Thursday, May 08, 2008

Eugene's Poem (and Comment)

To Gellacio Guillermo in Iowa City 
Literary Review, Spring, 2000
by Eugene Gloria

My window is serenaded by crickets.
I try to sleep through the sawing
of their cellos' sad music.
Forgive me, I want none of it.

You were in the mountains when my father's soldiers
strolled into our classroom to escort me out
of the campus. The army had infiltrated
our cause to pluck from our ranks their own.

You left before my father retired as a full colonel,
before the nuns knelt in front of the dictator's tanks
before the Maneros and the Alsa Masa
scooped out and ate the brains of the dissident priest.

And when you renounced the revolution
and dreamed of corn and the language of Iowa,
I came back to the Church, and then left again.
Found true rebellion in marrying

a man who spoke Hebrew and wanted to take me
to Tel Aviv. Gellacio,
I am reading you in English.
Your brindled skin is sweating Iowa sun,

your hair in a tight chignon,
you, barefoot and G-stringed like the Manobo
prince in St. Louis one hundred years ago.
I want the Church to beg me back,

long for the faint tinkle of the hand bell
before the Elevation,
the monstrance gold as unhusked grain
drying on the asphalt road.

I want to believe that sentences
can hold bread in baskets, and multiply.
Let the salvaged, naked as drowned cattle,
find their way to my house.

Ring the bell and call them in, Gellacio.
Anything but this music,
all silence and this nothing music

Here's Gellacio's answer eight years later (see comment)

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Blogger frank cimatu said...

Dear Eugene,

I came to read your poem "To Gellacio Guillermo in Iowa City."
(Literary Review, 22 March 2000) only this month when a poet-friend
e-mailed me a copy. Despite the mis-spelling proceeding from
mispronunciation of foreign names so typical among North Americans, I
thought I was being referred to in the poem and would like to take
issue with you on the question of the poet's responsibility when he
takes on the life history of a dead or living person as subject for
creative work.

The trajectory of the poem runs along this line: 'Gellacio' goes to
the "mountains" >> 'Gellacio' "renounce[s] the revolution" >>
'Gellacio' sweats it out under the "Iowa sun" (as a field hand?) >>
'Gellacio' as manservant to a devout wealthy matron.

For a poem this short, the time span is indeed long, extending down to
the present (note the change in tenses). Only two facts about Gelacio
need concern us here: first, he was a U.P. working student from 1957
to 1964, for an AB degree in English; and second, he was handed a
fellowship (he did not apply) at the International Writing Program in
Iowa University from October 1970 to April 1971 and returned to the
Philippines to resume teaching at the U.P. He kept to his post up to
September 21, 1972, when he decided to quit upon the declaration of
martial law by Marcos.

Given these lackluster facts, the speaking persona insinuates that as
a student I went to the "mountains," meaning that I had joined the
CPP-NPA forces in the guerrilla fronts. Now, in the early sixties,
this idea did not yet exist, and when it did during the late sixties
onward, there was enough movement work to keep me in Manila, at the
same time trying to help my family survive the most difficult years of
martial rule. In short, I was not our dear Emman Lacaba.

As to renouncing the revolution, nothing could be more preposterous,
although for some former revolutionaries who did/do renounce it, this
betrayal can be rewarding (they are given government posts, for one)
or dangerous especially to those who engage in counter-insurgency
activities. Gelacio during his activist years may not have been an
efficient movement worker or may have caused problems to his
collectives, but he had never, nor will he ever, renounce something
which he holds to be the best that is happening in our country today.
Without this revolution the Filipino people have nothing to live, work
and fight for to transform society. This is the dream (as Lenin uses
the word) for a new people's history.

No, Gelacio did not dream "of corn and the language of Iowa." My
country has enough corn (have you tried Cornix from Vigan?) and enough
of the English language (or a species of the world's scores of
englishes) for bureaucrats to pen anti-people executive orders and for
OFWs, the regime's main export of warm bodies and source of revenue to
keep the economy afloat, to follow orders from their bosses. If I had
dreamt of a foreign country or city, it was Paris for too much reading
(in English!) of the Symbolist poets of the 19th century in the poetry
class of Virgie Moreno who turned us all into poseurs this side of the
Pasig River. Yes, I'd been to the Louvre. Did you know that Arthur
Rimbaud was a propagandist of the Paris Commune?

The reference to the indigenous groups herded like cattle at the St.
Louis exhibition during the early years of American colonization of
the Philippines betrays the continuing fascination of Americans for
the exotic, and worse, their nonchalance regarding the fate of peoples
subjected to imperialist policies of their government. Gelacio is
clear enough about his anti-imperialist stand in his poetry to have
evoked such jaded comparison. The "brindled skin" has a far earlier
provenance: the black slaves during those centuries of slave trading
were assessed, like livestock in the market, according to their animal
strength and the gloss of their leather. "Brindled" originates from
the late ME "brended," a variety of "branded." Vestiges of racist
arrogance of the West die hard.

The speaking persona says she reads 'Gellacio' "in English." If she
were indeed 'Gellacio's' classmate and that was a long time ago, she
can now try reading Gelacio in Filipino because that is the true
language of a Filipino poet.

'Gellacio'/Gelacio can never be her or anybody's manservant.

And, yes, there is no truth to what this illegitimate President Gloria
here said earlier this month in Hong Kong, that the Filipino people
are "the most pro-American people, more pro-American than the
Americans themselves." That's what she is, a Bush bitch.

You're American. Speak for us in a true way.

The point in all this belaboring is, what drove you to write a poem
like this, a direct address/statemental verse that's neither fish nor
fowl? That speaking persona (I am named; why isn't she?) turns an
actually existing person (see poeziecentrum) into a creature of her
sacerdotal, manorial, white supremacist fancies. You and I hardly know
each other although it's now so easy to google/yahoo through the
Internet to find out how we are faring in our respective literary
endeavors. I did ask my son to access entries under your name from
his computer since I don't have one myself, nor do I maintain an
e-mail address. I occasionally use any of the computers in the house
like a typewriter mainly for encoding purposes. If you care to reply,
you may use

My best wishes to you and Karen.

Gelacio Guillermo

23 April 2008

10:06 AM  
Blogger Pasyon, Emmanuel C. said...

wheew... Haba nun ah. buti hindi si sir edel ginawan niya ng ganyan. kundi, mas mahaba pa. at mas madugo basahin

12:10 PM  

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