Saturday, September 18, 2010

Time flies

18 September 2010

My dearest daughter,

Time flies when you are having fun. In the last two days, I just connected with two first cousins of mine. My father’s sister’s children. All I remember about them is their house in a certain region in the Philippines. Thirty years is a long time to be away from home.

They have memories of us going to Tagaytay. I have very nice photos of it.

I have memories of eating oyster at their house party. Very good memories of it. I did not realize that someday, I will also be an oyster fanatic. I remember the old people handling the oysters gingerly, opening them carefully so that their hands don’t get cut.

I remember their father coming home with a Hasselblad camera 6x4. He was the first of the overseas workers, we did not know then. A continuation of the brain drain. The Philippines builds the world while the Philippines languishes.

They had many children in their family. I can count six in my memory. But the memories are far away from memory simply because we grew up far from them.

There are many mysteries about your grandfather that I am trying to piece together. It is not easy. His siblings either did not want to write about him, or could not write about him. Their life in the Philippines was hard.

So, we settle into wondering about his life, trying to piece together some genealogical map to bring order to chaos, to unknown.

What I do know are as follows. We left the Philippines. He left in 1981 with your grandmother. We joined them in 1982 in Los Angeles. They borrowed the money form a friend of theirs in New York.

In Los Angeles, your grandpa would sit outside even in the rain barbequing. He loved to BBQ. He loved cigarettes; he loved beer too.

College financial aid bought us our first American car. Not just any car, mind you, it was an Oldsmobile Omega 1984. The smell of that car was intoxicating. The cloth was dark brown, not chocolate, but chocolate hills dark brown. Philippine dark brown.

Grandfather worked as a cleark at Bank of America. He used to be the chief accountant for the Bureau of Trade in the Philippines. Or so my memory tells me.

(Aside to you daughter: There is always a desire in humans to be above everyone else. I understand this. I used to have this desire. You must understand that our family began at the bottom. If we are to rise, we stand on each generation’s successes and failures. No one else will give it to us.)

Your grandfather was at the top of the game in the 1970’s. An Ilokano accountant CPA defending the budget of a whole government ministry to Malacanang. Not bad for a boy born in Ilokos. This might have been our Ilokano heights. The time of martial law.

But he leaves office with a hint of despair. Charged with corruption, or some crime that he should have known about if he was really in command of his group. Forced to retire and to seek a new life in America.

How do you go from the heights of command to become a clerk in B of A, when B of A meant opportunity and not infidelity? By smoking nearly two packs a day. By drinking four cans of beer at the end.

Like the ancestors of old, pain is just your body telling you that you need more alcohol, more nicotine to drown out that body pain.

In the end, it was just one day in which all things changed. A near crash at an intersection that led me to wear his seatbelt. Feet swelling which led to a leukemia diagnosis.

And all those hours in the hospital for my mother. How do you define love? I saw it there. Nary leaving the hospital from the day the ordeal began till the day he died. Your grandmother must have lost 20 years in that time. The rock, the foundation in life against all odds.

If you ever come to a precipice of life, remember your grandmother. A rock. A foundation. There is nothing that can shake us from this earth with her mooring you to the core of humanity. Nothing!

Such emotions are so raw. So painful to process. Yet so essential to understand so that you don’t get lost in your life. Do not worry about the past. The past is taken care of by your ancestors. Worry for your future. Prepare for interesting times.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Birth …death. A cycle that repeats incessantly. In a thousand worlds, in countless galaxies. Birth …death. The two sides of a knife. The same side of life.

In our reaction to death, to dying, we see that which is true in the universe.

by Eileen Tabios

[4/2/06, A.M.]

Everything is a relationship.

My family relied on the doctor to cure my father.

The doctor caught my mother in a weak moment and got her to concede, "Yes, he's dying."

I arrived in Los Angeles to hear my mother report on how a doctor discussed the best ways for a man to die, rather than how to heal.

"Doctor," I said in a conversation I plan to have. "Your role is not to advice how a person best dies. Your role is to treat illness, hopefully cure it."

I heard his thought, He's dying.

I replied with my eyes, We're all dying. We're also all living.

