Habari Africa Festival in Toronto!

Portrait of Djely Tapa by photographer Elaine

Portrait of Djely Tapa by photographer Elaine

After a baking-hot day on Friday, August 12th – when the temperature reached 36 degrees celsius here in Toronto – the logical place to cool down at sunset was lakeside for the Habari Africa Festival where African singers and musicians – now based in Canada – sang and played for us from the outdoor stage by the water.

.

Malian “griotte” (female story-teller and praise-singer) – and current Montrealer – DJELY TAPA performed a rousing set with her three band members, one of whom accompanied her in a lilting song on his “kora”. Her brother translated from her French introduction the importance of the message of Une Chanson Contre La Violence Contre Les Femmes (A Song against Violence against Women).

.

Congolese singer BLANDINE MBIYA sang in French and Lingala, and was accompanied by Cour des Grands, veteran Congolese musicians (now living in Montreal) who paid tribute to great 1960s-70s “orchestres” of the Congo “rumba” tradition (Tabu Ley, Papa Wemba, OK Jazz). Mbiya’s voice was tender and sexy – and very sweet in tone! She bantered in English with the audience in between songs – sounding uncannily like Jennifer Lopez when she speaks.

Blandine Mbiya in concert_photograph by Muriel Leclerc

Blandine Mbiya in concert_photograph by Muriel Leclerc

Habari Africa Festival is one of those events we look forward to – when it’s summer in Toronto! Those of us who love musical variety and discovery are grateful to Batuki Music Society founder Nadine McNulty – and to every supporter and partner, including Harbourfront Centre – for making it all happen, down by the Lake!

 


Lorna Goodison: “Días del Bibliobús” (Bookmobile Days)

1912 title page for Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore_Gitanjali is the book described by Goodison in her poem Tagore on the Bookmobile.

Lorna Goodison (born 1947, Kingston, Jamaica)

Bookmobile Days

.

Reader 1

.

The one who was pressed

up against the door

clutching the last book borrowed;

book read by naked light bulb,

street lamp, bottle torch, or moonlight.

.

The child who’d cut ties

to blood lines and school friends

in order to make the acquaintance

of characters bound to become

trusted lifelong companions.

.

That one would brave blizzards,

extract swords from stones,

fly back to Guinea never ever

having eaten salt.

Fall in and out of doomed love,

forget tethered goats,

neglect to fetch water

in a tin that once brought kerosene

and so draw the ire of parents.

This is the one who would

climb aboard wide-eyed and greedy

for what was carried in the hold

of our brave new world caravel on wheels.

.

Reader II

.

She said: “I’d like a book of fairy tales, please.”

It was a weekday

but she was all Sunday clothes.

Pink frilly frock butterfly bows

white socks patent leather shoes.

She said her godmother had dressed her up

to come and visit the bookmobile.

. . .

Lorna Goodison (nace 1947, Kingston, Jamaica)

Días del Bibliobús

.

Lectora 1

.

Ella que presionó sobre la puerta,

agarrando el último libro prestado

un libro leído por

una bombilla pelona / una farola / una linterna en botella /

la luz de luna.

.

La criatura que rompió la relación con

su linaje y camaradas de escuela

para conocer a

personajes destinados a volverse

compañeros leales de toda la vida.

.

Ella que desafiaba nevascas;

extraía espadas de las rocas;

volaba de vuelta de Guinea

jamás de los jamases

habiendo comido la sal.

Enamorarse de alguien / desencantarse del mismo

a causa del amor malhadado;

olvidar cuidar a las cabras atadas;

no cumplir con traer el agua en una lata

que contenía el queresén

y de esa manera enfurecer a los padres.

Ésta es ella que se montara a la ‘carabela-sobre-ruedas’,

la carabela de nuestro ‘mundo feliz’;

ésta es ella: ingenua y ávida por

lo que llevaban en la bodega del ‘barco’.

.

Lectora 2

.

Ella dijo:

Me gustaría un libro de cuentos de hadas – por favor.”

Durante un día de semana…pero

ella llevaba puesta su ropa de domingo:

un vestido de color rosa con volantes y lazos en forma de mariposa;

calcetines blancos con zapatos de charol.

La muchachita dijo que su madrina

había vestir elegante a ella – para venir a visitar el bibliobús.

. . .

Image at top: Cover of Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. This book is the subject of a companion poem to “Bookmobile Days” called “Tagore on the Bookmobile”.

Lorna Goodison lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she teaches at the University of Michigan. She also divides her time between her native Jamaica and Toronto, Ontario, Canada – just “up the road” from Michigan. The poem featured here is from her most recent poetry collection, Supplying Salt and Light, published by McClelland & Stewart in 2013; Goodison did the watercolour painting on the cover. Her first book of poems, Tamarind Season, from 1980, also included illustrations by her own hand. In 2013 Goodison was awarded Jamaica’s Order of Distinction for “outstanding achievements in Literature and Poetry.”

. . .

Un otro poema de Lorna Goodison / Another poem by Lorna Goodison: “Mi Testamento” / “My Will”

https://zocalopoets.com/category/poets-poetas/lorna-goodison/

. . . . .


Frances-Marie Coke: poems of nostalgia / poems of insight, reflecting upon a Jamaican past

"Washday by the River" by Jamaican artist Bernard Stanley Hoyes

“Washday by the River” by Jamaican artist Bernard Stanley Hoyes

Frances-Marie Coke (Jamaica)

River Women

.

Behind their barely-covered lips,

The Whisperers of Above Rocks huddled

in the no man’s land where housetops leaned

.

and clotheslines tilted, their arms akimbo

jutting out from hilly backsides, fingers jabbing

at each other’s brows, presiding over business

.

in the valley. Wielding bramble brooms

dragged across their piece of dust,

they swept up kass-kass with cut-eye,

.

frock-tail fanning an’ kiss-teet, passing sentence

on grudgefulness and bad mind, malice and red-eye ––

hot words spiced with vinegar and scotch bonnet.

