Patria Rivera Oct 10, 2008 15:59:47 GMT 2
Post by thepoetslizard on Oct 10, 2008 15:59:47 GMT 2
Patria Rivera is a Toronto poet and editor. Her first poetry collection, Puti/White, launched by Frontenac House in 2005, was shortlisted for the 2006 Trillium Book Award for Poetry.
She won an honourable mention in the 1997 ARC National Poetry Magazine Poem of the Year Contest and has received fellowships to the Banff Centre for the Arts and the Hawthornden Castle International Writers Retreat Centre in Scotland.
In 2005, Rivera’s poem, “Rare species”, was selected as the second prize winner in the Eric Hill Award of Poetic Excellence competition held by QWERTY, a literary journal published by the English Department of the University of New Brunswick.
Born and raised in the Philippines, she lives with her family in Toronto’s east end.
"Women descended from birds"
Maria. Petra. Nicasia. Pascuala. Maxima. Aurelia. Ursula.
Aves: The surname of the dead.
Seven sisters, the seven stars of the skies,
all descended from the birds—
the mayas, the crows, the sparrows of Penaranda.
They farmed along burnt hills,
panned gold dust from brooks and streams,
waited for monsoon rains to fill the rice paddies.
In summer they scoured clams and shrimps from the riverbed,
dug mudfish from abandoned wells,
picked betel nuts and ikmo leaves twining round palm trees,
broiled locusts for supper,
gathered ripe duhat, green mangoes and sineguelas
from ancestral orchards.
In May before the harvest, they threaded sampaguita
and ylang-ylang, flower-of-flower, into boughs and garlands
for the Virgen de los Remedios.
Each tore a hundred petals of exultation,
prayed for good husbands.
What they made of their lives—
the odds and hopes of their existence, the long histories
of their wifely devotions – they had no time to speak of this.
You take what you will, they said:
the shadows and the light, the presence in the absence.
Aunt Ursula weaned us from twirling
our hair in katuray twigs, the aunt who went
to beauty culture school to learn how
to lacquer nails in moon shapes. She lined
her brows in high thin pencil arcs,
painted a fan of colors on the tiny space
above her eyes. To us who lived each day in amazement,
she was our homecoming queen,
the one who went away,
the one who took the world, its textures and shapes,
brought it back in a box
of rubber and plastic curlers,
neutralizers, chemicals that bobbed our hair
in a permanent wave.
Soon we grew, and her many suitors pared down
to the suitable one, the farmer she married and had many
children with. She thought she would live her life
like the stories she read,
like those who’ve inherited the earth,
not a litany of hard times when the farms didn’t yield
enough for farmwives to have their hair curled.
She plodded on, but the shiver of a plague came
and took her in a swelling heave.
My aunt wasted away—
fast, as if pressing the edges of her life
would allow the wave of cold comfort
to follow her world’s short drift.
If he hadn’t been so thin, I would have imagined him
as the young man who took the leading lady into
the sunset, out of the dark, cavernous stage of Liz Theatre.
This was the late ’50s, and in my nine-year-old mind’s eye,
his pale white skin, dirt-blond hair, tall nose
cut him above the other guys in our shantytown.
He never played with the neighborhood gang.
His aunts, Creole women from Zamboanga, spoke English
and Chabacano. We never saw his mama or papa.
Thought he came with the Reparations goods,
with the cheese and dried milk served at school recess.
I had always dreamt of war. Bazookas and bayonets.
Human bodies as fodder for cannons. In the Readers’ Digest
I saw his relatives, and stories and pictures of “Life
in These United States.” Was his father one of those guys
in “Humor in Uniform”? In my dream, salvation came
in a barrel of green apples, hoarded up Mt. Arayat,
snow falling on the Quonset huts of Clark Air Base.
If he knew where he came from, it must have caused him
a lot of grief. My mother once said,
“Beware of boys who can’t look at you in the eye.”
My white boy, he had a sideways glance. His flinty
eyes darted when he spoke. It was as if he didn’t want you
to capture their moment, like a bird that’d feed off
your palm but fly at a moment’s notice. He got into scrapes,
robbed people’s homes, was jailed for many hold-ups
and petty thievery. He was in and out of jail.
He was on the edge of something darker than he knew.
"Watching television through
a wire mesh fence"
On Friday nights after school we’d hie off to a grassy lot
beside the rich man’s house, set up wooden stools outside
the wire mesh fence. We’d watch Lassie and Lucy and Desi,
but most especially John Wayne lassoing bandits
and dumping them into the OK Corral. We never understood
their words, we didn’t speak English, but we sighed
and gawped at those wondrous manes, marvelled at
those huge horses galloping into our dreams. Mosquitoes feasted
on our grubby thighs, bore their hunger into our marrow.
On starry nights, we forgot our milk-can games by the moon,
forsook patintero for evenings that paraded endless cowboys
and dogs saving children from snowstorms or the ice-thaw.
We crooned with Bing and dreamt of White Christmases,
of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, when back home,
small dried fish, most likely, sat by the wood stove.
We watched behind the backs of the rich man’s sons
and daughters in their warm chesterfield, oblivious of the eyes
that saw through thin wire holes. Then one Friday noon
a concrete wall stood where once a wire mesh fence gave us
passage into a world shorn of sweltering heat, a world bathed
in the soft light of snowdrifts and apple blossoms.
Our Own Voice