A girl had thrown herself out of a window of the parish house, falling upon some stones and killing herself. — from El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal, translated by Leon Ma. Guerrero You said, she was beautiful as a flowering tree at the heart of a forest, as hidden streams. You gave me an honest father and a boy like an ember to love. And you gave me her locket. Keepsake of a woman who rode madness in a wave, whose story you shaped me and my lover to retell. You gave me this thing encrusted with gems so I could show you what we mean when we say "precious". And I said, it means not breaking. It means life. So you hunted me down, cornered me against the door leading to the gallows. Leveled loss sharp as my grandfather's spear at my throat. You said, our women are strongest in their desperation, and so I bolted toward that noose, hope-honed sacrifice, offering myself in exchange for the smallest scrap to grant my lover his next breath, a day's survival. Like every other story of every other daughter of this soil. Like Pilipinas. And you said, like inangbayan priests will ravage your flesh. And I said, no. So I became the girl who threw herself out a window to preserve her selflessness -- just like you said: precious. I became that bloody mass of cracked bone and intact honor on the street. I became despair. There was nothing else I could have done. You could have chosen so many other stories for me, but you killed me, Jose. Still I said: I live. Tell me again what we hold precious. As long as there is struggle there is life. Bat-winged, I rise, and rise again. I am the terror that breaks itself apart. I am the thousand shrouds and broken looms history will never sing in war. I am the grief that persists in those hours quiet as confession, those darkest nights when you ask yourself why, and say to yourself: our blood must water our country's soil. I am anger, Jose. Spilled out in blood on that street, nails gouged into the skeleton they tossed into a nameless grave. Bones have long memories years after they turn to dust. I remember the ash-taste of grief. How to swallow. The nights spent clinging to precipice after precipice, desiring death like water. Desiring life athirst. You said to me: your story ends here. You see it was never your story. I say: I am still telling it. So tell me why you abandoned Maria Clara to lightning-struck madness and why you gave me that plummet to the hungry street. When we love it kills us, but it turned you into a weapon, Jose. Where are my blades? Tell me why we must all be dead, or seeking it. Why our defiance is worse than death. Why you must make feasts of our flesh and distill wine from our sorrow. They say I eat pregnant women these days. Suck out their infants with my tongue. You who denied me my wars and my strength, you know nothing of how I feed: how I live, continue to live, struggle towards the last starving shreds of life, a daughter of fury. Hindi mabait ang pag-asa. You call me a monster. Is it so terrible for you that women survive? Do you fear the ghosts of our violated bodies rising up to drag you down? Do you not see our hands aflame igniting revolution? Did you pause a moment before chaining me to that path? Did you not even consider I might have wanted to live? Tell me, Jose, did you ever think I had a choice?
M Sereno is a queer Filipina artist and writer who tells stories through calligraphy and ink, watercolour and poems. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, Stone Telling and Interfictions. She lives in regional Australia with her partner and two ridiculous Pomeranians, and spends her nights dreaming in the Philippines.