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
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.


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 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........

Quatrain 2........

Quatrain 3........


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!


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.)


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.

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