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:
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.