Guilliean reads three of her poems; read along with the poems while you’re listening!
In response to Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ’s Bomb Crater Sky.
Dad served two tours in the war, a media circus of Ohio hippies and escapes from Saigon via helicopter Lit by the fireworks on the nightly news, gilded in the blood of the conscripts, photographed by Leica. Building roads as a Seabee, cleaning the mud caked on his boots with gasoline The kids around the airfield would bring active landmines Held tight like teddy bears to their chests Goofy grins on their toothless mouths Knowing the GIs would give them chocolate Your anxious, wakeful sky sends shivers down my spine My footfalls want to echo your restraint, Tuned to a radio station only we can hear Dad's diabetes eats away at his vision, Takes away his license to live My ateh said the diabetes was aggravated by his exposure to Agent Orange 'Cause he served under the man who first deployed it. I love the smell of napalm in the morning, A day you will never see, Inside your earthen crater.
Where are you from, a person is often asked. Where indeed? I have no answer. My eyes are slanted, but I'm not Oriental. I'm not a rug, don't tread on me. My jeans are Levi's, but I'm not a stadium. Don't play games with me. My feet are blistered, but I don't wear high heels. I can walk on broken glass. I'm from California, I say, naive of the social cues. No, but farther back, they insist. What do you mean, I reply, and it hits me. What's a brown girl like you doing in a desert like this? I lock my jaw, squint my chinky eyes, and say, I was born in Oakland, California at the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital on September 18, 1983. Cut me, I bleed red white and blue. I don't understand how people see me, and every day is a struggle to reconcile the world that I belong. So I don't. Their struggle with me is not my struggle. I eat rice with my bare hands and I shoot guns in the desert. I like superhero movies and pop music. How you see me is not my problem. I am who I am and I don't give a damn.
When I Was Naive
We practiced our haibun in my grad school poetry class. This was my result.
The tsinelas on my feet do not protect me from the grains of sand. My mother's pale skin is a gentle reminder for me to protect my face from the sun, so I don't get tan like my ancestors. But the freckles sprinkled on my cheeks are my tell. I have no poker face here. A murder of cacti and bloopy tumbleweeds in wide, open spaces. But that can't be true. My childhood was the green grass that made me itch, the hand-me-down purple banana seat bike, and the depths of my imagination. Selling candy to go to Great America with the school band, driving to Chinatown in the City for siopao in the pink boxes, pausing briefly at Treasure Island, pointing out the house where Kuya broke his arm, the house where they used to live years before I was born. But that was never my home. It was theirs. My house was in the Southside, cheap side, wrong side. Driving over the lion bridge twice a day separating us from them, Dreaming of cheesecake from the kitchen that I loved so much. I cooked rice in that house, I cleaned the toilets in that house, I wept for the shards of my broken heart in that house. But I am not home. Not Filipino enough for the Filipinos, not American enough for the Americans; too Filipino for the Americans, too American for the Filipinos. But I am not American. I am not Filipino. I belong to both. I belong to neither. Brown skin and big nose What is normal anyways Crown Princess of Earth.
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