and wreaths made from their buds are often hung in churches, shrines, cars…

heto, katotohanan. Oo, mapait. Bakit ka narito?
Ano ang hinahanap mo?

Here, truth. Yes, [it’s] bitter. Why are you here? What do you seek?

Halika.

Come. It’s funny how when one uses Tagalog in a primarily English setting — not just here in this poem, but for me, in everyday life, as I don’t speak Tagalog at home anymore — one is struck so deeply by the beauty of Tagalog and its words. One thing about halika is “ka” — “you”; it merges the addressee with the action requested.

Push fingers hard into salt, grip kampilan

Salt is of course a traditional enemy of aswang and other night creatures. Kampilan is a long sword, my favorite of our indigenous weapons. I made a mistake with this, because in my head the princess is Tagalog — well, they are speaking Tagalog — and yet this isn’t a Tagalog weapon. Oh well.

Anak ng tao

Child of man is how some people would translate this, if they thought man/mankind was genderless. I will say “child of humans” instead, in a world where “humans” can sub seamlessly with “people” and “persons”. It’s weird how you’d think this was a straightforward translation, but really it’s not when it comes to our ungendered words.

sawa coiling forests

Sawa are pythons, and they entwine with forests in my head because I’ve walked through forests where I was told to be careful of sawa.

It is not true what they say
about the dark: you know how shadows protect,
shielding flesh uneaten from the teeth of men. So it is
even with monsters.

When the Spanish colonizers came to my country, they demonized the dark, the supernatural, the babaylan. A local show did a good summary of it. (One note, “the Maria Clara mold” is not accurate to the original Maria Clara, who was a brave young woman; it’s a sad thing that the stereotype does such disservice to the original.)

a fierce womb burnished gold from when araw meant
radiance and not a father’s killing blow. Birthed to hiwaga,
rhythm, burning—

Araw: sun. An alamat, a folktale, tells of how the Sun and Moon were husband and wife. The Sun was a terrible husband; the Moon was an exemplary wife; the Moon decided to leave the Sun, and they fought over who would have custody of their children, the stars. As they fought, the stars fell from the sky, and the Moon raced after them to save them while the Sun did nothing, preferring to stay on his lofty throne.

Hiwaga: magic, enchantment.

tempest in halimaw’s throat, all the fury of sigwa, unos,
bagyo—then the silences of bundok shouldering upward,
their mineral strength. Lindol at alon:
lulunurin ka, lalamunin. Aawit ako at guguho
ang iyong mundo.

I appreciate very much when editors don’t bat an eyelash at code-switching within sentences; it’s a very normal thing for me when I’m home in the Philippines, and actually Taglish is a lot easier than straight Tagalog or straight English. Halimaw: monster. Sigwa, unos, bagyo: these are all storm-words — sigwa is the storm’s herald, an oncoming storm; unos is the wild winds, the typhoon; bagyo is the catch-all storm.

Bundok: mountain. Lindol at alon: earthquake and wave, the main forces of destruction in the world I know. Will drown you, will swallow [you] up. I will sing and your world will crumble | collapse | be utterly destroyed.

the wind’s fingers sign of the women
who sang before the white armies came.

But of course the women. It has always been the women. More specifically, our societies’ structures had women in positions of power, with agency and rights, before the colonizers imposed their own structures on us. Reading this article on women in pre-colonial Philippines makes my heart hurt — so much that was shattered.

Kumain ka na ba?

Have you eaten? But it’s not just that: it’s greeting, it’s basic courtesy and respect, it’s expression of care for another’s well-being, it’s acknowledgment of the fundamental role of food, not just as sustenance but as a vital social act.

of isip—salita—gawa—all yours.

Thought, word, deed. This echoes the original Panatang Makabayan, which I recited together with my schoolmates as a student, every flag ceremony: I will strive to be a true Filipino, in thought, in word, and in deed.

…I swear I didn’t mean this to be a hyper-patriotic poem or anything of the sort; I don’t think it is, but naturally anything that speaks of decolonization must also speak of reclaiming one’s motherland, how one belongs to it, how it belongs to one.

Babae is only another name for a strength
that does not shatter

Babae: woman. We all know this. We have always known.

Bakit ka narito? Sino
ang hinahanap mo?

Why are you here? Who are you seeking?

you have dared rivers’ flood-gorged bellies,
buwaya’s jaws, swimming on and waiting
for the chance to break the surface, gulp in air.

