Manifest Destiny

Because my father’s brother-in-law was a captain,

it happened that I was born at an army hospital named

after the 25th president of the United States, the one

who dropped down on his knees when he realized

that the Philippines had dropped into [their] laps, some gift

apparently from a higher force that gives nations and people

like us wholesale to the ones who hold the reins of power.

Two summers ago when I returned to that city, even at midnight

the heat was oppressive. The taxi drove past the camp enclosure,

past row after row of billboards and ragged palms, the outline

of the city’s new high rises crowding out the shanties and back

alleys the poor inhabit, where they sleep and eat and try

to ply their various tinkers’ trades, where they die almost nightly

now in the streets, targets of random vigilante killings. O manifest,

O destiny. McKinley said he slept soundly: …and the next

morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department

(our map-maker), and I told him to put the Philippines

on the map of the United States (pointing to a large map

on the wall of his office), and there they are, and there

they will stay while I am President! I too dropped

into the world, though not quite in the same way: my origins

a murky destiny that passed through bodies annexed

in furtive and unexpected ways. Was there joy,

was there defeat in surrender? There was nothing left…

to do but to take them all, …educate [them], and uplift

and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s

grace do the very best we could by them.


In response to Via Negativa: Talking head.

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