My mother taught me how to make paper boats. Newspaper was not the best material to use, for water moves fast on its skin, further darkening the printed words. But newspaper was what I was allowed to fold and tear. What is a boat if it never runs on water? A round basin of water is no more than a cage. So making paper boats meant waiting for rain. Or setting your fragile boat on rushing open drains – water that spurted from neighborhood pipes, dragging bits of rice, fish bone, sometimes other stuff that I’d rather not mention. I was young and only what flowed mattered.
I never thought I’d be writing one day. My hands look like they were meant to do something else, hold a scythe or a hammer, tear down old buildings or mix cement. I have the hands of someone who might till the land. Yet I don’t. I write as if it was something like air for me. If I don’t write I know I am slowly dying – the kind that starts from inside, and no one else can see or sense until all limbs hang without a single beating vein.
Now this. After more than a full month in various dark places (sorting boxes, airplane cargo bays, conveyor belts running through metal tunnels, etc) and being handled by strangers who may never hear of me or read a single word I write, the only copy in Africa (yes! the only one! for now!) of my new poetry book in English (the language of one of my former colonial masters) Sound Before Water felt young and weary when I finally held it in my hands yesterday. That sentence was intentionally long and tedious to reflect the journey. Or just to test the patience of the reader. 🙂
A very good friend, the poet Emmanuel Q. Velasco, sent Sound Before Water by post along with a copy of Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo’s book of essays, Stella and Other Friendly Ghosts and the various documents from the National Book Awards last year. I was thankful that my collection in Filipino was a finalist, but was also sad at the same time that the English collection was not even nominated.
My new book joins Alien to Any Skin and Baha-bahagdang Karupukan in their search for readers who might find my words on paper worth keeping. One more paper child is due to meet the world soon. We always hope for the best for our children.