|For the last few days, thoughts of Al Robles keep rising into my consciousness, like bangus — milkfish — surfacing out of dark water. So here's another manong poem, dedicated once more to Manong Al's memory. The speaker of this poem is again Manong Chito, who spoke the poem "Madarika" from the last blog post. I offer this second poem in celebration of Al's pioneering oral-history work to preserve the life stories and talk-stories of our manongs and manangs. |
In terms of craft, this poem is written in pentameter, as was "Madarika," the poem in the last blog post, spoken as well by Manong Chito. In the previous poem, Manong Chito is speaking in the 1970s to young Filipino Americans about the lives of the manongs and manangs, young people probably of Al's own generation. In this poem, he is speaking to one of his own peers, someone of his own generation. In both poems, I envision (or channel) Manong Chito as a kind of seer, a person who observes deeply and far.
I based Manong Chito's voice on manongs I have known: primarily my Uncle Primo Arellano, but also my father's friends as well as my father himself — he was a younger manong who in fact had lived at the I-Hotel for a brief time. (The International Hotel, as described in the first epigraph of "Madarika," was a residential hotel where many manongs lived in San Francisco until the late 1970s.) Because I feel that the actual spoken voice, with the requisite Filipino accent, is important to the poem, I have included above a spoken-word performance of it. Please listen to that recording, along with reading the poem.
The reference to the Maria Clara mythos is important. In the Juan Luna painting La Bulaqueña, the woman portrayed is wearing a Maria Clara outfit, called the "national costume" for Philippine women. The original Maria Clara was a character in Jose Rizal's revolutionary novel Noli Me Tangere; Filipinos were inspired by Maria Clara and she became a national symbol for the traditional virtues and nobility of the Filipina woman. That Manong Chito's dream woman and former fiancee is named Maria Clara indicates she is not only an actual person in his life but also a symbolic figure, in the largest national, international, and literary senses.
I guess that's all I've got to say about this poem
NOTE: The picture above of Al Robles with a manong is an eloquent emblem of Al's work as an advocate for seniors and the poor, seen most strongly in his founding of the Manilatown Senior Center in the 1980s. This photo is the cover image for the website "Manongs of Manilatown: The Inspiration of Al Robles" where you can find out more about the work and legacy of Manong Al Robles.
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