Barbara J. Pulmano Reyes's debut book of poetry, Gravities of Center, opens with an invocation echoing with the loss and longing of exile: "Found" asks the muse to bestow voice, but also requests a "garnet crystalline fire. / Slow, and certain. / Burning, to light the way back home." The search for voice and the search for home intertwine throughout Reyes's verse, meandering through questions of remembering and forgetting. Home becomes elusive, a construction dependent upon memory and language, which are both fallible, as "Images of Loss" laments: "the manila of my imagination i have learned to mourn my birthplace i no longer understand that place where i wish to pay homage thoroughly colonial i no longer know how my words flow my language now fissures ... i cannot remember i cannot regret what i cannot remember."
Born in Manila and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Reyes creates poetry that aims not to fix one geographical locale as home, but to explore a broad topography of homelands. Spanning spaces between the Philippines and the United States, Gravities of Center decenters home by orchestrating counterpoints between cultures. "The Philippines" becomes many places: Manila, Jolo, Banaue, a tropical paradise, a scene of bloody political unrest. "America" is the colonizer enforcing "benevolent assimilation," but also the familiarity of a "Daly City Filipino restaurant," the tawdry atmosphere of a Colma casino, the oenic undulations of the Napa Valley. Referencing centuries of violence from Spanish and American colonization to the Marcos regime to Muslim separatist conflicts, Reyes's verse inhabits the tumultuous vortex of place, moment, and culture.