My sister is beautiful. Too beautiful for her own good. Men began ogling her as early as when she was in sixth grade. Vulnerable to such attention, she became a lousy student as she learned she could navigate her life, more easily, she thought, by focusing on other attributes besides education.
She became one of the Philippines’ hottest export commodities: Filipina brides. She began corresponding with someone state-side. She sent him her photo. Not long after, she announced he would be visiting us. The week before we were to meet him, the household remained in a constant flurry of preparation. My father made plans to roast one of the pigs he had been raising to supplement his income and pay for our tuition. That year Junior the pig was sacrificed in honor of the white man. I was assigned to make sure the house was clean, especially the toilet and the toilet bowl. When no amount of muriatric acid would erase the yellow-stained bowl, my sister handed me a copper penny and told me to use it to scrape the stain. For hours, I sweated on my knees, scraping the yellow. This left a mark in my soul that I wouldn’t understand for many years. I learned then that yellow isn’t good enough. Only white will do.
From the United States, the gringo bought her, I mean, brought her gifts like
a teddy bear clad in a red-and-white polka dot bikini
red satin tank top
white fishnet stockings
a plastic make-up bag with an assortment of lipsticks, powder and
sunglasses with mauve-tinted glass with lenses so huge they
seemed to hide her face
box of See’s chocolates (melted by the heat before the box was
fake leather shoulder bag
Timex watch with pink wrist band
White Linen perfume
a brass-gold chain dangling with a heart-shaped locket, his picture
a packet of hair barrettes, the colors forming a rainbow
a yellow beach towel featuring a band of grinning Donald Ducks
For my father, he brought some Jack Daniels and White Owl cigars. For my mother, a Sears can opener.
He brought me a polyester scarf which I promptly turned into a dust cloth.
I don’t have a sister, except this woman who is the sister of every Filipino. Her name need not bear my family name, or the names of the families who offered the bride whose head came to be rammed down several times on New Jersey concrete, the bride whose body was left dangling from a Texas tree, the bride whose face ended as a bullet-pocked grimace in New Hampshire, the brides who became maids to their husbands’ extended families, the brides who would become nurses to husbands 30-50 years their seniors, the bride who would come crying to me from an internet alleyway…
…the brides whose birth names I will never know…
Eileen R. Tabios loves books and has released about 40 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her most recent is INVENT(ST)ORY: Selected Catalog Poems and New 1996-1915 (Dos Madres Press, 2015). With poems translated into seven languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized ten anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays in addition to serving as editor or guest editor for various literary journals. She maintains a biblioliphic blog, “Eileen Verbs Books“; edits Galatea Resurrects, a popular poetry review; steers the literary and arts publisher Meritage Press; and frequently curates thematic online poetry projects including LinkedIn Poetry Recommendations (a recommended list of contemporary poetry books). More information is available at http://eileenrtabios.com
librecht baker. Dembrebrah West African Drum and Dance Ensemble member. Kouman Kele Dance and Drum Ensemble memeber. MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College. VONA/Voices & Lambda Literary Fellow. Sundress Publications’ Assistant Editor. Poetry in Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices & CHORUS: A Literary Mixtape. Currently, birthing & manifesting.