Another what-if: what if the Berkakan in Biag ni Lam-ang was a crocodile? And Lam-ang wrestled it? And won? And it wasn’t Lam-ang, but this princess, on her quest to find the Adarna and bring her back to cure her ailing father?

Our voices rise meticulous into the air, halimaw
babae gamit ari-arian, like fragrance from crushed
sampaguita.

Monster woman [thing | tool] possession.

Yet
if we must die,
we go into death
singing.

It is always a song.

We are always singing.


Adarna would have been a far different (and, I think, lesser) poem if not for my ates, older sister/friend/mentor people, Aliette de Bodard, Kate Elliott, Cindy Pon, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. Maraming salamat sa inyong pag-gabay at pagmamahal.

He asked me, Where are you from?

  1. I am from the land of volcanoes, duck fetuses
    we suck salty from the egg, gaming cafes,
    branched complexities in texts and transfers,
    jeweled skyscrapers, traffic jams. The sea, the sea! And
    I’m just here for a flat white, thanks,
    if I’d known I would be expected to discuss
    Asianness and your Thai wife, your daughter
    still in Thailand, I’d have brought
    my history books, a hard drive full of applications
    for migration, my armor: still glowing golden
    with the light of eaten suns, the magma and fire
    I left behind.

  2. Mornington. No, not really:
    from the Philippines, that eagle-crowned lady
    bent nearly double over her sword. But you
    don’t want to hear about inangbayan, only
    to figure out if you guessed right, cracked the puzzle
    just so: this brown skin, this narrowing of midnight eye.
    What map contoured my fingers, which empire
    bore my grandmother through which war?
    I thought you were Indian, Chinese, Malaysian;
    no, really, which? Here, it’s easy: imagine mirrors
    made of vinegar and ash — these living games
    you put your questions to, sometimes rewarding
    your “I knew it! I have a friend from there,”
    with the sweetest and most knowing of smiles.

  3. Oh yes, my accent. I know.
    Let’s talk about war, let’s talk about the barter
    of colonized peoples between the true powers
    called civilized nations. Twenty million, that’d be
    how much we cost, and if you think I sound bitter
    it’s because I am. Why shouldn’t I be? Decades on
    we’re still paying for it, iron and gold and gas
    and our naked flesh, we walk streets over gaping
    wounds that bleed poison and floodwater
    every rainy season; see, brooding over our cities
    the gashed earth, weeping. The US of A
    has been the ever-devoted friend. Not like
    we don’t have enough to worry about, the shards
    of what we’ve broken, our kababayan
    we’ve trampled, torn to pieces– all on our own,
    and then some. You know my grandmother
    taught English during the occupations,
    which is how she met my grandfather,
    fellow English teacher, former machine gunner
    during the war. That is to say, I speak like this
    because America has never truly left, I speak
    like this because I like my mother wanted to survive, I
    speak because this is another mark
    of how we’re owned and resist possession,
    how we’re branded and must burn it away, how
    what shackles us remains and remains and remains.

  4. From the country of there but for the grace of God go I,
    which is to say, shall I uncover your surprise
    at how I pretend not to wear these chains? Listen,
    I’ll tell you a story. One day we were talking,
    friends and I, about my country’s cuisine; you see
    I am now an expert at all things Filipino, unelected
    ambassador of my people to the world, and
    my job at parties is to defend inangbayan’s name.
    Why is our food so absent from the guides
    of the rich? Where are our people, to eat it?
    Assimilated, I wanted to say, because look
    how skilled we are at surviving, excellent even:
    at adapting, erasing ourselves from ourselves
    to create ever new lives, we fetuses in our own
    uneaten eggs. Instead I held my tongue, another
    important skill, and laughed along at their jokes,
    at the friend who said, it’s easy to find Filipinos,
    just look for older men, their hands holding
    much younger girls. So yes. Indeed.
    That’s where I’m from. I sprung full-formed
    from a lonely white man’s pocket, into the laughter
    of strangers I call friends to make the exile easier,
    into their bright eyes, their wineglasses, their
    fingers holding shrimp. These moments hook into skin
    like thorns; you pull away and they remain, lodged
    in your flesh. I come from brambles. From a place
    where choice is a curse. From gutter-water
    on windows, skirt-hem, hands — gripping nothing —
    the wretched ruin of face. I was never born
    out of my mother’s womb. I never went through
    the same pains and growth
    that all people who are people
    do. I come from thickets, as do
    all monsters
    made of thorns.

