Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!


Hello, friends. Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon! (That's "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" in Filipino.) I hope you and yours are having a wonderful holiday season.

   

Here are a couple of pictures of the Filipino parol or Christmas star lantern. These were traditionally made of bamboo strips and colored paper lit from within by candles; today they are made of many materials (such as capiz shell in the picture on the right) and are often ornately decorated. Again, Maligayang Pasko!

Note: the picture on the left is from the Hawaii Tribune Herald; the one on the right is by Eugene Alvin Villar (wikimedia).


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day ... Papa, Tatay, and the Library of Congress


As I mentioned in my previous blog post, two weeks ago I had the pleasure and honor of reading my poems at the Library of Congress in a symposium honoring "Unsung Heroes: Asian Pacific American Heroism in WWII." This kind of recognition in Washington, DC, has been long needed and comes at an opportune historical moment, with Congress's recent passage of reparation one-time payments to the Filipino soldiers of WWII who were stripped, immediately after the war, of the veterans' benefits FDR promised them.



At that event, I had the honor of meeting retired General Antonio Taguba as well as the Honorable Tammy Duckworth (Assistant Secretary at the VA [Veterans Affairs], a decorated Army veteran from our war in Iraq — where she lost both legs and the partial use of an arm — and still a Major in the Illinois National Guard). I also had the genuine pleasure of meeting Dr. Valentin Ildefonso, US Army Philippine Scout in WWII, and a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the US Air Force, where he served as a medical doctor. Dr. Ildefonso also volunteered later as a doctor during the Vietnam war. (By the way, Dr. Ildefonso was featured in an online news article today for Veterans Day.)


Dr. Valentin Ildefonso and Vince Gotera

As you may already know from other posts in this blog, my father Martin Gotera and my grandfather Felix Gotera also served in the Philippine Scouts in WWII, where they both were in the Bataan Death March. So it was particularly touching and moving for me to meet these three Army vets, whose courage and service are so allied to the esprit de corps that was the spine of the Gotera family's contributions to the US Army, not just my father and grandfather, but also my brother Pepito's US Army service and mine during the Vietnam war.

As part of my poetry reading at the symposium, I read the following poem, which describes my father's relationship with my grandfather, my Lolo whom all of us grandchildren and great-grandchildren called simply Tatay, the Filipino word for "father," because he was so much the patriarch for us all. He was a gentle, soft-spoken old man when I knew him, so unlike the chilling stories Papa told me of Tatay's brutal discipline towards him as a child. The poem, one of three I read at the Library of Congress, describes two sides of that relationship: first, how Tatay whipped my father cruelly and routinely, and second, how Papa found Tatay in the Japanese concentration camp and cared for him as he would have his own child.

Tatay


My grandfather in a faded photograph is
          a centurion blowing a Christmas party horn,
                    on his head my foil Roman legionnaire helmet.

I remember him smiling like a boddhisatva
          as he pulled on scuffed brogans to bail out
                    my uncle in the drunk tank — Tito Augusto

had been brawling again. But in 1933,
          Tatay seemed another man. My father
                    at twelve was circumcised with a couple

of buddies. The ring of boys.
          The penknife. Blood dwindling.
                    When Tatay heard, he bent my father

over the Army trunk again. Set up
          the pitcher and glass. He made his
                    two-inch-wide leather belt lick the boy's

naked back. Resting, he sipped water, then
          got up, belt in hand. My father glanced over
                    at the pitcher to see how much was left.

There were other stories. How after
          the Bataan death march, they met, father
                    and son, in the concentration camp near Capas.

Tatay shivered at noon, muttering of
          bodies mantled with wings, ashimmer.
                    My father could see two compounds away,

they were burning wood — bark the Igorots
          use to cure malaria. My father crept
                    under the wire. A butterfly's

lazy tango in the glare. That itch
          between his shoulderblades. A bead
                    of sweat. The imperial guard's boots

a yard to the left. The Philippine Army
          regulars who were burning the wood smirked
                    when they caught him, gathering branches

in his arms. With fists and bare feet
          pounding his head and back, did he recall
                    those rituals of trunk and pitcher?

Cradling a bundle of sticks, my father
          crawled back. I can see the bark dancing
                    now in water, next to the cot where

Tatay moans in his sleep. I hear my father
          singing softly. I can almost make it out, but
                    I can't quite place the tune, a Tagalog lullaby.

— Vince Gotera, first appeared in The Madison Review (1989).

In the poem, I highlight an ironic and iconic difference between Filipinos: the Philippine Army soldiers beat my father because he was a Philippine Scout, that is, a member of the US Army. In this context, because the US Army can no longer protect my father, they see him as too good for his britches because he is a Filipino in the US Army — uppity, someone whom they would see as having previously lorded over them. The irony is that Papa is beaten in order to save the life of the man who used to beat him.

The other two poems I read at the symposium have been featured in the blog already: "Honor, 1946" and "Refusal to Write an Elegy." In the first, we see another side of my father being caught between different racial forces: instead of being attacked by Filipinos, he is attacked by white Americans. In the second, we see the war demons he faces, not from external attack but rather from within.

Besides my own small part in the symposium, I was truly moved at the scope and span of the subjects covered, the articulate speakers who gave presentations not only about Filipino Americans in the war but also about the original Flying Tigers, Chinese American fighter pilots who volunteered to fly for the Chinese Air Force against the Japanese even before 1941; the Japanese American soldiers of the most highly decorated American military unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team; the Asian American women who served in various military capacities during the war; and so on. I learned quite a lot, and the symposium was indeed a joyous occasion celebrating the tremendous contributions Asian Pacific Americans made to the American war effort.

As General Taguba said in his keynote address, "The Asian Pacific American families who join us today have marked a lasting legacy in our history not to be forgotten. . . . Our unsung heroes have many untold stories yet to be shared. It is their time. It will always be their time." Amen to that, kapatid, kababayan.

