Barbara Jane Reyes: Brown Girl Fields Many Questions

If you want to know what we are whose body parts are scattered to the winds, dispersed as heirloom seeds into the beaks, stomachs, and droppings of migratory birds, broken through our clear film of rage to leaf and fruit, no matter what the territory or terrain,

i. In which “you,” may indicate a “hearer of unspecified identity,” a second person narrator such that the “you,” is really meant to be an “I,” a “we,” regardless of whether the hearer, onlooker, or reader wishes to be included or addressed,

ii. In which “know,” may indicate “awareness through observation or inquiry,” “having information concerning,” “having a personal experience of,”

iii. In which the English “we,” is crude, lacking in the specific exclusive and inclusive distinctions of the Tagalog “tayo,” and “kami,”

iv. In which “what,” is a pronoun choice you might find curious; not “who,” which indicates personhood or personified thing, but “what,” as in concept, as in phenomenon, as in the object you already believe the “we” is,

v. In which “if,” is the operative word, the contingent term, “in case that,” “on the condition that,” “despite the possibility that,” “even though,”

Here are some questions you may try to consider:

what’s it like to be collected and shelved by people who say they dig your (island) (oriental) (tropical) look, your dark lidless eyes, your endless straight black hair,

what’s it like for them to tell you with their wide round eyes, how lovely your accent is (they can’t identify where it’s from though) and yet you still speak such good English (how is that possible),

what’s it like to have white people coming up so close, gawking and poking at your flat little nose, your little body, touching your silky hair,

what’s it like to hear them tell you 24/7 that they wish they could bottle your skin like a liquid boutique bronzer for that tawny warm glow, all that gold,

what’s it like to be this sun-kissed, plump-lipped, almond-eyed, fine-boned tiny thing, to be so precious and treasured and sublime,

what’s it like to be so treasured to be trafficked,

what’s it like to be locked in for your own good so no one will get their oily fingerprints on you, so that no one can hear your soft soft asking voice,

what’s it like when they mispronounce your alien name and shrug, when they tell you your ass should be deported,

what’s it like when they push you off the sidewalks and into the gutters,

what’s it like when they ask if you were bought from a catalog,

what’s it like when they mistake you for the help, the nanny, the maid, the janitor, the dishwasher, when they say you speak such good English, how is that even possible,

what’s it like when they ask whether your mother was a green card hunting whore, a nudie dancer near the military base, a drug addict, a welfare cheat,

what’s it like when they say you are an illegal, when they say fucking monkey, when they ask why you eat dog, when they call you a dirty Filipino,

what’s it like when they tell you you should be grateful,

what’s it like when white kids in a prom limo yell fucking jap go back to China,

what’s it like when big white dudes get in your face shouting anything not white’s not right,

who will remind you of Bulosan’s songs of love (this meant something to you, once)
who will remind you where the heart is (there, between your third and fourth rib)
who will blame you for effacing your face, for peeling your skin from your body

what’s it like when white people yell at you that you ruined the neighborhood because you people kept landing at SFO and goddamn Mineta is named after you people now, you took over our church, you took over our market, you took over our donut shop, you took over our liquor store, you took over our beauty salon with your chatter and your babies,

what’s it like when they yell at you that you have so many damn babies, now you are taking over over Silicon Valley and all the schools, and now everything smells like fried fish and feet, all the weird shit you people eat, this place was quiet but now your grammas yelling who knows what to your uncles and your cousins, why can’t she just speak English, fix your busted cars in the driveway parked on the weeds in your junk front yard, they’re spilling into our street you’re parked in front of my home, move your damn car, stay away from my daughters, stay away from my dog, fix your lawn, this is not the ghetto where you belong,

what’s it like when they yell how many goddamn illegals can you pack into that little house (fix your paint job; this is not the ghetto), there are so many of you, you’ve snatched up all the houses you built over the old orchards you picked the apricots gladiolas and almonds, we remember the mustard flowers and the dragonflies, our children rode their ribboned bicycles, but now your boys racing rice rockets break the quiet into pieces, you killed our peace, you stupid Filipinos can’t even drive,

what’s it like when they say your boys are hoodlums and your sisters are indecent, all your girls are whores, just go back to where you came from, go back to where you came from, go back because you don’t belong here, because we never wanted you in our neighborhood

how are you still here, breathing, working, hustling like a motherfucker
how haven’t you given up, when everybody tells you not to speak, how are you speaking
how haven’t you disappeared into your sheets, into the dark, with the windows shut and the front door bolted
how do you step outside your front door every day, how do you stand and walk that walk
how aren’t you afraid, sister, were your parents afraid, how did they teach you to be so steel, please teach me how to be steel like you

Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Invocation to Daughters (City Lights Publishers, 2017), and four previous poetry collections. Letters to a Young Brown Girl is forthcoming (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2020).