Three Poems by Marjorie Evasco

By | 31 October 2012

From my first collection, Dreamweavers, to the new work in two forthcoming collections, It is time to come home and Fishes of light / Peces de luz (with Cuban poet Alex Fleites), I continue to be fascinated by the tension between finding a way of saying what needs to be said, and finding spaces in the work where silence must be kept. Crafting a poem is, for me, exploring a musical configuration. And my main instrument is the human voice (or the voices I hear), and its (their) capacity for aural inflections and finely calibrated tones to render the textures of a complex human experience.

After I re-learned my mother tongue Cebuano, the possibilities and range of voices (per-sonae) expanded, enriched by and rooted in two different cultural/literary traditions. As a bilingual poet in the Philippines, I take pride in being able to drink from two wellsprings. In my university training in English, I found deep resonances in poems that explored a point, argued for or against it, and yet kept completely open to astonishment. Thus, I loved the discipline of the sonnets of Shakespeare and Donne, the vision of Blake, Whitman and Dickinson. In the Cebuano literary tradition, I revelled in the ‘Bisdak’ (Bisayang Daku) wit of the riddles and ditties, the melisma of the sonanoy of Fernando Buyser, and the ironic humor in the poems of Tem Adlawan, Pantaleon Auman, Rene Amper, Adonis Dorado, Myke Obenieta and Cora Almerino, among others.

As a translator of poetry from English into Cebuano, and lately from Spanish to English or Cebuano, I have deepened my respect for the intrinsic untranslatability of a poem’s musical body. Its substance can only be reshaped in another language, and hopefully, if the translation is any good, it can evoke the power of its sensibility (which is the musical core of the poem’s mind). This is how I read and was influenced early on in my writing by the sensibility of the Chinese T’ang and Japanese Heian poets translated into English.

A poem’s heart cares for and attends to its own mind and strives to sing the old stories in the face of pressures wrought in the world/s we live in, at this particular time, in this specific place. What W.B. Yeats said in ‘The Second Coming’, that ‘things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,’ predicted a postmodern problem that I now experience, on a daily basis, in the Philippines. The poems I write (when I can steal time from the daily urgencies of making a living) are spaces for making momentary sense of the senselessness I have to live with and endure. They are tentative processes towards imagining some answers, or even more questions, in what is an evolving and continually changing and transient inner environment.

Sagada Stills
IN  A     F  L  O  A  T  I  N  G     WORLD

If with words							                               If with images

	    I									                             You

                                                          could catch

on photographic film						                          on silk paper 

                                                           a likeness

of You											                      of Me

                                                           in Sagada

I would have 								                      You would have

                                                to sit a thousand years

                                                with master of austere

	  Light									                    Measure

	  Masferré								                    Shikibu

                                                  to learn the process

of rendering									                    of staining

     Silence									                        Sound

For Maria Kodama’s Other Borges
                                        'For the person that you will be,
                                                      whom perhaps I might not understand.'
                                                      - Jorge Luis Borges, Inscripción
I. Her labyrinth

A fortnight after you died, 
I sang your black bones back 
to shape. 
     In the silence I trusted 
the dark from whence 	
      you came. 

Now, you are a figure conjured up 
with light on this page, 
       mere trick 
of shadows. 
   Who are you, Poet?  
Whose god can breathe you back 
to flesh?

II. Orpheus Falls

Who has not heard the Poet’s lament
for one descended into dream’s dark
     Who has not heard the gods’
admonition, given with knowing smile—
Do not look back—
   last trick to play
on the body’s lighted book of memory?

Every single instance, the lover fails,
quick to usher the sought-after
back to the surface of time. He sings
to her, “Ascend with me!”—
               yet in a 
moment’s breathlessness, hers, he 
looks back and she’s undone, 
charred bones 
and ash.

III. Dream of the Waterclock
                                        'All those things were made perfectly clear
                                                      so that our hands could meet.'
                                                      -Jorge Luis Borges, Las Causas

This is the symphony’s last movement
dripping in the old waterclock.
For each drop of water—in the manner
of the blind poet—I offer you seven 
           1) hush of bamboo leaves 
before the onslaught of storm winds;
					                      2) scent
of a golden pollen’s flight after a wild
bee danced the yellow roses;
			             3) first sheaf of rice 
from the first season’s harvest after 
the last typhoon;
                     4) fishing boats on the beach,
dawn silvering the catch in the nets;
5) threshold of sunset through which
my thoughts traverse to the morning
side of the world; 
   	   6) last drop of black ink
from the calligrapher’s brush on silk,
on which is completed the release
of the beloved from death;
                         7) two hands folded,
fingertips lightly touching my forehead
in timeless greeting, as if you’re here
with me. Palpable, 
Birds of Paradise
after Women with birds of paradise, by Anita Magsaysay-Ho, oil on canvas, 1982

Their eyes are black slits against 
Gold of their burnished skin this side 
of morning. They do not shatter silence
with chatter of the marketplace.

Only their hands speak of the task,
gathering the day’s burden of beauty:
birds of paradise singing in tongues,
wings spread over and between

their heads, a feast of burning angels.
The youngest among them bends down 
deepest into herself, wrapping the green
stems in a second skin against breaking. 

The night before, she had watched the sea
while the gravid moon rose red as her belly.
She tore off her white bandana and broke
into the waters, her black seagrass hair dis-

entangling, waves hissing low ‘let be, let go!’

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