Today is Veterans Day. Today is also my father's birthday. If he were living today, Papa would be 88 years young. In the '60s, he was a pioneer in the fight to restore the veterans' rights of the Filipino WWII veterans. In San Francisco, he founded an organization, the Filipino American Veterans and Dependents Association, which worked on this problem, setting out what was probably the first class action suit in the struggle. About the recent legislation of one-time payments ($15,000 to Filipino American veterans in the US, $9,000 to Filipino veterans in the Philippines), I'm certain my father would say, if he were here, "Although this payment is, in many eyes, too little too late, it is a significant gesture nonetheless; we in the Filipino American community, however, should still push for the full restoration of these veterans' benefits."

You rock, Papa. Happy birthday! Veterans Day will always be your signature holiday.



P.S. Many thanks to Reme Grefalda, librarian extraordinaire at the Library of Congress's Asian Division, for inviting me to be a participant in this historic symposium. Maraming salamat, thanks so much, for your hospitality, Reme. I hope I can return the favor sometime if you ever visit Iowa.

Now, just a couple more pictures (click on any of the pictures above or below to see larger versions). The Library of Congress is made up of incredibly beautiful buildings. If you are ever in Washington, DC, you should definitely check out the Library. Many visitors go to the Capitol, the Smithsonian, the various memorials. Go also to the Library; it is the living monument to our country's intellectual aspirations and achievements.


Kluge Room, where the symposium was held



Hallway in the Jefferson Building



Lobby of the Jefferson Building

Friends, please write a comment below. I'd really love to hear your responses. If you have visited the Library of Congress, tell us all about it. Thanks for visiting the blog! Come back often.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Poetry Reading at the Library of Congress, Monday, 10/26/09


Hi, everyone.

Many MANY apologies for having neglected my blog for so long. It's like I fell off a bicycle, walked it home, and then for some reason couldn't ride it again. The more time passed, the harder it became to pick up again. I promise to get back on the blog bycicle here after I get back from Washington, DC, in three days or so.

I am typing this blog post in a hotel business center before I take the train into the city and do the tourist thing. Nothing like a new location to liven up the blog-making. Which I am finding that I'm having to relearn as I go here.
I'm in DC because I'm giving a poetry reading tomorrow, Monday, 10/26, as part of the conference "Unsung Heroes: Asian Pacific American Heroism during World War II." This is open to the public so come and check it out. The event runs from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., and my reading is, I believe, at 9:00. I will be reading poems regarding WWII from my collections Ghost Wars and Fighting Kite.
If you do make the reading, come up and say hi to me. Also, there will be copies of Fighting Kite for sale. I'll sign one for you.

See you tomorrow?



A quick update: I just talked by phone to Reme Grefalda, the organizer of tomorrow's conference, and found out my reading will be around 10:00. Before my presentation is the keynote address by retired Army general Antonio Taguba. Do come at 9:00 anyway to catch his address ... it will be well worth it.

Taguba, you may recall, is the general who investigated the Abu Ghraib atrocities and wrote the official US Army report on the incident, a report in which he was extremely critical. He even testified that he was convinced Rumsfeld had lied to Congress about Abu Ghraib. Later, after his retirement from the military, Taguba publicly accused the Bush administration of war crimes. I am certainly looking forward to his keynote address and to meeting him. His father and my father both fought in the Philippine Scouts (a US Army unit) and both survived the Bataan Death March.

Incidentally, it seems just unbelievable to me that I could be just a couple of years younger than a General — a retired one, at that! Somewhere inside, I'm still that young Army soldier who saw all Generals as old men. But it was about 35 years ago when I was that guy. Does that make me an old man now? Hmm. Nahhhh.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Sunflowers and the Four-Legged Tree


In our backyard, a riotous orgy of growth: the wild forest of sunflowers that springs up annually, a thick three-dimensional scrim taking up loads of ground-space, reaching as much as six or seven feet into blue sky. Our yearly summer panorama, re-inscribing myriad stems on last year's palimpsest of sunflowers.



Acolytes of Amun-Ra . . . devotees of the day's eye . . . morning's minions, the A.M. . . . amanuenses of am.


Sunflowers: girasol, helianto, las flores del sol (SPANISH) . . . mirasol, mga bulaklak ng araw (FILIPINO).


Seers of the sun, soothsayers of light, la luz, ilaw, liwanag. Illumination, insight, epiphany, nirvana.


A spray of words, dustmotes, canary and mahogany, dilaw at kayumanggi, yellow and dark brown.


Isn't that last photo above simply amazing? I think this particular plant was broken by that windstorm described in my last post. Look how devastated and dilapidated the stem is that arises out of the grass. But the top quarter of the plant has raised itself from the ground and the flower is ready to track the sun in the sky. Incredible. Living things abide.



Speaking of living things that abide: some news about the four-legged tree featured last time. The tree experts who were consulted have decided that the tree is just too dangerous because half of the canopy is gone. In another windstorm, the rest of the branches could break off and either damage the house or fall on cars in the street. So all the branches of the tree have been lopped off, and the hope is that the tree will survive and start to push out offshoots that could eventually become a full canopy.


There is already new hope. Look at this close-up: a couple of offshoots have sprouted. The tree is still living and abides.


As do we all. I hope you are well. Abide and be strong.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Small Acts of God — Cedar Falls, Iowa


At about 3:30 a.m. Friday morning, July 10, Cedar Falls was hit by a severe thunderstorm that generated straight-line winds of around 100 mph in some locations. Estimates range from 60 mph to 160 mph; one theory for the high winds is that the storm produced a powerful microburst. The effect on the town was a LOT of tree damage: huge branches littering the streets; large trees broken off at the trunk, even uprooted. A garage was demolished, and there were widespread outages of electric power, ranging from minutes to hours to days.

