Catapult | Poetry

anak ko

past mahal / dressed in the garments / of two pronouns.

anak ko

sometimes a lake is also
a bioweapon. in my nation’s language
there is no word 

for daughter. tagalog is a landscape
from which the wound
of spanish blooms like an incoherent

red lake. I was baptized
in its scarlet. I name its waters
gender. I think of this

while nanay recalls old lovers
in english, how she and he still coil
like chain links on the fences

of her teeth. he,
she—oh, he—wove dresses
out of piña. his—her?—his hands,

soft like pandesal. past mahal
dressed in the garments
of two pronouns. some nights I want

to sleep in mistranslation’s
queer hallways. instead I flick ash
over the balcony as nanay dreams 

behind her window, bad anak
behaviour, bad breathing
into midnight air.

In Louie Leyson’s poem, mistranslation is not a single event but a condition of existence, a structure in which we think and live and inhabit our gendered selves. Leyson tells us that, in the Philippines, there is the “wound / of spanish,” the “incoherent / red lake” of a colonial language. Because language sculpts social reality, Leyson has had to face the incoherent and wander “mistranslation’s / queer hallways”; this phrase stunned me and put me in mind of the subtle ways queer people of color enact otherwise possibilities under conditions of duress. This is the work of renovating old and inherited categories in order to stand on a balcony and breathe “into midnight air.” I love the scene of improvised freedom this conjures. What else is the lyric mode for if not the conjuring of an improvised freedom?