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a gesture toward—

MT Vallarta


I am folding myself into an airplane seat. Business class, group A. Surrounded by gray pompadours, pantsuits, and briefcases staring at this tiny human in faded leggings and a jean jacket. I want to melt, meld, be stitched onto the surface—any surface would suffice. It is the middle of October. Los Angeles remains sunkissed and colored. I wonder if I will finally see my father cry. I have one hour—


* * *


My sister didn’t exhibit the same signs, but they were still there—baggy clothes, hiding behind curtains of hair, going to sleep with her head hurting but waking disappointed that she did not have a tumor. She got a lot farther—water, hands to the neck—while I only dabbled in pills. My mom blames me. Says she must’ve copied me, but I knew she didn’t—her moves were too deliberate. I was too focused on suffering. She wanted to stop everything.


* * *


Four years later, I am high on Zoloft. The vomit that comes is a sac of baby spiders hatching from my throat. Seminar hours have become closing walls, aching to crush my shoulders. Angry red dots occupy my scalp.


“Your father has a history of mental disorder.”


Yes, I know about his brother.


“It’s not good to always be in therapy.”


“You shouldn’t go if you don’t want to.”


* * *


According to Jack Halberstam, queerness is the art of failure. While holding my sister after a month, I thought we must’ve looked like two kindergarten paintings; two flimsy canvasses swimming with strokes from the clumsiest fingers. I once wrote on a fellowship application that I write poetry because it is the only way I can scream. I didn’t get the fellowship.

* * *


My mother asks my sister’s therapist about nature v. nurture. She finally has a theory about why we are both so fucked. Immigrating to New Jersey left her uprooted, abused, and neglected. In that tiny apartment in East Orange, where my grandmother made snide comments and my father turned a blind eye, her pain made its way through the umbilical cord—to me and then, one and a half years later, to my younger sister. I had to laugh. Am I a living body of diasporic suffering. My mother is giving new epistemology to illness.


* * *


The Filipino diaspora is a transpacific current of chronic sickness.


* * *


Can queerness only be inhabited as pain takes shape? In “Otherwise, Ferguson,” Ashon Crawley argues for otherwise possibilities: “the disbelief in what is current and a movement towards, and an affirmation of, imagining other modes of social organization, other ways for us to be with each other.” When we think of queerness, will there always be a body dangling over an edge? What are the other ways we can bend and stretch our limbs, the other ways we can mark the gold and brown mapping our skin, the other ways we can envelop the adulation and desire clustered in our lips? I look at my bleeding, peeling, stubby fingernails. I tell my father it is okay to cry. I understand why he never told us about my uncle. I understand why he prefers silence; there are things that can only be communicated in pauses.


* * *


I wonder what my father would say when I tell him I am as much his son as I am his daughter.


* * *


I have folded myself in pieces. My partner and I name them—yellow, green, orange, and red. Red, I am ready for oblivion. Orange, I am dancing with the slivers of light echoing from a blade. Green, a breakdown in the making. Yellow, I think—I can—be happy.


“Your eyes must do some raining if you’re ever gonna grow.” I wonder what Conor Oberst would say when he sees what I’ve done to rainbows.


* * *


I almost lost my sister to University of California neoliberalism. I like to think my father lost his brother to U.S. empire.


“[T]he violent histories of empire and capital are written on the bodies of Filipinas, on our bruised and bleeding hands and our brown neocolonial breasts.”


[Is]    there    [is]         such    a    thing    as


                                                                 chronic    empire         and    [how]    was         [is]


                            it    written              [transmitted]   


                                                                  in    [on]         me              [my



* * *


Kimberly says it’s okay to write poems out of marginal notes—a “constellation of hyper-particulars.” I am not a constellation—I am a mass of creases, of upset color, of a mind-body waiting, flailing, and beeping for the day where I can wake to possibility. I learned that my uncle also folded himself into a rope. My father found him. I think that was when my father’s mind-body circuits disintegrated and he became machine-operator-paper-boy-company in the morning, busboy-restaurant-worker-best-rice-maker in the evening, and quiet-sleepy-silent-not-really-there-but-not-actually-deadbeat father. What does it mean to be both daughter and familial-emotional-laborer, to be g[x]rl and ghost-of-suicides-past, to be queer death and futurity wrapped in the same potentialities?


“an unrest in [     ] a discontent with [     ] a seeking to conceive [    ]

to wake laughing with tears of joy in our eyes

dreams of [     ] that have us saying:”


I can finally think-feel-bleep-feel I’m alive.






- A thank you to Muriel Leung to introducing me to the form of the poetic essay. I don’t think I would have been able to articulate this piece without your work inspiring me.

- Love to Kimberly Alidio for encouraging me to write an earlier draft. Thank you for telling me to listen to my gut and follow my feeling.

- The following works were cited and sometimes used as found language in their order of appearance:

- Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Duke University Press, 2011.

- Crawley, Ashon. “Otherwise, Ferguson.” Interfictions Online: A Journal of Interstitial Arts, issue 4, 2014.

- Balce, Nerissa. “The Filipina’s Breast: Savagery, Docility, and the Erotics of the American Empire.” Social Text, vol. 24, no. 2, 2006.

- Aldio, Kimberly. “Poetic attentions.” Panel: “The Feeling Archive: Exercises in Queer Asian/American Docu-Poetics,” Association for Asian American Studies Conference, 31 March 2018.


MT Vallarta is a poet and Ph.D. candidate in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside, where they research Filipinx poetics, feminist theory, and queer theory. Their work is published and forthcoming in Rabbit Catastrophe Review, Broadly, Weird Sister, Apogee Journal, TAYO Literary Magazine, and others. They live in Los Angeles.


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