.

They planted after-births and futures at the navel-string tree;

washed away bad luck with sinklebible and baptized

in healing streams; read meanings in the wind,

.

in deadening stares of three-foot horse, dogs

howling at full moons, headless sen-seh fowls fluttering

in the feathered blood spilled in time for Sunday lunch.

.

Long-robed, heads wrapped in calico, they journeyed

down dark mud-tracks to their sideways church,

there to sip white rum and rule the nine-night sankey.

.

Their faces wore each other’s rage and everything

that caused it –– (one more half-empty butterpan

de pickney bring up wid him two lef-han from riverside!)

.

They railed at daughters sent to better life in town,

ending up in bed and in the way for men

with nothing but their curly hair and two-toned shoes.

.

No yard was spared from throw-word

when river women draped their wash-pans with their legs,

flared their noses and their skirts, (tucked in where it mattered),

.

and punished the missis white sheets with Guinea Gold

and corn cob, muttering underneath their breaths

when stains betrayed dark secrets of Old Stony Hill.

.

By sunset they’d passed judgement on everything

that counted: clear skin, dark skin, brown skin ––

each with its own grade, depending on the hair ––

.

knotty-knotty, picky-picky, good or nice and long ––

every version praised or damned at the river-bank,

every son instructed how to lighten with a nice brown girl.

.

In time we knew our verdict: “Miss G. gran-pickney dem

have good colour and nice hair, but dat one wid

de mawga foot, she want some good home-training!”

.

The river murmured, minding its own business.

. . .

Idlewild in August

.

Far from the city rattle,

in my retreat behind the country piano,

its keys at rest from the gingery fingers

of a grandfather who loved and ruled

.

with few breaks in his silence, I stumbled

on a haven that was mine alone –– spread out

across old pages that splintered

as I turned them to unearth another time:

.

adventures that entranced, words that smelled

of sky and sea; of consolation brewed

in Limacol and Lipton’s tea,

of love outgrowing loss as Gramma

brushed my hair steeped in rosemary bush

we uprooted from the pearl-pebbles

strung out along our backyard beach.

.

Idlewild erupted every August

when Kingston schoolyards rested

from their noisy rows of prisoners in their blue

and white, with their inky fingers scrawling over

British kings and queens, parliaments and wars

that tossed their disconnected islands out to sea.

.

Along the razor rocks and seagrape bush

huddled round the water’s yawning edge,

we scampered after cowrie shells

and soldier crabs between our mugs of tambrin tea,

sweet corn and condense milk.

.

Now, children of the salt and sand, beguiled

by freedom in the wild, we arched our backs

against the wind and vanished in the eddies

of McCarthy’s pool, defying sea-egg and mermaid,

till one by one our heads bobbed up anew,

like calabashes floating in the unbroken blue

stretched out along the spine of Idlewild.

.

Seasoned to the bone,

our sinews contoured on the edge-cliffs

of the creek, we threw off British history,

simmered in our praisesongs, gospels ringing

in our ears, laying tracks of who we were,

of what we would become!

. . .

Lessons for Young Women

.

Proper English words were not enough

to teach the serious lessons girls must learn.

.

Only stories of who fell, or proverbs in Jamaica talk

could do the job. From morning until night

.

doomsday sayings echoed, breaking silences

that drizzled in between: what it meant to be a big girl,

.

knowing only one woman can live inside the house

so since is not you paying rent, it can’t be you.

.

If you flying past yuh nest, tek sleep mark death

and call back; otherwise you soon find out

.

what happen to dem force-ripe girls

who paint them lip and ass in red

.

and hang up hang up at the gate, with all dem

old bwoy bwoy from down the road. Show me yuh company

.

an ah tell you who you are, for crab who walk too much

always los’ him claw and if you sleep wid dawg

.

you must get up wid flea. For what sweet nanny goat

always run dem belly, and what gone bad a morning

.

can’t come good a evening! So if you think you bad,

an’ you ears don’t have no hole, gwan you ways

.

but mine you don’t cut off you nose an spite you face!

. . .

One of Us is Missing

.

We loved you only yesterday when we were young;

when stars stopped by to hear you sing.

.

We loved you only yesterday

when moonlit stairways led to magic kingdoms

and golden poui petals cushioned every fall.

We loved you only yesterday when we whispered

all our dreams into the Mona sky.

.

The stars stopped by last night to hear you sing

but found you locked in silence.

At dusk a hand fell on your shoulder,

taking –– your fingers

groping in the darkness for a light.

.

You never knew the bow was bent

–– the arrow drawn and stiff ––

until you heard the songbird in the evening

and smiled into the night.

St. Mary's Church_Port Maria, Jamaica: photograph copyright Mark Phinn

St. Mary’s Church_Port Maria, Jamaica: photograph copyright Mark Phinn

 

The Search

.

How strange that we should sip at once

both peace and poison from this cup

raised by priests and sorcerers,

chanting alleluias amid the incense-bearing altar boys,

insensate hordes of pilgrims lost,

groping in the teeming murk for light,

finding only the eternity of night.

.

How strange to search,

to finger baubles,

not knowing there’s a difference

between the thinly layered gloss we crave

and hammered gold that outlasts the grave.

. . .

Jamaican-born Frances-Marie Coke has lectured at the University of the West Indies, and has also been a high-school teacher and guidance counsellor. The Balm of Dusk Lilies, her first book, came out in 2001. The poems featured above are from Intersections, published in 2010 by Peepal Tree Press.

