Saturday, March 19, 2011

I'm back ... and born from bamboo!


Well, friends, today is the one-year anniversary of the last time I posted in the blog. Since last March 19, like any slacker, I often thought of themes and subjects I could blog about but just couldn't free up the time . . . and then worried incessantly about the whole situation. But now, here I am, here we are, and let's just get right back into it, shall we? Thanks for your patience with my slackerly ways. I'm back, I'm reformed, and I'm ready to blog. Hasta blogeesta, baby.

During my slackerozo non-bloggo year, I had the good fortune of publishing my poem "Born from Bamboo" in an anthology titled Reeds and Rushes: Pitch, Buzz, and Hum, thanks to the good graces of editor Kathleen Burgess as well as Pudding House Publications. Here's the poem:

Born from Bamboo
In remembrance of my paternal grandmother,
whom we called Nanay (Tagalog for
mother)

"Gray-haired man with three summer-blue eyes,"
said Nanay. Fructuosa Gotera, her name: fruitful,
fertile.
"That was Bathala, god of the skies."

My father, just four, looked up at his mother's smile.
Slim as bamboo, she went on: "Aman Sinaya,
goddess of the sea, had green eyes, like emerald.

Both gods tried to outdo each other every day.
Thunder and lightning. Tidal waves and typhoons.
Aman Sinaya's monsoons raked the sky.

Bathala hurled boulders —" "No, whole mountains!"
said my father, eyes glimmering. "Yes, Martin . . .
mountains! into the sea, creating our islands,

all seven thousand. Meanwhile, caught between
the two realms of heaven and ocean, the northeast
wind Amihan had had enough. She took on

the shape of a bird, with indigo feathers and feet.
She shuttled back and forth, with dainty alimasag
crabs, tiger prawns in tamarind, starfish,

anemone flowers, from the wavelets up to Bathala,
then down with shooting stars, planets' rings, moons
for Aman Sinaya to braid in her jade-tinged hair.

With gifts and sweets, letters bathed in perfume,
the bird enticed Aman Sinaya and Bathala
to be friends —" "No," said Martin, "wife and husband!"

"Maybe, my son," Nanay laughed. "In his joy, Bathala
flew over the sea and cast not rocks but his seed
into the Mindanao Deep. From Aman Sinaya's

seabed sprang a gigantic bamboo reed,
swaying between sky and water." Nanay's hand,
upheld in front of my father, danced a sweet

fandango in the air. "One day, Amihan,
now a huge hawk, soared in circles
round the sky-high bamboo, spiraling down

until she stopped, hovered. Did she hear calls
from within the reed? Help us, Princess of the Air!
Small kulintang gongs. Voices in madrigal.

Amihan pecked the bamboo, laying bare
a tiny space, a womb in the reed. Inside,
the first humans: brown eyes and skin, black hair.

Amihan named the woman Maganda —
beautiful. The man she called Malakas —
strong. Inviting them onto her back, the bird

ferried the two humans through glorious clouds
to the northernmost island created by Bathala,
our lovely Luzon, just north of the River Pasig."

My father whispered, "You mean . . . our own river?"
"Yes, and their children and grandchildren became
we Filipinos. You and I, my son, are

descended from that divine, royal line:
Aman Sinaya, Bathala, Malakas, Maganda,
the bamboo reed split open by Amihan."

As Nanay finished the tale, Martin, my Papa,
kissed her then went to play. My grandmother,
before she once again became Fructuosa

the Fish-Seller off to work at the market,
reveled in the thought that she herself
was the bamboo reed, the mother of mothers.

Such dreaming helped her through birth upon birth,
the death of her oldest daughter, a world war,
husband and son in the Bataan death march.

Fructuosa . . . shower of golden mangoes, windfall.
Rich brown called kayumanggi, she passed on to us.
Wife, mother, grandmother: life source, the well.

Vince Gotera, in Reeds and Rushes: Pitch, Buzz, and Hum,
edited by Kathleen Burgess, Pudding House Press, 2010.







The writing of this poem was an interesting case because it was composed specifically for this book. The bamboo is after all, a reed, and it's used to make musical instruments . . . the application of reeds in music is one of the themes of the anthology. Go buy Reeds and Rushes; it's a marvelous anthology.

This poem also afforded me the opportunity to explore how myth and family can interweave; in the poem's frame scene, my lola tells my father, still a child, one of the central Philippine creation stories: how people came to be. For years, I have toyed with the idea of a collection of poems based on myth, and this is a good start for this project, though there are other earlier poems which will probably be included, such as the poem "Aswang."

In terms of craft, this poem uses terza rima — interwoven triple rhyme (aba bcb cdc etc.); as you may know from other poems of mine, I more often use distant slant rhyme rather than straight rhyme. For example, northeast / feet / starfish . . . where the long e and the t in the first word rhyme pretty straightforwardly with the second word while the f in feet and the s in northeast rhyme with the f and sh (sorta) in starfish. I suspect that some readers will not agree that my rhymes work . . . and that's just fine with me.

As with other poems already discussed in the blog, I am using here a "roughed-up" pentameter (see my discussion of the poem "Guard Duty," for example). Once again, some readers will probably disagree that the meter works (certainly someone like Spenser or Percy Shelley would probably find my poems terribly sloppy) . . . and again, that's just fine too. If people read this poem as some sort of tight free verse, more power to them.

Above I coined the sentence "Hasta blogeesta, baby" as some sort of tribute to the second (good) Terminator — not to Schwarzenegger the Governator but to the character — however I think I used it wrong. It probably ought to go at the end of the blog post, as a kind of send-off. So, friends . . .
HASTA BLOGEESTA, BABY!

P.S. Do get yourself a copy of Reeds and Rushes; you'll love it!


2 comments:

Lesliea58 said...

Blog... once a year... that so sounds like me!! Haha!!
I look forward to reading some of your work, V!

L.

Vince Gotera said...

Leslie, thanks. In the meantime, there are about 80 previous blog posts to read! Honestly, I'm going to try to post more often. --Vince

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