The Poetry Project

Nobody’s Lady

Noelle de la Paz

In 1626, a dark wooden statue of the Virgin Mary arrived in the Philippines aboard a vessel of the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade and was credited with the ship’s safe passage.

love me a good salt slap in the face
trade winds get me wet   hair a loose
& hungry jungle   underneath my crown

a roof got me fucked up   dark land-
locked idol of your hearts   morenita
like guadalupe   I dwarf jesus in god’s house

In the 1600s the statue went missing from its shrine on several occasions and, each time, was reportedly found atop a nearby breadfruit, or tipolo, tree. 

your girl of peace & good voyage
on high in these trees   unkeep me
sparkle-caped lifeguard    of silver & souls

light me up   something like honey sap
conjure me baby   cheap flowers   thick prayers
please leave a message

From 1565 to 1815, the galleons set out roughly twice a year to shuttle goods (etc.**) between the Far East, via Manila, and the Spanish-controlled Americas, rich in silver. Eight of these voyages carried the image on board.

ask me what I’d give   to ride the open decks again
& know what became of them   the girls
who looked like me

you won’t find their names on the manifest

or the wild thing that I am

**including servants and slaves from the Philippines, the Americas, Macao, Portuguese India, South Africa (LIST INCOMPLETE)

we harnessed the dawn
swigging palm wine   talking shit
most more witch   than virgin

how many ways can a girl be used

I swore   I’d get rid of their worst keepers

& when [          ] slipped
my hand to her & asked   who I really am
she meant   didn’t I have one too

On both ends of the trade route, as in most other places under European conquest, the colonial project included the Christianization of the indigenous populations. 

how many ways can a girl be used
& how many bonds must be broken
I dare you — find me
something more true   than a touch
that turns the tide

deep below deck    in the bowl of the night
[          ] at my side   we   two   faced   unsorry

I was born in rapture   in fury   on the seas

I’m that swirling rain bitch
cinnamon neck & silk thighs
I am nobody’s lady

Originating in Mexico, the Brown Virgin’s features were designed in stark contrast to the dominant European images, successfully attaining a devoted following in the islands.

we said all the names we knew   [mayari]

our tongues like scrolls   [tonantzin]

we made our memories wide & long    [mujaji]

& when one of us died   we said her name too   [          ]

for a hundred years & more   [mazu]   [kali]   [ibu]

every night every name until my mouth is aflame

I am she of the harvest   & she of the hunt
& she of the wondrous wailing

in battle   at childbirth   the moan
in the night   out and in   wet collision of skin

I am moon   I am mirror
I am the bridge — always ablaze

I am the map back to the depths of yourselves

the lizard’s tail   grown back   &
back   & back

Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, as she came to be known (Sp., Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje; Tag., Mahal na Ina ng Kapayapaan at Mabuting Paglalakbay, or simply, Birhen ng Antipolo), continues to be enshrined at the Antipolo Cathedral in the Rizal province of the Philippines.

Welcome to The Poetry Project