. . . . .


Sensitivity and Strength: poems of Delores Gauntlett

Under a yellow Poui tree in Hope Gardens

Delores Gauntlett

A Sense of Time

.

I drive past my father’s grave

and past the place where I began.

That swing-bridge to my childhood games

is now a town to which I seldom return.

There the headstones wear familiar names,

and there I turned the page

at five to my first big word,

repeating it until it blurred.

.

The church grew smaller in the rear

-view mirror; my face awash in the wind,

I approached the curves I knew by heart,

then drove the silent miles to Flat Bridge.

The sun going down behind the hill

hauled its net of shadow as it fell.

. . .

On Growing Tired of Her Complaints

One pound of fretting can’t repay one ounce of debt.

(Jamaican proverb)

.

As far away as you are now from childhood

is the gap between ideas and reality,

the air tensed with what you took pleasure in,

doodling in complaints, not knowing what to do ––

not knowing what accidental turn you took,

that blew everything entirely out of whack

though the worst of the rain has come and gone.

Surrounded by whatever else you happened on,

numbed by repetition, eyes clenched,

you cannot catch the rhythm of the wind,

indecipherable; you move from room to room.

.

I knew you when a day made a difference,

when you’d look out of the window and gaze

at anything: a bee, the dew drop from a leaf

in the spot by the still pond under the trees.

Now you linger by the bridge where what’s unlived

is not available, where even a mild occurrence

shapes a stronghold of might-have-been, of this and that;

and nothing I say today

will be any more convincing than the last.

Meantime the rest of the world unfurls, shading

the retreating back of history, and what happens, happens.

. . .

Love Changes Everything

.

At the window where our two reflections

meet, pulled as to a magnet to the rhythm

of Zamfir’s panflute whistling its seduction

Love, love changes everything…

Sometimes the body needs to set itself on fire,

to consume the dry leaves and twigs as if swept

by a magic wind to a new view of desire,

barefoot, heart racing from the outset,

flayed like an upheld palm in the rain.

Then work defers to moments that assume

good reason to be here and love, not live in vain,

gauging time like an echo in a vacant room.

We, once strangers on the eve of first sight,

blush through blue August, whispering goodnight.

. . .

Another Mystery of Love

.

He loved her, but he used his love like a rope:

frayed from their tug-of-war of the heart,

stretched taut across his frightening temper

till he fell flat on his back to win.

Meanwhile she slipped away with something heartrending

caught in her eye,

diverting her attention by making bread,

kneading until the sun burned out,

slapping the dough with the heel of her hand

to revenge herself

against the familiar words which quailed her

into thinking everything she did was wrong.

Then he, looking as though it had never happened,

and she, never looking at another man,

stared out of the window, wondering at the bird

clinging to a swaying stalk in silence,

waiting

like a patient thought.

. . .

Love Letters

.

At first it was your slick quips

that quickened me to sit down and take notice ––

when to my one-sentence reply you said

I reminded you of Lord Wavell,

the British general in World War II

who, the more adulation he received,

the more taciturn he became,

that brevity, brevity was his forte,

that his strength lay in silence.

.

That was the hook that lifted my attention,

and when it seemed you guessed what I was wearing

the first intensity warmed the air to now.

You wound me a path along windswept beaches

to a place unmarked on any map

where we resumed our secret walk with words

guardedly wrapped around ourselves,

though between each line the meaning was implied.

.

And when I wrote to you my reason

why I couldn’t meet you face to face, I lied.

I wanted instead to lean into your hands

away from the tangibles of daily life,

wearing the countenance that each word bears

where nothing is well founded; yet

when you invited me to sit down, and I did,

I understood more and less at the same time.

. . .

Writing a Poem in Metre

.

Takes rain, the racket

in a madman’s head

and strains it

into sonata.

(Wayne Brown: ‘Critic’)

.

Nothing on the page made sense.

I was on the brink of giving up

fretting in pentameter,

feeling like a fish pulled from the sea

into the fierce sunlight,

when your no-fooling-around approach

and a direct heart sent me to work.

That each line should slip under the skin,

as in the blood, fleshed out from the nuance

of sound on sound, as in the beat of a heart!

I pushed off into the swell,

swimming across the bay of iambics:

three, four, five beats underwater,

pulling, pulling against the tension,

taking a turn on my back,

watching the water scatter from my hands,

splash, splash, each slow spondee

stretching my thought beyond recollection.

.

Call it the music in the traffic-hiss,

entertaining an early morning thought,

or the climb uphill to the first clearing

to move around in when a foot doesn’t fit.

To one who asks

“What’s the good of all that?”

I can only speak for me,

that it discovers what I have to say,

takes my hand and leads me down a lane

from which I can take my time returning.

. . .

That Sunday Morning

.

She was not begging for forgiveness when she knelt

facing the wall, her head flung back

as if preparing to hold a flashlight to the eyes of Jesus.

Full of argument, raw with energy,

something shouting in her breast flashed clear again

to the August afternoon when the death winds came

to the broken sidewalk that narrows to a lane,

when, after the bullet wrapped itself in silence,

it took the colour from the photo in her purse.

.

She looked in vain for answers

to what nags her sleep, night after night,

remembering the hour when the sun went down burning

over the yard of scratching chickens, digging

for the words that would tell her all would be well

while the clock ticked to the wrong time.

Talking to Him as if to a next door neighbour

she stood, knowing her anger was not a bluff,

and, with the world still coming to an end,

danced her way up to a victory hallelujah!––

a pitch this poem cannot put into 20 lines.

. . .

The Reckoning

A nuh di same day leaf drop in a water it rotten.

(Jamaican proverb)

.

Years later, he walks beside the shadow

of the past, to the beat of the grim consequences

he brought upon himself in surprising ways.

