Melissa Sipin is a writer from Carson, California. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012 and her writing has been published or is forthcoming in KPFA 94.1FM: Free Speech Radio, Kweli Journal, and Kartika Review, among other publications. She cofounded TAYO Literary Magazine and is a recipient of the full-tuition assistantship in narrative writing and community engagement at Mills College, where she teaches political writing workshops in partnership with Anakbayan–East Bay. Melissa is currently pursuing her MFA in fiction.
Statement by the Artist: On Writing
I think this anger comes from a deeper place
unknown to me like my grandfather, who lost
his leg in the war
so long ago,
along the rocks of Bessang Pass, the ocean
shores of memory.
Your lolo never lost his leg, my lola says,
and I believe her, because she weaves
stories in front of me all the time.
She bakes bread sometimes, during these stories,
also sings gospel songs to Jesus and I hum along,
faithfully. But then, when I bring up my anger,
my grandfather’s lost leg,
she looks at me, grabs me by
the arms and says:
Anak, who told you that story?
Who taught you how to be angry?
I come back to these memories only
in the summertime, when the day’s hot
and the sky is a blanket full
of untold stories, a blanket that covers me till
I am no longer aware of my body, no longer
aware of my brown arms that extend into
the deep cavities along my grandfather’s back
as he lies on rocks, on dirt, on grass. His green
army suit that hangs in my lola’s closet tells me
he’s gone now. When I was young, I’d imagine
how he would hold me, how he would carry me
to my room and sing me lullabies too,
kundimans to an old country forgotten.
I no longer tell my lola these things,
no longer remind her of a loss
she has wrapped up in her pan de sal dough.
Lola once told me she was stronger than him.
I never believed her until now.
My lola knew I would sound like a bastard child
whenever I tried to color my tongue Tagalog. She mourned
the way I stuttered, how I paused over words that looked
like olds myths. She ran her fingers across my cheeks,
saying, “Here you are. Ikaw ay puti, anak. Ikaw ay puti.”
In the morning, I dig in my soul with a spoon full of rice,
looking for yesterday and yesterday, paper parols dancing.
I force my lola’s hands in mine, asking where my sky was.
Was it here, was it there, where do I stand? Am I of the
brown children or the white, I ask, telling her, please take me there.
She frowned a wave of sorrow, saying our sky was where
the gone things go, tucked away, laid in the folds of yesterday,
yesterday. I see the island and I am a thousand years old,
my lola stands with me, her skin bright like warm coconut milk
mixed with calamansi blood. She sings an old, forgotten kundiman
to my lolo in the woods. He wears a green beret and has a rifle
in his hands. When he sees my lola, his eyes become the Pacific.
He is the myth of the masculine toad, anger lives in his arms.
He sees me and spills ash over the land.
I begin to fade in this island without a sky. When only my hands remain,
my lola takes them, placing them on a rock. She tells me all the things
that I am: I am Ilocano, from Ilocos Sur, my lola is from the mountains,
my lolo is from the sea. I come from a rich farm family, and my great-lolo
died when the Japanese burned his land. The redness from the grass has
become my sky. There was no rain to quench the redness. Everything I am
has become yesterday, yesterday, like the sun goodbying at dusk.
you need to help
me put everything together—
not again, but
for the first time.
sinks like teeth
How do I deal with sadness? I deal with it the same way I wake up, turn on my shower, pull off my clothes, and step into manmade rain, feeling warmth and coldness. The way I deal with cooking a huge pot of kare kare with kale for the first time, and only for one. It’s the way I drive to Lake Merritt station alone, the way I carry my pepper spray close to my heart, the way I read a mountain of books in the middle of the day till the infancy of night because time never waits for me, the way I slip into others’ conversations about weed, Pessoa, Lydia Davis, gay poetics, and rewriting race in America—it’s the same way we rewrite anything, to re-remember something that already obsesses us, without words.
How do I deal with sadness? I open my eyes and breathe and eat and sleep and write and go to school and drink and look at the sky outside my bedroom windows where I see the sea in the distance, hiding between the Oakland hills. I see the sea and I cry, like any other wife would. I hear silence and read the same old emails and look at the same old videos and write the same old poems and I breathe and live and call it a partial death. People can scold me. But sadness,
it’s like any other litany of being.
I deal with it like how I deal with going to work on Monday mornings, like tomorrow’s sunrise, or driving down the 580 split toward home.
We wanted San Diego. We came here for a photo shoot, but really, we came to imagine what it’d be like if this place were our home, as if the physicality of Coronado’s lime-green grass and the glowing CVN-70 numbers in the distance, hiding beneath a veil of fog, was ours. As if your dress whites and our Navy kiss at the banks of Centennial Park could make it become real. When we drove back to LAX, we just sang our sadness and threw it into the sea, out the car’s window, and if this were any other kind of story, I’d tell you how the earth meets the sea on California’s coastline, how a boy and girl who met at fourteen married ten years later and lived happily ever after. But it’s not that kind of story. We’re still living it, still breathing it, like the fog that envelops our lungs.
Today, I dreamt about killing a girl by forcing a gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger. I didn’t wake up until the dream police came and found my fingerprints on an air ventilator’s “Start” button, not till you lied for me profusely in your red-and-white checkered pajamas, not till I got away by hiding in an apartment with wooden floors, filled with people made of paper, and watched a blonde woman, thin as a floating sheet, rave about organic strawberries.
I woke up in haze, confused and undetermined.
I started my day off right–I did a load of laundry without you, and whenever I do laundry, I feel accomplished. I didn’t even think about the gun I held in my dream today, not until now. I ate ramen and spiced it up with oregano and dried parsley, drove to downtown Oakland and attended a reading called Manifest where a white man profusely talked about Whole Food workers as slaves and disregarded his privilege without any sort of shame. Just like how I did in my dream–me with a gun–and I felt disgusted, at myself and this white guy, both of us stuck in a positionality where we fail and fail.
After the reading finished, I continued listening to their chatter, disinterested. I felt their endless talking build a wall of sound between me and them, separating me from this waking, relentless life. I came back home and cried when I realized I missed your one call. I imagined you dialing my number over and over again at the pay phone, banging the ship’s metal, heavy walls, cursing the dial tone for not working and refusing to allow you to buy more minutes on your card. I imagined how stupid I looked missing your call, focusing on the dry paint and the wood panels at that apartment, listening to this chatter I couldn’t discern, killing myself slowly, as if I were the girl I killed in my dream–
click, click, bang. Pull the trigger.