Don’t Tell me where to Put my Anger

Don’t tell me where to put my anger

when my cupped palms are
overflowing with my acid grief
and all the drawers are full
of the noises of my dead friends
reincarnated as vipers

don’t try to teach me how to channel my rage
when the tail end of the whip is still warm
from the last fifty thousand lashes
it had cracked on the backs of the innocent
the same backs their pet monsters stand on
the same bloodied flesh they feed on
the same bones they have picked clean
to make cursed crowns from

don’t point out to me the things that aren’t
as good as silence, just because silence
got you far

don’t offer me those pretty angles
with which to frame my words, as if
you are ashamed of the same truths
that were never afraid to stand up for you
and stare down the barrels of guns for you
and put their own dreams on hold for you,

as if you weren’t a child conceived in
the hundred ways that tyrants failed
to contain an anger that clawed
and gnashed and hacked and burned
its way to change

so you could sleep soundly at night

and afford the foolishness of telling
your neighbor where to put her anger

When Safety is Foreign and Calamity is Home

Nine thousand miles from the grasp
of hands of ash, I feel the weight
of dormant decades violently broken
pulling down on my nonexistent wings
phantom itch on lungs that haven’t
choked on that lakeside air for so long
phantom burn on skin

Is the gray of your sky
the same shade as mine?
I have reached a reluctant familiarity
with winter, though with strong
gusts of wind it still causes me grief.
It’s what’s falling from your sky
that’s foreign to me now;
I was too young to remember
the last time, though I’ve read
so many heartbreaking stories
shrouded in that color of everything
we want to forget, scratched raw
across the pages by pieces of glass
spit out from the earth’s soul
that handfuls of it materialize
inside my shoes, in between my toes
or on the flat of my tongue
at unexpected times, usually when
my self-worth is disoriented and
my faith is shaken at the foundations.

Much has been said about us
being rebellious children of
storms and saltwater; we forget
we are igneous when our troubles
and tectonics are asleep. Most of us
are too young to remember the last time;
those who have firsthand wisdom
have left us with stories. Sometimes
it terrifies me that those stories
are the heaviest anchors of my being
and everything else would rust
or be undone by the wind, some wind,
of which there are plenty.

The lake was calm when I last saw it.
The horses were wild and regal
in their beauty when I last saw them.
Now the sky is swallowing lightning,
summoning to the surface
our worst nightmares
and I’m too far from home
to feel the earth rumble.


(Sending prayers and love to the victims of the Taal Volcano eruption.

“Shoot the Vagina”

(My response to President Duterte of the Philippines giving orders to his soldiers to shoot female rebels on their privates.)

You were right, at least, to fear me (you are wrong about everything else). Isn’t that why you can’t keep the word out of your mouth, the immortal fount from where I draw my power, can’t resist the urge to lump it with the foul names you use to camouflage your smallness, spitting out torrents of fucked mothers and whores and rape jokes and how battered wives should choose to stay with their husbands, as if purging a dark sin, as if all that macho talk could put a distance between you and your worst nightmare? You fear the universe between my legs, the relentless eloquence of my womb. You fear that you are nothing, that the indomitable grace that conceived you, that carried you as if you were fragile light, that took pride in you, that pushed you amid anguish and screaming out into this world, had been wasted because all you had to give back is death and destruction. By all means, shoot the vagina. You would take revenge on yourself, for the choices you have made, for all your compensating with ripped skies and body counts and infant cradles splashed with blood. By all means, shoot the vagina. If only you could also mangle the past and take the country back in time and make it so you were never born. You dabble in historical revisionism; that speaks about your insecurity more than anything. By all means, shoot the vagina. So you could watch the raging amniotic fluid of the prophecy and defiance that was never made flesh spill into this already desecrated land and rise as the ghosts of children who would forever bind you and your name and your legacy to the hell you have helped perpetuate. You were right to fear us. You were right to fear that we could create life within the warm folds of muscle and tissue, pleasure and pain and transcendence, that only ever opened to you against their will. You and your rough, rough hands. You and your rough, rough soul. So little and so terrified of your irrelevance. Your so-called strength is as awkward and forced and terminal as the echo chamber you evoke when you and others like you congregate to mutually validate your fear. It terrorizes you to think about the day your time runs out, so you would step up the highest podium in the land and threaten to end me at the place where everything else begins. Cue the laughter. So much hatred for what you cannot possess. So much smoke and mirrors for your failure to perform. You all line up on the mouth of the well with your pants down, throwing bullets in place of coins, making desperate wishes, but nobody wants you. The passage to paradise is closed.