Here are some photos of the aftermath of the storm. The first was taken by my friend David Grant. Note the tree which has fallen across a street and onto a car; in the right foreground, a power pole has fallen — you can see a transformer on the pole as it leans away.


The next picture, taken by my friend Tiffany Bullen, shows a large tree uprooted completely out of the ground. For a sense of scale, note the two houses shown in the background.


Tiffany's next shot also shows a tree that has been uprooted; note at the right of the picture the grass that was formerly at the base of the upright tree. The ground torn up with the tree still carries the grass as if nothing has happened. At the left, you can glimpse a guy in blue who is chainsawing branches; seeing how small he looks will give you a sense of how large this tree is. (In order to pick out Blue Guy, you may have to click on the picture to see a larger version.)


Carole Fishback, my friend who is a professional photographer, took this next shot. Her dramatic composition shows what a tremendous force snapped this huge tree like a slim twig. As Carole told me, the damage is like "random acts of violence — some giant couldn't find the tree he wanted so he grabbed this one and that one and left them all lying every which way."


Here is a photo I took on the University of Northern Iowa campus. This tree was inexplicably torn in three directions. The large break sent a sizable branch towards the left; a break higher on the trunk sent a larger branch toward the right; and underneath the branch on the left is another branch that is going in yet another direction, toward the low concrete wall. I'm pretty sure all the branches came from this tree because there was not another tree nearby, but how they ended up pointing in these three directions is beyond me. The concrete wall in the background is about three or four feet tall, so the highest part of the trunk is about seven feet up. Pretty amazing.


This next photo shows the top portion of a power pole. When I first saw this, the morning after the storm, it was hanging in the air from power lines, with what you see here about six feet above this sidewalk and no pole below. Where the rest of the pole was I don't know. I stuck my head out the car window to take a picture, but Mary Ann said, "Oh no, this is too dangerous!" and took off. So I didn't get what would have been one heck of a photo, but she was probably right. If the thing had taken that moment to plummet to the ground, we would have been in the middle of a mess of flailing power lines.


The next three photos show what happened to our city's landmark tree. It has a huge canopy arising out of four joined trunks; the four trunks form an archway that leads toward the front door of a corner house. I wonder how many engaged couples and also brides and grooms have taken a picture under this tree. It's quite a wonderful thing . . . probably made it into "Ripley's Believe It or Not."


This close-up diagrams the four tree trunks, in case you couldn't make them out above.


And this third shot shows how much of the original canopy was lost in the storm. The last I heard, on the local TV newscast, the jury was still out on whether the experts thought the tree would survive such massive damage. I sure hope it does. Many years of tree husbandry went into this beautiful thing.


Well, that's it for now. I'll keep adding photos to the blog if I find other dramatic images. Fortunately, no casualties other than trees. Ironic since Cedar Falls holds the title of "Tree City USA." Thanks again, David, Tiffany, and Carole, for letting me post your pictures here. Stay well, everyone.

Oh, and please write a comment below! If you are in Cedar Falls, tell everyone your storm story here. If you are somewhere else, I'd love to hear your reaction. Thanks!


Friday, July 3, 2009

Gypsy Punk on Nat Geo


Hello, everyone. How about we take a little break from poetry today, and instead have some music. Thanks to Pris Campbell and her blog "Songs to a Midnight Sky," I found out recently that the National Geographic website hosts music videos. And quite a charming and eclectic collection of world music it is.

Here's a small sample from Nat Geo, featuring the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello (the inventors of said genre). Gogol Bordello is fronted by wild man Eugene Hütz . . . you may remember Hütz from the 2005 movie Everything Is Illuminated, where he played Alex, an irrepressible Ukrainian guide who spoke a unique and charming brand of distorted English: "Many girls want to be carnal with me . . . because I'm such a premium dancer!"

Gogol Bordello, "Start Wearing Purple"





Gogol Bordello, "Wonderlust King"





Gogol Bordello Sessions, Part One





Gogol Bordello Sessions, Part Two



I hope you enjoyed Gogol Bordello's videos and their spectacularly frenetic approach to gypsy music. Did you notice that Eugene Hütz was wearing blue suede shoes in the two "Sessions" videos? Shades of Elvis! Presley, that is.

For more on Gogol Bordello, visit their website. And do check out the cool video collection on the National Geographic website. Thanks again, Pris!


Friday, June 26, 2009

From Mondo Marcos ... Bongbong's Sonnetina


In both the last two posts — featuring my Ferdinand Marcos poem and my Imelda Marcos poem — I've referred to a third sonnetina that completes my "Marcos trilogy." This third starring none other than Bongbong Marcos . . . or, more properly, Ferdinand Emmanuel "Bongbong" Romualdez Marcos Jr., the only son of Imelda and Ferdinand. His two given names, Ferdinand Emmanuel, the same as his father's, thus the Jr.; the nickname "Bongbong," originally meant to be used, I'm sure, only within the family but now the most notorious element of his public persona; and Romualdez, his mother's maiden family name. Thus Bongbong's full name is indeed a true hybrid of his parents' names, in the same way his face (see below) is quite a striking mix of both his parents' faces, so that he seems (at least to my eye) to resemble them both equally.

Once, in the late '80s, when I performed the first two Marcos sonnetinas at a poetry reading to a mainly Asian American audience, someone yelled out, "Cheap humor!" Well, I gotta admit, those two poems are cheap humor; the Marcoses are such easy, obvious, unavoidable targets. This third poem, spoken by Bongbong and written several years later, features even more heightened slapstick than the earlier two. I really cranked up the cheap humor: my Bongbong poem is downright cheesy and campy and over the top. Enjoy . . .       (oh, wait . . . first read the Ferdinand poem and then the Imelda poem before this one.)

