Aileen I. Cassinetto: Barbara Jane Reyes, Angela Narciso Torres, and Ivy Alvarez: Masters of Technique and Craft

invocation

Reyes’ Invocation to Daughters is a liturgical and literary feat; its syntax, fearless and innovative; its emotional range, broad and explicit. It begins innocuously—an FAQ—except, the first few lines already foreshadow a narrative that is as complex as it is unvarnished:

I am fluent in the language of la luz, ang lakbay, el cruzamiento. My mother tongue is criollo y kimera; it is also mongrel and bastard.

Invocation oscillates between languages—English, Spanish, Filipino, Latin—in a linguistic code mixing that is at once familiar and unsettling:

They really want obediencia. Di ba?

“Di ba?” literally means “Isn’t it so?” This is loaded language where the speaker does not necessarily seek validation. This is Manila jargon uttered, in this case, with sharpness and irony. There is a glimmer of humor, however, in the following lines, with their end rhymes and acerbic tone (“Mga suplado,” a plural masculine noun which means “snobs,” would not be incongruous in a Filipino comedic script):

They want me to be their mono. Mga suplado. Reklamo-reklamo. Xenófobo. Ako po ay sigurado.

Linguistics aside, Invocation is a call to prayer as well as a call to arms:

Mater purissima, Mater castissima
Pray for us, our sharpest razor
Mater inviolata, Mater intemerata
Pray for us, brassy ball breaker

It is versicle and response, litany and doxology:

Praise the bitch slapped face, the hemorrhaged eyes. The cluster. The clot. We thin our blood, we run. We run, and we always look back.

Praise you. May you emerge, graced and gospeled. Unjudged, unfallen, and the color of sky.

It is timely:

2. The Gospel of Comments Section

For some reason, I do not believe her.
She better have proof; I need it. She’s making a money grab. She’s an unskilled worker, and she should quit complaining. She’s lucky to have a job at all.

3. Response

Just give it time and everyone will forget about her.
Just give it time, and there will be a new one just like her.

Reyes speaks against the patriarchy, against colonialism, against the violence constantly perpetrated against Filipina women. Her speaker’s voice is strong and steady, angry. And at one point, vulnerable and hushed, sacred—like a requiem:

When nothing else was to be done, we sat his last days by his bedside, cooing and whispering, stroking his hair. That was the first time any soul had ever said of us—maganda pala pag purong babae.

Above all, Invocation to Daughters is affirming. At its heart is the Filipina, “full of kick and grit”; a torchbearer and truth teller, “sharp-tongued, willful.”


torres

Torres’ Blood Orange is elegant and haunting. It weaves beginnings and confluences, permanence and flux, with effortless grace. In rhythmic and lyrical language, it brings forth sensory images of landscape and belonging with stunning craft:

What ocean liner, which bus station
to the loam that bore the imprint
of my first patent leather shoes. How far
to the cogon grass that watched my shadow
lengthen to the frayed edges of day.

Her tone is meditative and unperturbed. We feel the “white heat of hand rhymes,” see “the tile-roofed house,“ smell the “steaming pan de sal,” taste “the grainy crust soaked / in coffee,” “hear / the soft slap of hemp slippers on stone…”

Her imagery is tactile and febrile, vivid. It creates a scene that begins innocently, retrospectively: summer, river, stories. Until the scene shifts to dusk; the mood changes and is now filled with dark undertones. Notice what was not said between these dense, enjambed lines:

There was always too much
to remember of San Juan—summer, a river,
stories the women sang. A shaft of light
igniting Tita Pacita’s rooms at dusk.
The night Benny shot the Dizons’ dog
with his BB gun, as it stretched on the carport
scratching fleas, only the tadpoles saw,
and none but stag beetles heard.

Like the fruit, Torres’ work is distinct. It is tart, it is sweet, it is red. Her speaker’s voice is unflustered. And before the reader settles into the familiar, or before s/he indulges in nostalgia, it deftly reels the reader in. Its heart is home: the breadth and depth of it, safe and sometimes, messy. Blood Orange is about family and generations. And in light of recent events (and because Torres pushes us to intuit), what (or who) have we sacrificed thus far? And, “What will our children remember / of the shape of that year?”


alvarez

Forthcoming from Paloma Press is Ivy Alvarez’s Diaspora Volume L. Ivy’s concept of reclaiming and engaging past and current Tagalog  idioms is invaluable given that Tagalog, pluricentric and weighted with postcolonial concerns, has been standardized and/or code-switched owing to purism, systematic drifts, and recent migrations. For example, “Lígaw-tingín,” a colloquial phrase most likely popularized before the Fourth Republic, has become an elevated literary idiom, laden with tradition, history, and culture. “Lumang tugtugin,” however, is redolent of a postcolonial past, an idiom favored around the time Bienvenido N. Santos left the Philippines as a pensionado. It means “old news (literally, old music).” Ivy gilds it with a rhythm that rises with belly strength:

What are these seconds you bring and sing? Can’t even remember when last I sinned. This morning? I’m full of questions. Split my belly and you’ll find ‘em, stem to stern. Around the kernel, a corner of truth, sharp as tax. When humidity burns, it’s time to get out, time to subtract myself from danger’s path, steam-rollering like a curling iron set too hot on my neck, your neck, our all-too-tender necks.

Ivy approaches her lexicographic work inventively and with absolute command of her craft, “Every sense amplified to the level of prey, skittish, almost British, endangered, barely keeping the heart at bay from one’s throat.”


Aileen I. Cassinetto is the author of the poetry collections Traje de Boda and The Pink House of Purple Yam Preserves, as well as the chapbooks The Art of Salamat, B & O Blues, and Tweet. Widely anthologized, her work is on permanent display at the San Francisco Public Library as part of the Hay(na)ku Poetry Exhibit. She is also the publisher of Paloma Press, a San Francisco Bay Area-based independent literary press established in 2016, which has released 12 books to date.

Advertisements