October 16, 2014
The gods called your name
and the seas turned dark;
the earth quaked with power.
You looked up at Olympus
screaming at the gates;
“What will I become?”
The gods fell silent, then –
with a thunderous roar replied;
“Who are you now?”
Unidentified poet – based on my insufficient Google skills. If anybody knows who wrote this, please post a comment so I may properly attribute this poem.
September 24, 2014
Inig sampit nimo
sa akong ngalan,
ang mga titik niini,
ug mahimo silang
mga bata nga
maglumba og dagan
ngadto sa sapa.
ang agay sa tubig,
ug ang mga
sa ilang mga agik-ik.
(My lousy English approximation: “When you call on my name, the words come alive, and they become children racing to the river. Plunging in. You could hear the water trickling, and the fragments of their laughter.”)
Because you are all beautiful — but in different ways. Your skin’s yellow and light as the moon; and other times you are the color of the earth, of clay from the red rocks, from the mountain; or you are baked golden-brown like the crust of honey bread.
Because you have dark hair, fine like the silk from milkweed, or coarse like hemp and black like a sleeping universe, so black it shines blue. Your hair melts in the wind, strays from the face. A face that’s sometimes round like a pearl from the bottom of the sea or angular like the rocks at the edge of that same ocean.
Because you are all exotic. Sensual and mysterious as red silk kimonos. Passionate like volcanoes, Mount Fuji and Pinatubo. Sexy like the girls who danced in clubs along Olongapo. Fierce like Miss Saigon. Crafty like Mata Hari. Obedient like the Geisha girls from old Japan or the mail order brides, the ones in the glossy catalogues. Because you bear children well and please your husbands — always your husbands first.
Because you are ladies. Because you’ve been raised to wait for the man. Wait for him. He will ask you. He will guide you. Protect you. Comfort you. Provide you with everything — everything except the cooking and the cleaning and the ironing and the children and the bookkeeping and the house and the rest.
Because you are smart, all smart. Book-smart, doctors, lawyers, chemists. Sense-smart wives and daughters. Some of you follow your intuition; some of you follow the rules learned in books, equations of the mind. And still there are those of you who follow lessons you’ve learned from your mothers. Other wise women. Other sisters. Others.
Because you know the finer arts. Because you are a dancer, a violinist, pianist, a poet, a fabulous cook, a seamstress of fine needlework, a painter, a singer, a movie star, the center of attention. Because you are so well behaved, never speaking out of turn. Never speaking up. Subservient. Obedient. Quiet. Because no one sees you hiding away in the library, surrounded by your stacks of books, or working late at the lab, or typing madly at your computer during all hours of the night, or painting walls inside your house, or shaving wood and sanding old tables and vanities. Because no one sees you carrying stones for your garden, the chairs for the dining room, the sofa, they call you orchid, silk rose, golden butterfly. Because no one bothers to look when you are standing up. When you’re speaking out. Because when they do, you are an anomaly. One of a kind. Wave maker.
Because “different” is not looked upon endearingly. Because friends are hard to find. To keep. Because it’s easier to just let them believe what they want to believe. Because even though you look more Chinese than your sister Edna, who looks Spanish like your grandmother, they all say, “I can hardly tell you two apart.” Because there seems to be no lines, no walls, between the Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese and the Filipina, even you have come to believe you are no different than the rest. The look alike women, the beautiful women. The women of the Orient.
* * *
When I shared the essay on Facebook, my female friends immediately identified with it. Most of them, I believe, even took it as a compliment on the Asian woman’s appearance.
Contemplating deeper on the essay, I think it goes beyond that and is a celebration of the conundrums that we are, and not just of our faces. I would especially like to think that it is not a flattery directed to our looks but a question regarding our identities and a direct challenge for women to rise above stereotypes.
In this season of costume parties and charades, what a nice contrast it would be for women to show up as they are, reflect, and ask, “As a woman, who and what am I really?”