According to Culture Shock: A Guide to Customs and Etiquette of Filipinos, when my husband says yes, he could also mean one of the following: a.) I don't know. b.) If you say so. c.) If it will please you. d.) I hope I have said yes unenthusiastically enough for you to realize I mean no. You can imagine the confusion surrounding our movie dates, the laundry, who will take out the garbage and when. I remind him I'm an American, that all his yeses sound alike to me. I tell him here in America we have shrinks who can help him to be less of a people-pleaser. We have two-year-olds who love to scream "No!" when they don't get their way. I tell him, in America we have a popular book, When I Say No I Feel Guilty. "Should I get you a copy?" I ask. He says yes, but I think he means "If it will please you," i.e. "I won't read it." "I'm trying," I tell him, "but you have to try too." "Yes," he says, then makes tampo, a sulking that the book Culture Shock describes as "subliminal hostility . . . withdrawal of customary cheerfulness in the presence of the one who has displeased" him. The book says it's up to me to make things all right, "to restore goodwill, not by talking the problem out, but by showing concern about the wounded person's well-being." Forget it, I think, even though I know if I'm not nice, tampo can quickly escalate into nagdadabog-- foot stomping, grumbling, the slamming of doors. Instead of talking to my husband, I storm off to talk to my porcelain Kwan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy that I bought on Canal Street years before my husband and I started dating. "The real Kwan Yin is in Manila," he tells me. "She's called Nuestra Señora de Guia. Her Asian features prove Christianity was in the Philippines before the Spanish arrived." My husband's telling me this tells me he's sorry. Kwan Yin seems to wink, congratulating me--my short prayer worked. "Will you love me forever?" I ask, then study his lips, wondering if I'll be able to decipher what he means by his yes.
From The Star-Spangled Banner, Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission of Denise Duhamel.
Born in 1961, Denise Duhamel is the author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry, including Blowout (University of Pittsburgh, 2013).
Date Published: 1999-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/yes