In middle-age he might have been content,

had he foreseen that as time went by

his antics would lead to where love pulled away

to be as far from him as possible

when his expression betrayed no signs of change.

Blinded to the cause of his predicament,

he walks, with nothing open for discussion,

not knowing he’s been struck by his own hand.

. . .

In Limbo

Yuh cyan sow corn and expec’ fi reap peas.

(Jamaican proverb)

.

Unable in the end to separate what’s done from what

should have been done, the truth

undid what you so earnestly embodied.

.

There’s nothing for it:

your life requires a harder pardon.

Cry all you want,

.

but for a miracle: your promises have gone

like smoke

on a stray breeze up into a cloud,

.

grey from overuse,

.

a cloud from which the night fills in

the disquiet of the past,

and what was hidden is rising

.

to the surface, like a dank mist after rain.

. . .

From a Cove in St. Ann

.

From under the noonday shadow of a rock

I stare long and hard into the blue

sea, breaking one thought to ponder through

to the heart of a concern, taking stock

of a home where shocking news is the norm.

It’s hard to put a finger on the lessons

to be learned; as when a tense bow misses

a shifting target, each moment ends in doubt.

On a day like this, besieged between ‘forlorn’

and a place riddled with brutalities, I

distract myself with the waves rushing to shore,

and the blessings one must create to know the sea’s.

I lift my hope over the open water

with its flush of foam which alters in the sand,

filtering its sound to the hill as if to find

an echo far from the turbulent deep. Dusk

drops over the trees where some unknown soul

stumbled once, with one hand breaking his fall.

. . .

Chances Are

.

Coming in from the streets that mock delight

I’m caught between two streams of thought:

old news, and the need to shift my mind to write.

A melting candle moves tobacco from the flat,

and, short of throwing both hands up in the air,

solutioned-out in a world where all’s been said.

I plan never to compare today

but do what I have to, pushing ahead,

fishing around these potential days

in a land spinning on the edge of nerves

where someone’s always leaving, and someone else is busy.

Rights are taken further away from those they serve.

Chances are the prime minister will not come to see

me or my friends. He’s busy. So are we.

. . .

The above poems are from the 2005 collection The Watertank Revisited

published by Peepal Tree Press, and are © Delores Gauntlett.

Delores Gauntlett was born in St. Ann, Jamaica, in 1949. Her first poetry collection, Freeing Her Hands to Clap, was published in 2001. She was recipient of the David Hough Literary Award from The Caribbean Writer in 1999, and poems by Gauntlett have won prizes in the annual literary-arts competitions of The Observer.

. . . . .


Palaver International Literary Festival in Wasaga Beach, Ontario!

Palaver International Literary Festival_Wasaga Beach_Ontario_Canada

Founded by writer and journalist Michael S. L. Jarrett – and now in its second year – Palaver International Literary Festival brings Caribbean literature, music and good food to Wasaga Beach, Ontario. An “open mic.” stage for poetry and song, as well as Ol’ Time Stories told throughout the day. This evening (Saturday the 6th) there is the Palaver Awards Dinner (“A Birthday Toast to Jamaica”) featuring The Heritage Singers and Orville Hammond, jazz pianist. On Sunday the 7th: “open mic.” for poetry and song again; “Feast on the Beach”: brunch with master-chef Selwyn Richards; the Palaver Writers’ Workshop with Horane Smith; and poets and novelists will meet and greet with festival attendees –– and sign books :-) Writers in attendance at Palaver 2016 include: Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis, Dwayne Morgan, Owen Everard James, Cynthia Reyes, and Lorna Goodison.

Palaver International Literary Festival in Wasaga Beach_Ontario_Canada_Image from 2015

Delores Gauntlett (born 1949, St. Ann, Jamaica)

Introduction to Poetry

(for Mervyn Morris)

.

I wish you’d write some foolishness sometimes,”

you said in that workshop off South Camp Road,

and it took some years to uncover what you meant:

To bring out what I’d seen, or wished I’d seen,

in a simple line

and state outright that this is it;

to find my way out of the cul-de-sac,

when trying too hard, wide of the mark,

the words coming but not the sense;

to balance each line and not feel the weight;

to watch day break across a familiar land,

freeing the verse as on a passing wind;

to walk all night under a changing moon.

To convert the outrage into song, the poem coming,

not as from the space between

a sleepwalker’s outstretched arms,

but as in a hand held still against rushing water,

then lifted clear, the drops from the dripping

fingertips settling in the poem’s room.

. . . . .


Una Marson: poems of a Jamaican literary pioneer

Poinciana tree in bloom_Hope Gardens_Kingston_Jamaica

Una Marson (1905-1965)

JAMAICA

.

J ust a lovely little jewel floating on fair Carib’s breast,

A ll a-glittering in her verdue ‘neath a blazing tropic sky.

M ust have been part of Eden, it’s so full of peace and rest,

A nd the flowers in their splendour make you feel it’s good to die

I n a spot that’s so near heaven where one never feels depressed,

Cause Dame Nature makes you lazy and Dame Fortune lingers nigh,

A nd you feel just like a fledgling in your mother’s cosy nest.

. . .

I Cannot Tell

.

I cannot tell why I who once was gay

And never knew the burden of a sigh

Now sit and pass the weary hours away,

And never have a care for what goes by.

.

I cannot tell why oft the teardrops rise

And my sad heart lies leaden in my breast,

And in my mind these anxious thoughts arise

For no more am I happy with the rest.

.

I cannot tell why life is not the same

And my heart answers not to music’s plea,

Or why I start whene’er I hear your name

And in my dreams no other face I see:

.

I cannot tell why I should wish to die,

Now that the time has come to say goodbye.

.

