National Poetry Month Day 10: Marianne Chan

By

Marianne Chan grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, and Lansing, Michigan. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal, Poetry Northwest, BOAAT, Indiana Review, Slice Magazine, West Branch, and others. She is the Poetry Editor for Split Lip Magazine.

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WHEN THE MAN AT THE PARTY SAID HE WANTED TO OWN A FILIPINO

When the man at the party told me that he’d always
wanted his very own Filipino, I should’ve said,
all I’ve ever wanted was my very own 70-year-old

white man (which is what he was), but I didn’t say
that, because it wasn’t true. Instead, I said nothing,
but I almost said, amicably: Yes, our bodies are banging,

aren’t they? Our skin is leather upholstery beneath
the savage sun, our eyes are fruits fallen from the highest
trees, the bottoms of our unshod feet the color

of amethyst. I almost said: We will parade around
your living room in a linen cloth and feed you turtle eggs
and Cornioles meat from a porcelain dish. I almost said:

I’ll be your Filipino, you be my Viking. We’ll ride in
a boat together. I’ll wear your horny helmet. But I said
nothing. At that party, I wanted to be liked, which is

my tragic flaw. I always find myself on the street smiling
at people who look to be Neo-Nazis. I call it a “safety
smile.” Rarely do they smile back, but I would hug them

if they needed it, if I think it would spare me. I used to
wonder if this amenability was inherited. Raja Humabon,
a Filipino king in the 1500s, did not resist Magellan’s

missionary agenda. Humabon greeted Magellan and his
Christian lord with friendship. Maybe out of genuine
religious feeling, or maybe servitude and friendship are a type

of fire-retardant, protected from the torches that burned
down the villages of the chiefs who refused to kneel. Of course,
there were some who refused to kneel, and maybe this is

also something inherited too, along with everything else,
all the possible variations, and it doesn’t take me long to
realize the flaws in this notion of an inherited friendliness.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, the white husband
of my parents’ friend showed me pictures of his Filipino
wife in different bikinis, the ones she sent him in letters

before he hopped on a plane to the Philippines to marry her.
He had a 5×7 album full of these photographs, these early
flirtations. It made him nostalgic to sift through them.

What’s good about my wife, he said, is that she’s easy
on the eyes. A tuft of his chest hair appeared from the collar
in his shirt, and the soul inside of me nearly choked on its

own regurgitations. Before I could ask if he’d sent her
pictures of himself, I heard his wife’s bright cackle from
the other room, like the firing of artillery from a distant ship.

I noted that she was not easy on the ears, that she was not
easy at all. I realize now that this story was never about us
being owned, because we will always own ourselves. This story

is about the way the world believes that it owns us, holding
its album of pictures in its wishful hands. And we are not
amenable as much as we are insidious. We are the Cornioles,

who, after being eaten alive by a whale, enters the whale’s body
and takes small, tender bites of the whale’s enormous heart.


Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →