Privilege is a Tarnished Heirloom

When they weren’t busy
hiding stolen millions in Swiss banks
and disappearing the corpses of
their enemies between steel rebars
of magnificent bridges, they liked to
discover struggling artists
and open doors for them.

It was some kind of golden age
for the arts, if you could just ignore
all the stories of torture and
the warnings that it would take
four generations to pay for it all.

They found her rising star when she was
seventeen and made her incandescent.
With London’s West End marquees
and golden statues engraved with her
once-unknown name, she brought honor to
her country with her stellar portrayals
of people’s suffering under different
bloodthirsty regimes drunk on fascism.

I was a little girl when I saw her on stage,
but I still know the songs by heart.

I recently watched her burning, on Twitter.
She was going down in no less than
resplendent flames, as she continued
to praise and defend the bloodthirsty regime
drunk on fascism that found her rising star
at seventeen and made her incandescent.

Irony is dead.

Poison of Choice

Let’s talk, before the layers,
the peeling back—the sound it makes when
you put a knife to the comfort responses
and expose raw will to the questions,
when you pick apart the abstract constructs
like semantics and “cultural nuances”
and the past distorting the present,
what didn’t you have enough of in life,
or what was on TV when you were most
impressionable. Can we call it what it is,
you know there is power in naming things.
Or will that make you feel “personally
attacked”? Is it desire? If it’s the most
irrational kind, I can try to understand that.
Vindictiveness? Like one of those soap
opera villains who spend all their energy
trying to destroy someone?
Is money involved? A quid pro quo?
What’s the sun your world revolves around?
What book might you take a right-hand
oath on that would make you think twice
about perjuring yourself?
Where’s your line in the sand?
I mean you might as well be judged
for who you really are, right?
If you don’t care, you don’t care.
Maybe other people’s currencies don’t mean
anything to you. So maybe just say that?
So they can stop haggling and everyone can
move on. I don’t have all day to stand here.
Describe for me the method of hurting when
you coerce from behind the briar the one
or two actual motives that would be
otherwise unclothed, pungent like screams.
Let’s talk about the kind of conversation
it takes to draw the truth out like blood.
Away, away from emotional rhetoric.
We are not our vulnerability, our
exploitability. We are the evils we choose
to fight for, emaciated and god-like,
on the other side of the needle’s eye.

“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.

The Design in which we Intertwine

I.
Coexisting, an erasure poem,
wash of black and unwanted phrases
sent back to the chaos,
strangers and intention’s
second cousin once removed
forming new allegiances
across the muffled void
band of harvested meanings
trying to evoke new colors
prejudices smashing against
the desert of white margins
power of a pronounced absence
forcing a connection
a negotiation of
an inhospitable environment
with invisible, deft stitches
suggestion of emergence after
surviving a surgical purge

II.
Coerced confession, exit wounds
edited to the point of bruising
postmortem revelations
the future trying coexist with the past
on a scaffolding of eyes wide open
faith ripped open
and bleeding on the carpet
violation unbound like a drawn weapon
mezzanine floor of acceptance
half-truths in the half-light
sensibilities spattered in
the place where the other shoe fell
chalk outline
thirst for answers,
then the answers

III.
Co-dependence, shifting sands
unreliable maps to mark the oases
temperamental winds
mirages
of the once loved
rendering confessions into finer parts
that they might fit into an hourglass
insurmountable realities
in three-minute increments
a comfortable drowning
we get ever closer to the water
if the water doesn’t find us first

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.

Weaponized Frailty

I’ve seen that blind devotion many times,
like butterflies drunk on the summer heat
unique and unforgettable in their sincerity,
their earnest devotion to something that
feels like free will on a slope made
slippery by vague memories of being
motionless in the winter and afterwards
finally breaking out of the cocoon of
knowing nothing, being nothing and
feeling so good from the beating of wings,
world and consciousness simultaneously
opening, that small taste of power let
loose around the garden where the
pattern of bright colors was architected
to elicit responses timed to the second,
down to each nuanced flutter, where
emotion is a commodity and motivations
like thirst can be curbed to fit an agenda
without compromising the purity of the
source, the nectar means different things
to different creatures but the need to
care for something and define ourselves
by the things we care about is universal,
open source, almost inviting exploitation,
it’s inevitable, a matter of time run out,
we’ve been found and figured out, what
a thing of mimicked beauty, this illusion
of choice, this capitalism of blissful
ignorance, to be distracted from the big
picture where greed wears no masks
and everything can be collateral if the
price is right, and be seduced instead
by synchronized vibrations of neurons
masterfully plucked like guitar strings
where we are deaf to the song except for
the individual notes we get so caught up
in, our one thousand eyes entranced by
one maddeningly exquisite flower at a
time, fed an airtight script we unwittingly
translate into our own words, stamp with
our own culture, our own hurts, and it
feels like a beloved creation worthy of
sacrifice before we realize what’s
happening, we’ve been infiltrated, and
soon we’re lost in the swarm, each
hexagon in the hive a different story,
half authentic, half synthetic honey
ready for harvesting for purposes beyond
our most vigilant dreams, we’ve hatched
a generation of prejudices and identified
a common enemy, and become the
contagious pain, the parrot voice of
propaganda in twelve dialects and they
start calling us names and pride, finally,
does the rest.

Our shared humanity is the final frontier.