Recently, I discovered a poem entitled “Aswang” by Barbara Jane Reyes. Readings of the poem relate it to the subversive nature of powerful women. But the moment I chanced upon it, it reminded me of what I first learned about aswangs in my Philippine History class years ago, especially in the lines which read: “I am the bad daughter, the freedom fighter, the shaper of death masks.”
Reyes’ aswang never stayed the same way. She became “the snake, the crone,” or “the grunting black pig” or “your inverted mirror.” She shifted not to what the other person would deem desirable, but in the very creatures which would frighten them.
By the end of the poem, she dared the reader to “burn me with your seed and salt / Upend me, bend my body, cleave me beyond function. Blame me.” It was a powerful statement. Prodding the accuser to do the very thing they do best– inflict violence against those who challenge what they view as attractive, as normal, and as good.