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I Do

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“I do not know English”
—from “I Do Not” by Michael Palmer

“Marunong akong mag-ingles” (I do know English)
—any 21st-century Filipino poet

I do know English.

I do know English for I have something to say about this latest peace stirring between a crack that’s split a sidewalk traversing a dusty border melting at noon beneath an impassive sun.

I do know English and, therefore, when hungry, can ask for more than minimum wage, pointing repeatedly at my mouth and yours.

Such a gesture can only mean what it means: I do not want to remain hungry and I am looking at your mouth.

I do know English and still will not ask permission.

I shall call you “Master” with a lack of irony; lift my cotton blouse; cup my breasts to offer them to your eyes, your lips, your tongue; keen at the moon hiding at 11 a.m. to surface left tendon on my neck. For your teeth. And so on.

No need to decipher your response—and if you wish, go ahead: spank me.

I do know English. Therefore I can explain this painting of a fractured grid as the persistent flux of our “selves” as time unfolds.

There is a way to speak of our past or hopes for the future, the hot-air balloon woven from a rainbow’s fragments now floating over St. Helena; your glasses I nearly broke when, afterwards, you flung me to the floor as violence is extreme and we demand the extreme from each other; your three moans in a San Francisco hallway after I fell to my knees; your silence in New York as I knocked on your door. There is a way to articulate your silence—a limousine running over a child on the streets of Manila and Shanghai. And Dubai.

There is a way to joke about full-haired actors running for President and the birth of a new American portrait: “Tight as a Florida election.”

I do know English and so cannot comprehend why you write me no letters even as you unfailingly read mine.

Those where I write of the existence of a parallel universe to create a haven when your silence persists in this world I was forced to inherit.

Which does not mean I cannot differentiate between a reflection and a shadow, a threnody and a hiccup, the untrimmed bougainvillea bush mimicking a fire and the lawn lit by a burning cross.

I can prove Love exists by measuring increased blood flow to the brain’s anterior cingulated cortex, the middle insula, the putamen and the caudate nucleus.

Nor is “putamen” a pasta unless I confirm to you that my weak eyesight misread “puttanesca” as the crimson moon began to rise, paling as it ascends for fate often exacts a price.

I can see an almond eye peer behind the fracture on a screen and know it is not you from the wafting scent of crushed encomiums.

I can remind you of the rose petals I mailed to you after releasing them from the padded cell between my thighs.

I slipped the petals inside a cream envelope embossed in gold with the seal of a midtown Manhattan hotel whose façade resembles a seven-layered wedding cake. Which we shall share only through the happiness of others. Which does not cancel Hope.

I can recite all of your poems as I memorized them through concept as well as sound.

I speak of a country disappearing and the impossibility of its replacement except within the tobacco-scented clench of your embrace.

I can tell you I am weary of games, though they continue. Manila’s streets are suffused with protesters clamoring for an adulterer’s impeachment. Their t-shirts are white to symbolize their demand for “purity.” Space contains all forms, which means it lack geometry. My lucid tongue has tasted the dust from monuments crumbling simply because seasons change.

Because I do know English, I have been variously called Miss Slanted Vagina, The Mail Order Bride, The One With The Shoe Fetish, The Squat Brunette Who Wears A Plaid Blazer Over A Polka-Dot Blouse, The Maid.

When I hear someone declare war while observing a yacht race in San Diego, I understand how “currency” becomes “debased.”

They have named it The Tension Between The Popular Vote And The Electoral College.

I do know English.
Eileen Tabios, “I Do” from The Thorn Rosary. Copyright © 2010 by Eileen Tabios. Reprinted by permission of Marsh Hawk Press..
Source: The Thorn Rosary (Marsh Hawk Press, 2010)
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I Do

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  • Poet and writer Eileen Tabios was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States when she was 10. She earned a BA in political science from Barnard College and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. Founder and editor of the online poetry review journal GALATEA RESURRECTS (A POETRY ENGAGEMENT), Tabios has authored essays, fiction, and collections of mixed-genre writing. Her collections of poetry include Beyond Life Sentences: Poems (1998), Ecstatic Mutations: Experiments in the Poetry Laboratory (2000), Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (2002), and Footnotes to Algebra: Uncollected Poems 1995–2009 (2009).
    Her mixed-genre works include I Take Thee, English, for My Beloved (2005); the political and semiautobiographical The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes: Our Autobiography (2007), which deals with her father’s life; and The Blind Chatelaine’s Keys: Her Biography through Your Poetics (2008), a biography of Tabios based on other writers’ critiques of...

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