For more than a decade, Kay Ulanday Barrett’s poetry has centered around resisting the amerikan empire with tenderness and rage, perceptiveness and vitality.
The following poems have been selected from the first print collection of his work, When The Chant Comes, coming soon from Topside Press in September 2016. This book is a part of Heliotrope by Topside Press, the first ever imprint dedicated solely to the work of transgender poets and writers.
As author Vivek Shraya says of the collection, “When the chant comes, we arise, relieved that we aren’t alone. When the chant comes, we join in full-throated. When The Chant Comes is pure, queer love that refuses to apologize.”
Ways The Philippines Can Talk
you draw in a journal about escape plans, arcing a fiction
of getaway—here you cannot ease your way into a café,
or walk to a bus station without being stared down,
ma’am? they’ll say glimpsing to the haircut, then cutting pupils
towards the breasts.
American feminist queer theory has no grip as you buy gum at a store
Near the sleeping goats, or hold breath next to the baskets
in a northern province. Ocean salt finds its way into your everything.
Karabaos don’t give a shit about your gender pronouns.
Your family scissor words as your name skitters to the floor—
Tomboy, I hear, fat, dark, like a man.
Titas shift the kanin on their plates as though they
could trim your fat, extend the length of your hair,
sprout a loudmouthed husband at your side,
all with the slightest bent joint.
Then they turn to your beloved, exercise syllables
like she’s supposed to parade in them
So tall, so thin, your skin so light like a model—you can’t be Filipina,
Koreana ka ba?
The comparisons are said the same as any harmless observation.
Convictions of divide and conquer are tossed like habits.
There doesn’t have to be a white man to make these claims—
our own people learn how to harm enough,
choose the right words, translate to English without flinch.
You both can hold hands b/c this is what friends do.
After midnight you assemble your limbs back to
their rightful place as you rid the pressure formed
by all day heat and no privacy.
Poverty is two small bedrooms shared by everyone at anytime
and you hate that you want to go home,
for free wi-fi, ache for your bed.
Mostly, you hate the fantasies of sand & revolutionaries
right before the plane left the ground.
When The Chant Comes
in gratitude for Andre Leneal Gardner
i told him what she said.
how i told her about getting top
surgery and being ready to be on T,
how my partner’s immediate response was,
do you want to be on T or get top surgery because
you think you are fat and need to lose weight?
how this broke me.
it broke me.
he sucked his teeth.
a trustworthy mannerism we both got from our dead mamas.
he and I go back the way queer hungry parched kids can go
back to alcoholic boyfriends
wearing bandanas and girlfriends who
couldn’t keep their shit or dental dams together.
he remembered back when we were small
and queer and always dancing and didn’t give a fuck.
we clocked in makeouts before cellphones scheduled
them for you.
brown kids ate chips from 7-11 in logan square
with deep deep house music still on their hands.
our northside and southside pride had only the pact with the
streetlamp sauntering when the club closed.
i hated my chest then.
we are no longer that young or that bold.
he’s now in LA waiting tables, singing ballads like he did when
he attends daily meditation sits.
he’s had years of me waging this hate for my body. my long distance news made us hold our breaths, hold a moment of silence over phone wires.
i told him there has to be a chant for
this. he said,
baby, i’ll breathe, meditate, love you,
and tell you
when the chant comes