T’nalak

Beyond textile, a translation.

Spirit dreams.
Turn left,
here.
I saw-heard it,
this pattern I’m rendering
with my hands
still asleep
still receiving
messages from the other side
the opposite end of the well
that had blessed
my womb
and that of my mother.
My mind-feet sleep-weaving,
still walking towards
that place I’ve seen,
been shown by someone I
recognized from another world,
friend of my ancestors,
or maybe the protector
and benefactor of Lake Sebu,
or maybe my future daughter
who would touch the red
and black dyes long after
the hemp fibers have dried,
and retrace the steps
my mind-feet are now taking.
It is possible to inherit
memory, to tuck instructions
into the blood. My people
have found a non-violent
way to fight extinction: we
write our lives in cloth in
an alphabet that can’t be taught.
Sacred interpretations next
to your skin, that you
take off like the night.
You will own a part of me
and the soul-map that made me.
Here in the weft of the abacá
that is second nature to
my callused hands, the same
hands that farmed the dirt
for food, caressed flesh
to profess my love, here
among the fever shapes,
a union and a death
and the melody of being.
It will have the teeth marks
of my yet unborn daughter.
My family has thanked the spirits
for you, for the visions that
will spur your pursuit of
that place that has no name.
You have your own mountain,
your own war, your state
of unrest. This shall be
your benediction, your passage
into the room from where
that unnamed song you hear-see
is coming. Circle of gold
cinching the waist of
the muse at dawn.
Edges that survived the fire.
And a history that
takes no sides.

Nights of Tokhang

(As of posting this, at least 13,000 people have been killed in the Philippines under Operation Tokhang, including minors, children and infants, most of them from low-income residential communities.)

Like a blunt knife falling,
the way uncertainty is torture
and torture is death
suspended from a string,
the layers that stand
between the heart and the blade,

night falls again on those uncertain streets.
Spirits crouch in fear with strained ears
where they had taught themselves
to fall asleep on empty stomachs.

These nights they listen for sounds of the end,
ominous gap in the arid hush,
the brief commotion of a will ensnared
like a helpless bird in the span
of a final intake of breath,
the screech of tires and the spending of bullets
ripping open the telling silence,

having brushed against the possibility of it
so many times they’d recognize the air
in its lungs as it starts dropping names
in the dead of night.

These nights they toss and turn on beds
of the nails intended for their own coffins
with cold palms pressed against the grimy walls
wondering how many hours they have left,
touching the inert limbs of their children
to check if they are still breathing.

Too late to dream, too late now
to hold the stillborn promise of change.
Too futile to change.

And in the mornings they rise
on nerves with burnt off edges
and inhale from the stench the tattered stories
of those who have been purged the night before.
An ounce of weeping, quickly drowned out
by too many empty words. A sustained
cacophony of secondhand rage.

Tell themselves it’s just ulcer from hunger.
And death will come anyway, one way or another.

(The streets have never been safer.)

Humanity

For one of our Humanities II discussions in the summer of 2001, our professor, a burly, bespectacled man with geometric tattoos on both arms, talked about classic Oriental literature being adapted into productions intended for Western, and westernized, audiences. The most glaring difference in the translation, he said, was how some major characters who died in the original text got to live to the end, in the rewrite. He said Eastern cultures were more comfortable with the idea of death, so that being on the other side of the veil still meant a happy ending was possible. That it was part of our heritage to subconsciously regard the afterlife as a beautiful place, and the crossing over as a non-tragic, natural process.

I don’t know what I think about that now.

So much grief in the streets now.

So many deaths.

So many abrupt endings.

It’s like they’re paying someone to keep the veil parted and just unceremoniously throwing bodies across the threshold.

And the only thing transcending the divide is the profoundness of our rage.

Impunity is Illusion

I am all that you have killed.
All the lies you’ve told.
I am the screaming rage
of all that you have silenced.
I am your worst enemy, the one
you think you have subdued.
I am all the blunt, barbaric
instruments you have shoved
into bloody crevices.
All the cigarette burns on skin.
The gouged out eyes.
The mangled genitals.
The stench of excrement on the walls.
The bodies with no names.
I am ten thousand years’
worth of prison sentences.
I am all the bullets you’ve fired.
All the millions you have plundered.
All the pages of history
you’ve bastardized.

