Patrick Rosal

Delenda Undone

 

And so we’ve all been told to shutup (Don’t talk, they say,

too fast, too loud, or for too long. Don’t take too much time

trying to tell the truth). But this is my work,

to break out —in the presence of strangers— into laughter,

to watch small children, for example, fill with the lucky gust

a poem can ride into the near stillness of a room

and dance. For that, I am always, as now, grateful.

 

My father tells me, in his seminary days,

during the Japanese occupation,

most of the priests who ran that school were German.

The boys, then, were to speak only in Latin,

and would surely be slapped three Sundays back

if heard speaking the language of my father’s country,

which is a beautiful country and a beautiful language,

and which has a curious word for being

so suddenly seized by affection, you clench

every muscle from your eyelids to your toes

for wanting to hold a loved one tight, to squeeze one

and kiss one so deep, you place yourself and your beloved

on the brink of physical harm. There’s no word for this

in English, no word for those small provinces of silence

or for the kind of love that will trouble that silence

into music. My work is trying to find the very word

rippling in my body, which is a woman’s body,

my mother’s, and a man’s body, my father’s,

and nowhere to be found in the languages

that have conquered the lands of my ancestors.

 

On the outskirts of every empire, there are man-made

lakes large enough to receive with ease

one hundred villages’ worth of bones tossed into them.

This is a fact: there are more than seven million Ilocanos

in the Philippines, maybe a million in diaspora. All of us,

at one time or another, have been told to shutup, don’t talk

too loud, too slow, or for too long, in Saudi

Arabia, in Madrid, in Tokyo, in Milan, on Bowery

near the foot of 1st  Street. We’ve been told this. Some of us

have been famous liars, Ferdinand for example 

(who married another liar, Imelda), and my grandfather,

kapitan of the barrio, who claimed to kick the shit

bare-fisted and single-handedly out of fourteen ruffians

in the small barangay of Santo Tomás. Actually,

he kicked the shit out of five – nine ran away. These are not

lies. This is the truth. I’m not wealthy. I can’t buy

space and time on billboards or websites. The name I inherit

doesn’t part columns in the city’s Daily Journal.

My family comes from a long line of farmers.

My cousins scrub their chopping blocks with salt.

They shush the goats before they kill them.

 

 

Patrick Rosal

Patrick Rosal is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive, which won the Members' Choice Award from the Asian American Writers' Workshop, and most recently My American Kundiman, which won the Association of Asian American Studies 2006 Book Award in Poetry. He is a 2009 Fulbright Senior Research Scholar.


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