  5. Over there. Yeah, there.
    Look, can I just finish my coffee?
    I’m very good at wishful thinking,
    abysmal at following it through.
    All right then. Interrogate me.
    Flay my history open, my country’s history,
    tell me about your bewilderment
    at our armed security, say you wonder
    why we populate the ranks of your service
    like so many lined-up smiles.
    Ask me why we lost all our wars,
    when we thought giving was one thing
    that didn’t mean death.

  6. The Philippines. Yeah.
    I live here now. No, really. Yes, here.
    I have a partner, yes.
    Oh, you too. Pardon?
    Yes, I see. It’s a lovely place.
    Good for you.

A smattering of strange wonders

Awesome SFF online magazine Strange Horizons is doing its annual fund drive — SH is a non-profit and is entirely volunteer-run, so it depends on fundraising to keep going. This is a post to say two things:

  1. Please go donate if you can! There are lots of awesome prizes, including Strange Horizons: The First Fifteen Years, its 15th anniversary ebook! (Which all donors at the $10+ level and above get, as well as all Patreon patrons) My poem Seeds, my first publication, is included in the ebook! (EEEEEEEEEEEEEE ♥)

  2. SH absolutely deserves support; it’s a venue that publishes stunning stories and poems, as well as really good thoughtful non-fiction pieces; it’s one of the most welcoming venues to first-time writers and newcomers to the field; its archives are this brilliant wealth of diverse perspective and experimentation with form; and– look, I went through the archives, just did a quick ten-minute browse, and already saw so many amazing pieces. The consistency of quality and interestingness is one of SH’s great strengths.

Some of the things I found in just those ten minutes, just as a sampler (not going to do descriptions because I’m really low on energy right now, but they are all wonderful pieces):

  1. The Wives of Azhar by Roshani Chokshi
  2. Hundred-Eye by Yukimi Ogawa
  3. Glaciers Made You by Gabby Reed
  4. City of Salt by Arkady Martine
  5. The Truth About Owls by Amal el-Mohtar
  6. Nkásht íí by Darcie Little Badger
  7. Santos de Sampaguitas by Alyssa Wong
  8. The Great Detective by Sarah Brooks
  9. Never the Same by Polenth Blake
  10. Resurrection Points by Usman T. Malik
  11. Witch, Beast, Saint: an Erotic Fairy Tale by C.S.E. Cooney

…I could go on! (In fact, as I was writing this up, I saw several more stories further down on the screen that I wanted to rec, but you know, I only planned to list five at first and now I’m up to eleven…) But see, see? In sum, SH is a really awesome place and let’s help it get to its goal please if we can — and also those stories are awesome, go check them out!

Reasons I checked out of diversity discussion du jour

1. I am ill. That is, my mind roils floodwater
cloud-spewed night after Ondoy night, fingers on my temple
drumming unceasing — not wanting to cease, until the flood
carried all the bodies away, rafted whole villages of the dead,
their mouths stitched shut by water, eyes mud-sealed
against all further seeing — pulled them under bridges
that became a river that swallowed a highway, a twilight
roofed in galvanized iron, shivering children, tented frames
of bloated corpses — away, all away, under the clotted curve of the moon.

2. We visit a vineyard, my beloved and I. It is just after summer,
Shiraz vines heavy with the pride of fruit, whole bunches of grapes
branched in clusters, straining against night-dark skins
with the fullness of sweet bursting. Almost bursting. Sun
combs through my beloved’s hair. What I am swallowing right now
is standing among other lovers, my beloved and I deemed only friends.
This is smallness. I hold my beloved’s hand in mine.
Friends is not a terrible thing, I say. Our hands tremble.
I wonder if branches grow weary with the weight of holding,
waiting for a harvest that will not come.

3. On maps, Pilipinas is land threaded through by water.
An old man with a cane, we say. Doubled over the pain
in his belly, having eaten his fill of dusty dynasties,
the leavings of our conquerors; and after, poisoned rivers. Flood.
When I say I am from the Philippines there are no ways
to translate the salt-sun broken on my tongue
into the language of Twitter and Tumblr. Our histories
must all merge, the struggle of white women must tell
the entirety of my grandmother’s flight through rice fields,
cane sugar rusting in my mother’s mouth, the drowning
of memories that we say is another word for rest. Sleep.
Centuries of iron, and we jeer at the child spitting out
“pridom” for “freedom”. There are no ways to translate debris
into pith, twisted institutions into retweets or Medium posts.
To send my maps, my pointing finger, to people’s screens
and say, look, Pilipinas is an old woman, here is my lola,
leaning on her sword, here we are, the clods of earth
the sky and sea tossed up in battle, we exist in this story
cocoon-captured in this claw-claim web they
(we, they’d say) have made of the world.

