Kyle Dacuyan, 2017 Poets House Emerging Poets Fellow
My Mother Was a Bodybuilder
My father is an immigrant. My grandfathers both were alcoholics to the grave. My grandmother (white) lost a baby in the sixties in the Outback to water on the brain. My grandmother (brown) had a stillborn in her forties. Her husband kept the unchild in an Ovaltine jar and preserved it with formaldehyde, praying nightly to the ghost almost all the years of Marcos. Did I mention he was an alcoholic. That my grandfather (white) stole bottles of mouthwash from the corner store to get drunker cheaper, faster. That my grandfather (white) pressed himself drunkenly one night in the seventies on my mother (white) when she was seventeen. She put what life she could into a backpack and disappeared. Married young, had my brother, divorced by legal drinking age. Early single motherhood was the bodybuilding moment. That was Reagan, dawn of AIDS, fitness was a symbol of the indomitable spirit. My father was half a world away. His friends were disappearing. The dictator’s daughter gave the go-ahead to torture a student three days straight when he dared to question her suitability for class president. And when finally they succeeded in the murder of the child they left him facedown in the gutter, a hair’s breadth from 22, just think what he might have done in his one American year of drinking with impunity. My father, too, was at the university at the time. And saw he needed to leave to stay alive. And it is here in a suburb of Virginia that I begin to happen. My father meets my mother at a party, they date the duration of his visa, then exchange letters on the backs of photographs while he waits some months for the approval of a green card. I love you. I love you. He had no other way to say it. And so I love you appears again and again in his letters like the lamps of fishermen returning to harbor. I love you. Is the feeling different in English, is feeling particular to a language or diminished by translation. I love you. I have trouble wrapping my head around the work of Immigration Services to determine the reality or fraudulence of a marriage. What we are getting at is love and whether it is measurably real and to what extent a marriage is legitimate based upon that measurement. I remember visiting the Naturalization Office with my family and being asked my name, my age, my father’s name, my mother’s name, and I see now that I was proving my existence. As a testament of my father’s right to citizenship. And I remember being told the joke he overheard his higher-ups make when he requested his first raise. Give that son of a bitch a bowl of rice. And I remember when a stranger pet me on the head asking seriously if my mother was my mother-mother. And every PTA mommy shrieking in the news that there are getting to be too many of me with my tiger parents in such and such a school district. Every throwaway line about Asian men and little penises. I am a model nothing person. I come from flight and dream it. I dream I am all eye, all mind without a body, all soul surveying the airport of the future, where travelers are admitted without inspection to the world, the world, whatever land I hunger into. I am flying for the glass. I am like God the fool, breaking my face in every window. Too battered by the invisible I have flung myself against, I pause then on a beam and see the truth of what I am.
Kyle Dacuyan is a poet, performer, and translator. He is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of support from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Academy of American Poets. His work has been shown at Ars Nova, Le Petit Versailles, and as part of the Philly FringeArts Festival. Recent poems appear in Best New Poets 2016, The Shallow Ends, wildness, and The Nashville Review. www.kyledacuyan.com.