By Michael Marbella, FINDink Contributor
Your backbones are stanzas
Your viewpoints omnipotent
I see you in epilogue
--An excerpt from “You Bring Out the Writer in Me” By Regie Cabico
When I first encountered Regie Cabico, I was on Facebook scrolling through videos when he appeared in this clip from Def Poetry Jam. He had wavy black hair, a warm brown complexion that reminded me of mine, and these bright, wide eyes that seemed to take everything in.
But what struck me most about Regie wasn’t his appearance; it was how I could hear his audience waiting with bated breath for him to speak. This was a low-res video clip taken in the early 2000’s, but somehow, I could feel every eye in that room riveted to this brown man in a jacket that was a little too long for his arms. And then he spoke:
“I was dating this older guy name Don, and he asked me, ‘Regie, you aren’t writing about us, are you?
“And I said, ‘No, Don, I’m not. But I am writing a fiction piece about dating an older guy. The chapter’s called ‘Donn.’ But I spell it with two n’s!”
But that’s not when the magic happened. (Although, I figured, He’s funny. No wonder they’re sitting and paying attention.) It was when he segued into “You Bring Out the Writer in Me” that I understood their silence:
Your breasts are couplets
Your body is a sonnet
Your thoughts share my soliloquy
Your kiss is imagery
Your eyes are iambic
Your tongue is trochaic
Your touch is stream of consciousness
His words were beautiful and cleverly crafted. But the way he breathed life into every syllable cemented my butt to my chair for exactly seventy seconds.
When I found Regie again, I was taking a Filipino-American Literature class at Hunter, and we were going over our unit in poetry. Our professor had given us a selection of poets to read in this anthology he had edited and under the name “Cabico,” I found the title “You Bring Out the Writer in Me.”
And I was floored. Because when I read the words I had seen recited in that video clip, I was struck by the fact I would have never guessed Regie Cabico was Filipino. Because, even in spite of the class I was taking, I didn’t think Filipinos became writers. If anything, my professor and his compatriots in that exclusive club were an exotic and endangered species.
But Regie wasn’t. Almost twenty years ago, he was a young, queer, Filipino man living in New York, looking for sex, looking for love, and struggling with the swaths of men who either rejected him outright for being femme and Asian or who exotified him as their Mister Saigon or little geisha boy—just as I am now.
And he didn’t just write and perform poetry: he thrived at it.
According to Beltway Poetry Quarterly, he won the 1993 Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam, took top prizes in the 1993, 1994, and 1997 National Poetry Slams, and received three New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships for Poetry and Performance Art and the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award presented by Poets & Writers.
So, not only was my hero critically acclaimed and incredibly talented, but he was making a living as a writer. As a young Filipino who’d only seen other Filipinos finding success in the medical field or working as domestics—or, in my family’s unusual case, IT—it blew my mind. I could have never imagined that someone with my particular set of circumstances—queer, Filipino, and decent at writing—would be able to survive at the edge of a pen. I never imagined anyone would care about a queer Filipino man had to say.
But as the audience in that two-minute video clip demonstrated, people did. People do. And last spring, after I read “You Bring Out the Writer In Me” aloud in my Filipino
American Literature class—channeling Regie with all of the gusto and aplomb that poem deserves—I read that poem and several of my own pieces at a Filipino arts night hosted at City College, where I had the honor of having several people come up to me and tell me that I was one of the best performers that night.
Looking back, finding a role model in Regie Cabico helped me realize that my voice has value; that my writing has an audience; and that I want to continue expanding my craft as a writer to create work that helps the Filipino and Filipino American community realize the value of our voices.
Just like Regie did for me.
Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.