Read This: Cherry by Barbara Jane Reyes
By her own admission, Barbara Jane Reyes' poetry makes people uncomfortable. Poetry that is political, sexual and in-your-face over America's ongoing xenophobia and debasement of Filipinas is surely a hard pill to swallow for old white men. Her brilliant Poeta en San Francisco was a devastating look at the city, with its undercurrents of racism, shocking homeless problem and an administration (past and present) who would rather make war than face domestic issues. Reyes' new chapbook, Cherry ($7, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs) is almost like a sequel to Poeta, but her indictment is more pointed.
The word cherry was long ago co-opted into slang for the loss of virginity (specifically breaking a girl/woman's hymen), but it's also used by the military for inexperienced soldiers and by frat boys and geeks to describe everything from a tricked out car to unopened action figure. In Cherry, Reyes explores the sexualization of Asian women by white men (especially those conservative Bible-thumpers) and how a generation of men fetishized Asian women after their experiences in Korea, Vietnam and how it continues with America's occupation of those nations, in global advertising, eroticized misogyny and sex-slavery. In "Accessories," Reyes writes: "We're Asian, we're girls, we're kind of cute, and in the tradition of the mouthless Hello Kitty, we don't even have to speak."
Cherry is comprised mostly of prose poems and sonnets, but Reyes also cleverly uses epigraphs (sometimes creating poems out of quotes from other sources) to see how Filipinas have been reduced to domestic work, nursemaids and prostitutes (who are advertised worldwide to horny white men for organized sex tours of the Pacific Rim) when they are, in fact, highly educated. Picking a representative poem from Cherry was tough, but I chose "Wedding Sonnet," because, for me, it goes to the heart of this necessary, must-read collection.
If you can afford a Filipina,
Then please follow me to the smoking room.
Light up a Cohiba, flip these pages;
Let's see which one catches your eye. This one?
Humble, young, educated. Virgin too.
Don't purchase one that has been to Japan;
Chances are, she's been laid by Yakuza.
But these province girls know how to treat you,
Clean your house, cook your breakfast, suck you off,
Then go to work, send their money back home.
Hide their green card somewhere they can't find it,
Justice of the Peace will marry you cheap.
But you must call now or order on line.
American Express? Visa's just fine.
For my American Benefactor:
I, your pretty little Filipina girl,
Do solemnly swear, to spit in your face
Whenever your dirty mouth spews promise
Of a better life in your damn country.
I will not obey you and honor you,
Nor will I dedicate my life to you.
I will not thank God for you. Why should I?
Here's my vow: So long as we both shall live,
I will not please you, nor tend to your needs.
I will not love you, nor bend to your will.
I will not want you, and if you come close,
I will bite your tongue, clear out of your skull.
I will stab you in the back, with a smile.