In the movie Dolores Claiborne, Vera Donovan said, “Sometimes you have to be a high-riding bitch to survive. Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold onto.” Taken out of context, for me, this means that a women needs to dig deep into her bile to do the extraordinary work it takes to succeed and often, society views a woman’s extraordinary strength as, and not limited to, being a bitch. In her book, Diwata, Barbara Jane Reyes does just that. She digs deep not only into her own bile but into her history and folklore. “I am the bad daughter, the freedom fighter, the shaper of death masks.” Reyes poem, “Aswang”, reminds us all that to succeed, we need not run from our past, our history, or our creation stories—we need to take control of them. Stare deep into the faces of those who would dare stand against us and taunt, “cleave me beyond function. Blame me.” Though it is the final poem of the book, Aswang’s success is only the beginning.
I am the dark-hued bitch; see how wide my maw, my bloodmood eyes,
And by daylight, see the tangles and knots of my riverine hair
I am the bad daughter, the freedom fighter, the shaper of death masks.
I am the snake, I am the crone; I am caretaker of ancient trees.
I am the winged tik-tik, tik-tikm tik-tik, tik-tik; I am close,
And from under the floorboards, the grunting black pig,
I am the encroaching wilderness, the bowels of these mountains.
I am the opposite of your blessed womb; I am your inverted mirror.
Guard your unborn children, burn me with your seed and salt,
Upend me, bend my body, cleave me beyond function. Blame me.
Rebellious Women in Poetry (brought to you by rebellious women) is made possible by rebellious women. Reprinted from Diwata by permission of the author. Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, the Philippines, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. 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). The introduction is by Susan Yount, editor of Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal and madam of the Chicago Poetry Bordello.