I will burn your effigy every day
in my front yard
and never stop writing
your crimes with the ashes.

The Unenlightened Immigrant 

Contrary to what you have heard,
I’m not in a better place.
Just another place,
where couples also argue,
parents also worry about their children,
there’s also bullying in schools,
teachers also go on strikes,
car accidents also happen,
people also get sick and die.
They also dream about breaking free,
get caught up in vices,
get addicted to luck, to romance,
to their egos, to the past.
There are ugly emotions
and beautiful revolutions
and rhythms of change
and staying the same.
The tears taste the same.
The joys are the same number of
pretty colors as where you are.
There is also injustice,
but there are the heroes
who are fighting it too.
There are sacrifices, and people
who care more than most.
Sleepless nights.
Broken silences.
Held peace.
Anthems.
Everyone is trying hard to make it,
nobody has it easy,
we make enemies and friends
and feel alone
and overwhelmed
and get stuck
and fail at things
and get the same amount of dizzy
when the ride stops before
we are ready.

We wear different clothes,
that is all.
We cower under the sky
as if we are little. Just like you.
We try to build big things
with our hands. Just like you.
We get dazzled by lights
and exchange
pieces of who we are
for what we aim to be
and yes, sometimes we, too,
complain that the price is too high.
We are not exempt from
the common bad choices.
We need saving
just as much as you.
We love.
We want good things.
We find our voices.
We seek respite from pain.
We hope tomorrow is better.

A Skillet of Suns and Oceans

I came to Chicago at the end of summer
I was there when the first leaves changed colors
and each day was a feast of so much beauty
I didn’t really mind the cold

I got pregnant in December
and my first trimester was in step
with my first winter
I didn’t know if it was the one
or the other
but that’s when I started craving
for the tastes and smells of home

and this tantalizingly complex, cultured city
felt like a brutal abomination
in its foreignness
as my husband and I drove
past different restaurants
in the snow
looking for a place to buy
Philippine tuyo,
stopping every so often
so I could vomit
on the salt-covered pavement
amid the smells of steaks
and hotdogs and burgers
and gyros and tacos
and fried chicken with secret herbs and spices
and signature popcorn and
the famous deep dish pizza

feeling so alienated and alone

and when we finally brought home
the prized fish that is,
in all actuality, a poor man’s dish
in my native country,
I had to cook it
with all the windows open
in our eighth floor South Side apartment,
out of consideration for our neighbors
who might be offended
by the aroma of sun-dried herring
sizzling in corn oil

breaths of ice from the lake
and its glacial banks
accepting the begrudging invitation,
filling the place in gusts,
coating the walls with
frigid non-forgiveness
like the inside of sickly lungs

and there I was,
wearing a two-hundred-dollar wool coat
in my own kitchen,
defiant, ashamed,
homesick and hungry
and fretful for the tiny life
humming inside me,
looking out at a world
of too-early nights and frozen roads
and seeing but suns and oceans
in that skillet,

standing in two places at once,
nine thousand miles apart.

The Cruelest Chaos

Somewhere, there is a child
awake at 3 a.m.
listening to the wind.
It feels perceptibly different
from the breezes of home:
less kind, more rough,
and hard, like metal.
He tries to make out
a morsel of sky where
the ceiling and walls
are absent,
across the curled up forms
of his big sister, his father,
his uncle, his school teacher,
and scores upon scores
of others, not quite strangers,
including the parents
who buried their baby girl
the other day and still
haven’t taken down
the empty hammock,
crooked rows of broken souls
on the cold concrete,
not quite asleep,
wary of that metallic wind.

Somewhere, there is a child
not understanding.

He doesn’t have the right words
but he wonders
why they left home,
how home changed to this place,
and what happened to
waking up every morning
to go to school.
He liked school.
He supposes it’s all over
and this is his life now,
grief without grieving,
waiting for nothing.

He cannot form the questions,
but if he did, his elders
would probably be
too tired to lie to him.
They would probably
remind him that
their lives are in danger,
that the men with scary guns
and shoes caked with mud
have taken the village
and are not giving it back.

It’s probably better that
he doesn’t ask,
but there is no way
for him to know that.
All he knows is
he is hungry and scared
and unhappy and cold
and he understands nothing
and he can’t sleep
on account of the mosquitoes
and the metal in the wind.