3. Ano ako, panakip-butas?

3. It will not change. The chants find new rhythms
but draw from old blood. Diversity, today’s chant says, but
I do not understand how this should mean more than rallying cries
on invisible fronts, when power speaks to shatter all sound
and he is trying must be enough. There’s representation.
They talk to your people.
Indeed, and I must scan these my lines
for comprehension to empire’s eyes. This English, yes
it’s grammatically correct, but its use of syntax is suspect,
requires sanitation in case of vermin, nuno, snakes.
Diversity: what a strange and bloodless word, rinsed clean of the gore
birthed in war and struggle and the breaking of bones, cracking teeth,
the slice to open veins: to speak, write, survive. Representation: here
existence is violence. People learn from us, transform us.
We become texts, hashtags. Still things, to be spoken to. Yes, represent:
I am ill, and in my head: black on red on black, the abyss,
the silence, the sick knowledge: none of this will heal monsters.
Tomorrow, the same day. Tomorrow, the same day.

3. The back of my throat hurts. I can only give blood
once every three months, and even then it takes a while
to find a vein. What I’m trying to say is,
I don’t have an agenda. I just want to live.
What I’m trying to say is, listen to us,
but it will never happen until someone who matters
says it first. Did we know that screaming in anger
never changed anyone’s mind? Did we know
we must only mourn what is deemed justly tragic,
not this mirrorless windowless world, not unnumbered
torn veils or terror’s prayers. What I’m trying to say is,
let’s talk about worth and artistic merit,
let’s debate agendas and quotas, let’s
hold polite industry panels so we can paper over
the wrongs of publishing with earnest books
free of agenda or jobs for books or overly literal color, what I’m saying is,
I’m bleeding out, I’m bleeding out.

3. Hayaan mo na. Oo, hahayaan ko naman
kung kaya ko eh. Pero:
ang daming mali
sa mundo. At ano ngayon? Wala kang magagawa.
Iisa ka lang. Oo. Oo. Pahinga muna.

3. And this is just ranting, of course, because I’m afraid
and unwilling to engage, won’t give people a chance
to prove the rightness of their positions, the purity of their intent.
Besides, this haze of getting by, forgetting and being forgotten,
shambling around in a semblance of painlessness: fog,
waiting for trains, shaping courtesies out of bitter ashes,
my grandmother’s bones– Pinaghirapan ko ‘to. This facsimile
of smiling survival. And what does it even matter,
when we will be grateful anyway, in the end? For whatever scraps
we’ll be given, each moment we can hold our lover’s hand
without shuddering for safety, each day a child’s bright eyes
answer a doorway’s fears. Our faces are needless,
like sparrows, unnecessary and brown, darting through streets
to gobble up sunlight, jagged pieces of air. Just enough
to keep breathing. I’m grabbing at my mouth; it writhes away,
a red wet thing. I’m starving, I say. Only people in the center
have souls. My knees hit the floor. Oh yes:
salamat po.

3. Bones can only borrow
so much weight.

3. Sometimes rain pours between slats of sunlight: we say
it must be a tikbalang wedding, a ceremony unhindered
by legalities and the gates of tolerance and hearts
asking for what cannot (will not) be given. But there
are no tikbalang here. I should write home. Should say,
tell me the stories that live in my blood, so I can imagine
this slow loss away. Instead I strip in rose-gray light,
map continents on my skin: this is where a slur landed,
a bruise blossomed here as I turned, ran, hid; here
old strangleholds; here risk marks me with the burn
of forced locks, scabbed knees, all the tongues
I’ve bitten off and swallowed. Here cost and cost and cost
burns branded. How easy it must be to speak without gallows.
Still the rain will wash the blood down my throat,
I must believe this, the rain does not stop,
the rain will not stop, oh now I can taste
something other than iron, burnt sugar,
sweet rot, the caramel of dying grass
tikbalang’s wedding feast sticking to my teeth
like all the words I cannot afford to say.

