Writing Prompt: “For the city that saved me”

‘The writing prompt that kickstarted this collection came from Rachelle Cruz: “Write a poem for the city that saved you. Write a poem for the city that broke you.” That’s only one of the writing prompts we’ll be using at our upcoming writing workshop. So, I’ma leave you all to think about how you’d respond to that. And perhaps you will come to Bayanihan Center on 09/01 with an answer in the form of a poem.’

— Barbara Jane Reyes

And so, here is one of my answers. I don’t like it very much, but it’s a start…

For the city that saved me

The mossed angel oak didn’t save me, nor did the morning
cicadas, nor did the guns at Fort Sumter—I didn’t hear
the firearms at dawn like the thousand people born here.
My family came too late, came on a boat after the war,
after one of those sailors fell in love with a prostitute
from Mandaluyong, and we’ve never seen trees
like that angel oak before, never seen a thousand branches
spread out, gripping sunlight, holding the world still

Back home, they’ll say I’m the apong babae of a prostitute,
but I won’t cry, I knew it was a secret to keep. Here,
the Holy City understands, in its ways of darkness and shadow
It mixes these colors with sky blue and pale pink and mustard yellow,
lining houses on rainbow row, houses that face the sea

I came to Charleston on a plane, not a boat, and I was born
in Los Angeles, another city that holds a thousand people hostage
in language and secrets and lies and family parties

Like my lola, I married a sailor, but a brown one, one that spoke
the language but looked like a kundiman—he had such reddish,
candy skin, skin that tasted like balm. I sang and sang and sang,
I ran and flew with him here, the Holy City, but the lies came too

I’ve made a kundiman out of my sailor and his Charleston,
the city that beckoned him, I’ve made a kundiman out of the morning
cicadas’ call, I’ve made a kundiman out of the streets with a thousand people,
all who’ve asked and asked where I was from and where I was born and why I came,
looking and asking why my skin was the color of caramel, like bark, like the sun

I don’t remember how the city came to love me,
I don’t remember why the city cried when I left,
but the angel oak trees gave me sunlight and darkness
when I needed it, the Fort Sumter guns fired
when I fought my sailor and the sea,
and the quaint, quiet houses hummed
when I made love to him

I sang and I sang and I sang, and the city that saved me sang
There, I made kundimans and I ran and I flew and I was still
And there, with the many colors and the lies, I faced the sea too

Lastly, I am happy I’m, at least, writing again. It’s a slow start, but I’m grateful. I’m even working on my short story again, revising and rewriting it. Writing is a hellish process, alright.




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