The words I said: "What do you recommend for someone who wants to live, with a family who wants him to live?"

Since I last saw her, Mama has sprouted snow on her head.

Mama, ever by Daddy's bedside.

F. beats himself inside his mind for having chided Dad for not eating. Later, we would learn his throat was blocked by so much phlegm he could not swallow.

Tears firmly jailed by the mind.

I beat myself up because I don't want to be here -- where Dad has shrunk to "Daddy" cradled among plastic tubes delivering antibiotics, antibiotics, antibiotics ... and oxygen.

I am glad to be here. He saw me enter his hospital room and his face was suddenly the sun. His arms entwined with plastic tubes reached forth to hug me. I am glad he felt my arms, suddenly trees surrounding him. He hugged me back but I only felt more air.

Kaiser Permanente -- ever stupid with cost-cutting cruelty. One hospital forced my father to leave -- "he's fine; he just needs to go home."

On the way home, Daddy started to have trouble breathing and they turned the car to take him to another Kaiser hospital's Emergency Room.

He is still in the Emergency Room.

Once, the ER nurse asked my mother in sincere confusion, "Why did the other hospital discharge him?"

A new question added to the list of questions which will never have adequate answers: How could the other hospital have discharged him?

My father is better treated at the second hospital.

People matter.

At this second hospital, there is an experienced nurse with the ability to dislodge the phlegm that had been blocking my father's throat for five weeks in the other hospital.

They kept the jar with the sucked out phlegm. Ugly. Yellow. And the last piece sucked out was solid. Ugly. Brown.

"Like a piece of paper," my cousin observed about its solidity.

I would not be able to breathe, too, or swallow with paper stuffed down my throat.

As if my poems remained trapped there as I gasp unsuccessfully to sing.

I would not be able to breathe if my body jailed my poems.

My father is ill and I think of poetry and and and all of that saddens me.

[4/2/06, P.M.]

The conversation unfolded as I imagined it.

I asked, "Doctor, I'd like an update."

The doctor -- this one with a better "bedside manner" than any other Kaiser doctor I've met -- replied, "He's dying. I don't know what update I can give."

My father's youngest son -- my brother -- died unexpectedly less than six months ago. At one point this evening, not knowing where next to turn my mind, I turned to a cousin H. to say, "If my father is to die soon, it's too bad he couldn't have died before my brother. It must be difficult for a parent to witness the death of a child."

In response, H. said nothing.

Belatedly, I remember that H., with whom I'd lost touch over the years, has two children, one age 2 and the other age 5.


Except that since I arrived by his bedside, his condition markedly improved. Within hours after my arrival, he improved enough to be taken out of the emergency room. The technician unplugging his various tubes in preparation for moving him said, "It's always good news to be transferred out of ER."


Later, I joked to Dad about how his improved condition must be due to my arrival. Grandiosely, I emphasized, "It must be my presence!"

He turned his head slightly, pretending otherwise. But his lips smiled.

He had called me a few weeks ago in the midst of delirium caused by his medicines. Not knowing what else to do, Mom had put him on the phone. That's when he scared me shitless by announcing, "I've got a tumor coming out of my nose."

Later, Mom would explain that the "tumor" was the feeding tube inserted through his nose. But, first, he pleaded with me to talk to Dr. G -- the very useless Dr. G -- to take away the tumor. To ease his mind, I lied and said I would. That's when he broke my heart by saying so plaintively, like a child just melting in relief, "Thank you."

As if I had the power to make things better.

The painful, conflict-ridden relationship we had all my life and, despite the criticisms he'd levied, he still believes me to be a bigger person than I know myself to be.

As if I had the power to make things better for him.

I left him nearly 30 years ago. I have finally returned.


Everything is a relationship.

As if I could make things better.

No. Thank you, Dad.

The adult ages into child. The parent becomes a baby. The only difference, I thought as the tossed-aside blanket revealed how thin and ravaged his body has become, is that all babies are beautiful.