3. Cervantes says, when life itself seems lunatic,
who knows where madness lies?
and we go on from there.
I am sick with a sickness that sends friends links
and single lines of capslock: AAAAAAAAAAAAA.
FUCK THIS SHIT. FUCK THEM ALL. Hahamaking lahat,
I begin, and cannot continue.

3. Pretend hope is a child. It has been raining for days,
the gutters gorged with flood and drowned snakes. Hope
closes the doors. Water laps at her ankles, pools
on the floor. She climbs up onto a table
and watches rats thrashing through the river
of her house. The flood eats the table.
She climbs up onto the roof, hands slipping
over corrugated iron, knees scabbed in rust.
Hope sits there, watches the flood
swallow trees and lamp posts and walls,
taking house and street into its mud-brown belly.
She lifts her face to the sky. Rain and rain.

3. Masunod ka lamang.
To see life as it is, and not
as it should be.

3. And the floodwaters, rising, rising.

Notes:
For Example: A Flower, Arkaye Kierulf
Please Take Back the Sparrows, Suzanne Buffam

depression songs, ii.

–Wonderful, I woke up this morning
to the weight of water in my throat, a hungry ocean
filling my lungs. My skin scrapes scales onto walls
beside elbow-gouged calligraphy, my spine glassine.
I cannot remember when I last saw sunlight clear
un-blued by abyss. The funny thing about drowning,
you never get used to it, you struggle for air
miles beneath the sea. You pretend to warm flesh,
bright-beating blood, stagger around in a heap of bones
as if you were dancing. Yesterday I twisted
through the raw impossibility of standing. Let’s not ask
after the newness of my pursuits: you see me here,
alive, unshelled by shame, body still crushed by living.
That’s all. That’s everything
that shudders from being said. That’s
the eye unblinking, the dark gape of it.
thanks. How are you?

Story recommendations, muddled with cucumber

I am drinking a gin and tonic modified by the happy addition of cucumber, and I totally had this long spiel prepared about reccing philosophy and how I choose stories to recommend and the themes by which I order them (quick: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, The Grass King’s Concubine by Kari Sperring: what’s the common thread?) and all sorts of angsting about how it’s just weird to pretend to be a quote-unquote writer and in the same blog gush shamelessly, like the most enthusiastic of waterspouts, about the brilliance of one’s friends, but– look! Let’s just dispense with that and get to the recs! They’ve been sitting in my drafts for half a year!

Eyes of Carven Emerald by Shweta Narayan, Clockwork Phoenix 3. I’ve linked to this before, but will link to it again — and over and over, until everyone reads it — because I think this story is a marvel, a brilliant tapestry of wonders, and it not only needs to be read — people need to read it. This is the story I wish I could write, that I wish I were brimful enough, with truth and wisdom and the horror of history and the riches of a thousand artisans’ halls, to even imagine. The steampunk is the least of it (I really think this could be the core of a masterclass on writing steampunk; the technologies are always necessary and never obtrusive, they are part of the world but do not delineate it) — what makes it so compelling is the question-tangled mesh of power, histories, warring desires, the looming shadow of empire, edged in sun and blood. And resistance, gloriously done in this piece. I have read this story many times and still keep returning to it; as with the rest of Narayan’s work, layers upon layers of meaning reveal themselves to the reader, color-bursting, glittering with a thousand different lights, ruthlessly sharp.

Hath No Fury by Kat Howard, Subterranean Press Magazine Spring 2014. The beginning of the Iliad stirs my blood with sea-bright fervor: anger be now thy song, immortal one. This story possesses the strains of that bloodshot steelsung urgency, but clad in the grit of more modern times. No less intense for that, though: the narrator says, I am not a good girl, and through a tight smile, through gritted teeth, through bloody lips, you the reader say: yes, yes, yes. What a satisfying read — something that sates a hunger kindled by the countless injustices a woman faces day by day, a hunger so often lulled to sleep or bribed to stupor — and utterly, bloodily gorgeous in its rage, in its sense of justice, in its steady awareness of the weight of womanhood; in the voice of the narrator, so clear one almost hears her speaking, breath close and hot against one’s ear. I thought the way the plot moved was pretty much perfect. Sing to me, o Muse, and through me tell our story.

