Awitin Mo

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Category: Little things

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.

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?

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 Tak√°cs, 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!

depression songs, i.

and if the body will not move, what then? we see inertia
in the same unfolding mathematical spiral as force diagrams,
but have no words for the gravity pinning limbs to a mattress,
the anguish filling lungs that, somehow, still breathe.
when i was a child my elders exhorted me against the story
of juan tamad, sitting under a bayabas tree, head tipped up
to the moving shadows of leaves, open-mouthed in waiting
for some eager fruit to fall. i see myself under the same tree.
inexorable sunlight stitches through the air: g = 9.8m/s^2.
scrawls on my limbs: a body at rest will remain at rest…
oh, but external force! i draw my knees to my chin, teeth set,
eyes blotting out
the eventual fall.

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