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The Day: Poetry by Barbara Jane Reyes

‘Sometimes you are damaged. You think poetry will repair you. You think poetry should repair you. You shake your fist at it when it doesn’t. You walk hand-in-hand with your damage, into the world. You do not speak. You are surprised when people register you are there.’

By Barbara Jane Reyes
Poetry | Father, death, family, fiction, grief
July 12, 2016

The Day


two fingers on a pulse like the true point — Angela Narciso Torres
gloss of feathers dimmed in the orange quiescence of the sun — Lehua Taitano
a damaged beauty, a music I can’t manage, no words — Urayoán Noel


645 am. The very last meal I had with my father was arroz negro y petrale sole paella, fideua caldosa, pork bellies, okra, and a bourbon elderflower cocktail, in Uptown Oakland at Duende. Four days later, his brain got lost in language. No words. His body forgot how to walk and how to swallow. His lungs decided to stop taking air. He never came home. He is on my mind when I go to sleep. He is on my mind when I wake up.

836 am. At the AC Transit 26 bus stop, I am late to my day job. Morning commute reminds me of my father, coconut oil slicked hair behind his ears, duck tail in the back. He ironed the creases in his slacks. He left the house with Ralph Lauren Polo aftershave on his collar. He clipped his Bechtel badge to his pocket protector. Protractor, mechanical pencils, drafting tools arranged within reach, thermos of coffee in his DYMO labeled briefcase, ten-speed bike to Union City BART station. That was before coconut oil became trendy. That was before the layoffs and unemployment checks. After this, combing his hair became a chore.

902 am. Lehua told me that daughters stolen from their homelands do not lose their power. Their tongues, their palates adapt. New roots and unbloomed buds — bullets — become new spells, new medicine. You do not get lost on an island. You take pieces of it — shell, sand, seed — with you when you must take flight. Jelly jars, perfume vials, Tupperware, Ziploc bags, use what you’ve got.

1021 am. This is when I learned that if you present at the pharmacy early to purchase your DEA-regulated allotment of pseudophedrine, the pharmacy staff will eye you, speak to you like you are a meth head and a fucking criminal. #FML

1050 am. “Izabel Laxamana, a 13-year-old girl in Tacoma, Washington died by suicide after jumping off a highway overpass on Friday, May 29. Days before, Laxamana’s father … had reportedly punished her for an unspecified transgression by cutting off her hair and uploading a video to YouTube.”

1127 am. I belong in this fluorescent-lit cubicle. The privilege of the fluorescent-lit cubicle, where I thumb through thousand-page, spiral-bound indexes. According to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10-CM), F43.20, Adjustment Disorder, Unspecified, includes culture shock, grief reaction, and nostalgia. To be a Pinay daughter is classifiable, diagnosable, reimbursable with the proper documentation. It is a disorder. It requires professional intervention. It may require a prescription. To be a Pinay daughter may be covered by your managed care plan. To be a Pinay daughter should be covered by Obamacare. Please consult your manual.

1153 am. Filipino writers on social media asking me why I must write about Filipino things. Don’t I fear being seen only as a Filipino writer. Won’t I just write about normal things, universal human truths, love and whatnot. Won’t I read the important books they say they intend to write. For sake of bayanihan, won’t I hook up a fellow Filipino, introduce them to my non-Filipino publishers.

1214 pm. There are ladybugs on my father’s grave.

220 pm. You’re all girls? You don’t have any brothers? Your poor father. How awful that must have been for him. Your mother never gave him any sons.

222 pm. My sisters and I all kept our father’s name.

303 pm. I must tell you that first time I heard Prince’s “Controversy,” was on KDIA 1310 am in 1981. I was 10, dancing and tingling. I’d never heard anything like this, falsetto, synth, electric guitar, and liminality. Because of KDIA, I know that the following year, The Gap Band dropped Gap Band IV. My older sister owned it on vinyl, 33-?, gatefold LP. It is a perfect album. Let no one tell you different.

