I can't believe it's been over two years since I posted a Dragonfly page. Two years! Okay, I'll have to confess.
All this time, I've had a kind of writer's block
Today, though, I decided I should be loyal to the book as it was published then. Or, better yet, to the emerging poet I was during those times, the late '80s. Besides, whenever someone picks up a copy of Dragonfly today, they'll still be able to read this poem, right? So why not post it here. At least this way, I'll be able to comment on the poem in a way that may guide others' reading of it. And I do have a responsibility to my loyal readers — to you — to finish the serialization of the book in this blog. Okay, so here goes.
I'm going to backpedal a bit here and say that, nevertheless, there are still elements I like in this poem.
For example, lines 5-6, "sleeping under whispering / gauze" — an evocation of mosquito nets — exhibits a sussurus-ish atmosphere (perhaps from the use of s and z) that still suggests magical dreamscapes for me. Also, lines 13 through line 24, from "We didn't yet have dreams" to "Ninang's wand / in our direction"
The poem also retells an apocryphal story you would often hear when I was a kid in San Francisco in the '60s: some poor schmuck wins a big jackpot in Keno, but through his own selfishness in trying to sidestep the Filipino practice of sharing gambling winnings with friends and relatives, doesn't collect in time. And so he goes insane, the legend goes. Hence the mention of "the Napa asylum," the California state mental institution where the indigent would be committed.
I crank up the legend by naming our hero "Jose Manalo"
It's also important that the speaker calls Jose Manalo his kumpadre. This word calls into play one of the strongest relationship systems in Filipino culture. A kumpadre is the godfather of one's child, or one may be the godfather of the kumpadre's child
Okay, given all these factors why do I say then that this poem "is the weakest one in the book"? My largest misgivings lie in the poem's strange (and uneven) lineation. Look at line 8
At some locations, lines are so enjambed they become melodramatic, using structure to up the ante rather than character action or significant detail. For example, the aforementioned "sleeping under whispering / gauze" in the opening stanza: notice how "whispering" unmoored from "gauze" may suggest that something maleficent nears the sleeper
Having been a magazine editor now for over a decade, it's immediately (and painfully) obvious to me how many small errors there are in the poem. For example, "the 50s" in the first line should have an apostrophe before the 5: "the '50s." The word "nonstop" doesn't have a hyphen in it; I was tempted to change that above but finally left it alone. Or "mah jong" (no hyphen) as a noun, and then "mah-jong" (hyphenated) as an adjective
That's probably enough. I've flayed the poor young poet too relentlessly. Oh, wait, one more thing: entirely too much italicization of non-English words; just italicize the first occurrence. Okay, now enough flaying.
Listen, perhaps this isn't that bad a poem, after all. I don't know. You be the judge. Write me a comment below
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