Rigorous
Volume Three, Issue 4



Eileen R. Tabios


ALAALA: A Balikbayan Box For Malacanang Palace

A balikbayan box (literally “repatriate box”) is a box containing items sent by overseas Filipinos back to the Philippines
                —Wikipedia


—a cardboard box containing Honor
—an envelope containing Humility
—a glass jar containing Accountability
—a plastic bag (made from recycled plastic) containing Compassion
—a wallet containing Ethics

—a can containing a million Apologies for you to make to the Filipino people
—a miniature barrel containing reversing the Diaspora

—a shopping bag stuffed with Iranian rials

—a faux Limoges trinket box containing Memory
—a bento box containing the histories of Spain, England, France, Netherlands, Portugal, and the United States

—a Manila envelope bulging with the poems of Joi Barrios

—dvds presenting Nick DeOcampo’s directed “Revolutions Happen Like Refrains in a Song”
             Kidlat Tahimik’s “Why Is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow?”
             Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala’s “Batas Militar”
             Ramona Diaz’s “Imelda”
             Kara David’s “1081”
             Ed Lingao’s “Lest We Forget: Martial Law and its Victims”
             Sari Lluch Dalena and Kiri Lluch Dalena’s “The Guerilla Is A Poet”
             J Luis Burgo’s “Portraits of Mosquito Press”
             Sari Lluch Dalena’s “Dahling Nick”
             Teng Mangansakan’s “Forbidden Memory”
             Adolfo Alix Jr.’s “Alaala”
             Sari Lluch Dalena and Keith Sicat’s “History of the Underground”

—a pair of boxing gloves left by a Manong who worked Hawai’i’s sugarcane fields
—a dull knife left by a Manong who worked in Alaska’s fish canneries
—a handerchief left by my grandfather, a Manong I never knew

—a tree limb from Clody Cates and Gaige Qualmann who created tree limbs from harvested illegal weapons in San Francisco
—a thousand jewelry boxes from an anonymous Cambodian artist who melted bullets into earrings; the artist invites you to fill them up

—a___________________________________________ [Second-Generation Reader, fill in the blank]

—books
—books
—books
—Books




Sorry, Not Sorry

—written while proofing the anthology NO TENDER FENCES: An Anthology of Immigrant & First Generation American Poetry, Editors Carla Sofia Ferreira, Kim Sousa, & Marina Carreira (fundraising anthology for RAICES, Texas, 2019)


When I read the anthology
of poems bruised out
from the lives of refugees—
which is to say, all of us
since who, among us,
has never had cause for
refuge?—I consider old lies,
decisions I’d made
to survive this inherited
existence, to survive—

Once, there was a lapis lazuli
sea flecked with the yellows
of what I thought were ducks
until I realized they were
lifejackets—others write poems
on man’s inability to tread
on water, especially to escape
from one land to another
which cannot guarantee
the welcome finality of Home

Once, there were footsteps
where there shouldn’t be—
others write poems on cacti
cutting the flesh of those
desperate for its water

Once I met a man like my
father for always carrying
a white cotton handkerchief
in a pocket—others write
poems about the impossibility
of wiping away grief as if
it is sweat or the flu’s leavings

Once the sky fell into
a river because others fell
into it—others write poems
about mothers giving babies
to strangers because they
could not out-swim the heavy
currents joining so many life-
long currents in which to drown

Once, a child rocked an infant
in her arms, mimicking a memory—
others write poems of children
asked by guards to take care
of other strangers also ripped
from the arms of parents
to the discordant music of disbelief:
“No! Please no. Please no. No…!”

Once, babushkas strained to smile
as they sold bouquets of blue
cornflowers and purple mums—
others write poems of grandparents
left behind to brighten alleyways
as if good news is around the corner

Once, a family grew up bearing
the name “Pollock” because
their Russian ancestor did not speak
English and the immigration officer
noticed he had just arrived
on a boat from Poland—I don’t
write poems of lazy bureaucrats
whose decisions erase ancestral
links for future generations
(and those like me who married
into this situation as writing
fodder to transcend helplessness)

Once, a cracked leather suitcase
opened to release birds who
swooped into my mouth—
others write poems on the costs
of learning how to sing
my heart instead of their chains

Once, a brown woman lowered
herself to press her ear
against dirt—others write
poems on the desperate longing
to hear the sea licking
the skin of another country

Once, the river flowed silver
with light…except for a dark
sketch against its sunlit skin
drawn by the black tresses of
a lost daughter—others write
poems for women enduring
the sufferings over-stuffed in baskets
pressing down on their heads

Once, on the border of land
and water, red shirt and shorts
and clean sneakers on a floating
toddler—I don’t write poe… I can’t

Once, there was a massacre
in a church—others write poems
about its widening lake of blood
spilling over ancient stone steps

Once, a mother told her child
“I hate your Indian face”—others
write poems about how survival
makes a parent exercise cruelty
in the most matter-of-fact tone

Once, the moon finally stopped
shivering but it was only
a dream—others write poems
that ascribe human traits
on others, like guards on
behalf of non-objective nationalism

Once, there was a long winter
with gunshots pockmarking
the night whose black sheet
failed to camouflage everything
into a reprieve—I anticipate more
poems about that ripped light

Finally, I arrived at my poem—
I wrote about an assassin
who failed to kill my father,
losing music in the diaspora,
and that I am a “wound
impossible to heal”

I don’t write poems for those
who batter those in need
but to batter you, to bludgeon
you, to spit sorrow back
into the stench of your mouth
while retaining Faith
I will be forgiven for how
I survived outside this poem



Eileen R. Tabios: "I have released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. In 2019, my books include Witness in the Convex Mirror (TinFish) and The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019 (Marsh Hawk Press). My books include a form-based “Selected Poems” series which focus on the prose poem, the catalog or list poem, visual poetry, the hay(na)ku, and tercets. I issue “Selecteds” based on poetry form in order to show how I expanded a form’s landscape. More information is available at EileenRTabios.com."




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