148.1: Conchitina Cruz:: Here & Letter to the Stranger 148

In my friend Andy’s apartment, I read a poem. In Chicago, I drink a Singapore Sling. This has little to do with Chicago or with Singapore, except that Andy is in Chicago, I’m in Chicago, and Andy is a tiki drink aficionado. Such is the way in which place is revealed and considered in Conchitina Cruz’s “Here.” Indeed, for a poem in which travel is a given, the poet gives priority to the self and its actions rather than the exotic destinations (which, to be fair, are mingled with pedestrian locales like the coffee shop and the elevator). The self is the subject of each sentence; the location is mere object and occasional stage direction. In this way, Cruz eschews the rote travel narrative that rises out of privilege—the Eat-Pray-Love-and-You-Can-Too narrative.

Instead, what she creates is a transient self—a citizen of the world, a citizen of high and low culture. I feel like in most travel narratives—and the reason that I dislike many of them personally—the objective of the writer is to express her own feelings of otherness, while actually othering the destination’s residents through the narrative, exoticizing the place, its people, and its customs. But Conchitina Cruz neither belongs nor doesn’t belong. Rather, she travels from line to line as an actor, creating a different kind of travel narrative, one with which I think more people can connect. Wherever she is, wherever we are, we're here. S. Whitney Holmes

Here


In Manila, I spend an inordinate amount of time around copy machines.

In the cheap hotel, I peel an apple with a Swiss knife.

In my childhood bedroom, I weep over an unpresentable pincushion made for sewing class.

In Bali, I am too embarrassed to say no to a manicure.

In Makati, I take off my heels and slip into flats.

In the coffee shop, I write the incriminating postcard.

In the ballet studio, I am amused by my catastrophic pirouettes.

In Chicago, I attempt to mimic an old roommate’s unidentifiable accent.

In Bangkok, I am addressed in Chinese.

In the computer room, I read the signs.

In the government office, I apologize for the errors on the form.

In Bellagio, I am mistaken for the writing resident’s companion.

In the arctic conference room, I am intrigued by the red telephone.

In Los Angeles, I am thought to be Mexican.

In the elevator, I smile at the child drooling in its stroller.

In Rome, I am unfazed by the transport strike.

In Palawan, I take my lunch with a bottle of cerveza.

In the rickety cable car, I admit to my unforgivable condescension.

In Singapore, I think of Cubao in June.

In Venice, I watch a poodle sashay toward an ice cream shop.

In the library, I hunt in sequence, from PN to PQ to PR.

In my office, I am annoyed by the display of privilege in texts about travel.

In Boracay, I try to appreciate the Victorian wallpaper.

In the taxi, I am asked an unnerving question.

In Mandaluyong, I admire a strongly worded memo.

In Sendai, I distract myself by painting flowers on a handkerchief.

In Brisbane, I am thrilled to spot an actor whose movies I abhor.

In the theater, I am envious of the protagonist’s impeccable posture.

In New York City, I procrastinate.

In church, I calculate the costs of moving to a bigger apartment.

In the balcony, I doze during a mellow card game.

In Dumaguete, I affectionately decline phone sex at two in the morning.

In the clinic, I am pressured by the clerk to hyphenate.

In Florence, I lose a coat.

In the allegedly ghost-ridden hallway, I am hungry after making out.

In Binondo, I reject my companion’s dining choices.

In Paris, I purchase tokens for a five-minute shower.

In Amsterdam, I am seized by an uncharacteristic confusion over left and right.

In Cleveland, I excuse myself from the exasperating religious debate over dinner.

In Tokyo, I am asked to produce too many identification cards to have my money changed.

In the hole in the wall, I wear my interlocutor’s sunglasses.

In Cubao, I call into question the sparseness of my wardrobe.

In the supermarket, I comfort myself in the aisle devoted to cleaning agents.

In Baguio, I eat a macaroon.

In Antipolo, I learn to make a rosary, a macramé belt, and a hand-sewn apron.

In Pittsburgh, I adopt a cat.

In the waiting room, I judge the painting on the wall.

In the bungalow by the beach, I indulge in the delusion of a miniature herb garden.

In Davao, I despair over the malfunctioning keycard.

In Los Baños, I am told to keep my voice down.



Letter to the Stranger


1.
Each morning, I take my coffee in a balcony that faces the sign of a laundromat: Wash Now My Love. Bubbles form the flashy script. I have been told I am easy with laughter. I chuckle each time you tell the story of the accordion and the cowboy boots, even when you tell it as the story of the ukelele and the wet dream.

2.
When I realized that by and you meant but, the sentence took a different turn, and what I thought was a closed-door meeting in Makati was a shabby eatery on the way to Batangas. All the words in the vicinity followed suit: today was not today but two months ago at the beach, and at the beach there was rain that didn’t matter since you were indoors, not with me but it was fine and it was fine because it was fine. There was free beer from an expat in need of an audience. There was some kind of music for some kind of mood. What can happen in twelve hours? I knew, I know, I must’ve known, I should’ve known, I couldn’t have not have known.

3.
Between us, at the dinner table: ants, ash-colored cups, bananas, boredom, a bowl of rice, cell phones, a compliment, a crude remark about the neighbors, a coughing fit, fish stew from your mother, hand gestures, insomnia, latent Catholicism, leftovers from the party last night, a lewd joke, a lie, a note from the landlady, pork rinds from the store downstairs, smoke, a stiff drink, unsolicited advice, a witty exchange.

4.
In bed we play ourselves and endear ourselves to each other. How moved we are by the script. Come morning I wake to the inscrutable gaze of the lion inked on your shoulder. I rest my palm on its fur.