Barbara Jane Reyes: Two Poems

Daughtersong Ending With a Pot of Lugaw


             this is my story
where stories are shaped like the ocean, deep blue hue
they move with the moon, they pull us into them, they surge
which is to say, it moves with the mothers, and their mothers
which is to say, it has been gifted quietly to all the daughters
which is to say, it must be given and received at the right time —
             how I remember
elder women taught us how to turn the verse, to make fire
how to light the earthen pots, and wide pebbled paths
through the churchyard of cow dung and grazing goats
the church stones still blackened from last century’s wars
which is to say, we are daughters, granddaughters of war —


what I know is there is always too much if   if story is sown by our elderwomen’s hands, if planted into terraced mountains turquoise at solstice   if in bare feet, to run in its mud knee deep so sweet   if we could weave story from red threads of horn carved beads strung through the ribs of our language, along its ridges into its hard glottal stops   if I was afraid to ask her it is because she (always said she) never had time to remember   if she knew choosing to forget was a kind of death   if story may come if you know how to ask   if to ask is a hard earned art   if story comes   if you know how to ask a wound   if it will split itself to spill and tell   if the wound has ever wholly woven itself shut   what I know is my mother is dead and all of her stories are in the wind   what I know is now I am making it all up, rewriting everything about us in her absence


             this is our story
given silences simmering in our stew pots
given pencils in secret, and hand sewn books
given only moonlight sees the water of our eyes
and how to soothe the open pits in our bellies
given that hunger has many ways of being —
             how we remember
in our perfect penmanship, to write our stories
given spring water, flor de sal, and neckbones
given bawang, luya, saffron in tiny pinches
which is to say, we feed all who will come to us
with salted hands shaped into empty bowls


Letters I Never Sent to My Mother


what I cannot remember, I’ll pretend instead
that we are not simply spores at the mercy of gale
germinating faith in air, unhusked and blooming
from seedlet to sapling to hardened heartwood
from minerals gliering beneath deep soil beds
what if our tender words could grow from seed
that we could reach into our sharp spined trees
pluck the poems, reddened flesh, falling, free
and when our droughted roots curl from thirst
that we could break apart the terrain and disperse
drink wildfire as if it were rainwater (or wine)
that hearing these verses could be so consoling
we could be so gorgeous, thorned, revolting


we carry in our heart the true country and that cannot be stolen
tongues are tricky, and we were given slippery translation —
I say this not to place blame but to utter one unfulfilled wish
that I would have recognized while you were still alive
how you moved your water in times of need, mother tree
spreading all the autumn sunlight only she could reach
knowing the art of sharing sugar threading through dirt
through the dark wood and soil of decomposed matter
coaxing her sapling daughters upward from her deep root
they named us invasive, in translation, they said we’d wilt
but we bound their leaves and wrote down your stories
the ones from your mother, the ones all the kumares knew
this memory’s deep well, filled with spirit and medicine
we follow in the steps of our ancestry and that cannot be broken


let my mother know how she was loved
for more than her usefulness to everyone
let my father know he could have been
more than his patriarchs had prescribed
let my mother know that she deserved
the happiness we were all disallowed
let my father know that we were dying
for the smallest evidence of tenderness
I am not brave, truth telling to the dead
a storyteller in a slow moving storm
all the poems I could not give you then —
offerings of song in your mother tongue
hymns from the hummingbirds hovering
sipping sweet water on Sunday morning


what I cannot remember, I’ll pretend instead
that we had time for art, that we deserved art
to cover our walls in watercolored murals
to fill the sala with symphony, starlight
that we always had time to tend the earth
to gather flowers and mushrooms for hours
to steep tea, to breathe the clean sweet air
to heal you with leaves from our bayabas tree
what I cannot remember, I’ll pretend instead
to talk to the wind that will carry us here
to rest you among the santos and virgin
to fashion you a crown of flowering herbs
to weave bamboo, red threads, soft feathers wings
to return you to your waiting mother


Cover of Letters to a Young Brown Girl by Barbara Jane Reyes
Letters To A Young Brown Girl by Barbara Jane Reyes

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