Amigo Warfare by Eric Gamalinda
(Cherry Grove Editions, Cincinnati, OH, 2007)
Lyrics From A Dead Language by Eric Gamalinda
(Anvil Publishing, Maynila, 1991)
I haven't seen you in years. Now, when I read your poems, I think of you as pure light. There is no skin between you and your poems. So though I haven't seen your face, your body, in years, I just saw you seconds ago when I opened Amigo Warfare and read from your poem “DMZ”:
At the end of my life I must stagger back to love,
my body a weight I am sick of carrying,
my pockets filled with intricate maps
and useless strategies.
I ask forgiveness of everyone who loved me
--you have been grievously misled.
I cash my name in, such a useful thing
--let's hope someone else has more luck with it.
I return the suit I borrowed,
promises I couldn't mend,
the happiness just one more quarter-inch
within my reach--loose change
still good for a pauper's meal.
Still, I haven't seen you in years. You've gone deeper into exile, haven't you? I wonder about that when I read certain of your poems, including my continuing read of “DMZ”:
I surrender my history
and all memory, its ammunition.
The nameless claim me. Exiles
offer me a home. Who else sees me
as I truly am, just another vehicle
transporting so much fuel?
I light my anger like a pile of twigs.
I do this in the desert: it scares away
anything that will devour me.
I do this in the city, where the jackhammer
cracks the cranium of the earth, and nothing
can save me. I lose myself
among the restless immigrants,
their bodies still warm
from the lust and gunfire of slums.
And yet, in exile, you're not separate from the world -- and still continuing to read “DMZ”:
Grief is a nation of everyone,
a country without borders.
I roam the avenues of it
out of habit. Summoned to testify
on everyone's behalf, I'm sticking
to my story. It's better not to talk
about the wounded, or the moist remains
of the disappeared. But there's always one
who can tell, in the packed
amplitude of crowds.
We are so many bodies, my friends.
We all move in the same direction.
As though someone had a plan.
I wonder, sometimes, how you feel about disappointment. Whether you are disappointed, not with the world though there's much to be disappointed with --
We know we’re heading somewhere, blizzard-bound
on an empty bus. The windows are opaque.
A curfew has been called. The driver speaks
in echoes, a language we have yet
to understand. It’s been like this for weeks,
dropping strangers in the same blind-alley town.
The streets are pocked with holes. A man crawls into
an empty vault in a burial wall. He’s stolen
votive candles, his twilit cave burns like gold.
The wax rips through the punctured hands
of Christ, another illusion, as sharp
as the dream I see us in.
(from “Sign Language”)
I wonder if you are disappointed to be always leaving, because you're always moving forward. This may be presumptuous of me. Worse, I then lapse to pap, e.g. "There's no need to be disappointed as long as you write poems like the ones you've been writing through these long years.” Like this:
Poem Not Written in Catalan
Out of everything that is not eternal
I deny the patience of water, the divinity of salt, and the persistence of the spider
I would like to write a suicide note in three and a half languages
and travel south on a Thursday towards
some form of life outside of earth
And although people will think I'm no longer there
I will live in geodesic domes
and count only in numbers less than zero
Sometimes when I walk past trees in the city I hear them denying me
Normally this doesn't bother me but today
I'm not going to take any conspiracies
I deny bodies of water smaller than the Great Lakes
I deny any planet larger than America
I deny the fact that when I kill time, time is actually killing me
I am air, light, sound, all of which I deny
I deny the Buddha, I do not deny the Buddha
An exact copy of my life is being lived a million light years away
If there's a way to prove it
If mathematics were the only religion
We are passing an era of turbulence
Make sure your souls are in the upright position
"I am afraid of the profound certitude of things"
Love like an arsonist
steals into my life and burns down all my tenements
(In a court of law, love will deny me
and the burden of proof rests entirely on me)
Or like this:
Melting City (1)
One of these days I’m going to melt all the gold of Paris
and turn it into money. I’ll spread it over the ghettos
of the Arabs, over the palm of the old woman begging
on the steps of Barbes-Rochechouart; she’ll wake up
with brilliant tattoos burning in her hands.
I’ll take all the hunger of the world
and use it as my ammunition. I’ll live in frontiers
where languages merge and confuse the tongue.
I’ll eat only chickpeas and pepper
and learn to crush olives for oil. I’ll use the oil
for bathing and nourishment and sex.
I’ll follow an angel in the fog of the baths
and sit next to him while three men take turns
sucking his cock. I’ll dream only on Tuesdays
and only at 4 A.M. I’ll be a prostitute for a night
and earn my living giving pleasure.
I’ve already told you how the earth spins backward
in the wrong direction and we’ll wind up
in the first moment of the world, a breath, an urge
to be, a calculated uncertainty.
