poems by Barbara Jane Reyes

[the siren’s story]
BY BARBARA JANE REYES

she wasn’t born in this city. she found its basalt greenstone chunks, seafloor forced skyward. it found her hands through mist and odors whirring pigeons’ clubfeet fluttering, toothless men’s paper sacks spilling elixirs, roots, shark fin tonics. heat swelling sewer steam rising, side street chess match maneuvers mystifying. it sought her whirlwind hair, grown seavine thick. songbird, adrift, nestling neon, she crafted snares for moths, butterflies, treasure hunting children tracing ideographs: sky, sun. patina spires, smirking dragon boys humming silk lanterns, flight of phoenixes through fish vendors’ stalls, corrugated plastic blackbird perches, jade-ringed gardens, needle-tipped shanties. it bulleted trees, lighting hash pipes; herbalists’ storefront canopies concealing leathered men, versed in languages of whiskered ghosts. it invented her dialect carving tongue: salt fables, yellow caution tape palaces. she lost herself in this city. it lured her, drank her air; honey voice’s precision, hybrid beyond memory. songbird, adrift, this city’s misplaced siren. migration patterns subterranean streams swallowed whole.

Barbara Jane Reyes, “Galleon Prayer” from Poeta en San Francisco. Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Jane Reyes. Reprinted by permission of Tinfish Press.

Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, the Philippines, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. She earned a BA in ethnic studies from the University of California at Berkeley and an MFA from San Francisco State University. She is the author of the poetry collections Gravities of Center (2003), Poeta en San Francisco (2005), winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Diwata (2010).
Her work explores a variety of cultural, historical, and geographical perspectives. In Poeta en San Francisco Reyes employs English, Spanish, and Tagalog to create a devastating portrait of her hometown. Craig Perez noted in a Rain Taxi review that “throughout Poeta, we witness the intersecting trajectories of body, self, culture and city.” In a review for Bluefifth, Nicole Cartwright Denison commented that by “drawing heavily upon inspiration from Filipino creation myths, along with multiple biblical and classical allusions … Poeta en San Francisco transforms her hometown into the broader world teeming with struggle, with life wasted and wanted, with hope leaking from the edges.”

With her husband, the poet Oscar Bermeo, Reyes co-edits Doveglion Press, which publishes political literature. She has taught creative writing at Mills College and Philippine studies at the University of San Francisco.

[galleon prayer]
BY BARBARA JANE REYES
pilipinas to petatlán

she whispers desert trees, thorn-ridged, trickling yellow candles; roots spilling snakes’ blood
virgin of ribboned silk; virgin of gold filigree
one day’s walk westward, a crucifix of fisherman’s dinghy dimensions washes ashore
virgin adorned in robe of shark embryo and coconut husk
she fingers mollusks, wraps herself in sea vines
virgin of ocean voyage peril
she will herself born
virgin of mud brick ruins; virgin of sandstorm echoes
she is saint of commonplaces; saint of badlands
virgin of jade, camphor, porcelain; virgin of barter for ghosts
penitents, earthdivers of forgotten names praying skyward
virgin of scars blossomed from open veins of fire
she slips across the pacific’s rivers of pearldiving children
virgin of copper coins
she is bloodletting words, painting unlikeness
virgin of anachronism
children stained with berries and rust, their skeletons bend, arrow-tipped; smoke blurs eyes’ edges
virgin of mineral depletion; virgin of mercury
at other altitudes she remembers to breathe; a monument scraping cloud
virgin of tin deposits extracted from mountains
these are not divinations; there is goldleaf about her skin
virgin of naming and renaming places in between

Barbara Jane Reyes, “Galleon Prayer” from Poeta en San Francisco. Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Jane Reyes. Reprinted by permission of Tinfish Press.

see also http://www.barbarajanereyes.com/

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