Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thanks, Best American Poetry!


I would very much like to thank Emma Trelles for mentioning Fighting Kite, my 2007 poetry collection, in The Best American Poetry blog in her post "Big Love, Little Books" (13 February 2009). I truly appreciate the good word, Emma — such a nice plug.

For those who are not familiar with Fighting Kite, here is the title poem, an elegy for my father, Martin Avila Gotera.

Fighting Kite
— 1930 —
Just outside Manila, it was my father's
ninth birthday, but all he could think about
was his duel with fighting kite that afternoon.

For weeks, he'd been grinding glass between
rocks: green for luck. The kite string soaked in glue
then dipped in powdered glass. In the sun,

the string would gleam — filament of emerald.
His kite emblazoned with a vermilion hawk, talons
of shiny hooks and razors hammered from tin-can lids.

At 3 P.M. sharp, his hawk dancing
a red tinikling in the sun, my father stood
by the Pasig River, his twelve-year-old opponent

on the other bank, the wind blowing downstream.
In the sky, the other kite was a silver mantis
with bat wings. The hawk and mantis swiveled

and faked like mongoose and cobra. My father
gauged the wind like a cat's paw on his cheek,
waiting for the breeze to hold its breath,

then the whiplash crack of his wrist.
Hawk whirled around mantis, razors flashing —
kite strings twining, sliced. The bat wings ripped

away in tatters. He'd won, my father had won.
— 1989 —
Swimming in that white hospital bed — IVs like
kite strings in reverse piercing his arms —

Papa must have longed to soar, to leave behind
his sick and scarred heart, his breath trapped

in emphysemic lungs . . . O to fly
like some red-feathered bird, to dance free

in lucid air above the sparkling Pasig.
How far, then, you could see: the jungle green

rock of Corregidor leaping from
Manila Bay, the Pacific stretched flat out,

an aquamarine mirror, endless and new.
The razors of Papa's soul slashed at his lines —

invisible strings tethered deep in the ground
— then Papa launched into gold and purple sky

like the sun's first flash breaking from the east,
his fingers uncurling slowly from a clenched fist.
                           

— Vince Gotera, first appeared in Hawai'i Pacific Review (1992);
reprinted in the textbook Asian American Literature: A Brief
Introduction and Anthology
,
edited by Shawn Wong (1996).

As far back as I can recall, my father told me tales about flying fighting kites, a sport he engaged in throughout his youth. Kite fighting is done in many countries across the world; the sport is a major motif in Khaled Hosseini's 2003 novel The Kite Runner, which was made into a feature film in 2007. But for me, the fighting kite was (and still is) a thing of romance, a source of adventure and fable in bedtime stories I heard from my father.

I wrote several versions of the first half of this poem over a number of years, versions that simply didn't do justice to my dreams and fantasies about kite fighting. But it was not until Papa's death in 1989 that the poem came together, as I realized that the fighting kite was, for me, a symbol of his difficult and fascinating life. The book's description on the back cover reads, in part, "Fighting Kite narrates, in verse, the life of Martin Avila Gotera — son, trickster, soldier, schizophrenic, visionary, lawyer, workingman, father &mdash a life that glimmers like a node, a shimmery knot, a glowing nexus . . ." And that's what the fighting kite is: a "nexus," a connection, a symbolic gathering of the threads, strands, strings of his life. In fact, I learned recently that the proper term is "fighter kite," but I am sticking with "fighting kite" because I think of my father as continually acting, constantly striving to make a better life for himself and his family, ultimately his people, despite illnesses and obstacles.

As you know if you are a frequent reader of the blog, it's my practice to say a bit about craft and technique in each poem. But I think I'll just let this one speak for itself. Martin Avila Gotera was quite a fascinating person — a man of passions and problems; the back-cover description ends by calling him "brilliant and troubled, tormented and wise." I hope my poems, and the book, do justice to his memory.

Once again, many thanks to Emma Trelles and to The Best American Poetry blog. Keep the faith, people!


5 comments:

Brandon Wallace said...

Wow, what a very nice, moving poem and story.

Vince Gotera said...

Hi, Brandon! Thanks for your response. I hope you are enjoying the blog overall, as well. Come back and read more.

Jewel/Pink Ink said...

Beautiful. Thank you.

I have some stories in my head from my childhood, too. The first time around I wrote about them, they were okay. But it wasn't later until I was seeing it from my adulthood that I could really breathe life into the story.

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