(1930)

.

. . .

Love’s Lament

.

I cannot let you hold me in your arms

And listen while you talk of trivial things;

It pains my heart thus to resist your charms

And see the longings of my soul take wings.

.

I cannot feel the pressure of your hands

Without the wish to hold them to my lips,

I have no strength to face life’s big demands

While daily from my heart your image slips,

.

I cannot bear the thought of losing you.

Yet still your presence brings me bitter pain.

The happy days gone by we will not rue ––

Their tender mem’ries still to us remain;

.

But oh my heart, I cannot bid you stay,

Though as you go you take my life away.

.

(1930)

.

. . .

The Peanut Boy

.

Lord, look upon this peanut boy,

He’s rough and coarse and rude;

He has been selling all the day,

His words are very crude.

.

But, Lord, he’s worn and weary now,

See how he stands asleep;

His head is resting on the post,

The basket at his feet.

.

Dear Lord, he has not sold them all,

But he has done his best:

And, while he stands and sleeps awhile,

With sweet dreams make him blest.

.

And, Lord, when I shall fall asleep

With my tasks incomplete,

Remember I was weary, Lord,

And give me peaceful sleep.

. . .

Another Mould

.

You can talk about your babies

With blue eyes and hair of gold,

But I’ll tell you ’bout an angel

That’s cast in another mould.

.

She is brown just like a biscuit

And she has the blackest eyes

That don’t for once remind you

Of the blue of tropic skies.

.

And her hair is black and shiny

And her little teeth are pearls,

She’s just a year, I’ll tell you,

But the best of baby girls.

.

O, she’s sweeter than the sweetest

Of all babies ‘neath the sun,

And I feel that I could eat her,

Thinking she’s a sugar bun.

.

O, little ivory babies

Are as sweet as they can be,

But give me my brown skin cherub

Still a-dangling on my knee.

.

(1931)

. . .

Education

.

In South Africa £25 per head per annum is spent on educating the white child. The government gives a subsidy of £2 3s. 7d. per head to the missionary bodies who have undertaken the education of 300,000 black children of the 1,100,000 who should be educated. (W. G. Ballinger at W.I.L. Conference.)

.

It must be by oppression; and, for my part,

I know no personal cause to spurn at them,

But for my countrymen. They would be learned: ––

How that might change their nature, there’s the question,

It is the bright day that brings forth the adder;

And that craves wary walking. Teach him? –– that; ––

And then, I grant, we put a sting in him,

That at his will he may do danger with.

The abuse of learning is when it is given

To subject races: And, to speak truth of Negroes,

I have known when they have turned to serve us

Once they are taught. But ’tis a common proof

That lowliness is young ambitious ladder

Whereto the climber upward turns his face:

But when he once attains the utmost round,

He then unto the ladder turns his back,

Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees

By which he did ascend: So Negroes may:

Then, lest they may, prevent. And, since the quarrel

Will bear no colour for the thing they are,

Fashion it thus; that what they are, when learned

Would run to these and these extremities:

And therefore, think them as the serpents

Which, hatch’d, would as their kind grow mischievous;

And keep them ignorant.

.

(With apologies to Shakespeare)

.

(1935)

. . .

The Stranger

.

You liked talking to people like me

You said, with a wistful smile

That enchanted me, so the pause

That came before I spoke

Must have seemed strange to you,

And when I returned the compliment

So sweetly made, I still thought

Of the wistfulness of your smile.

.

So you like talking to people like me,

Friend with the wistful smile,

To foreign girls who are brown of skin

And have black kinky hair

And have strange black eyes.

.

You like to hear the tales I tell

Of a tropic Paradise,

Of sunkissed woods and mountains high

Of skies that are bluer than ever

Skies are blue in your nordic clime:

Of magic sunsets and marvellous seas,

Of waterfalls clattering down,

Stars so near, and the moon so large,

And fireflies, stars of the earth.

.

I like to listen to you,

Friend with the wistful smile.

It’s not to hear of your great country

And tales of your marvellous land,

But to watch the wistful smile

That plays around your mouth,

The strange look in your eyes

And hear the calm sweet tone of your voice.

. . .

Home Thoughts

.

June is drawing near

And in my sun-kissed isle

The Poinciana with its flaming blossom

Casts its spell o’er all the land.

These mighty trees in regal robes

Now call the land to worship,

And the bees, hungry for hidden honey,

Swarm among its blossoms and buzz and buzz,

And the blossoms laugh and yield

Shedding their sweet perfume;

They make a crown of golden dust

To beautify the honeybee.

.

There on the hillside, ‘mid a tuft

Of dark green trees, towers the Poinciana

Stretching its branches eagerly

To watch the children passing by.

I see a tree I used to love

Whose red and golden glory

Has thrilled my soul with wonder;

O, I remember that glad June,

So long ago it seems,

‘Twas Harvest in the Village Church

And the merry school children

Cut great branches of Poinciana

And made a radiant glory of the Church.

.

June comes again and Poinciana trees

Now blossom in my sunkissed isle

And I am here in London, and the flowers

Of dainty shades and delicate perfumes

Stir my heart and wake my love,

But it is the flaming glory

Of Poinciana trees in fair Jamaica

That my lone heart is homing.

I might sing of fragrant Myrtle blossoms

Whiter than snow and sweeter than honey,

Of pink and white June roses,

Of Jessamines, Hibiscus, Begonias,

Of Bougainvillea and Cassia,

But the Flaming Poinciana

Calls to me across the distance

Calling, calling me home.

.

