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Sample Poems by Aimee Suzara

Philippine Souvenir Card #1

Nine of Hearts.
Upon a kalabaw, I sit
tilling the perpetual rice
paddy of your imagination.
Legs astride, bare-
footed. Painted into
position. My brim
hides my face. You, viewer
would think I have no features.
My skin
only black like the kalabaw.
We stare, eyelessly. Who
are you to shuffle me
into order, bid me away
in games, assign me
to a number, a suit?
My heart thrums beneath this starched
Yellow shirt, I cannot breathe
For its strict collar. Every day
I wake to till this same
Stereotype of a field. It's
Barren now, no rice left
To fill your plates, only this vision
Of a man. You think you've succeeded
in capturing me;
The way I brace my kalabaw with ring,
With whip.


There they tom-tommed and danced the true savage dance and cut the throats of the six dogs, which had been several days fattening. -Missouri Governor Hunt, 1904.

We are the White Man's burden -
The Igorotte we're called
A name we do not use at home
But now we must respond.

We do not sharpen teeth like Ota
So you spare us from the animal zoo.
Our display is much more savory:
You've provided all our tools.

From beyond the bamboo rail,
The women gaze and stare -
They like the wind blowing our cloths
Revealing nature's share.

The women hold their breaths
As we balance spear and shield
And in our loincloths, fake a war
Invoking every fear.

The men desire to join us
In our pretended tribal dance;
When they gyrate their awkward hips
We give them our applause.

Our nakedness causes a stir
But brings the tickets in;
You give us woolen trousers
To hide our copper skin;

And then you take them back,
To keep our "authentic" look;
And in our flimsy village
We dance to prove your Book.

You give us twenty dogs a month
To stage a ceremony;
And warn visitors to watch their dogs
In case we get too hungry;

But when you are not looking,
We bury canines in the dirt;
American dogs are much too fatty;
Our stomachs start to hurt.

We play the stage like actors
who know our script by heart;
we laugh at your hypocrisy
and keep our selves intact;

And so we squat and aim our spears
And eat the dogs you bring us;
Until the day we may return
We'll play the savage circus.

So you, the Brown Man's burden -
Keep your dogs on steady tie -
The crackling bones might be your own
If you don't keep us in your eye!

Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

Good Boy

This loin cloth is our currency.
We see how the women swoon
how the dance blows the wind
and gives them a little peek.

It's our game of hide
and seek. Welcome
to our hips.

These white men, how stiff and like
a tree they stand, as if
they don't have knees to bend.
They think we laugh to see them dance.
But it's how we survive in this caged existence.

And yet we have learned
to expect no less than thievery
from these men.
They ask for a performance:
that is what they'll get.

They fear their wives may wish
to get behind these stage-curtains.
Maybe we'll dance
the way they never can.

Dear Ota Benga,

I am writing you across a century and this country
where we are both strangers. Why am I disinterring you
to put you in a book next to Antero and El Captain
and the many unnamed subjects made to dance and fight
and craft and speak, show off your teeth, befriend
the very ones who mocked you? Measured each day
to demonstrate that you were the link
between humans and apes.

The skull, nose, cheekbones, shoulders, sternum,
the breadth of your hips, the length of your legs,
your height, your wide and muscled feet,
all of your physique, like ours, taken apart
under the glass, we, living specimens. And the joy the scientists
must have felt to discover "proof" of their superiority! But you
kept faith that even in the most devilish men there was still
something human. Your captor, dubbed savior, who took you

from the Congo, was supposedly a friend. It's not much different
now, Ota, or should I call you Sir, what they likely never granted you,
as they locked you up with the monkeys. Today
we're still measured, mocked. The pictures impossible
to become, unless we should stop eating, peel away our skin,
inject ourselves with whitening drugs, put plastic over our eyes
in unnatural hues; set scalpel to our curves, pump botox into fissures,
we are told to aspire to nothing less than figures of wax,

airbrushed and re-touched. We sing American pop songs, always
we can sing and dance. In your later accounts, you fall into depression.
Who wouldn't? Though the photos only show your rows of sharpened
teeth glinting in a Cheshire grin. You hoped to return one day to the Congo.
I imagine how you must have felt. You could never go home,
and preferred to die instead. Who would do otherwise, in your position?
Humiliated in the press, infantilized, demoted to animal by the crowds,
poked and prodded by mustached men in laboratory coats.

But you went down in history:
refusing to continue the life of an animal
trapped far away from home
in a cage
in a Zoo.

Sincerely, xxx