Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Dyahe

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Dyahe

Article excerpt

Assumption Convent H.S., 1974

By the time I figured out that I would need

a thermos of ice water to make it to lunch,

that in Manila a handkerchief wasn't just

some decorative thingie you got for Christmas,

that sweat would moisten our every move,

dyahe had rippled around the room and possessed

every girl but me. Too earnestly curious

to feel it, too dutifully engaged in learning

how to hitch my skirt in a nun-proof manner

so a very slight tug in the hallway

would return it to the approved hem length.

But as the year went on I mouthed it right;

even my English sounded Filipino,

inflections back-wheeling in quirked counter-

balances of Spanish, Martian and Malayan.

I learned to say straight-facedly Cal-SHOOM

for calcium in order not to fail chemistry.

To whisper something suggestive to the guard

as I walked by, not too dirty but something

he could imagine he'd imagined I'd said.

Dyahe to be caught. Dyahe if your whisper

was too clear. Dyahe like embarrassed

but more deliberate, equal parts abashed

and pleased. Equal parts I did not I did too.

Dyahe was a girl's word more than a boy's,

we thought, though the guard's only rival there

was one lame gardener, whose toiling misshape

bore the weight of hundreds of eyes an hour

compared to which that sun must have seemed shade.

It's the one word missing from my dictionaries

in several dialects: Tagalog, Pilipino, Visayan.

This was the dialect of our condition. …

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