O pride and glory of our tropic Isle,

As thy red and golden petals

Drip blood drops on the sod

That thou mayst bring forth

Mighty pods of fertile seed,

So children of your tropic land

With broken hearts that bleed

In foreign lands afar

Strain every nerve to bring forth

Fruit that may enrich the race

And are anew inspired

With hope and loyal longing ––

Hope that thy red and golden banners

Now unfurled through all the land

May call men’s hearts

To bow at Beauty’s shrine ––

And loyal longing that awakes

And claims the best thy sons and daughters give.

.

O Fair Jamaica! my thoughts go home to you,

In love and loyalty I shall for aye be true.

. . .

Nightfall

.

How tender the heart grows

At the twilight hour,

More sweet seems the perfume

Of the sunless flower.

.

Come quickly, wings of night,

The twilight hurts too deep;

Let darkness wrap the world around,

My pain will go to sleep.

. . .

My Philosophy

(as expounded by a Market Woman)

.

(Market woman walking quickly ahead of her friend. She carries a huge basket on her head. She swings both hands violently as she addresses the friend close behind her without turning):

.

“You can tan up talk wid him,

If you and him is companion

Me and him is no companion.”

.

(Second market woman following quickly at her heels):

.

“Me and him is companion, yes,

Me and him is companion

Me and all de wide worl’ is companion

For dere is nobody better dan me

And I is not better dan nobody.”

.

(1937)

.

The Test

.

The test of true culture

Is the ability

To move among men,

East or West,

North of South,

With ease and confidence,

Radiating the pure light

Of a kindly humanity.

. . .

Politeness

.

They tell us

That our skin is black

But our hearts are white.

.

We tell them

That their skin is white

But their hearts are black.

. . .

Frozen

(Winter 1941)

.

Europe is frozen.

It is too cold for birds to sing,

For children to make snowmen,

For rivers to splash and sparkle,

For lovers to loiter in the snowlight.

.

The heart of humanity is frozen.

It is too cold for Poets to sing.

. . .

Una Marson in the 1940s

Una Marson, of Santa Cruz, Saint Elizabeth parish, was the youngest of six children born to Rev. Solomon Isaac, a Baptist parson, and Ada Marson.
In 1928 she launched her own magazine in Kingston, Jamaica – The Cosmopolitan – which dealt with local, proto-feminist, and workers’ rights issues. Her first book of poems she self-published in 1930: Tropic Reveries. It was followed by Heights and Depths in 1931, and a play, At What a Price, performed at the Ward Theatre in Kingston. In 1937 she published The Moth and The Star. Marson spent time in London, England, from 1932-36, and again from 1938-45 (the duration of WWII); it was during the war years that her work with the BBC lead to the creation of the Caribbean Voices programme. In her later years she divided her time between Jamaica and Washington, D.C., and it is now known that she suffered from clinical depression. She died of a heart attack in 1965.
.
We are grateful to Alison Donnell (Una Marson: Selected Poems, Peepal Tree Press, 2011) for providing biographical details and a description of the social and political context for Una Marson’s life and work.
. . . . .

KULTURA Filipino Arts Festival, August 5th to 7th, in Toronto!

Kultura Festival_ImageSunflower with bees_Toronto Ontario Canada_August 2016

. . .

2016 marks the 11th year for Kultura, which emerged from the youth-led Kapisanan Phillippine Centre for Arts & Culture – a small yet ambitious initiative based out of a store-front on Augusta Avenue in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood.

The Kultura festival now celebrates the vibrant, contemporary creative expression of Filipino-Canadians. This is an important event for dialogue within the community, as well as for sharing a deeper understanding of Filipino culture and experience with the broader communities of Toronto – beyond the limiting clichés of “cultural costumes and food”. Kultura features multiple art disciplines, including culinary and fashion. Kultura aims to discuss the Filipino diaspora in Canada and to elevate Filipino-Canadian culture from the perception that it is flat and static to one that is multi-dimensional and active.

.

Kultura is the brainchild of the Kapisanan Centre, a charitable community organization with strong youth leadership. Kapisanan has created a safe space for Filipino-Canadian youth, both second generation and newcomers, to overcome multiple barriers that keep them from meaningful engagement in society. To explore identity, to foster pride and self-confidence – that’s Kapisanan!

. . .

Some contemporary Filipino-in-diaspora poetry…

Victor P. Gendrano (California)

Japanese Haiku

. . .

ospital silid hintayan

ang plastik na mga bulaklak

palaging bukad

.

waiting room

the plastic flowers

always in bloom

. . .

pinagbiling bahay

puno ng halakhak

ng maga bata

.

sold house

children’s laughter echoes

from its bare walls

.

(2005)

. . .

Japanese Tanka

. . .

chopping onions

enough excuse

to shed my tears

as I cook for myself

this New Year’s eve

.

di lang sibuyas

sanhi ng pagluha

kundi sa pangungulila

pagluluto sa sarili

ngayong bagong taon

. . .

scent of jasmine wafts

through her open door

this sultry evening

she calls him to say

don’t be late coming

.

the torn jacket

and worn-out cane

lie near a trash bin

his chuckle still echoes

from the empty bed

.

(2007)

. . .

Aloneness (a Korean Sijo)

.

the visiting son laments

his loss of their backyard tree

.

where as a teen he carved a heart

to express his very first love

.

his widower dad explains

twice there I tried to hang myself

. . .

Alheizmer Disease

.

as I brush mom’s golden hair

she keeps talking to unseen friends

.

she accepts me now as a friend

in the hospice where she lives

.

sometimes I wonder if she knows

I am her least-liked daughter

.

(2007)

. . .

Victor P. Gendrano is a retired librarian from the Los Angeles County Public Library. He completed his Bsc in the Phillippines and his Msc at Syracuse University in New York state. From 1987 to 1999 he edited Heritage Magazine, an English-language quarterly. His website, Haiku and Tanka Harvest, focuses on his poetry in a variety of structured forms and styles, as well as free verse in English and Tagalog. Mr. Gendrano is the author of Rustle of Bamboo Leaves: selected haiku and other poems, published in 2005.

