Patrick Rosal
When Prince Was Filipino


It was 1983    I was 14 years old    the night

Charmaine Makaiyak led me   in secret

to the basement kitchen    of St. Matt’s cafeteria

She put her lips    on my left earlobe

and soft-sang two choruses     of Prince’s “Do Me”

so I might finally learn      how to slow dance right

Was it winter? — because       the prettiest sophomore

at the Annual      Filipino Family Gala

took my hand    and an icy wave

climbed up my banks    a blizzard wind

shook both my alleys         and all my leaves

fell off my trees             


What’s a bony     floppy-haired boy to do

but keep his eyes       wide open      acknowledge

the tabernacles of silence       built above him

and then open his arms

to enter the thick       religious mist

of grape hair spray    that surrounds the girl

who is      about to kiss him?


Every once in a while      it is good

for us to remember        there was one February

of the last millennium        when Prince was

Filipino        just like me       five-foot-two

in big-heel shoes         He sang so good

and played       every instrument        All the rumors

we wanted to believe        He was our Ecclesiastes

of Nasty       our Funky Future     our unrepentant

sweet        and sinful serenade


While all the grown-ups      spazzed out    to Laura Branigan

Charmaine and I convened      in the dark

tearing     at the seams    of rayon

to study the country     that history hid inside us

Every time we shifted our hips       we killed

another century                By August

they’d pop Ninoy in the skull       and drop him

bloody           on the tarmac       of Manila International

so we slow jammed         and sucked each other’s lips

under the fat dazzle       of a disco ball       Dawn

and dusk             I watched both Jersey skies turn

purple        OK Prince       was never Filipino        And I

was never very American      even

when I was one of two         horny kids

trying to get back      to where our parents’ tropics

first burned        and so what a lucky bum I was

when Charmaine snuck me

into the room where custodians      kept all the fire

I held her until the sun           bumped through

and the heavens swelled

the color        of a busted left eye socket


Before you could type your name in light

to find where in the world       your body was hype

before fiber optic            before

we got terachomped             before we hired a machine

to count the hits


a girl let me hook        one finger

into the loop of her tight          stonewash

Jordache knockoffs

and I brushed my thumb      back and forth

over the little mile        of sweat-cooled skin

hiding under the cropped     neon tanktop

riding up her side        She taught me to move

I never went to sleep

It was 1983

America didn’t know what time it was—

and neither    did we




Found In Volume 50, No. 05
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  • Rosal
Patrick Rosal
About the Author

PATRICK ROSAL currently serves as inaugural Codirector of the Mellon-funded Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice at Rutgers-Camden, where he is a Professor of English. He is the author of five full-length poetry collections including The Last Thing: New and Selected Poems.