Bongbong Marcos Goes to Confession
with Jaime Cardinal Sin After Visiting
His Father, Ferdinand Marcos,
Lying in a Glass Coffin, in the Family
Mausoleum, Open for Tourists
— a sonnetina
Bless me, Cardinal, for I have grievously sinned.
My last confession . . . do you really need to know
all that? Damn it all, I'm Governor Bongbong
Marcos, son of the late President Marcos

and the one and only Imelda — Madame Marcos.
Actually, Cardinal, I lied. I haven't sinned
at all. I need an exorcism. Do you know
how to do one? Each night I hear: "Bongbong,

save me." Then the clock tolls Bong Bong.
The voice continues, "I'm cold under glass; Marcos
doesn't deserve to be gawked at by sense-
less yokels. Hell would be better, though heaven knows

I'm innocent, Bongbong!" Cardinal, I just don't know
what to do. Would you send away my Daddy Marcos?

I hope the cheap humor comes across: I couldn't resist, for example, the well-known and well-remarked juxtaposition of "Cardinal" and "Sin" (the actual name of the Philippines' actual cardinal back in that day); or Bongbong saying "I lied; I haven't sinned" (here an unremarked irony). Look for stuff like that; the poem is full of such slapstick silliness. But hey, how can you avoid that, when your speaker is named "Bongbong"!

Oh, incidentally — just an aside, not really something germane to the poem as such — isn't it interesting that both father and son have Emmanuel as part of their given names? Emmanuel, "God with us," a name for the Christ. Wow. Might there be some messianic, self-exceptionalist projection at play there? (Not to mention that their first name is Ferdinand . . . the first name of Magellan, so-called discoverer of the Philippines.)


The picture on the left shows Imelda kissing the glass coffin of Ferdinand. I couldn't pin down a source for this picture, which appears in many webpages across the internet. Nevertheless, an interesting reversal of Snow White asleep in her glass coffin, about to be awakened by Prince Charming's kiss. Well, here it's the man inside the glass, and the kisser is the woman. Though some people have wondered, because Ferdinand looks so darn good (and young) under glass, that what we're looking at is a wax figure and the actual corpse is elsewhere or perhaps directly underneath. Who knows? It's that trademark Marcos weirdness.

The picture on the right is of Bongbong Marcos arriving at Honolulu Airport in 1996, three years after the family returned to the Philippines, to testify in a court case where a group representing a deceased Filipino treasure hunter was seeking $1 trillion in damages from an incident where allegedly Marcos's soldiers stole a 1-ton solid gold Buddha from said treasure hunter. Do read the Honolulu Star-Bulletin article which the photo illustrates; it will give you a glimpse of the strange events that continually surround the Marcos family as well as an impression of Bongbong's fascinating personality, often overshadowed by the larger-than-life reputations of his parents.

The Bongbong sonnetina is forthcoming quite soon in Mondo Marcos: Martial Law Babies Write About Marcos and His Martial Law, edited by Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino. Today's blog appearance of the Bongbong sonnetina is meant as a kind of advance advertisement for Mondo Marcos, which will elaborate more of the weird world of the Marcoses.

Oh! I should share with you my own family's involvement in the weird world of the Marcoses. During the late '60s and early '70s, my father Martin Gotera, a very vocal critic of the Marcos regime, wrote a column in the US-based Philippine News, a loud anti-Marcos voice in print. As such, he was (supposedly) on Ferdinand's infamous blacklist. As a child, I never quite knew what being on the blacklist meant; perhaps that was why we never traveled to the Philippines during those days? Was my father afraid of being arrested? Or, worse yet, salvaged or disappeared.

On the other side of the coin was my stepmother, Carolina Matsumura Gotera. She was most definitely a Marcos supporter — a very avid one. In fact, she was one of Imelda's Blue Ladies. These women were her informal ladies-in-waiting, a kind of clique or close social circle.

No one could be farther from or more reviled among the Marcos faithful than someone on the blacklist, and no one could be more "in" the Marcos inner circle than a member of the Blue Ladies. And in my family, we had one of each! When Papa (re)married Carolina, I was grown and didn't live at home any longer, so I never witnessed up close how my father and his wife reconciled this gap. My stepmother quite often talked about her high-society adventures with the Blue Ladies, and my father would just smile. It was that Marcos weirdness right in my own family.


On another front, the sonnetina front: I'm currently in touch with the poet Michael Heffernan, inventor of the sonnetina. I'll report back with details on our discussions about the sonnetina and how it developed. Stay tuned. Also, I'll let you know when Mondo Marcos is out. Take care.

Added on 27 July 2009: it occurred to me today that some readers may not know about the sonnetina form. Look at my June 18 post with the Ferdinand Marcos poem; there is a brief explanation of the sonnetina there.

Added on 27 July 2011: Yo yo yo, Mondo Marcos has landed!


Friday, June 19, 2009

Dragonfly (page 15) ... Imelda Marcos


Since the previous poem from Dragonfly features Ferdinand Marcos as persona, it would probably be no surprise to you that the next poem — also a sonnetina — is spoken by Imelda Marcos. After composing these two sonnetinas I thought of them as an intertwined pair. A Bongbong Marcos poem came along later, completing what has become a trilogy of Marcos poems. ("Bongbong" is the family nickname of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. . . . probably a cute moniker when he was a toddler; unfortunately it has followed him into public life.)

Background stuff you should probably know: after Ferdinand died in late 1989, Imelda requested permission from Philippine President Cory Aquino to have his body interred in the Philippines with full military honors. Aquino refused to allow Ferdinand's body on Philippine soil, citing potential problems of national security. Imelda then kept Ferdinand "on ice" (that is, refrigerated) until the day when she might be able to bury his body in the Philippines.