It took three seconds for my mind to skid, turn a corner and conclude, His ravaged body is beautiful. The purple bruises and purple lines of collapsed veins caused from too many intravenous tubes. The folds of skin loosened as his inability to eat pares down muscles and fat. The brown age spots. The skeletal legs undermined by lack of exercise. A body that I suddenly realized his daughter can probably carry.

Would carry.

O, Fallen Angel.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


What does kabalyero mean?

At any rate, she speaks of love and killing and incest. What else do you need? She joins the list of writers.

Monday, August 30, 2004

From My Eyes

My knees hurt from having to kneel
waiting to hand one offering after another

beads of sweat in my blood
wondering whether or not it was enough.

in the end it was not jewelry but my words
just as it was in the beginning.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation
Edited by Victoria M. Chang
Foreword by Marilyn Chin

Filipino American poets featured

Rick Barot
Nick Carbo
Antonio Jocson
Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Oliver de la Paz
Jon Pineda
Marisa de los Santos

This exciting anthology of work by up-and-coming writers is the first to profile a new generation of Asian American poets. Building on the legacy of now-canonized poets, such as Li-Young Lee, Cathy Song, and Garrett Hongo, who were the first to achieve widespread recognition in the American literary community, this new generation also strikes off in bold new directions. Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation gathers for the first time a broad cross section of the very best work of these young poets, much of which has never before been published or has appeared only in hard-to-find journals and first books of poetry.

The poems collected in Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation lay a groundwork for readers while at the same time expanding the scope of American literature. Featured poets, all under the age of forty, include Timothy Liu, Adrienne Su, Nick Carbo, Sue Kwock Kim, Rick Barot, Brenda Shaughnessy, Mong-Lan, as well as less familiar names. Their backgrounds combine many ethnicities and their perspectives and concerns broaden the boundaries of Asian American poetry. Some continue with styles and topics closely related to those of their predecessors while others break conventional patterns and challenge readers with new subject matter, fresh language, and powerful new voices.

A foreword by Marilyn Chin puts the book in context of both Asian American national identity and history, and makes the important distinctions between generations clear. Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation opens the door on a dynamic, developing part of the poetic world, making it finally accessible to students, scholars, and poetry fans alike.

"The poems in this vibrant, varied collection address so many subjects in such a range of voices that it all but destroys monolithic notions of Asian American identity, culture, and issues."
-- Guiyou Huang, author of The Columbia Guide to Asian American Literature

"A new generation of Asian American poets has indeed risen and needs to be acknowledged and celebrated--something this book does brilliantly. Victoria Chang has done a great deal of digging, allowing the reader of this collection to experience again and again the excitement of discovering a vibrant new poetic voice."
-- Jim Daniels, author of City Pool and coeditor of American Poetry: The Next Generation.

Illinois Univ. Press
232 pages. 6 x 9 inches.
Cloth, ISBN 0-252-02905-4. $45.00
Paper, ISBN 0-252-07174-3. $20.00
Poetry / Asian-American Studies / Literature, American

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Pilipino Poems

If you ever wanted Pin@y poems, here it is.
Assignment for March 2004: Flipping the situation.

This is the poem that I forced to birth. It was a difficult assignment from Rollie Guess who my inspiration is: George W. Bush!!! He stammered, he yawed, he sank into oblivion when asked about the US soldiers who were taking photos of tortured Iraqis posed in the nude. Talk about having an idiot in the White House. We got one!

A Filipino-American Soldier in Afghanistan

(First days of the Gulf War II)
Barbarians! The whole lot of them.
Living in filth so that they can
humiliate and murder people.
Barbarians! They deserve to die!

A special place in hell awaits all these
who would be the bringers of jihad.
They will burn in the fires of damnation.

(December 2003 of Gulf War II)
Barbarians! They separate me from
my wife and children. If it were not them
I would be at home fixing my children's
Christmas presents. I will kill them for that!

I am doing God's work by bringing civilization
to the Middle East. I will sanctify
this land with the power of America
just like Spain civilized the Philippines.

(May 2004 of Gulf War II)
Barbarian! I killed a whole village yesterday
with the simple push of a button.
While the world trade center took four thousand
I have taken four thousand myself.

I will meet in hell the jihad warriors
whom I despised so much.
I am in hell.