Fifty Years in the Virtuous City by lionpyh, Archive of Our Own. So I’m not going to get into defenses of fanfiction here; I’m just going to present this story and dare anyone who reads it to tell me that it is not a masterful piece of writing. Because it’s so skillfully wrought, its images bright and vivid against the mind’s eye, and sometimes one finds oneself holding one’s breath, seeing these women speak to each other, the worlds each exchange contains. This is fanfiction for Sultana’s Dream by Roquia Sakhawat Hussain, which I really need to read because if it can inspire such things– why, it must be an amazing piece of fiction itself! And– yes, what I love about this story: the beautifully drawn characters, the attention to sensory detail, the nuances of the relationship between these women — so tender, so uncompromising and yet– oh, my heart; and oh, the depiction of study and research, how one can fall in love with it, headlong–! I enjoyed this story so, so much; lionpyh is one of my favorite fanfic writers, and I relish each chance to read a story by them.

Scrappy little updates

After months of wibbling (totally a word) about how I couldn’t post because I had nothing of enough import to say, I have decided that as it is my blog I get to post things that are as light and fluffy as I like! So.

(Besides, I realized I’ve missed quite a few things that are worth reading, anyway.)

Two months ago I participated in the SFF in Conversation series of roundtables at The Book Smugglers, together with such brilliant writers as JY Yang, Bogi Takács, Zen Cho, and Aliette de Bodard, with Charles Tan moderating. After weeks of discussion we emerged with our roundtable, On Diversity. Quite an experience discussing such a fraught and complicated topic as “diversity” with people I admire so much! Happily, I think quite a few people read our teal deer conversation, and it even made it to io9, something I found both staggering and delightful (although I really, really do not recommend reading the comments there).

What else? I have a poem coming up in Strange Horizons sometime in the future — it’s called “Adarna” and it’s one of the pieces I’ve had the most difficulty with, and I was so happy that SH, via one of their new poetry editors, Li Chua, took it. Thank you very much, SH!

Illustration-wise, I did the illustration for Kin, Painted by Penny Stirling over at , which is now live and available for viewing! Gorgeous story and I had such a fun time with the different colors and patterns.

Also! Just today, The Book Smugglers (wow they do so much awesome work) unveiled the cover for the last book in their First Contact series, The Vishakanya’s Choice by Roshani Chokshi. The cover was done by… yes, me! I am still so ridiculously excited, pleased, and nervous about it — digital art is the usual cover fare, of course, and it’s a magnificent story, one wants so much to do it justice! Do check it out (and let me know if I did, haha). The story will be available to read for free online on 25 August, but you can go ahead and buy the ebook now, which gives you a lovely little thing to keep on your reader.

I look forward to having more interesting updates and good news soon. In the meantime, I’ll keep working hard to keep putting stuff out there!

Out of fracture

I did not realize I was already speaking until I was neck-deep in it, and so I will speak. I have friends who have very wisely and with great love counselled me to stay silent, keep my head down, and focus on working; this is not to silence me, but because they have seen me break down many times, most recently at the start of this year, and they know that once I get into an issue I over-invest and it usually makes me ill. I have also told myself that I’m no one, really, so what right have I to speak? But to the first point — dear friends, I am sorry, it has gotten to the point that it hurts not to speak because the dam has broken; to the second point, let me say that this is defiance too, speaking. To speak as if I had a voice, had a right to one, just as other people who live in the center, who have power, do.


I will start at a margin. A little over three years ago, my family cast me out because I was queer. It almost, quite literally, killed me. Since then I have lived with a great deal of trauma; the only reason I do not say “it may yet kill me” is because I am trying to hold on to hope.

One thing that left me with is a fear of my wrongness — of committing some error, doing something that is not quite right and not quite perfect, of breaking a rule of ideology or faith — and thus being cast out. Part of me, watching the conversation about the Hugos, about RH, about Laura J Mixon’s report, can feel that old fear rising up my throat again, choking me. It is a very particular kind of pain, being this afraid, flinching at nothing because you know it will happen again. You have marched out of lock-step and you will be punished.

(Incidentally, I find it laughable — the kind of laughter one resorts to so as not to weep — that some of RH’s supporters are framing things this way: “march out of lock-step and this is what happens”. But I digress.)

After my family cast me out, it was my community that saved me. It was my community that provided me with constant support, financial and emotional and mental; my community took my hands every time I reached out, my community did not tire of telling me, it is not your fault, you have worth. My community told me, again and again, please live. Right now I am watching my community at a loss, fractured and wounded, full of distrust and betrayal and pain, and it hurts as if it were one of my limbs experiencing the injury. Because I care about the people in the community and I care about all the energy it took to build the community, I care about its strength and well-being — and it hurts, too, because I am afraid I will lose my community for what I have said and what I will say.

