“…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.
Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.