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As Glass
By Patrick Rosal

2007 Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry
My American Kundiman (Persea 2006) by Patrick Rosal
Selections reprinted with permission from Persea Books.

When these sons of Buenos Aires holler in chorus
from across the street in the formal idioms
their fathers use to ignore the beggars of Recoleta
and the ubiquitous feral dogs I understand
just enough to switch my bag of fruits
from one hand to the other and stick El Clarin
between my elbow and my flab then fling
their summer-toughened leather ball
back half way to the field and they all rush
toward me to be the first to retrieve it

I go back to my hard-floor flat in Palermo
and phone my dad back in Jersey: Papa I say
Tu hijo habla Of course at first he doesn't recognize
his own name or even my voice for I am speaking to him
with an affection whose prepositions
point in all the wrong directions
It's simple: We don't loathe one another in Spanish
the way we do in English For once we are laughing
at the same time From Que hay hasta Adios we end
by wishing each other to God
and the boys—I can still hear them teasing one another
in lunfardo down the street Maybe
they aren't too young to despise
their fathers Maybe they can already taste
a petty venom distilling in their mouths
in the prayers they pretend to say before they sleep

For the moment I love my dad more
in this Castillian (this dialect of conquerors
this larcenists' parlance) Right now I love him
more than I will in English in the American slang
I'd rather spit at his feet
the one I stutter into my lover's hair
the one boiled into my tendons
I'm eloquent in foolishness and rage

I should tell you what you don't yet know
about my father's English: it rises
from his ankles to his torso and limbs
like molten glass It stiffens when it cools
and this is why he and I can glare at one another
for decades without moving—all the lexicons
of sadness and delight fill the body turning
cold and hard around every muscle and bone
a crystalline filigree twisted around the capillaries
and metacarpal nooks stopping themselves
in the esophagus duplicating precisely
the full latticework of the unseen So if
flesh sinew and gut—this human crucible—
were to fall away (as it must) what's left is the clear
anatomy of a man's invisible-within—
cast in the most fragile human language
gone 77 years unsummoned:
from Vigan cobblestone to hand-carved rosary beads
from the curious Chicago cold
to the solitary cough from a Brooklyn pew
from soup and cots and elevators and burnt offerings
from 400 years of horse shit poured hot through his veins—
and I — I am there too sitting in a chilly apartment in Palermo
listening to the fading howls from the football field
the bold charity of a foreign tongue sweetening
in my mind the image of this quickly aging man
who used to whack me and my brothers
silly with his leather belt and every word
of every tenderness I have failed to speak
is already rising through my knees
as glass It is old and it is pure
It is not free from bitterness or grief
It is heating my very fingers as I write this
I want to learn to love more fluently
even if it means—in English—
I should shatter into the body of my father

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2007 Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry
Patrick Rosal

As Glass

Beast

When You Haven't Made Love in a Long Time

The Woman You Love Cuts Apples For You

Kundiman Ending On a Theme from T La Rock

For My Childhood Friend Derek Who First Told Me I Could Call Him Nigger


2008 RESIDENT POET
Joel H. Vega

Woman in Alverna

A Street in Venice

Between Kisar and Makassar

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