Juli

by M Sereno


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.

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