Maria Clara Had Imposter Syndrome
a poem by Abigail Calimaran
I don’t know when I stopped
in fairy tales
and started believing
Maybe around the time when
nobody else knew me,
perching underneath their gazes,
and then you walked in,
took one look at my soul
and figured me out
in ten seconds flat.
Watch me. Listen to me. I’m here and I –
Or the time you called me beautiful.
Nobody else says that and means it
quite like you.
Sometimes I forget I’m only beautiful to you.
But I can’t help but hunker down in church pews.
Despite the fifty-dollar dress and midnight eyeliner,
as pretty boys walk past without a second glance.
My skin, the color of the creaking, wooden bench,
looks pretty on girls who don’t wear cultural shame
like a weighted scarf. I’m not pretty,
but tell me I am.
I once lost three hours of sleep
because I’m the girl on the right, fresh
with heartbreak, while the girl on the left
gets guys’ numbers just in case; I want
to be her, and I want to be them, and I want
to be more than a fifth choice.
I was your first. Tell me that again.
My fingers slip on rosary beads;
my tongue fumbles, and I find myself praying
Ave Maria Clara because if I must be tragic,
at least let me be loved first instead of last.
My body is a temple, and I am defiled by
my own disbelief in myself.
My God made boys who wanted me
for everything but my body, and my
mind is a treasure vault and my heart
is a flower bush, but
my body is a temple. You worship me.
You worship me, this time,
and this is why I believe in You.
Maria Clara is the heroine in the Filipino classic Noli Me Tangere, and her name has since been associated with the ideal image of traditional femininity. "Maria Clara Had Imposter Syndrome" is an ode to the times I realized that my Filipino beauty is not synonymous with America's beauty ideals, especially to boys in suburban Mississippi. It's also a thank you letter to my boyfriend who, despite being a boy in suburban Mississippi, has never failed to remind me to remember that I am beautiful.
Abigail E. Calimaran is a full-time high school senior and part-time pre-K gymnastics teacher who, when she is not being those things, crochets while listening to Jane Austen audiobooks, consumes nearly-lethal amounts of caffeine, and dances alone to ABBA in her room. Her work has appeared in The WEIGHT Journal and Overachiever Magazine.
Cover Photo Source: The New York Times