a poem by Billy Agustin
I wake up on a Tuesday morning,
The very moment the brow of the horizon shines at its seam
A class period away before I hear a jumbled word called
A hand flails into the air
The mumble of a simple “present”
As my classmates welcome their well-known titles
But that term upon your lips
The one that is mine
It might as well be a pseudonym
Resembling the structure of my heritage
You play with it on your tongue
Repeat it twice
Once for indulgence
The second time for my sake
Barely coherent through muddied senses
What else can I say but yes?
I’m tired of not caring
And as I write it in the upper right margin of my worksheet,
Lead to paper in a smooth motion
It’s too distant of a phrase
Washed out by the lazy drawl of white tongues
To the point where sometimes I forget it
And sometimes it’s too fruitless to remember
It’s happened for a millennium.
I know too many stories worse than mine
At least mine isn’t forgotten
Faded in the yellowed scrolls of immigration
Buried with the bones of the conquered
It’s easy to pronounce
It’s not hard to say,
Not at all.
Where do you get lost?
Is it in the spiraling tendril of a root that curls around my last name,
The kind that arcs into a family tree
Long and winding
Within its rings,
This vivid ancestry you have no idea lies behind the blanket of bark?
Chronicled throughout these circles unseen,
all unknown to you.
But what’s worse is when you tell me my name is wrong
This well-worn page that I carry on my back
And with me every day
The soul of the man I was named after ingrained in my own life
Interwoven in my own narrative
The same pattern rewritten
Bernabe, Billy, the one before me
His spirit revived in mine
Making my name a symbol of honor and veneration—
How dare you take it from me and tell me it is wrong
that my own identity is a mistake my mother made
A birth certificate misprint
Because you can’t fathom that even if she was mistaken
The name is still my name
Who I am in tandem
And that by itself shall make it correct
No matter what
I am permitted to be a mistake.
I am no less of a person,
No less full of substance, daughter to the soil she has never touched.
Don’t write me that hall pass
Those symbols of royal blue that pop against pallid yellow
Not a falter in your ballpoint pen
Insisting that the way you spell it
Is the correct way
The only way
When I tell you it is not.
Though you’ll only smile and say
“It’s easier this way.”
Easier for who?
You are not compromising your identity
For the sake of somebody else’s comfort.
You hack at the boughs of my own mother,
Saw at the branches of my father
Without even a thought.
You condescend me with a terrible smile
Taint these grounds where my roots are planted
As you burn me, my name, my culture to the ground.
This name is who I am
What I came from...
And it is the title for everything I will be
So who are you to tell me who Billy Agustin is?