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. Read More

My Other Name

I was five when I learned I had another name, besides what my parents gave me. The name was first born out of my younger sister’s anger who never understood my difference—which for her and other kids were unusual and difficult to comprehend. For them, the world operated in black and white. Dolls are for girls; cars and toy guns are for boys. I wouldn’t blame them, we were taught to see the world in such banality and convenience.

But growing up was tough if you happen to be in the gray area. 

As I ran my soft little hands and patted it against the black silky hair of my sister’s limited edition Barbie doll—donned in gold Filipiñana, beaded in intricate red gumamela patterns, and crowned with pearls towering on her head like those queens in Sagala, I was caught in a trance, mesmerized in an unknown cadence of beauty that I can’t help but adore. I continued patting her, held her brown legs, making sure not to spoil the crisp sparkling saya shaping her hourglass figure. I lifted her slim brown arms, waving them like queens do. She was beaming with her white teeth framed in her cherry red lips. I giggled in adoration until I heard my sister’s voice.

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Maupay (At Mga Katagang Waray na Di Ko Malilimutan)

  1. Maupay nga aga (kulop o gab-i) – magandang umaga, hapon o gabi. 

Magiliw ang wastong kataga. 

Madalas tayong magpalitan ng mga “maupay” – sa umaga o gabi – depende sa iyong kagustuhang sumagot. “Maupay man,” ang tugon sa kumustahan. Mabuti naman. 

Madalas kong tingnan ang cellphone ko. Palagian kong ina-unlock, sakaling may nakaligtaan akong text mo. Kung babatiin mo rin ba ako ng maupay na kung isulat mo ay “maupai”. Kung sasagutin mo ako ng okey na kung isulat mo ay “uki po.” Madalas din akong nagpapanggap na may itatanong o hihinging pabor – paki-salin mo naman ito sa Waray; may maitutulong ba ako sa inaayos niyong papel? Sasamahan ko ba si Alice bukas sa miting niyo? Mga palusot para lang mapahaba ang usapan natin sa text. 

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Choosing to Stay Home

?Diri lang ta,? Nanay Salbing says, as she leads us through the maze that is Barangay Pasil.

An hour ago, I was sitting in a cubicle in our office on the sixth floor of a building inside IT Park. The office only seems to have two colors: blue and white. In the office, there are cubicles as far as the eye can see. And once you sit down on your designated spot, the only sight you are permitted is your computer unit, which you would be staring at for the rest of the day. If you stayed glued to your work, other people aren?t visible unless you look over the spines on top or to the side, which requires movement. Everything inside there is identical and easy to commit to memory.

Every step in Pasil is dynamic.

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Baybayin All Over Her Face

Her eyes spill out unspoken stories?in the form of wrinkles that etch deeper and longer with the passage of time. From the corners of her eyes, they branch out like patterns on the wings of a butterfly?crawling all over her face, etching curves on her cheeks or fashioning waves on her forehead.

These scratches of age may reveal themselves as random graffiti for marking territories, as if declaring, The fine lines around my eyes are the marks of generations I witnessed coming and going. The folds below my mouth are the stories I wish to tell but can only whisper.

I witnessed these lines curve and swirl and dance with the rhythm of time, until they turned themselves into beautiful baybayin: the hushed characters of our history, striving for survival, like every one of her silent stories.

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