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How do I tell you that I have done this before? / How to build a diorama of what I am not.

By Lawrence Ypil


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.