I’ve told you that water decrees its own fate
and the deeper it is the less light you need,
that light moves in circles, what you are now
is already a reflection in a hundred years.
I’ve told you how I’ve seen the end of the world,
it will come slowly, like madness, like a boat
cruising the Seine. I feel every life that is shown to me
comes when it is most broken and most in need,
And I tell you what I’ve already said:
I will pave the gold of Paris all over your lives,
I will do it with words, if words mean anything to you.
This is the way I’ve always known it,
through all my life. I wanted not to believe.
I did everything I could not to believe.
Or like this, your book’s title poem:
Because you seize our land
and call it hope,
because you manufacture desolation
and call it right-of-way. Because
your cavalries cut our children open
to expose their hearts of coal.
Because you send a shining fleet
of your youngest men,
lust still forming in their bones.
Because their bodies rape the bodies
of our neighbors. Because you sleep
soundly through it all.
Because you divide us from our history
and install a thousand checkpoints
Because you line the streets with bricks
torn down from temples,
because our sleepless gods
wander among the missing.
Because your prophets tell us there's a heaven
but there's no more room.
Because you feed your words
into our language, and now we speak
like strangers to one another.
Because you make our women wear
their nakedness like a gem.
Because you scorch the jungles
with the counterfeit daylight of cities.
Because you intoxicate our rivers.
Because you harpoon all our whales.
Because you teach us how to torture one another
with the simplest of elements,
fire and water.
Because you offer praise and weapons
to our dictators. Because you build blockades
around those who give us strength,
brother, sister, lover, friend.
Because you send your spies out
to investigate our dreams.
Because we dream the dangerous,
in which the world is fertile
with remembering, subversive
with desire. Because the old bury
the young. Because we use our sorrow
wisely, as armaments.
Because you brand our tongues
with silence. Because you watch us
in fear, even while we sing.
And you note that your book’s title comes from
“Amigo Warfare was what the Americans derisively called the Filipino style of resistance [from 1899 to 1904]. The Filipinos were friends during the day or when confronted, but at night or when no one was looking, they were guerrillas.” From “The Philippine-American War: Friendship and Forgetting” by Reynaldo C. Ileto in Vestiges of War (Shaw, Francia, eds., New York University Press, 2002)
which is to say, I am in awe at how you’ve alchemized so much beauty, albeit a dark beauty, from a political seed (this manner reminds me of William Blake’s similar achievement in Songs of Innocence and Experience).
But the poem has never asked the poet to sacrifice Joy. And you know that. It's just that when I read your 1991 book Lyrics From A Dead Language and compare what I sense to be a trajectory from that early work to your 2007 collection Amigo Warfare, I shrink a little from what I perceive that trajectory exacted from you. There is a personal cost to -- experience behind -- your poems that remind me of how true mysticism, contrary to its critics, is based on experience and not imagination. Here is one of your poems in Lyrics..., a poem written in 1979:
This hybrid of memory and progress,
your city, is my refuge.
In my dreams I call
and you come without a word.
I will learn your language,
your weather, your strange logic.
Let them know that we will be
the shadow of a lost people.
Give them your literature,
your blood, something
to live by:
A suite of beginnings.
Well, your poems instigated this "conversation" but I do realize it is a conversation with myself. It's just that I had determined relatively recently that I didn't want my poetry life to have as its last word this last word: Regret. And reading through your poems, I wanted to share that thought -- that hope -- with you.
And I wanted to meditate with you(r poems) over the difference between "diaspora" and "exile," only to wonder: Is that a foolish thought?
I haven't seen you in years, but your presence remains as fresh and strong as when we last shared the same room. Because you never stopped writing poems and I never stopped reading them.
And while I think that's a lovely sentence -- "Because you never stopped writing poems and I never stopped reading them" -- I just think there's still a better Conclusion ahead...and I share this, too, because I think you would agree. I'm raising a glass to Poetry as Forward Momentum, and recalling too a poem you love as much as I do -- Dante Alighieri’s Paradiso 33/ 85-105, (translation Anthony Esolen) -- that sings:
And so my mind, suspended utterly,
held its gaze still immobile and intent,
and ever kindled was my wish to see.
Before that Light one's will to turn is spent;
one is so changed, it is impossible
to shift the glance, for one would not consent,
Because all good--the object of the will--
is summed in it, for it alone is best:
beyond, defective; there, whole, perfect, still.
Stay well, my Friend. I still see you, albeit in profile, from the light cast forth by your poems.
Eileen Tabios doesn't allow her books to be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects -- but she is ecstatic to point you to recent reviews of her recent book The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes (Marsh Hawk Press, 2007) by Nicholas Manning, by Jesse Glass, and by Burt Kimmelman. Oh, and a review by Laurel Johnson reprinted by Amazon.com, though it's also good to support SPD! Preening is as good as wine for good health!