The Anthropologist’s Wife

"...We are resting now with about twenty-five bronze
figures squatted around us. These Igorot are quite
repulsive at times. You should see them eat—
they fill their mouths as full as they can stuff 
them. One of the men who have been carrying me 
is a sight to behold....He would create a sensation
anywhere in the United States." 
~ Maud Huntley Jenks, Death Stalks 
the Philippine Wilds: Letters 
of Maud (Huntley) Jenks 

She sits with a pamphlet in her hand

and calls it reading. We are to follow

her lead and take turns making 

these sounds.

              Today I am first. Yesterday 

I cleaned her floor with a rag and a basin 

of water. Sunday she made a face and told 

my brother to take me to the river 

where he was to scrub me 

                          with a bar of soap. 

She checks our hair and ears and clucks

at the sight of our bare feet. We know

the sounds in the forests around 

our homes: tree frogs 

                       and owls, anitos 
watching over us. The mumbaki taught us 

we may gather firewood in the muyong, 

but not hunt wild animals there.  

When we cut down a tree, 

                         first we are to say 

its name. She has our names confused, and so

she and her people give us new 

names in their tongue.  

My friends and I, we don't

                            correct her.

It is better that we keep our true names

to ourselves— should we fall like trees,

still we'll keep the first things 

we were given at birth.


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