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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.

See full list of 2017 Emerging Poets Fellows