by Erwin Ponce
A COSMOPOLITAN PROSTITUTE IN MANILA CIRCA 1900; THE MESTIZA
My father was a full-blooded son of Spain; the Peninsular.
My mother a beautiful, almost silent, indio whore.
I am smoking a cigarette on the veranda —
it is late afternoon and the men are rousing.
Chinese do business in the Spanish of profiteering.
American soldiers have their own songs to sing.
I will never speak to most of them.
An officer here, an old-money Criolle there.
But most of them, most of these haughty men
spend time with indio women, or Japanese,
or even the Russian on the corner, up the stairs.
Women the world over learn how to please.
I get my satisfaction where I can —
the peculiar, delicate musk of this flower
has more power than any particular man.
LILIOSA HILAO AND THE REGIME
I start every morning with a quick shower. Then a dusting of baby powder. Then a pandesal or two and I’m off. Traffic by the river. Traffic by the bay. Avoid eye-contact in jeepneys. Then school. Sometimes _______ has coffee for me. Sometimes a chat under a banaba tree. Class. Break. Class. A re-draft of an article for Hasik on Martial Law. “Liberty” instead of “Democracy.” “Discipline is a weak mask.” After school I listen to a speech or two. Meetings at cafés. Some have so much to say. But I fall for the quiet ones who seem to be plotting all day in their heads. Like Mabini, but with longer hair. Then home. A book and my bed. Electric fan.
I start the morning with a quick shower. (I dreamt someone kept writing “A shoe is a shoe is a shoe is a shoe on the foot of the oppressor,” writing the same words over the same words on a pretty piece of paper.) Baby powder and bread. Traffic. The city. Cigarette smoke. A man on a street corner smiling raw eyebrows at me. Another day. I get home and hear other voices. Shouting. Someone starts to say something about a lawyer but I’m gone before the sentence is finished. Whisked away.
The asthma attacks I had as a child turned me inside out. Myself and other children watching me struggle for breath. Like watching myself in a mirror maze. The teacher raising my arms over my head. Her words slow and repeating and echoing. Breathe, anak.
This place is almost an office. I know there is God. Cigarette burns on my lips. Bruises like leeches all over me. A gun between my legs. Blood. One friendly face appears and is gone. More questions. Questioning. It’s always the same answer. It’s always the same answer.
Then a room with a toilet. They force liquid down my throat. Then my insides are burning.
And I am burning inside out.
MARIA LORENA BARROS, 1948-1976, FOUNDER OF MALAYANG KILUSAN NG BAGONG
KABABAIHAN (FREE MOVEMENT OF NEW WOMEN) OR MAKIBAKA, OR;
LAURIE AND THE NEW PEOPLE’S ARMY
“We are suffering from a feudal sense of values in which women are considered
adjunct of the house — for the children, for the kitchen and for the bed.”
“I haven’t learned to keep from getting burned again.”
— Maria Lorena Barros
Dear Nanay, March 1976
Comrade Mao talks about “encirclement within encirclement” when he talks about guerrilla strategy in the field, but it applies to everything. Gray propaganda and the truth. The peasant and the urban working class. Taxes on taxes. Sometimes our own base camp feels like the same words swirling around and around.
I can’t tell you where we are now, of course, but I can say the mountains here seem to
have more purple to them.
I remember a story of a woman in the Hukbalahap having to overcome her fear of darkness. She trained herself to move through the forest at night by imagining the light of a candle just always out of sight. You and Baby Ramon are my candles in the night.
There is another story going around about Joma as a farmer. It works as fable, I guess. I respect the leadership but sometimes it just feels like different patriarchy.
We still don’t talk to the farmers about “Imperialism” or “Capitalism” or “Feudalism.” We talk about the Hacienda and rent and taxes. Ten bushels and the farmers get one, that sort of thing. You would think the Peasantry would need less convincing during Martial Law, but there seems to be a sense that M. is his own upheaval.
R. still talks about sparrows and blood-debt even after betraying the struggle.
Baby Ramon must be a baby typhoon — all my love to him (if you can get word to Tita).
I hope this letter finds you.
Keep me in your heart as I keep you in mine. I can almost see the light just around the bend.
Your Loving Daughter,
There is a woman on a street corner in Manila waiting for coagulated pig blood to grill. Charcoal. A straw hand fan. Sizzle and crack. She glances at the plastic jar of vinegar with diced onion and hot pepper. She will always remember getting high and fucking for days in the old house on Josefina. The house was old and musty and the wood floors dusty and smooth and Manila was Manila, so hot and close and dark and she loved it. She loved the city like that — scary and beautiful. There were men and another woman bottled up with Fundador and a little bit of damo but mostly just the shabu and she couldn’t get enough of it and the fucking, needing one after the other over and over until everything was the same color and Manila right there for her the whole time all smoldering ember and grace, daylight always fading always fading into night.
Erwin Ponce works at the Elk Grove Village Library. He is at work on a manuscript which is tentatively titled: Pilipinas, or; Ending Up in Modern Day Metro Manila. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Beacon Street Review, Eastlit, and Asian American Literary Review. He is happy and humbled to have some of his work appear in TAYO. He has an MFA from Emerson College. Manila, Chicago (and its suburbs), Des Moines, Boston, and towns in West Virginia have impacted his life.