Awitin Mo

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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.

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