My father was a laconic man. I don't mean to say that he didn't talk much
Here's a classic example: one time when I was a teenager, a young man knocked on our door and asked to see my dad. I showed him into the living room and went to get Papa. Who then peeked into the living room and hustled me into the dining room, where he whispered in my ear, "That's your brother." I had no inkling that I had a brother.
It turns out my father had been married to another woman before Mama and had two sons from that marriage
Here's a poem about my brother Pepito, another Gotera who was a soldier in the US Army.
A Soldier’s Letter
out of the San Francisco night, a stranger
To my brother: When I was fifteen, you surfaced
knocking on our door. Your family
a mystery kept from me, a wife and kids
from another face in my father's secret mirror.
You stayed with us for two or three nights, a dark
and glum presence, brooding at the dinner table.
Mama didn't seem shocked at all. Those nights
we lay in my room, listening to the Sopwith Camel
and the Stones on KFRC, and you softly crooned
the melody. Once you asked who Jesus
was — why did we light candles to him?
At the end of the week, Papa drove you to
the Army Recruiting Station. And Vietnam
swallowed you whole. No news for six months, and then
your letter came. The one in which you threatened
to disembowel Papa with your bayonet, to blow him away with steel shot from a Claymore, to lock and load your M-16, then shoot him dead. Dead for leaving you and your Mom
alone in Manila. Where she took you and your brother
down to the bay and hugged you tearfully
until she saw St. Jude floating over
the water. A miracle. Your lives saved.
And now, in the 'Nam, your life had again been spared
by the vision in air of a woman in a white ao dai.
You jerked your head back in surprise, and the sniper's
bullet lopped off a leaf where your face had been.
And so you believed your hophead's life was sacred.
No rocket, no mortar round could pierce the armor
of revenge, the righteous shield of vengeance.
I vowed to make myself strong, to take
taekwon-do lessons, to save my father's life
when you rotated home. But moments pass
like buckshot, and when you finally landed at Oakland,
you went on back to LA, without stopping again
at our door. The letter — a reefer fantasy.
Today, the letter forgotten, you live in our father's
house, alternating between gay bars
on Castro and the VA hospital psych ward.
Rather than bullets or a C-4 explosion,
you pay our father rent from your disability
check — the proceeds of your post-traumatic
stress disorder syndrome. The last time
we saw each other, you showed Mary Ann your saints,
like a pack of cards. "This picture is St. Blaise &mdash
he saves you from choking on chicken bones. And here's
St. Anthony. I use him to find lost things."
You called the pictures your "directory to heaven."
Nights, I see you in my mind, bowing
before a small Buddhist altar, lighting
sticks of incense, chanting with your eyes closed.
You're thinking back to velvet times in Manila,
when you were a teenage singer on TV,
crooning love songs under a blue spot.
— Vince Gotera, from Premonitions: The Kaya
Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry
(1995). Also appeared in Ghost Wars (2003).
I don't know what to add to this story. Pepito had indeed been a teenage singer in Manila
About the poem as a poem: I worked pretty hard on lineation. A mix of end-stops and enjambment
I would appreciate some feedback about what you think is going on here. If you feel like it, leave me a comment, please. Not a remark for potential revision, because as far as I'm concerned the poem is done and I'm not interested in reworking it. I'm just curious about how people read it &mdash how you read it. And how you make sense of the poetics of this particular poem.
When I wrote "A Soldier's Letter," probably almost two decades ago, Pepito was still alive though we were hardly ever in touch. And now, after he has died, I realize that this poem was, in many ways, already my elegy for him. Rest in peace, Jose Pater Gotera. Rest in peace, my brother.