By Karessa Malaya Ramos Aguiñot
A veces pienso en la bala que entregó tu último aliento
Siento haberte llorado tan poco.
Y lo poco que lloré, no estaba salado.
Siento no saber dolerte.
Me dijeron que me buscabas
y que me tenías como referencia,
que necesitabas un ancla.
Me enteré de que aguardabas
el día en que pudieras
comprobar en vivo y en directo,
que tu hermana existía. Y que existías
¿Te dio tiempo a enamorarte?
Tu lucha, ¿Fue fructífera?
Estés donde estés. En diferido,
al menos, lo estás comprobando:
tienes una hermana.
La que te lloró poco.
La que te lloró poco salado.
La que no te sabe doler.
Sometimes I think of the bullet that delivered your last breath
I’m sorry I cry too little for you.
And when I do, all I shed are unsalted tears.
I’m sorry I don’t know how to mourn you.
I was told that you were searching for me
while looking up to me
balanced on a ledge so you could see.
I heard stories of how you bid your time…
all logic and common sense defied
as you sought to justify, undeniable,
that while your sister is, you are for her, as well.
Did you get a chance to fall in love?
Was your struggle worthwhile?
Wherever you are
dissenting space, mocking time
you can observe, deferred,
your sister exists; she is
crying too little for you
shedding unsalted tears,
ignorant on how to mourn you.
– “A veces pienso en la bala que entregó tu último aliento” (“Cosechas del insomnio”, Diversidad Literaria 2021)
“Cosechas del insomnio” (“Insomnious Harvest”) is a 135-page love letter to myself and to POC migrant feminine artists like me. It is also a thick ticket to freedom and, at the same time, a pact with the imposter in me.
I didn’t just write about bliss, I wrote about mourning as well.
Yes, I penned down my dreams, but also my insomniac evenings and savage fantasies.
Not only did I describe how I transited love, I included a step-by-step narration of self-fingering to cast a spell on the reluctant lover.
I did not limit myself to honoring my son with a poem, I also commemorated a baby daughter I lost along the way.
Most importantly, I didn’t just preserve the past, I forgave myself for it.
But all of these had to be drafted in Spanish.
During the first 17 years of my life, I was one of the model students in English and Filipino (Tagalog). I was diligent with grammar and fussy about every detail in creative texts. For instance, I would spend time debating with myself over how “glee” (tuwa) doesn’t carry the same density as “joy” (ligaya) or how one may be damp with melancholy (balisâ) but not necessarily drenched in sadness (malungkot)… It was as though the more I familiarized myself with those tongues, the more I caged every word I learned inside very specific emotions.
This kind of dexterity was what made my initial writing correct, entertaining, romantic when called for and always pleasing to the reader. But with expertise came the loss of courage to explore. So I remained comfortable, delightedly stuck with my pleasant content, regardless of my inability to cross the threshold between life and death, love and indifference, blame and redemption.
Until one day, I had to undergo a forced reboot—my family migrated to Madrid when I was in college, compelling me to learn Spanish in turbo mode. I was 17; it felt like I had been stripped of my identity, incapable of understanding and being understood using any of the tools I possessed.
During the first few years, I relied heavily on translation, but soon discovered that it could only take me so far. Besides, I would commit blunders like “La aspirina es un vascodilatador” (“Aspirin is a Basque dilator”). I should have used “vasodilatador”, but I defied logic, arguing that “vascular” is the term used for anything pertaining to blood vessels. Hence, “vascodilatador”... Or I would ask for “pago fracturado” (“fractured payment”) instead of saying “pago fraccionado”, which is the correct translation for “fractional payment”.
I considered this hindrance for a long time. Although unsure of whether it was the right thing to do, I changed tactics and learned Spanish the way a child would: from scratch.
Outside of school/work, I pretended I didn’t have any other languages as a reference. I made it a point to unlearn the equivalent of many English and Tagalog terms in Spanish; I dug into the thesaurus for the word that fit whatever was suggested at a given moment most harmoniously. I built on my day-to-day experiences to expand my options of expressing a thought or a feeling. I also started to find out how other Spanish speakers did it: I read extensively and had many intense conversations on a wide array of topics with native speakers of the language, both from Europe and from Latin America.
I took things to another level when I started mimicking accents and writing patterns (Benedetti, Allende and García Márquez were my go-to authors). I also observed idiosyncrasies, stayed alert to stereotypes and basically lived like an imitator/parrot for a little while.
I was 33 by the time I enrolled in a creative writing workshop. That was when the Imposter was born. Drawn from the Imposter Syndrome, this alter ego first emerged to help me brave an adult life of not knowing how to accurately express myself. She’s the part of me that copied how others would speak and write. But at a later stage, I realized that not knowing actually allowed me to lean on uncertainty to navigate the liminal spaces bordering life and death, or the frontier that divides falling in love and crashing in lust.
As I got inspired to share my craft, the Imposter became more intrusive; she started to question me. It escalated the day I received an offer to be published.
“Why are you writing, when others have already shared similar experiences more eloquently?”
“What makes you think you deserve to be here?”
It was hard, but I let her in.
I made space for her beside me during the whole process of writing my first book. I showed her that, in very important ways, it’s easier to express myself in the new language than in my native ones, because not enough pain has been rendered in this tongue. This helped me gain the courage I had lacked to delve into obscure places. Moreover, I was free to not always be reverent! What a joy it was to create without being bound by decorum!
That’s what “Cosechas…” is all about.
The Imposter still sticks her head out to remind me what a copycat I used to be, always casting doubts on just how original each poem or short story really was. Despite the pain caused by self-doubt, I hug her and keep on writing. It’s a seed I constantly sow; a seed I look forward to tending alongside her. Siempre.
37-year old Karessa Malaya was born in the Philippines (Nueva Écija, 1984) and migrated to Spain when she was 17. A reskilled economist, she now balances a job in communications and her artistic pursuits. Aside from working on current writing projects, she is also learning photography, loves reciting and watching poets onstage, listening to live music and is very active when it comes to exploring other ways of self-expression. Her name means “caress of freedom”.