The immediate trigger for this poem was a Newsweek article that showcased the weird activities at the Marcos enclave in Hawaii, focusing on a birthday party Imelda threw for Ferdinand and family and friends . . . after his death. I noticed that a sentence in the article fell neatly into pentameter-size lengths, each chunk ending with words that were cool repeton possibilities: "birthday," "Ferdinand," and "frozen." So I quoted that sentence at the beginning of the poem, as if Imelda were reading it out loud, and then continued the monologue in her voice, addressing Ferdinand. Probably she is sitting beside his coffin, perhaps with the lid up. Here is the poem.       (Note: please read the Ferdinand poem before this one.)


Imelda Marcos Discusses with Ferdinand
the Gala Party She Gave on September 11, 1990
to Celebrate his 73rd Birthday Posthumously

— A sonnetina starting with a quotation
from
Newsweek (October 1, 1990)
"The Imelda threw such a can't-miss birthday
bash for her very dead husband, Ferdinand,
that . . . he attended, natty as ever, in a frozen
casket." Can you believe that made the news,

Daddy? And yet, they didn't mention the new
space-age polymer coffin I bought for your birthday!
Please tell me what to do, my darling Ferdinand.
We can't afford to keep you like this: frozen

till she lets us both go home. You've defrosted
once already. That witch! If she only knew . . .
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday
to you, happy birthday, fair Andy,

happy birthday to you
. . . soon, my beloved Ferdinand,
you'll rise like the phoenix, a new Christ, from the deep freeze.



Page 15


I made up some things here, such as the "space-age polymer coffin" and Ferdinand defrosting, though these elements might not be all that fanciful. Imelda spent a lot of money on technology and utilities keeping Ferdinand frozen; at one point in the sordid saga, Imelda had run up a $214,500 electric bill. Imelda refused to pay the bill, thus threatening a Ferdinand thaw, but it was eventually paid by a family friend.

One thing I did not make up is Ferdinand's nickname in the poem (line 12). Often in the press and in blogs, Ferdinand is called "Ferdie" (and in fact the first published version of the poem contained the phrase "dear Ferdie"), but it turns out that Ferdinand, in his desire to be as American as possible, preferred to be called "Andy." In the poem, the words "fair Andy" both preserve a sonic link with "Ferdinand" and make possible a multi-layered pun about perceived blondeness as well as imagined impartiality in his political career. Obviously neither of these could be further from the truth.


Did you think you were going to get out of here without hearing (again) about Imelda's (in)famously expensive shoe collection? Above are a couple of images that allude to the whole shoe thing. The wonderful caricature on the left, by Risko, is from a 2007 Vanity Fair interview with Imelda by George Wayne. This interview, on the occasion of the release of The Imelda Collection, a fashion company founded by Imelda's grandson, is quite revealing about what makes Imelda tick. Check it out . . . lots of fun.

The photo on the right is from a 2006 BBC article titled "Inequality on show in Filipino resort." Although she is not even mentioned in the article, Imelda is immediately recognizable as a poster child for the inequalities between rich and poor in the Philippines. The reason I've included this photo, however, is that the shoe Imelda is holding in the photo does not seem to be a shoe at all. I think it's a phone. Shades of Maxwell Smart! The parallel between "The Imelda Show" and Get Smart is simply too delicious not to point out.

DRAGONFLYFIRSTCONTENTSPREVIOUSNEXTLAST
   

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dragonfly (page 14) ... Ferdinand Marcos


Another installment of Dragonfly. This time, a sonnetina in the voice of Ferdinand Marcos. More on the sonnetina form below, but first some background on Marcos . . . his fame in the US, the fodder of front-page headlines in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has greatly deteriorated of late.

Ferdinand Marcos, a self-proclaimed guerrilla war hero from WWII, was elected first a Congressman and then a Senator and eventually President of the Philippines in 1965. He is most well-known for his martial-law declaration in 1972 that eventually led to his being nominally a president but effectively a dictator, with the support of the US government, until 1986. The People Power Revolution of that year resulted in the end of the Marcos regime, with the ousted president and his wife Imelda Marcos going into exile in Hawaii. By the time they left the Philippines, the Marcos family had amassed a fortune said to be in the hundreds of billions. In 1988, Mrs. Marcos was indicted and arraigned by the US, accused of embezzlement.

Two real-life incidents are referred to in the poem: first, the news release of a video in which the gravely ill Marcos showed himself shadowboxing in front of a full-length mirror (to prove his continued manliness despite his kidney disease), and second, Mrs. Marcos showing up for her US arraignment wearing ballroom attire. Marcos died less than a year after that video appeared in the news, and Mrs. Marcos was acquitted of the embezzlement charges in 1990, eventually returning to the Philippines in 1991. More on that in the next post. When the poem's Marcos character refers to "that lemon housewife" he is speaking of President Cory Aquino, Marcos's successor, who ran for office wearing yellow as her signature color (as did her campaigners and supporters). "Malacañang" is the White House equivalent of the Philippines, where the president resides; when the Marcoses left the Philippines in 1986, Mrs. Marcos left some 3,000 pairs of shoes in Malacañang Palace. The shoe thing — for which Imelda is primarily well-known, I think — is also referred to in the poem.


Ferdinand Marcos at His Mirror, on the Occasion
of His Wife Imelda's Arraignment in New York City,
November 1988, Where She Wore a Ballroom Gown

— A sonnetina, after Michael Heffernan
Here I am again, the Great Brown Hope:
Jab, jab, fake, roundhouse from the right,
Knockout. I can take anything that lemon housewife
Sends me from Malacañang. I'm Ferdinand Marcos,

After all. And now they're after the Marcos
Millions. The goddamn U.S.A. is hoping
For billions, but Imelda's got more brains in her right
Shoe than any federal judge — let the wife

Show them. "Wear the blue terno, my darling wife,"
I told her. "Give them the famous Meldy Marcos
Style." Knockout. We'll be King next time, I hope.
Head fake, left jab, shuffle, then shoot them the right.

