May 7, 2018

Luisa A. Igloria

DEAR FEDERICO,

Where did I read about how everything that counts
happens in that space between laughing and crying?

Federico, the dead in my country must be
like your dead; maybe even more dead.

In the mostly dull, often helpless ordinariness
of our lives, don’t we already resemble the dead?

So many of us live in street after street packed
with poor, thin houses—the merest rain and boiling

flood collapses them conveniently into coffins.
When we trudge to work, we join other living

corpses jostling for space on dilapidated buses,
trams, and jeepneys; or in dimly lit trains

that crawl through the city’s clogged arteries.
Sometimes there are plastic ovals that hang

from the ceiling above the seats, filled with
crystals of cheap air freshener meant to evoke

the fragrance of violets. Instead they give off
a nauseating aura: a cross between vomit and wilted

flowers. So many of the already dead, exchanging coins
and bills for breaded gristle at fast-food counters;

then, taking the orange plastic trays to seats
flanking a wall with openings made to resemble

windows. From the other side, a view of ghostly ones
who rap on the glass and signal with outstretched hands—

Waifs walk around in rags, carrying little
ghosts astride one hip. The eyes of the dead

are some of the most beautiful ever recorded.
I was trying to say, Federico, that I know you meant

the dead are a deep source of mystery because they
have crossed over to that realm over which, finally,

we have no claim. In some ways of course this is true.
We don’t know anything but the grief that loss

and passing carve in the center of the gut.
We don’t know anything but the terrible uncertainty

that dogs our days and nights. Those who hunt
our children and loved ones in broad daylight

as if they were animals, are most faceless and elusive.
But what is the most heartrending of all? In every

death after their death, we come to learn their names.
Gripped by the specter of our common extinction, how

can we not fill the husks of their brief lives
with the oil of our flickering remembrances?

 

In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world.
—Federico García Lorca, “The Duende”

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018
Tribute to Immigrant Poets

[download audio]

__________

Luisa A. Igloria: “In 1992, I left Baguio, my home city in the Philippines, to come to the United States; I spent the next four years in my Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois in Chicago. That period was also the first time I had to learn how to deal with racism and microaggressions, encountered on a fairly frequent basis. For instance, being told things like ‘You’re from the Philippines? Thanks to your volcano (Mt. Pinatubo had just erupted in 1991) we’re going to have the crummiest winter we’ve ever had in decades,’ or ‘The language you use in your paper seems very expressive but I confess I don’t really understand what you’re saying; oh! it must be because English is not your first language.’ My very first poetry book, Cartography, was on Baguio City’s creation as a hill station for the American colonial government in the Philippines (in the early 1900s) and the ways by which American influence is felt in daily life even before the fact of physical migration. So while I’ve always written about history, heritage, culture, gender, and place, being an immigrant and diasporic person in North America gives these subjects an additional layer of immediacy for me.” (web)

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