How do I tell you that I have done this before? / How to build a diorama of what I am not.
At the turn of the twentieth century, more than a thousand Filipinos were brought to St. Louis and put on display in the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair: as proof of conquest, as site of colonial fantasy. By revisiting the photographs of the exhibit, “Recollect” forms part of a project that attempts to recuperate the silences that surround this history, to look again in the hopes of listening. One of the few Filipinos whose name was recorded was Antonio, Chief of the Igorrotes. This poem is inspired by a photograph of him.
Dear Madam Managers: The coats are swell
but a little over the top The hats
were a nice touch but a man’s got to do what a man’s
got to do to roll his sleeves up to check his watch.
Now that the outer is outer without much
of a middle of a middle shirt. The secret’s
a secret between the inner lining
and the skin.To tuck an itch in. Now the days drag
into evening. What a hassle.
What is winter.
A bridge is a way to cross an ocean
without getting there. A boat is what you sink in.
A nickel is what we dive headfirst into the water for.
For more, we will stay underwater.
Before the invention of goggles, you kept your eyes open.
A lake is a way of being at sea without moving.
In our country, when a man looks at you you look away.
That is your way of looking. That is how a mountain is made.
Before the invention of the mirror, in order to catch a reflection
of yourself, you had to keep still.
The same way out is always the same way in, but not really.
Sometimes, a ripple is enough to mark your territory:
Have Come, Am here.
I will throw your penny back at you if you think I am easy.
Water is a way of speaking without having to say a word.
What is a wheel that turns but doesn’t go anywhere?
A train. From Tacoma, Washington
to the fair. What doesn’t make it,
breaks. Two thousand miles. Three dead.
What is both the means to an end and an end?
Twenty-five cents. If only a window opened.
If only the iron was struck when it was hot.
Sometimes a smile gets you somewhere.
(And it will!)
Holding a ticket. Making a bet. Saving the best
for the end of it which was also the first of it and the midst of it and was the
wanting of the best of it and always the most of it if not the all of it and that is really
what killed us most of all.
View of the central nave of the Palace of Agriculture.
View from the west Restaurant Pavilion
looking toward the Pike. View of the Palaces of Electricity,
Machinery, Varied Industries and Transportation View Horse Show
parade on the Pike
View of the Towers of Administration Building
lit at night with lighted flag hung between.
View of the Banquet for scientists in the Tyrolean Alps
View of Puffed Rice stand, Lunch Room, and Missouri Corn Palace
visible in the distance.
View of the Creation of the Pike
A sleeve can be a cage if you let it the way a thought balloons
into a lingering you can see an arm through
if you let the light hit it. I leaned my head against the bannister
of a bamboo stair. I place my index finger beneath my chin
to give you an idea. A sisterhood is a way of looking in the same direction
but thinking different thoughts. A variation on the theme
of waiting. Or leaning out of a window with a ribbon in one’s hair.
A standing braid. A dress can be thought of
if you let it the way a cage
can become a box once you stop seeing
through it. I had a feeling once
but I couldn’t capture it
Let the wind enter the ear and out of the tongue.
No. No, not like that. A name misspelled
summons the wrong stag. No.
Not stag. There are no “stags”.
Subtract the words of the world from a book
and what you have is:
What is the word for “song-that-gets-stuck-in-the-throat”?
What is the name for “come on in, but not too close.”?
What is the shadow of a shadow of a shadow?
Will the real ostrich holler. Will the real tree shake its leaves.
It takes a dollar to make a man act like a warrior.
It costs more if you ask him to be himself.
A costume is a way to see
. A show of teeth
does not always indicate that I am happy.
To gnaw that bone is to fill the steel
with heat. Just because I can eat, doesn’t mean
a series of rings around my neck means—
if a stranger lifts his finger
if he offers his hand
a bead. I have taste, you see.
I can make a soup out of your looking
View of the Incandescent Lamp Company exhibit
in the Palace of Electricity View of The Bell of Liberty
guided by Policemen. View of the workers hoisting
the first piece of staff View of the Palace of Varied Industries
A fashion is as only a fashion is as a brush of the shoulder.
A skirt is a walk in the park.
Where you from dear sirs? From close to where you are.
What is a coatif you can’t be a sharp shooter.
Aim for the eye, then miss it.
A carriage is parked across the driveway.
Make a pattern out of a watch.
The far-off look is the far-off look you give
when you are looking at the horizon.
A gaze is only as good as when it is directed.
It runs. A staged fright.
If you are looking for my mother.
A trigger is caught even before the tiger
on the foot, to the right.
How to meet the neighbors.
How to tell the real from the fake.
How to catch your prey?
How to pretend that you don’t understand a word
that’s being said.
The joke on the father is a joke
that I, and only I, can make. In this manner is a heritage made.
The extent to which you can laugh at a joke with you as its object
is the degree to which you can begin to take an oath
of allegiance to history.
Oh sleepy-eyed Joe, sometimes it takes a century to know
you are made fun of.
Oh big lug schmug.
Oh long pants holler.
How to be a star? How to take a bath.
I became a son the day my father stopped laughing.
The map is written under my arms. Raise them.
Weave the hem of the skirt of our looking and pick a pose.
Having seen once a photograph of myself,
I discover that there can be another.
And then one more.
How do I tell you that I have done this before?
How to build a diorama of what I am not.
The secret is to pretend you are the original.
The trick is to turn a moment of surrender
into a ritual that appears as if you are moving.
Sometimes it takes a century to understand the directions.
To be stock-still. And calm.
Call me by my name dear Future if you can.