For people like me living on a long vertical island surrounded by beautiful beaches, missing the summer heat in the sea is like committing a mortal sin. While my friends report to work with sun-tanned faces, mine was white and pale. While they flood their online albums with beach escapades, I was somewhere, nursing a physical pain. Each time I admit to friends I missed going to the sea last summer, they would have this look like they have just heard the most incredulous thing in their lives. No Cebuano misses the beach in summer. Nobody has to state that in bold letters; it’s the natural order of things.
Funnily enough, as if fate was trying to tease me, I borrowed a book, An Edith Tiempo Reader (edited by Gemino H. Abad, et. al.), from the school library last weekend. The book was like a summary, almost a tribute, of the kind of writer Tiempo was. And most of her poems in the book dealt with the sea.
|Edith L. Tiempo, when she was young (Image credits)|
Through the years, she wrote several short stories, novels, and poems. It is her remarkable poetry that makes me remember and appreciate her most.
Here are some of her poems:
All day his floating face tangled with the net.
Each haul the meshes thrashed with angry tails,
The clustered eyes clamored and the slime and scales
And gills quivered with his own disgust. Yet
Once, a boy fished where the fishes were more tame,
A stream where he dipped a small hand and the fishes came,
And when he gently chucked their bellies with a finger,
They slowly wagged their fins, roiling the water
Hardly. Man now, he seized a fish and peeled
Its scales alive and flung it in again;
The naked creature hit the reefs and reeled,
The water swirled--he jeered to see the little stain.
He stalked again, he flung the net into a school,
Drew in the catch, cursed each thrash and pull;
He grudged the clutching mollusk its involuted stores,
He pried that this scrupulous oyster part its pearly doors;
His hunger scooped the sea, he preyed and trapped
And tore the masks. Around him all the voiceless faces wept.
It borrowed its being from the foam,
The bright elusive breathing,
The flickery gasps of flame
Buried in the no-shape, even now crumbling;
Bulk that once held a burden and a name,
Hulk where log-worms now wouldn’t find a home.
Strange how such a dead thing divides
So neatly the present from the past,
Itself a blending that derides
Our careful emptiness and our last
Lost selves. One minute we were nothing,
Then dredged up on the shore this something-
No-thing, once of the sea and still a part,
Niched in the sand but alien and glittering:
Lost anger stranded in a quiet heart.
Afternoon of a Sea Faun
(For Ed, on his pondering Browning’s Rabbi)
Turn over the loose stones
And also know
The face of what
We are not,
What we refuse to be.
These are just as he
Who slips his spectacles on,
Pondering on Ben Ezra,
And she who dips her aging hands
Into the silent clouds
Dard and fey but alchemic
The wood nymphs run,
Those spurned when she was twelve.
And he has quite forgot,
That, past the coral reefs, a sea faun
Dangles the bait and rod.
Still we foster
The acquiescent shape
By our rejection,
Giving voice, blood, name
To the random breath;
Love is many and truth is just,
And so we are: Both
What we choose,
And we refuse.
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I would not criticize these poems; I just let them wash over me, like sitting on the sandy shore and be mesmerized by the sway of the waves over and under my feet. These poems remind me of various elements I witnessed by the sea--the frustrated fisherman with little catch, children playing with no care of the time, seaweeds and other strange objects floating on the water, dark stones and seashells that would make a good collection, the sea breeze, and the heartwarming panorama of the blue sea and the blue sky.
And so, that is how I got a good view of the sea, even when I missed it last summer, with Edith Tiempo as company.
- Nancy -
What poems have you read this past week?
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As I hope to participate in The Poetry Project hosted at Regular Rumination and The Written World as part of my personal endeavor to learn to appreciate poetry, here are my answers to their Meet and Greet Questionnaire:
1. Why do you want to join the Poetry Project? I have grown up with some English teachers who are fonder of meters and stanzas than the message and beauty of poems as a whole. Discouraged, I turned to short fiction and novels, not understanding how much I was missing. I’m catching up and I’m just so glad to be able to do so through this project.
2. Do you have a favorite poet? My favorite poets are mostly from my country; I understand when their poems display a powerful message on nationalism, poverty, and other social issues. They include Amador Daguio and Edith Tiempo, but I’m now discovering more Filipino poets. I also like Walt Whitman.
3. Hopefully this will go longer than a year. Do you have any suggestions for monthly themes? Maybe poems about the country/place you lived and love; poems that changed your mindset/perspectives on some social issues. Anything goes, really.
4. What are your experiences with poetry in the past? Have they been positive or negative? Negative, as I have shared in the first item. I was pretty much discouraged by my teachers. They made poetry look like a very difficult thing to study and appreciate, with all the word for word and line by line and syllable by syllable and meter by meter analysis that took up about at least three hours a week. Okay, maybe I’m being too hard on them and maybe I haven’t exerted much effort. But in the past, each time I look at a poem, I saw it as something as difficult as college Algebra. Literally.
5. Tell us about a poem or poet that has had a profound effect on you. If you can think of a poem, how about a song? Or a line from a story? Here’s a line from The Flaming Lyre by Filipino poet and writer Amador Daguio:
“Just pluck your heartbeats, boy,” he said,
“And pluck the things you see,
And you will find how strings are fed
By the sounds that come from me.”
Read the rest of the poem here.
6. What frustrates you about poetry or the way we talk about poetry? I guess, from my experience, English teachers should learn to teach poetry properly, encourage their students to appreciate them, because poetry... it’s a beautiful gold mine in literature.
7. Tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with poetry. I read, blog, and write short stories, too.
I hope you could join The Poetry Project over at Regular Rumination. Here are more details.
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And just as an update, I stumbled upon this poem by John Masefield, which talks about the sea:
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking,
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.