Recognition

“…how many possess a cry
and never a body” ~ D. Bonta

You can usually tell what kind
of person you’re dealing with from the way,
for instance, they treat the people cleaning up for

or waiting on them. This observation, from my youngest
daughter who started working summers as a hostess
in a Japanese restaurant— though she wound up

being made to fill bento boxes with salad
greens and cherry tomatoes, and the pitchers
with ice cold water; roll the silverware

in napkins, and often, help wipe down tables
with a wet cloth at the end of the day. Oh yeah,
I know what she means; I’ve seen and heard it myself—

The demeanor and voice changing to one of peremptory
command, the not even looking into the eyes of those
whose hands bring you soup, refill your water

or tea; take the bowl back to the kitchen
just because the angry customer didn’t listen
or realize the item marked with four out of five

bird chillies on the menu means really spicy.
And the racist insult scrawled on the guest check
instead of a gratuity: “Ching Chong, if you can’t

speak English, maybe you should go back
to your country.” And whoever tells you
it’s about borders or soil or territory

doesn’t know or has willfully chosen to forget
our common and shameful histories. One apartment
we used to rent in the Ghent neighborhood

had some kind of electrical outlet
right in the middle of the dining room floor.
I couldn’t figure out what it was, until someone

explained it was likely from the old days,
when servants or slaves lived on the lower floor,
and could be summoned by the master or mistress

of the house to bring more iced tea, more mint
julep and deviled eggs, or take away the dirty dishes,
simply by pressing a buzzer with their foot. This week,

I read that a husband and wife in Quezon City
have just been convicted to 40 years in jail
for having repeatedly punched their maid, slammed

her body against doors; even pressing a hot iron
against her face, which caused her to go blind.
In Hong Kong, there are maids who press their bodies

into the space between the stove and the refrigerator
at night: these are their sleeping quarters. In Colorado,
a couple are now in jail for having starved and abused

their own blind, autistic son for over a decade. So much
anguish and pain, but we must recognize it by name—
Look it straight in the eye and not away, not pretend.

What animals are these, and how are they related to us?
What are those cries they emit out in the streets,
in the square, their fists raised in terrible salute?

 

In response to Via Negativa: Casualty.

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