One thing that I think has been overlooked in a lot of discussion about this matter is the deep damage suffered by communities comprised of women and gender minorities of color. There are a thousand thousand different conversations that could be had in these communities about the RH matter and they are all very fraught and painfully difficult to have. I have seen people speak of race traitors and collusion with whiteness; I have seen people question fellow people of color’s commitment to– I will call it anti-racism, for now; I have seen people doubting the stories of those who have come forward about abuse because they are anonymous; I have seen people believing victims, but at the same time saying, and yet, the abuser is doing important anti-racism work, and so we cannot support you. I have seen questions of authenticity and the “right” way of going about doing things, as if such a thing existed; I have seen people doubting fellow marginalized people’s awareness of their actions, as if we were children. And yes, I have seen things that have made me wonder whether I will lose my place in this community if I say, I am glad the Mixon report exists, I would vote for it if I could, as if I did not have the right to my own opinion but must vote with some overwhelmingly ascendant cause. I have seen people speaking out of places of isolation and doubt and fear, I have seen so much, so much vulnerability and rawness.

I have seen so many marginalized people afraid, like me, of being cast out and shunned because of what they feel, what they fear to speak. This is wrong. It should not be happening.

It is a complex painful horrible mess, and we from the margins are in the center of it. I have not seen half as much acknowledgment of that as there should be, in my mind. But then, usually, there never is.


Here are a number of things I will say:

If the Mixon report did not exist, I would have dropped out of the scene entirely. It was the thought that someone was trying to do something concrete against RH that made me stay. I have said before that I would nominate and/or vote for it were I able to; this is still true.

The Mixon report was very painful for many people of color, as many white people seized on it to self-justify and to further fortify themselves against call-outs of racism, sexism and problematic behavior. It was not painful to me personally; to me it felt like suddenly being able to breathe — but it has been used by white people as a defense in that way, and– look, is there a more eloquent way to say this? Stop it, white people. Stop it.

I do not care one way or another whether people vote for the Mixon report or not. That it is on the ballot is enough for me.

However, if people start talking about why one should not vote for the Mixon report because RH was an undeserving target (untrue), because it did nothing good (untrue, unless you count it a loss that I’m still here, and, well, I don’t count it a loss), because RH is not our problem — well. I will not bore you with details, but suffice to say that RH is a problem of mine, as is VD, as are the Sad and Rabid Puppies, as is every abuser in every community I am in, as is every privileged person who has told me that my English is wrong, as is everyone who makes me have to fight so hard for the right to speak. RH may not be your problem, but she is mine, and for you to dismiss the deep and lasting harm she has inflicted on people — including marginalized people, by the way — just goes to show why it is so incredibly hard for me to be in this community.

“Would RH have been subjected to this treatment were she a white man?” That is a difficult question. I am not thinking about it because it is difficult in ways that are very complicated including ways that are specific to RH and the fandom — not, let’s be clear, because white men don’t get free passes, because they do — and also the way that this question has been used to defend abuse is sickening. Yes, people of color can be abusers too. Yes, the way in which you say “RH was punching up, she was doing good work” is appalling. I am going to proceed quickly to the next point before today’s mental health unravels.

Elizabeth Bear has said some appalling things in the past. Some, to me: I was someone who called her out about using “death march” to describe hard writing, four or so years ago now, I think. I however am glad for her behavior throughout all this, I am glad for her unstinting support of Rochita and this post was heartening to me. I want to believe that people can change, and in any case grudges are heavy things to carry; having seen more of her, I like her and I am going to read her work. I do not expect this of anyone else. I fully understand people’s side-eyes. Should people start talking about more collusion with whitey I will side-eye you.

It is true that white people supporting people of color get more applause than people of color supporting other people of color. So for all those retweeting and linking to what GRRM, Elizabeth Bear, and other white writers are saying, please consider boosting the words of writers of color with even greater force. Here are some links, even: SAFE, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. (I am not linking to things on journal communities as I don’t feel very comfortable linking to them from an external site. If you would like me to link to you please just contact me.)

I am not going to comment about TNH for the sake of my mental health.

I will defend, with as much vigor as I can, the right of people of color to not vote for the Mixon report and analyze and critique and criticize and dissect it as much as we please. I will defend our right to hold different opinions and not be a monolith and have complicated conversations and not be some sort of ideological prop or tool for people only wishing to use us to amplify their voices. I will defend our right to yell at each other (how I’ve wanted to yell at people the past few weeks! as, I’m sure, some people have wanted to yell at me) and be complicated and get into fights and be human without having to be analyzed by outsiders for it as they seek evidence to buttress their racist positions.

