by Irene Villaseñor
Instructions For Opening Up the Heart
My heart is like a
murder of crows
If I want to scare you
it will be clear
where I deposited
My heart is like an
unkindness of ravens
With tails and wings
and everything else
straight to the point
not evil in disguise
My heart is like a
clamour of rooks
I want a lot of space
but don’t always need it
and what once was silence
is now known for noise
My heart is like
the tidings of magpies
Walking free, finding
someone to nest with,
and full of good news
Daughter of the Years
My mother the runner. Has been sneaking out of hospitals
since she was a child in the Philippines. And was strong enough
to walk out the door by herself. Now she calls relatives incessantly
until one of us breaks down and pulls the car around to her side of thinking.
I am not one of those people. It’s different being her daughter. Now we all
know I’m the one not easily swayed. But I’m the one always apologizing.
She has psychotic breaks every time she has a health crisis. Rape. Pregnancy.
Diabetes. Domestic Violence. Heart attack. Stroke. Burns. Amputations. Makes her lose
herself completely when she is just moving on to another plane of existence.
I miss the person she is when she is well. She’s the mother who
sent me news clippings of successful LGBT people after I came out as a teenager,
told me that NO ONE has the right to tell me I’m not Pilipino for being queer,
and reassured me that I will find love.
I give gifts to the medical staff for her threatening to sue the hospital, for calling the
police claiming she was being held hostage in a rehab that has its own movie theatre,
ice cream parlor, bowling alley. I’ve attended colleges with less amenities.
I have jokes when she accuses an orderly of stealing her phone for being Pilipino, for being
one of us. We all know who steals the most... white people!
Who else takes all the land, claims other people’s knowledge,
and doesn’t pay for anyone’s labor? When my mother is in her right mind she
KNOWS the right answer.
What I don’t say is that my mother grew up witnessing some
Pilipinos enriching themselves during World War Two (unlike her father)
through collaborating with the Japanese occupation government.
The story is too complicated to tell and barely discussed. And these
betrayals continue to break my mother apart.
Oh stop, Miss Irene, we forgive her! We hope she gets well soon.
So, when are you picking her up?
We caught her twice already today trying to cross over
onto the highway. And she won’t stop screaming.
Grand Cardinal Cross, 2014
We never had a chance. I found out
I was pregnant on April Fool’s Day.
An Ifugao god is in charge of practical jokes.
He’s also said to be the cause of miscarriages.
I was turned into a mother without a child,
just in time before Mother’s Day.
In exchange I gained additional memories and unrealized
plans that are heavier than anything I’ve carried before.
If I knew about him earlier I could’ve made an offering.
Or at least picked a partner who wasn’t already a joke.
Gatui also cures illness. And I’ve been waiting to
receive his healing. Ever since I couldn’t give birth,
I’ve been passing the time remaking myself.
Irene Villaseñor’s writing appears in Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color (Nightboat Books, May 2018), the Los Angeles Review of Books, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, and The Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Thought. She is a recipient of the Catalog for Giving’s Urban Hero Award, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice’s Women We Love, Women We Honor Award, and was part of the team at American Documentary | P.O.V. that received a MacArthur Award for Creative & Effective Institutions. Irene is currently working on a manuscript about contemporary Indigenous art.