What I Know About Dismemberment, by Donna Miscolta
My father’s ears
My Filipino father had big ears. His Filipino father had big ears. I have big ears. Once when I was getting my hair cut, the stylist paid me a compliment. I thought she said I had good hair, which I do. Or did. No matter. What she really said was that I have good ears. Long lobes, which signal good luck.
The long lobes offer ample real estate for adornment, which my ancestors in pre-Spanish times used to full advantage, challenging the tensile strength of their distended lobes with heavy gold jewelry, soon confiscated by the colonizers. I, too, favor earrings that dangle. Small, delicate studs are lost in my expansive lobes.
The ears are the only parts of the body that continue to grow as you age. When I’m eighty, my ears will be my most prominent feature, hanging like miniature kites on my head. If I live to be a hundred, maybe my ears will reach my shoulders. I will have to lift them up when I put on a sweater.
If my ears were to be cut off, I would lose my resemblance to my father and his father. If I lost my ears, I would lose my luck.
My mother’s hands
My Filipina Mexican mother had ugly hands. Her Mexican mother had ugly hands. Mendelian genetics insists I continue the pattern. Thick fingers, big knuckles, bumpy with veins and lined with wrinkles, eventually, age spots. But strong.
I watched my mother make tortillas once. They did not comply with her unpracticed hands and they ended up in the sink. But her mother’s hands worked the masa regularly, the way others before her had done since before Columbus. This I think was the source of their strength, which eclipses ugliness.
I never took care to moisturize. Never had a manicure. Never wore fingernail polish. And until I married, never wore rings. Now I wear my mother’s ring, a flashy corsage of stones that say look at me, look at my hands.
If you cut off my hands, you will take my inheritance.
My grandfather’s nose
In 2017 in Plaza Quezon in Las Pinas, Philippines, I stood where my father might have stood in 1970 on his first and last visit since leaving the Philippines in 1947. Plaza Quezon is where I met Lorenzo, lifelong friend of my father’s family. It was the Christmas season, and he was making a parol—from the Spanish farol—nimbly fitting the bamboo sticks together.
At first, Lorenzo seemed aloof, even indifferent to my presence, his whole focus on the star-shaped lantern he was constructing, until it was mentioned that I was a descendant of Rosendo. He stood up right away. He looked at me closely, with tender scrutiny, and I, sensing a moment, did not flinch. He drew back to deliver his pronouncement. That I had the face of Rosendo. My nose was like his. Straight. A relative term concerning Filipino noses. Nonetheless, the comparison sent a shiver of connection down my spine to this place and to my grandfather. My nose is Rosendo’s nose.
My nose is a mestizo nose—indigenous and Spanish. Cut it off, but the fact of colonization remains.
Donna Miscolta’s third book of fiction Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and won an International Latino Book Award Gold Medal. A review of the Living Color and an interview with the author appeared in the museum’s Issue 22. A recording of Donna’s work was recently added to the Library of Congress PALABRA Archive. She blogs monthly at donnamiscolta.com.