I am really tired. I wish we did not have to fight so hard simply to exist. I wish that when an abuser turned out to be a person of color it did not turn into opportunities for white people to gleefully excuse their racism. I wish we did not identity-police each other and pressure each other to toe some sort of “POC enough” line. I wish my beloved community were not tearing itself apart. I wish, at this point, I were not shaking from the dread of being set upon by racists or judged by fellow people of color for my naivete or lack of awareness.

The safest space for me to discuss RH, outside of private conversations with friends, has been FFA. Thank you, meme.

I am focusing on building — on creation, on doing work — because it is what I can do. There was a time when I had more energy to write posts ripping racist arguments to shreds, critiquing oppressive power structures. No longer. But, truly, this work is no less difficult, requires no less courage — in fact, it requires more. I say this to the voices in my head telling me I have gone soft and weak, and to voices I have seen saying that to put one’s nose to the grindstone is to acquiesce to silence, a form of surrender. But this is my form of speaking out; this is my resistance. Every time I sit down to create art or to try and cobble some sentences or lines together, that is my battle. To create, to build, to love; this isn’t soft. I think of Perelandra manifest: “fiery, sharp, bright and ruthless, ready to kill, ready to die, outspeeding light…” I believe in love. As shield and sword, as song, as revolution and resistance, as defiance.


I had other things to say, I thought. At this point I’m exhausted. I’m also questioning what good it would do if I spoke about the current Hugo ballot, which I had intended to write about as well. Do you know what it feels like when people speak of your existence, of the acknowledgment of your humanity, of your right to speak and read and have stories, as if it were mere ideological discussion, a theoretical point to be resolved between schools of political thought?

Perhaps that is something to be revisited. For now I am dealing with a wound I have opened knowing full well what I was doing, and I can’t speak of painful things anymore. For now here is what I will say: to you who have been reading this, who may or may have not been caught up in the discussions surrounding matters pertaining to RH, to you who are thinking of the Hugos, or the Mixon report, or this pesky thing called diversity in SFF–

Here are some things. Please consider reading them. Some of them are stories. Some are poems. One, the first, is a very important essay.

We are lovers of words, of stories, first and foremost. So then: here they are. Read them, if you like; boost them, if you like. I am linking to them not because they pertain to what I was saying (they don’t) but because they are good work and I like sharing good work; I chose them based on what I am feeling right now and the way I can read them to deal with my pain. They belong to the core of SFF, they are things that speak from the margins with beauty and bravery. What do these brilliant stories care of the bigots who wish them silence and ignominy and ashes? They will shine on. They will endure.


Here is what I will do after I post this: I will go offline, and I will read a good book. And I will go forward into another day of this long struggle ahead.

News on words and art!

Hello! I am still here. As you may have guessed from, er, the previous post, my health has not been the best, but I am recovering and now return with some lovely news tidbits!

First, I have a new publication! Juli is live in the sixth issue of Through the Gate, a small but exquisitely curated poetry zine full of sharply elegant work. Juli is one of my oldest poems, and I struggled with thinking I had no place to submit it to — so I’m very glad that my little piece has found a home in TtG’s issue, and in such company! I share the every-shifting Table of Contents with writers I very much admire, such as luminaries Bogi Takács, Lisa M. Bradley, and Sonya Taaffe.

Second! I am excited to announce (belatedly) that I am illustrating An Alphabet of Embers, an anthology of unclassifiables edited by Rose Lemberg. I have read the draft manuscript and all the stories there are amazing, each and every one, and I’m working hard to make sure that my illustrations can in some small way frame all that breathtaking prose!

Another announcement — this one not too late — I am the cover artist for the first anthology for GlitterShip, an LGBTQ SFF podcast! I’m so excited about this project, as I care very deeply about having lots of awesomeness and queer representation in SFF. They’re running a Kickstarter as well, so please consider supporting that if you are so moved!

Lastly, I’m thinking about merging my art and writing blogs — they’re all mixed together in my brain, after all, and it’s difficult for me to have finished one project and then have the choice-paralysis of figuring out which blog to post it on, etc etc. Hah. We’ll see, I suppose; in the meantime, if you have any thoughts about that, I’d love to hear them.

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