. . .

H. Francisco V. Peñones, Jr.

Homage to Frida

(On the Centennial of her Birth)

.

Kahlo: kaluluwa: (n). Tagalog for soul ––

O Soul of my bleeding heart pigeon-

holed in tin retablos hung in antiseptic wards

unwind your bandaged flesh and let me in

your body its plains of crumbling rocks

and howling dust is no strange country

to me. Buko kanakong estranyo ‘di.

Back home, the land cracks and opens wide

throwing up the bodies dumped at night.

Its womb refusing now any stirring of seedling

despite so much marrows in its furrows.

O Nuestra Señora de Dolores y Tristezas*

wrap me in your leafy arms as you did

Diego Rivera or yourself in infants’ bodies

yet with your lusting faces in a kind of pietà,

in a loving moment caged in the canvas.

Arog ka kanakong banwaan, (like my country)

Natusok naman ako. (I am pierced too.)

Pero en sus autoretratos por ejemplo**,

.

I am not pricked by the thorns of the cactus

which thrusts up like a pen against the sky

and my brows are as high and thick and black

as your brushes and your gaze –– a doll’s,

set in place and silent in a corner yet forever.

. . .

*Our Lady of Sorrows and Sadness

**But in her self-portraits, for example

. . .

Self Portents from a Crystal Ball

.

Between the onyx equinox

and the Martian meridian

your Saturn son is on the ascendant

towards the power clique.

Rorschach stains

whirl nebulous as violet capes

worn in Salamanca:

Beware of men in ties,

they shake your hands while

coming out straight from the john.

Swirling lights tie up

the head and the tail, a circular

tale and mandala of survival and decency

you may well just be

heading for St. Francis Alley.

.

Acid rain dust leaks out

slimy green in brain drain canals:

invest in futures, better still

the dioroxine fuel yet to be found

and named.

.

Some silicone spilled semen

unearth Buddy Holly, a boozed

night out in Malate

and the apparition in the 7th Virgo

of one claiming paternity.

Raspy grains the pores of skin

up close your nose oooom

a hint of civet in heat:

go pick a lady in the primary

though you keep a red card

in your wallet for lemme see…

. . .

H. Francisco V. Peñones, Jr., has studied in the MFA Creative Writing program at San Jose State University, and is acknowledged as a pioneer in the renaissance of writing literature in the Bikol language of his native Phillippines. Peñones’ first poetry collection, entitled Ragang Rinaranga (Belovéd Land) was published in 2006.

. . .

Rhodora V. Peñaranda

Great Expectation

.

The light goes off in this town of rationed power.

Brief dark shadows up and down the road.

.

A village dog picks up her scent and begins to bark.

Out of the sky, a flood of darkness with invisible beasts

.

bounding over the street and wedging into the heart.

She comes home, and out of the steaming dark,

.

her little brother, the boy like a cat waiting all night

purring for a rubbing on his back, leaps to his feet,

.

begging her to stay. She flicks her fan to spread the coolness,

and he gropes for the arts of her comfort, the tucking

.

into the soft bed, rocking him to the wind’s mothering.

But she is hurrying. She does not feel the present under her feet.

.

She does not know the future. She does not have the past.

She passes through the rooms and gathers only tedium’s grief,

.

the unwashed growth of things crowded with details, details

accelerating with the pressure of wars around her, so she leaves

.

in the veiled cold of the room,

the soft gestures curled inside the glass of a burning lamp.

Leaves him instead the words that order him

.

to face it like a man leaving him alone on a night like this

where only the dead walk, to conjure the man he has yet to be.

.

(2007)

. . .

Rhodora V. Peñaranda lives in New York state. Two of her published volumes of poetry include Touchstone (2007) and Unmasking Medusa (2008).

. . .

Edwin A. Lozada

Kansion

(in the Ilocano language)

.

Agtaytayab

Purao

Nga kalapati

Ti rimwar

Diay nabanglo

Nga sabong

Purao ken kiaw

Kiay nakaturog

Nga kalachuchi

.

Agtaytayab

Purao

Nga kalapati

Diay puso na

Agliplipias

Ti kansion

Kolor ti rosas

Ken gumamela

Nga awan pay

Ti nakangeg

.

Papanam ngay

Billit

Nga naulimek,

Sika

Ti makapagtalna

Diay langit?

Sinno ngay

Ti makangeg

Dagita regalo

Nga rumrumwar

Diay pusum?

.

Nakadanon

Idiay karayan

Ket inungwanna

Idi kuan nagpukawen

.

Didiay karayan

Agkankanta

Napunpunno ti sampaga

Rosal, rosas

Ken gumamela

. . .

Canción

.

volando va

la paloma

blanca

que salió

de la flor

perfumada

alba y ámbar

de la plumeria

adormecida

.

va volando

la paloma

blanca

su corazón desbordado

derrama

canciones

color de rosas

e hibisco

que todavía no

se han oído

.

¿adónde vas

ave callada

y mansa

que apaciguas

el cielo?

¿quién sino tú

oye

los obsequios

brotando

de tu corazón?

.

a la faz del río

llegó y se acercó

dejándole un beso

y entonces desapareció

.

el río

cantando

colmado de sampaguitas

gardenias, rosas

e hibiscos

. . .

Song

.

in the midst

of flight

a white dove

emerged

from the perfumed

amber and ivory

blossom

of the plumeria

lost in slumber

.

watch it fly

as white as the clouds

the dove

with a heart

overflowing

with song

colour of roses

and hibiscus

none yet

has heard

.

where do you go

bird

so quiet and meek

you who can

appease

the heavens?

who but you

can hear

the gifts

coming forth

from your heart?

