Prayers of Petition

© by Barbara Jane Reyes




To the Patron Saint of Encumbered Wives


Hija con la barba, pray for us

Bearded maiden of the cross, we have

Many stake claim upon us

No sanctuary from the fathers’ will

Santa Librada, crucificada

Our husbands’ whims, and our sons

This burden of patriarchs

Ravaging the sad vessels of namesake.

Hija con la barba, virgo fortis

Bearded maiden, they say you are myth,

Corseted messiah, bogeywoman

They brand us cult of hysterical girls,

Sacrilegious sister, que bárbara

They smash our faces with their fists

We are the encumbered wives

They shove our bodies, they spit on us.

Hija con la barba, cut us loose

Bearded maiden, we are ungraced

Unwive our brutish husbands


“I am not your ethnic spectacle,” declares Reyes (To Love as Aswang) in her powerful fifth collection. “I write whether or not you invite my words.” Reyes fuses elegy, psalm, prayer, and the language of protest as a challenge to hegemonic, patriarchal, and colonialist narrative-making. Moving among English, Spanish, and Tagalog, Reyes chronicles the ways legal and judicial systems fail to protect Filipina women such as Mary Jane Veloso, who sits on death row in Indonesia, and Jennifer Laude, a trans woman murdered by a U.S. Marine stationed in the Philippines. She boldly exposes and documents violence against Pinay women while also embracing a liminal, transitory, trilingual identity: “This lyric-making me, now a dazzling we.” Reyes writes with conviction about the various ways imperialism transforms women into “capital, collateral, damaged soul.” However, the women that appear throughout the book are not merely victims; in Reyes’s radical cosmology, these women—these daughters—are rebels, saints, revolutionaries, and torchbearers, “sharp-tongued, willful.” This book is a call to arms against oppressive languages, systems, and traditions, all that “strips us of our kick and grit.” In choosing to be ethical, and by refusing to submit to oppression, Reyes writes, “We rise/ And in writing, we restore our lives.” Publishers Weekly, starred review of Invocation To Daughters (City Lights Spotlight No. 16).

Reyes has a BA from UC Berkeley and an MFA from SF State. She is the author of several poetry collections, including Gravities of Center (2003), Poeta en San Francisco (2005) which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Diwata (2010). Her fifth, Invocation to Daughters (2017) was a 2018 California Book Award Finalist.

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