past mahal / dressed in the garments / of two pronouns.
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?
Louie Leyson is a Filipino writer and UBC graduate who lives on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. You can find their work in Nat. Brut, The Malahat Review, Palette, and others.
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