They better all hope they don’t come up against this right.
Because I've got a gorgeous wife — and I am Marcos.




Page 14


I couldn't find Marcos's shadowboxing video on the internet; I thought for sure it would be on YouTube. However, here's something else that will dramatize Marcos's cult of personality. During his presidency, Marcos commissioned a Mt. Rushmore-style statue of himself. On the left below I've included a wide shot of this 99-foot tall concrete sculpture on a mountainside to give you a sense of the magnitude of the thing. The statue was bombed in 2002 and the picture on the right shows how it looks today, compared to its appearance during Marcos's regime in the center picture.


This situation reminds me of Percy Bysshe Shelley's famous sonnet "Ozymandias," which focuses on the decline of the fame of great leaders who thought their reputations immortal during their own lives. Certainly Marcos felt that way, and I hope the poem demonstrates how Marcos felt about himself, his fame, and particularly his manhood.

On the sonnetina form: in the early 1980s the poet Michael Heffernan invented a sonnet variation that melded the sestina and the sonnet. I am almost certain he called his new form a "sonnetina" but I can't seem to confirm that on the internet at present. Nonetheless, when my poem was originally published in the journal Asian America, I used the epigraph shown above claiming the poem to be a Heffernan-style sonnetina. The most commonly cited example of this form is Heffernan's poem "A Colloquy of Silences" from his collection To the Wreakers of Havoc (mistakenly cited by Amazon.com as "Wreckers").

In his hybrid of the sonnet and the sestina, Heffernan used a sestina-style recycling of repetons or repeated words: bottom, top, next to the bottom, next to the top, etc. (For a review of the sestina, see my blog post on it.) This pattern of repetition results in the third repeton always ending up in the third slot; to correct this problem, I've used a different pattern: instead of the last repeton in a quatrain becoming the first repeton in the following quatrain, then the first repeton in the earlier quatrain becoming the second repeton in the following quatrain — that is, 4-1-3-2 — my pattern is 4-1-2-3. (The sestina's equivalent pattern is 6-1-5-2-4-3.) This might be clearer with this visual matrix, the repetons color-coded.

      Quatrain 1........

Hope 
right 
housewife 
Marcos 
Quatrain 2........

Marcos 
hope 
right 
wife 
Quatrain 3........

wife 
Marcos 
hope 
right 
Envoi

hope right 
wife Marcos 

One difference between the sestina and the sonnetina is that the sestina has six repetons and six sestets, whereas the sonnetina has four repetons but only three quatrains . . . Heffernan left out the fourth quatrain to constrain the form overall to the sonnet's 14 lines.

I think my explanation of the sonnetina here may be the first time that the "rules" of the Heffernan sonnetina have been explained on the internet. I hope this is useful to poets overall. And that my correction of Heffernan's pattern will also see wide use.

This Ferdinand Marcos sonnetina is part of a three-sonnetina sequence: the second one features Imelda Marcos (the next poem in Dragonfly) and the third one (a more recent poem) stars Bongbong Marcos, Ferdinand and Imelda's son. This third sonnetina is forthcoming in an anthology currently in press in the Philippines; that should be done quite soon, I understand. I'll let you know when that poem and book appear.
NOTE: The pictures shown above came from the Artificial Owl website, which showcases abandoned human-made structures around the world. Many thanks!

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dragonfly (pages 12-13) ... Shiites


Well, we've had three graduations these past several weeks. First, Amanda, then Amelia, and this past weekend, my niece Madi's graduation open house two states away. We just got back last night from our road trip to Indiana and back. And I see today that eight days have gone by since my last blog entry.

So let's go on to the next couple of pages in Dragonfly. Hard to believe almost three months have elapsed since the last Dragonfly post. Here goes.


Shiites, 1985


The terrorist leaned out the pilot's window
dwarfed on TV by the sloping shoulder of the jet.
Already one American sailor dead.

On every channel, fifteen-year-old Iranian
boys waving captured Uzis on a bus
to the Iraqi front. Fervor. Jihad.

But in my mind, I'm seeing another scene,
a National Geographic photo: a jungle clearing
in Mindanao, the Muslim island

of the Philippines. Twelve men have unrolled
mats of woven palm. They bow to Mecca.
I can almost hear the muezzin.

Perhaps a tree branch was his minaret
and as he perched there chanting, he disturbed
a python, who slid into leafy gloom.

The men wear green headbands, chant "Mabuhay
Husayn. Mabuhay Khomeini. Karbala now."
Their hands reach out to the boys on that bus, on the jet.

And I recall my great-great-uncle Cesar,
a fighter in General Aguinaldo's barefoot
army in the Philippine-American War.

Seized by the ritual rage of amok,
he stormed the Kansas line in Caloocan,
a U.S. Army infantry barricade.

Later he couldn't remember bayonets
or bullets. Only heart's flame foaming
through fist into the haft and blade of a bolo.


Page 12



Amok, Cesar danced through rifle fire
without a gun, his knife a snake's tongue.
No bayonet pierced the red haze

of his eyes. Like magic he slipped untouched
through the gauntlet of men, killed thirty
American soldiers, then melded into jungle.

For three weeks, a platoon of trackers searched.
He'd vanished like a fish in a mountain stream.
"Bahala na," he had said before his charge,

come what may. The dove he had glimpsed
against blue sky made no difference.
Just the keen edge and the blood of sunset.

But the twelve in Mindanao, after prayers,
slide oiled cloth through the barrels of M-16s.
Jihad, amok: all of that can wait. Today

these men will work, haul fish from boats.





Page 13


Here is the National Geographic photograph that inspired this poem (click on it to see a larger version). This image is from the July 1986 issue, a picture taken by Steve McCurry to accompany Arthur Zich's article "Hope and Danger in the Philippines," on the problems faced by newly elected President Corazon Aquino, after the People Power Revolution that drove out Ferdinand Marcos. The photo's caption reads "Muslims of the Moro National Liberation Front pause for prayer while on patrol in Mindanao."

