When We Birth Demons

I commence this New Year with this ekphrastic collaboration with Chicago-based multi-media artist of Negrense, Ilongga, and Tagalog descent—Ashley Dequilla. I ordinarily reach out and solicit Pinay artists but it was Ashley who reached out in a thoughtful message and from there we easily fell into conversation like long-lost cousins. When she initiated contact, there had been no intention of collaboration. However, an independent and serendipitous perusal of her social media platform ultimately led me to a treasure trove of her thought-provoking art. As I discovered, Ashley is not only a visual artist but a performance artist who incorporates movement, pose, song, image, film, poetry, and ritual into her work. After carefully studying her piece, “The Motherland,” I was inspired to write my own ekphrastic poem. We then discussed her personal inspiration behind the piece and my response to it. With her permission to feature “The Motherland” alongside my ekphrastic poem, “When We Birth Demons,” it’s an honor to feature Ashley Dequilla as the 34th Pinay artist on Slicing Tomatoes on this New Year. For more information about Ashley and her work, please visit her featured artist page here

The Motherland by Ashley Dequilla, 2016The Motherland by Ashley Dequilla, 2019Images: “The Motherland” by Ashley Dequilla, oil on canvas, 2016 (top image) and 2019 (bottom image)

Vocals and poem by Elsa Valmidiano


When we birth demons,
do they suckle at our teat,

until they can take no more

of our flesh? Demon teeth
devour past the hollowed cave

of our chest to the bamboo railways
of our hair—now a pipeline

for a sluice of scum through
surrounding streams where the constant suckling

leads to the drying of rivers, and then this
constant drought mocks the sky.

Our arms grow heavy
with the weight of crying men, until

we are left with sagging breast
that no longer leaks milk, but weeps blood,

and rather than our demons sated
demand more of our flesh and fertility

until they themselves are nothing
but scorched self,

while we refuse to hum
the lie they swear is a lullaby,

From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

*Lyrics excerpted from “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie, 1944


Notable quotes / Articles of Interest

“ACEX owns 100% of Palawan55, and, therefore, all 75% of Palawan55’s rights to SC 55, which is thought to contain considerable oil and gas reserves. Their plans to drill a well in SC 55 were delayed last year due to the pandemic, but the company will be required to do something very soon as the 1-year extension will expire in April of this year.” —from “ACE Exenor Gains Larger Stake in SC 55 Through Recent Acquisition” by Merkado Barkada, PhilStar Global, January 10, 2022

“The choices that shaped the gold-embedded earth in Itogon, Benguet, could not be confined to the days before the [September 2018] fatal landslide. The oldest mining company in the Philippines, Benguet Corporation was the first to drill the mountains of Itogon for gold, operating in the town since 1903 or just 5 years after the Spaniards gave the Philippines to Americans.” (Emphasis added to note a correction: the Philippines had successfully defeated Spain in 1898 and won their independence, thus Spain had nothing to give as they no longer had claim of sovereignty over the Philippines under the Treaty of Paris. The Americans took the Philippines by force commencing in 1899 during the Philippine-American War.) —from “Itogon: When The Land of Promise Buried Its People” by Rambo Talabong, Rappler, September 23, 2018

“There have been over 30 documented spills on Line 5. This evidences that it is not if, rather when, more spills will occur. Every spill will expeditiously reach our waterways and wetlands, causing extensive damage to Land, Plants, Animals, and Humans. Even after clean-up, vital cultural, food, medicinal, environmental, ecological, and economic resources will continue to suffer for generations.” —Jessica L. Ryan, Vice Chair and tribal council member with Brothertown Indian Nation, from “DNR Asks for Comments on Environmental Impact of Proposed Enbridge Oil Pipeline Reroute in Northern Wisconsin” by Laura Schulte, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 5, 2022

“In the context of America, a nation-state built by settler colonialism, Woody Guthrie’s protest anthem exemplifies the particular blind spot that Americans have in regard to Natives: American patriotism erases us, even if it comes in the form of a leftist protest song. Why? Because this land ‘was’ our land.” —Mali Obomsawin, an Odanak Abenaki First Nation activist and musician, from “The Blind Spot in the Great American Protest Song” by Sam Yellowhorse Kesler, NPR, February 3, 2021

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