.

towards the river

the dove drew near

kissed its water and then

disappeared

.

the river

singing and flowing

with gardenias

jazmine, roses

and hibiscus

. . .

Edwin A. Lozada is a poet and translator. He also edited the volume Field of Mirrors: an Anthology of Philippine American Writers, published in 2008 by Philippine American Writers & Artists, Inc.

. . .

Patrick Rosal / Aracelis Girmay

Lamento del Gallo

.

querida gallina caída

cuéntame la historia de una semilla

que contenía

todo el universo en una espina

que picó el ojo

de la noche

me das sed y seda

.

y no te vas

y no te vas

.

y si me enseñas

la ventana de tu boca

te sequiré

por las multitudes de mentirosos

que dicen

no iré

no iré

.

ay gallina

dime algo de tu vestida tan amable

y como robaste la voz de otra ave

.

animal tú eres

animal tú eres

tan bravona

.

se cree que las estrellas fueron hechas

por una sola clave

.

y me haces buscar

por las ruinas del corazón

robándolas de los dientes de esa tierra

.

y aún escucho las susurraciones p’arriba

y no te vas en seguida

.

y no te vas

no te vas

.

querida gallina caída

sueñas sin ignorar el frío

ni el agua ni cuchillo

los lobos aúllan los versos más secretos

no hay nombre que niegue ese sonido completo

.

rompe los cristales con tus lamentos

las torres de arena y de cemento

.

manda a los gobernadores que bajen

entre las alas y tu penúltimo viento

te prometen una bala o una canción

te las prometen

te prometen

.

y no te vas

. . .

Rooster’s Lament

by Aracelis Girmay and Patrick Rosal

(English translation)

.

beloved fallen hen

tell me the story of a seed

that held

the whole universe in a thorn

that pricked the eye

of evening

.

you give me thirst and silk

.

and you don’t go

and you don’t go

.

and if you show me

the window of your mouth

i’ll follow you

through the multitudes of liars

that say

i won’t go

i won’t go

.

oh hen

tell me something about your delightful costume

and how you robbed the voice of another bird

.

animal you are

animal you are

so brave

.

it’s believed that the stars were made

by a single key

.

and you make me search

through the ruins of the heart

robbing them of the teeth of that land

.

and still i listen to the whispers above

and you don’t go

.

lovely fallen hen

you dream without ignoring the cold

nor the water nor the knife

.

the wolves howl their most secret verses

there is no name that denies that complete sound

.

smash the mirrors with your laments

the towers of sand and of cement

order the governors to descend

among the wings and your penultimate wind

they promise you a bullet or a song

they promise them to you

they promise

.

and you don’t go

. . .

Patrick Rosal has authored My American Kundiman, and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive, which won the Global Filipino Literary Award and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award – respectively.

.

Aracelis Girmay is of Eritrean, Puerto Rican, and African-American descent. A writer of poetry, essays, and fiction, she earned an MFA from New York University.

. . .

Eileen R. Tabios

Die We Do

.

Die

we do

as much as

.

we live. Then

we write: right

.

what

we lived

when we write.

. . .

Morir Hacemos

.

Morir,

lo hacemos

tanto como vivir.

.

Entonces,

nosotros escribimos:

corregimos aquello que

.

vivimos

cuando, así,

nosotros lo escribimos.

. . .

Tabios’ poem originally appeared in The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes (Marsh Hawk Press, 2007).

Translation into Spanish / Traducción del inglés al español:

Rebeka Lembo

. . .

Jon Pineda

Matamis

.

One summer in Pensacola,

I held an orange this way,

flesh hiding beneath

the texture of the rind,

then slipped my thumbs

into its core & folded it

open, like a book.

.

When I held out the halves,

the juice seemed to trace

the veins in my arms

as it dripped down to my elbows

& darkened spots of sand.

We were sitting on the beach then,

the sun, spheres of light within each piece.

I remember thinking, in Tagalog,

the word matamis is sweet in English,

though I did not say it for fear

of mispronouncing the language.

.

Instead, I finished the fruit & offered

nothing except my silence, & my father,

who pried apart another piece, breaking

the globe in two, offered me half.

Meaning everything.

. . .

Birthmark

.

After they make love, he slides down so his face rests near her waist.

The light by the bed casts its nets that turn into shadows. They both

fall asleep. When he wakes, he finds a small patch of birthmarks on

her thigh, runs his finger over each island, a spec of light brown

bundled with others to form an archipelago on her skin. For him, whose

father is from the Philippines, it is the place he has never been, filled

with hillsides of rice & fish, different dialects, a family he wants to

touch, though something about it all is untouchable, like love,

balanced between desire & longing, the way he reaches for her now, his

hand pressed near this place that seems so foreign, so much a part of

him that for a moment, he cannot help it, he feels whole.

. . .

The two poems above are from Jon Pineda’s 2004 collection Birthmark, winner of the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry.

. . .

Bienvenido C. Gonzalez

I Quit

.

BEAT A BAD

……………..HABIT

BY REDUCING

………………A BIT

DAILY EVERY

…………………BIT

TILL YOU RID OF

…………………..IT

. . .

PERSEVERANCE

.

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T

SUCEEDE

SUCCEDE

SUCCEED

TRY, TRY AGAIN.

. . .

Bienvenido C. Gonzalez is a wordsmith!

He creates neo-words and logos as a hobby.

The poems above are from his PARA-PRAISES

tributes to old and original sayings.

. . . . .

All the poems selected here are contained in the 2008 anthology Field of Mirrors, edited by Edwin A. Lozada, © Philippine American Writers & Artists, Inc.

. . . . .