Steve McCurry
National Geographic
July 1986

What strikes me today is that the setting for the poem is exactly 25 years ago, a quarter century, and yet the problems that then plagued the Middle East, and by extension the world, continue. Some of the players have changed but much is the same. The opening scene in the poem is a jetplane hijacking by Muslim extremists; that particular tactic culminated in the 9/11 hijackings . . . and other hijackings may yet occur. In the poem, youths are off to fight in the Iran-Iraq war; today, youths — American ones — still fight in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

What struck me then, while I was beginning this poem, is that the Muslims of Mindanao — the Moros — are Shiites who share the same religious culture as the majority of Muslims in Iran and Iraq. They would then share the same important story of the Prophet Muhammad's nephew Husayn being martyred at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD, so that for the Moros, Husayn would represent the ultimate figure of rebellion against oppression. I then surmised that because of this, the Moros might also revere Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini as the main opponent of the exiled Shah. For the Moros, the Ayatollah's rhetoric of jihad and fatwa might have resonated favorably, as a resource for their own struggle against the Philippine government, against whomever was in charge.

The other large theme of this poem is the particularly Malay battle-rage or frenzy called amok. Filipinos "running amok" was a unique military problem for the American forces occupying the Philippines during the Philippine-American War: Filipinos would single-handedly attack entrenched American troops, usually with just a blade, perhaps a machete, and succeed in injuring or killing many. The fight would be at such close quarters that American soldiers found it difficult to fire their rifles effectively without killing Americans or use the bayonets mounted on those rifles. The US Army's solution was the Colt .45 pistol. I recall learning this fact while I was in the US Army and marveling that the army I was in had developed a special weapon specifically to kill my people. Incredible.

It's interesting to look at different versions of this poem. In its first appearance in the 1989 Wooster Review, the poem used the words "Moslem" and "Philippine Insurrection." In 1994, the poem as it appeared in Dragonfly still had "Moslem" but the latter phrase had been changed to "Philippine-American War." By 2003, when it was reprinted in the collection Ghost Wars and in the online magazine Our Own Voice, the poem had the more contemporary "Muslim" and "Philippine-American War." Unfortunately, the reprint in Our Own Voice has mistakes; the italicizations and the quotation marks have disappeared. Those should be as given above. (Note: since some people find the word "Moslem" offensive, I have silently emended it to "Muslim" above; Dragonfly used the older usage.)

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mushroom Hunting: The Almighty Morel


Well, friends, mushroom season is over. I hope those of you in the Midwest got out there into the woods and looked for those Morels. Mushroom hunting is an annual springtime ritual for the Blues and Yeakleys, Indiana families I married into. This poem — written probably 20+ years ago — talks about learning mushroom hunting from my Blue family.

Hunting Sponge
— for Jerry Lee Blue
The light settles on the forest floor wafting
like leaves into pools of ochre and new green.
Mary Ann and I, my father-in-law Jerry —
we’re hunting for mushrooms. The Indiana Morel.

In these woods behind his hog farm, Jerry hunts
each spring gray sponge, snakehead, yellow
sponge, elephant ears. At each find, he sees them
frying deep in butter. Look under sycamores,

Jerry tells me, especially dead ones. He walks to
a fallen tree, his shadow thickened by a lifetime
of dawn feedings, and pokes his walking stick, twisted
like a shillelagh, in the brush. See? Gray sponge.

Just the week before, Mary Ann and I
had gone looking for Indian arrowheads
in the newly plowed field behind the house.
In the living room, Jerry has a large jar,

eighteen inches tall, filled with stone points.
He sees them, bright as pebbles in a creek,
from the seat of his combine as he disks —
the metal blades turning black earth.

Mary Ann and I had spent an hour or two
without finding a single piece, when Jerry came out.
Only minutes, and he’s pointing. There’s one.
It’s broke, but here’s the other part that’s chipped off.


And that’s how he is today on our mushroom hunt:
Here’s a bunch. And there, right behind you.
I am concentrating hard, searching
for that Morel outline like a minaret,

a fleshy stalk topped by a pointed bulb
ridged like a brain. Three years hunting mushrooms,
and I still haven’t found one on my own.
But now, in a patch of dark green grass,

just a few feet from where Jerry has passed,
I see a small yellow tower. I call out,
Got one! A clump of yellow sponge.
Jerry turns back, looks at me, and says,

Ain’t that something? There they are, just shining.


— Vince Gotera, first appeared in the 1989
Literary Supplement of Arts Indiana.

Recently, Jerry and Mary Louise (my in-laws) were visiting for Amanda's and Amelia's graduations. They treated us to "store-bought" morels! We've been so busy we didn't get out to hunt the wild kind, but we still got to partake of the bounty of God's forests.




The treasure laid out


Ready to fry!


Morel done to a T!

Last Week's Shrooms!
 


Buttered and floured


Magic in the pan


MRE ... Mushrooms, Ready to Eat


It was a lovely little feast. Thanks, Mom and Dad! We'll find you some wild ones next year.


Friday, May 29, 2009

e. e. cummings "l(a" deconstructed


Hello, faithful readers. Please check out the poetry animation I have posted on YouTube. It animates the poem "l(a" by e. e. cummings. This often-anthologized poem is notoriously one of cummings's most difficult. The animation shows how easy it is to decode, actually.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXP-7byD7fo


There's more that one can say about this poem, as well.

l(a

le
af
fa

ll

s)
one
l

iness
e. e. cummings
95 poems (1958)

The form of it, first of all, resembles the letter l or the number 1 because of its skinny vertical shape. (As you probably know, on older typewriters — like the ones cummings used — there is no key for the number one; instead typists would type the letter l to represent a number one.)

