The Breath of Sparrows
for Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
So it has arrived, the news
of your departure. Last night
I dreamt I was in the house
of my mentor, as a frequent guest
who took a desk by the window.
A towering tree with red
and yellow flowers as big as hands,
the breeze slipping between each
petal finger. I went to his room
to ask the name of that tree.
He lay on his bed, resting
with eyes closed but aware
of the birds weighing down
the branches, leaves caressing
the roof. The breath of sparrows
like his own. There was no need to name
the tree, no need to name anything
at all at that moment. I bid him thanks
before leaving, my footsteps drowning
in sparrow wings.
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I finally have in my hands my contributor’s copy of The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Volume III! Took some time due to the mysterious appearance of a black hole, but what matters is that it has arrived intact ahead of the Cape Town launch in early December.
I feel lucky to be in this anthology despite sending my three poems in at the last minute. The poems, “Silent Wing,” “Human Patience,” and “Exit Music for the Disappeared,” are part of a nine-poem cycle called Endings are Beginnings which is the last section of my manuscript in progress, Sky for Silent Wings. I just wish my middle name – which is really my mother’s surname… no, wait, her father’s surname! – had not been left out altogether… well, not entirely. I see it in the biographical notes!
I’m not complaining, not at all. Just a niggle, really. 🙂
Thank you to Liesl Jobson and all the judges. Maybe next year I’ll be even luckier. Hahaha! Keep dreaming, Jim Pascual Agustin!
My country of birth is still reeling from the devastation of Haiyan/Yolanda. There is no forgetting how this tragedy has ruined so many lives. And yet human kindness and generosity shine through despite the petty politics of various parties (media, politicians, and individuals armed with keyboards). I am thankful for those who continue to help in countless ways the survivors, and all those who see beyond this catastrophe, those who seek new ways of lessening the blows of climate change. The human family can come together, I believe. This I say in a world where often there seems so little to believe in, to hope for. Yet we continue to surprise one another. We are never alone.
Doors close, doors open.
I sent an entry very late for this prestigious South African poetry competition, the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award, but was lucky enough to be included in the “longlist” which means my poems now have a place in the anthology. They didn’t quite make it to the finals, let alone the “shortlist.” Hmmm… all these lists. 🙂
But who am I to complain? I’ve never gotten any award for my writing until this year with the DALRO. Before this, the only other claim to recognition I had was when my book, Baha-bahagdang Karupukan, was a finalist at the National Book Awards in the Philippines. I am always thankful for any chance to share my work with readers, and any recognition such as these are just extra ego boost. Something to make you feel better when there is so little else to be happy about.
The three poems in the anthology are rather new. They are part of a nine-poem cycle called “Endings are Beginnings” which is the closing section for one of the manuscripts I am still working on. My copy of the anthology hasn’t arrived, so this image is straight out of the Jacana website.
Congratulations to Kobus Moolman who won First Prize, and to Vonani Bila (editor for New Coin!) and Nedine Moonsamy who won Second and Third respectively!
Maybe next year I’ll get up one rung higher. hahahaha. Ever hopeful. 🙂 Then perhaps a book deal from a South African publisher… keep dreaming. I will have to keep on making noise then.
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.
Here is the Goodreads LINK to Sound Before Water.
I, Icarus poster
I have a poem in this issue of Paper Monster Press! If you can, go attend the launch!
“Parable of the Stupid Man” from my forthcoming poetry collection, Sound Before Water (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Manila 2013), has been featured on Toe Good Poetry! The link only stays while it is the feature poem, then you will have to find it in their archives.
I can say someone famous read the poem… like Kermit the Frog or Miss Piggy. But I’m afraid it’s just me you’ll hear there.
Oh, you don’t have to press PLAY if you’d rather hear the poem in your own voice. Just read the text. Some things cannot be undone – “unheard” in this case – once you press that button. 🙂