A free write for the Lunar New Year

My cousins in the Philippines sent photos of their mini gathering a few weeks ago and it made me miss them and being around family so much. That, along with friends celebrating Lunar New Year with their inherited and chosen families, inspired this free write:

At this kitchen table

This kitchen table is the beginning
and never the end. 
New friends are welcomed here. 
Old friends have cried here. 
We yell and laugh here, 
at this kitchen table. 

This kitchen table 
has endured coffee spills
and knife cuts. 
It has heard its share of tsismis. 
It holds the weight of a family bickering
about money, careers, bad behavior. 

Holiday meals have been served here. 
Ordinary meals, party buffets, 
merienda prepared by grandparents, 
the occasional snacks and beer. 

Stories have been exchanged here. 
Stories are being written here. 
Lives are being lived here, 
at this kitchen table. 

I’m writing to survive

Two poems poured out of me right when I was about to sleep. So here they are for anyone who needs it.

take care 
mag-ingat ka

two words that usually means
drive carefully —— don’t speed
watch where you walk —— look both ways before you cross

two words uttered by mothers
whose children hurry to leave
wave away the worry once again

two words to chase away the spirits
a chant
a talisman
a prayer
that follows us home

They’re both pretty raw, but so am I.

Tell me——
How do we protect each other?
Cradle each other’s life
Like our own heartbeats
Hold each other tight to the chest like armor
How do we make space for each other?
Give without reward or recognition
Unwind the strings meant to strangle us

Tell me——
How do we protect our immigrant mothers and grandmothers?
Their backs sacrificed for cash and 2nd generation dreams

Will they ever tell us
They had a bad day at work?

Tell me——
Will you/we listen?

Reading until the sun rises

A few days ago I started to read Randy Ribay’s novel, Patron Saints of Nothing. I was about half-way through when something compelled me to read even though it was already way past a decent hour to go to bed. I ended up reading the novel to the end, closing the book as the sun started to rise, beams of light chasing away the need for a lamp light.

I couldn’t stop reading it. In my hands was the first book I had ever read that mirrored the experiences I, myself, could not write. About the times I went back to the Philippines, the contradictions many of us who were born on the archipelago but grew up in the US feel but can’t describe. The guilt we feel sometimes, the judgments we so easily think and speak, the times we fall silent, the awkwardness as we try to connect with cousins whose life experience feels so separate and strange from our own. The recognition of—or is it the yearning for—belonging in a place we barely remember. I cried and not just because of what actually happens in the novel, but because of how real it was to me, how it took thirty years to read about myself. (Let me confess now: I do have shallow tears when it comes to films, but not with books.)

It was similar to the first time I read Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. I was in high school, I think. My sister had brought the book home after reading it for a college class. I connected to it as an Asian American woman, fighting battles with your family, finding the worth of your own voice. But Patron Saints of Nothing hit me on another level. I’m still trying to find the words to explain. Maybe I don’t have to. I know how much it means to me. I know the moments I stopped briefly, to nod in acknowledgement. Yes, this happened to me too. Yes, I felt this way too.

I will carry this novel with me for a long time. I will carry it with me.