Mar 2, 2010

Kallautang as Ilokano Poetics of Diversity, Displacement, and Diaspora

By Dr. Aurelio S. Agcaoili
In Pagulayan, the sense of helplessness becomes more pointed, and he critiques with gusto.  In “Ti Uni ti Langit/The Sound of Heaven”, he tells of what he sees in the adoptive land: “In the United States/ The sound of heaven is steel./ It speeds fast, past/ The ears this coarse sound/ Of life in a hurry.”

 He sees all the troubles of exile but resolves them as well, realizing that there are many things that we cannot change and that the only thing we can do is accept them with grace. In “Tali/Rope”, he alludes to the pull of hopes and aspirations and relationships, including the pull and force of distances and recollection, if only to come to terms with the punishing absence of the exile in gatherings and re-gatherings that give the Ilokano and the Amianan person (Pagulayan is part Ilokano, part Itawes) authentic membership of his own community. The rope stretching images the distance between the exile and his birth land, the exile and his family, the exile and his memory-as-present: “There is the end of the rope:/ We are around./You stay there, I stay here./ The edges are the boundaries.”

 While roped, the poet says, he does not fall into the trap of un-freedom as a result of the recognition of being roped. “Even if the rope/ Is for those who leave the trunk/ The sign of roots is around/ One you cannot lose/ One you cannot run away from/ This end of the rope.”

 This leads us to the Pacita Cabulera Saludes metaphor about the “ti guyod dagiti ramut—the pull of the roots” in the poem of the same title: “To remember is to be lost in revelry/ because their leaving/ was as if it was only yesterday/ with their zest of moving/ their footprints were on top of another/ as if the thorny road/ were so easy to clear/ stones removed to pursue/ their numerous dreams”.

 In many other poems of Saludes, we have a glimpse of the ways of Ilokanos to “rise up from the challenge” of being a people of the diaspora. She believes that the Ilokanos—and all other immigrant people of the Philippines—have triumphed because of  “good work/ mixed with diligence and industry.” And now, the kallautang can sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of his labor: “The past that is empty seldom comes now/ but would we be able to parry off/ the coming of the mornings/ that are cold with the chill/ and the nightmare that makes them feel/ the pull of the roots that care for them?”

 The ‘sexualization’—its rendering into a form of a ‘beloved’—of the unforgettable love of the place of origin, the birth land, is nowhere more powerfully rendered than in Inay, Ponce, Baxa, and Quiamas. If we are not going to re-read their texts, if we fail to re-connect these text to their other texts that speak of the societal condition of the exile trying to remember what he has left behind and trying to remember as well the present-as-future that he has to carve for himself, we certainly miss out on the second level of meaning of these poems. This tendency to sexualize the homeland and regard it as “the beloved” takes its roots in the early days of the struggle of the people of the Philippines against the colonizers. While the Philippines was a ‘fatherland’, it was also—and more so—a ‘motherland’. While it was a beloved, it was also a female beloved: to be offered love, to be won from the oppressor, to be delivered from the incarcerator.

 Baxa, Quiamas, and Ponce draw from the magnetic power of love, of romance, of caring, and loving in perpetuity. Possession of the beloved can become an unruly emotion, with its ownership connotation and consequences. But the history of human love is replete with narratives as powerful as these ones that we read through from their work. Baxa and Ponce speak of a delicate love; Quiamas tells us with a love consummated, at least, in the memory and in the mind.

 Baxa’s poetic technique is its investment on sentiment that sometimes overflows into a touch of the sentimental. But that sentimentalism is tempered with the calculated use of culturally specific references to Ilokano experience such as, for instance, the anglem—the cloth incense—in his “Adda Anglem iti Angin ti Maui/There Is Anglem in the Air of Maui”. In this poem, Maui becomes a place, becomes a person, and becomes the beloved the persona is about to lose. Maui is his adoptive hometown, the new place of his wandering heart and soul and yet, he interrogates that place, asking a question that borders on a verdict: “When was it, Maui/ when was it when you said/ there is nothing more valuable/ in the world than you and I?”

 And then in another poem, “Diak Kayaten ti Agdaniw, Maui/ I Do Not Want to Write Poems Any Longer, Maui”, Baxa reminds us of the humanity of each poem’s persona by elaborating on the sulking of the lover spurned or a lover whose faithful love for the beloved remains unrequited or a lover whose beloved is about to go away: “I do not want to write/ Poems any longer, Maui:/ In the giving off of my branches you changed! There is sobbing bitterer/ Than that which I can carry;/ There is a dream/ That is better entombed/ Than making it grow/ And then in the end/ You nip it…” (To be continued.)*

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