People often ask how long it takes me to write a poem. I’ve been working on the same 11 pages for almost six years. I’m grateful to Jonathan Farmerfor publishing “Brooklyn Antediluvian” in At Length Magazine. The poem is about floods of the imagination, gentrification, violence, memory, joy, names, but also a bit about real floods, Katrina, Ondoy, Sandy. I should say too, that Galeano’s gone, but I’m hoping somehow some of his spirit is in this poem. Also, I hope you enjoy it:
… When my mother married my father, as goes
the Western tradition, she changed her name
from Gelacio, which is Spanish, derived
from Gelasius, the Latin name of an African
pope, a Berber, they say. Look how far
a name can travel, borne by a brown body
whose old name vanished when he crossed
the sea as one condition for him to rule
the Christian world, which he did,
according to some, with wicked orthodoxy.
I’m headed back to Sarah Lawrence College on Saturday for their MFA Alumni Festival. 11am, Ross Gay and I are giving a craft talk titled BFF XOXO
BFF XOXO with Ross Gay and Patrick Rosal
Each writer interviews the other about poems from their collections.
They’ll talk about process, shared and divergent artistic influences,
how they didn’t once take a class together at Sarah Lawrence College
but turned their XOXO into almost two decades of collaboration in
teaching, editing, writing, and a whole lot of other jackassery.
Ilokano is the second language in my ear, but really the third or fourth on my tongue. English is first. At home, our parents didn’t speak to us in Tagalog or their native Ilokano. I picked up a few phrases from them and more from my cousins when they arrived from Hawaii and Laoag. And my Ilokano is still stunted, but even the failures–all the busted up grammar and wrong vocabulary–are expressions (I hope) of love. I can say just enough in Ilokano to get around Ilokos or one of the smaller barrios on the outskirts of the region’s cities. I can tell secrets to the women who were among the first to show me to dance freely (Emy and Rose). I can listen a bit.
So I’m proud to have published a poem in my parents’ language in this incredible historical anthology, Dandaniw Ilokano: mga tulang Ilokano, 1621-2014, edited by Frank Cimatu. This is for my mom and dad, my brothers (who learned the language of art in the space where they would have learned Ilokano), and all my cousins in Jersey, Chicago, Cali, Hawaii, Vigan, Laoag.
A man from the town of Neguá, on the coast of Colombia, could climb into the sky.
On his return, he described his trip. He told how he had contemplated human life from on high. He said we are a sea of tiny flames.
“The world,” he revealed, “is a heap of people, a sea of tiny flames.”
Each person shines with his or her own light. No two flames shine alike. There are big flames and little flames, flames of every color. Some people’s flames are so still they don’t even flicker in the wind, while other have wild flames that fill the air with sparks. Some foolish flames neither burn nor shed light, but others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking and if you approach, you shine in fire.
“A breakbeat poet moves through world with the culture and the music as the soundtrack for the way they think and the way they see.” —Quraysh Ali Lansana
Don’t miss The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, scheduled for release this week by Haymarket Books.