What cummings uncovers for us here is how many times the number one (as suggested by the letter l) appears in the word loneliness: four times. And of course there's also the letter l/number one in the word leaf. The lineation cummings uses, then, is not arbitrary. He is emphasizing all the instances of the number one along with the literal appearance of the word one itself within the word "loneliness."

The leaf, as an image, is of course a time-honored way of talking about life and its transitory nature. The leaf falling off the tree is both an image of death as well as aloneness. The movement of the leaf as it falls is suggested by cummings here in the movement of the poem downwards on the page, especially because of the line skips (stanza breaks?). As many have noted, the "af" followed by the "fa" implies through the letters changing position the twirling of a leaf in air. Some have even suggested that the first line, "l(a," represents a leaf on a branch; the poem before the last line portrays the movement of the leaf as it travels through the air; and the final line is a pile of leaves.

While that may be (cummings, after all, was a well-known painter and critics of his work have pointed out the pictorial aspects of his poetry), one can also read the last line, "iness," as "I-ness." In other words, loneliness and perhaps the knowledge of the inevitability of death are part of what it means to be an "I," to be a human being, to acknowledge one's own identity.

That's lot to pack into 22 letters, 6 syllables, 4 words. And cummings accomplishes it through enjambment, lineation, and stanza-making. Incredible.

Please leave me a comment below about the video or anything on this post. I'd really like to know what you're thinking. Also, do you have any suggestions for poetry animations? Thanks.

NOTE: For more about e. e. cummings and his artwork, see Milton Cohen's book Poet and Painter: The Aesthetics of E. E. Cummings's Early Works (1987). Cohen explores cummings's considerable body of writing on aesthetics and applies these theories to both the paintings and poems.

Do watch it on YouTube as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXP-7byD7fo . . . and please post a comment there. Okay to repeat because it's a different community. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Just One Book: Save Salt Publishing


Salt Publishing, perhaps the UK's most important small-press publisher of contemporary literature, needs our help urgently. Here's Salt Publishing's YouTube plea, a commercial that spoofs the World Wildlife Foundation's "Adopt a Polar Bear" commercial and also dramatizes Salt's financial need now. Speaking below is Salt Director Chris Hamilton-Emery (YouTube handle: chamiltonemery).

Just One Book: Save Salt Publishing




Salt's spoof of the WWF Adopt a Polar Bear advert (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iekb-ZARg3s) conceals a serious message:

As many of you will know, Jen and I have been struggling to keep Salt moving since June last year when the economic downturn began to affect our press. Our three year funding ends this year: we've £4,000 due from Arts Council England in a final payment, but cannot apply through Grants for the Arts for further funding for Salt's operations. Spring sales were down nearly 80% on the previous year, and despite April's much improved trading, the past twelve months has left us with a budget deficit of over £55,000. It's proving to be a very big hole and we're having to take some drastic measures to save our business.

Here's how you can help us to save Salt and all our work with hundreds of authors around the world.

JUST ONE BOOK

1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

UK and International
http://www.saltpublishing.com/shop/index.php

USA
http://www.saltpublishing.com/shop-us/index.php

2. Share this note on your Facebook or MySpace profile. Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now.



If you are a blogger, consider putting up a "Just One Book" post to help save Salt Publishing. Your readers would love one of Salt's books, I'm sure.

I'm going to go buy Annie Finch's poetry book The Encyclopedia of Scotland just as soon as I get this blog post up. Won't you join me by buying Annie's book or another title from Salt's marvelous booklist?

Among Salt's books, I highly recommend Shaindel Beers's poetry collection A Brief History of Time. Faithful readers of my blog will remember my interview with Shaindel, part of her virtual book tour across the blogosphere. This is one of Salt's innovative practices: using the contemporary culture of the internet to spread first-rate poetry and fiction across the world.

Salt Publishing's geographical scope is by no means limited to the UK. For example, one of their important imprints is Earthworks: Native American Writing, edited by the poet Janet McAdams. It is quite a marvelous service to world literature that Salt Publishing has undertaken this crucial project, one among their many important series.

I hope you can help. To keep Salt Publishing in business, you only need to buy one book right now. Won't you go to Salt Publishing's website (or to the shopping websites listed in their YouTube plea above) to find a book that suits your fancy? Then buy that one book today. Just one book. (Or many books, if you would like.) Thanks for your help . . . and enjoy that one book. Or, better yet, books.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Amelia's Graduation


On Sunday, May 24, Amelia graduated from Cedar Falls High School. Hurray! It was a wonderful Memorial Day weekend: Mary Ann's parents, Nanny and Papa, came out from Indiana along with Mary Ann's brother David with his wife Karen and daughter Madison. The ceremony itself was very cool . . . pretty decent speeches plus a lot of joy and good spirits in the McLeod Center, the University of Northern Iowa's basketball and volleyball stadium. Amelia sang for the last time with the Concert Choir: "He Ain't Heavy, He's my Brother." A fitting song for a class of good friends with caring feelings about one another.




The two photos above that were actually taken at the commencement are a little grainy. Quite a distance away in not very bright light, I'm afraid. I tweaked them as much as I could in good old Photoshop. Click to see any of the pics larger. In any case, you can clearly see how happy Amelia was at the ceremony. Whoopee!



After the ceremony, with sibs
Amanda, Gabe, and Melina.



With Nanny and Papa
(Jerry and Mary Blue).



With friends Chelsea and Joey.
Congratulations!

Many, many congratulations from your family and friends, Amelia — O Lovable One (as your name means). We wish you the best of luck in your college endeavors starting August. In the meantime, we hope you have a marvelous, red-letter summer! Mom and I — your sibs Marty, Amanda, Melina, and Gabe — we all love you, love you, love you. Again, brava!


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