432 pm. I am tired of talking about talking about race. These are the facts: I was born on the same island where my mother was born, where my father was born. Where my mother’s mother, and my mother’s father, where my father’s mother, and my father’s father were born. Go back many more generations, and you will find our birthplaces are that very same island. The true point should not be why I write this, but how, in whose tongues.

435 pm. You do not get lost on an island.

502 pm. Two fingers on a pulse. He was still, breathing when I left his room. He was, and one by one they were wheeling away machines. The blipping monitor told me what my hands felt still. He was warm. He was 73. He was a tough motherfucker, stubborn enough to live to 100, so that he could grumble and elbow us, so that he could give us mad side eye. Instead, just hum and blip. Hum and blip. A music I can’t manage. Exhale. No words.

524 pm. Sometimes you are damaged. You think poetry will repair you. You think poetry should repair you. You shake your fist at it when it doesn’t. You walk hand-in-hand with your damage, into the world. You do not speak. You are surprised when people register you are there.

551 pm. Sometimes I can snap out of invisibility. On 8th and Broadway, Marshawn Lynch and I make eye contact. I refrain from telling him that it’s my birthday, and may I please take a selfie with him. Why can’t this interaction have happened with Draymond Green instead. #oaktown #DubNation

621 pm. There is no printed news story I can find about Norife Herrera Jones, that does not emphasize her dismemberment, and the esteemed alma mater of her estranged 74-year old white husband, her murderer.

753 pm. You don’t have kids? Why don’t you have kids? You should have kids. How terrible it must be for your husband. You should give your husband kids. You are a bad wife. How terrible it must be for your parents. You should give your parents grandkids. You are a bad daughter.

802 pm. Think Tatsuya Nakadai in Harakiri, unleashing his no fucks left to give, one man wrecking machine on an entire estate of samurai turned peacetime paper pushers. Dying of boredom and leisure time. The r?nin Nakadai thrusting his katana through hollow armour, keeping it real.

903 pm. On a pulse that stopped. The breathing stopped. He was warm, but the breathing stopped. Now he fliesto greet my ancestors, gloss of feathers dimmed in the orange quiescence of the sun there is no need now for sublingual drops of morphine, for the sleep that let him slip away from us.

905 pm. I can’t manage, no words.

911 pm. Sometimes you are broken. Poetry won’t fix you. Poetry can’t fix you. It doesn’t have lungs to give you its air. It doesn’t have hands to stitch your parts back together. To make you tea. To drive you home.

949 pm. Death row prisoner and human trafficking victim Mary Jane Veloso celebrates women’s rights with a prison fashion show. Veloso has just modeled a sheer, embroidered sheath dress at Wirogunan Prison. On death row. Curlicues and up-do, perfect eyebrows and pearl manicure. Always a breath away from the firing squad.

1026 pm. My #WCW Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach’s Instagram tells me that she has just learned the proper mechanics of the fast ball. Noah Syndergaard taught her this, for Filipino Heritage Night at Citi Field. In my perfect world, Pia would throw out the first pitch at AT+T Park. Tim Lincecum would still be our ace. He would be the one to teach her how to throw, even though Timmy’s “The Freak.” Arnel Pineda would sing, “Lights,” in the middle of the eighth. All the starstruck Filipinos in the house would radiate so much light, we’d be the fucking Maharlika Nebula Supernova of San Francisco.

1155 pm. I remember holding the dove’s warmth in my palms. I was still, it was still, it was waiting for me to unlace my fingers. There, the horizon above a young oak tree, mustard flowers, poppies, and autumn snails, the dove’s gentle bones pushed off my palms, into the orange quiescence of the sun. This is how I said good-bye to my father — shouting his name at the sky.

1157 pm. I sometimes remember to floss. I always wear socks to bed, even in the summertime. I sometimes build a pillow fort. I always think about that day. That with my mother’s permission, they wheeled my father out of the hospital covered in a velvet shroud. That I could not sleep for a long time. That I would not close my eyes. That every night noise might have been him visiting me.