Poetry. It’s an art form I don’t claim to be very good at, yet it’s something I like to write when the mood hits. My poems are personal; I don’t share them because they’re a form of catharsis for me. Sometimes, there are emotions I’d rather keep to myself: sadness, frustration, fear, or anger. Also, as I mentioned, I’m not that great at poetry. Whenever I write it, I feel like a dolphin that suddenly finds itself in the middle of a barren desert and has no idea how to get back to the ocean. Although, I’d assume the solution would involve a whole lot of flopping. And dehydration.
When one of my aunties – and being Filipino, I have an army of aunties – requested that I write a poem for a souvenir program, I found myself in a conundrum. Poetry was never one of my strong points, and yet, I felt compelled to say yes. Why? Because of legacy, history. The past rests on my shoulders, even if I don’t always feel its weight bearing down on me.
My Uncle Nathan, who passed away two years ago, was the writer in the family. He had drafted the constitution of Pototan Circle International, AKA PCI – a charity organization of Filipino immigrants from my family’s hometown of Pototan. His contributions didn’t end there. Every year, PCI would get together to celebrate the town fiesta, and my uncle would write something for the souvenir program: a poem, an essay, a welcome address. My auntie wanted someone to continue that tradition. When she chose me, I couldn’t refuse the honor. My uncle played a huge role in my life. He was like a second father to me, and we shared a similar passion for the written word. What better way to pay tribute to him, then to follow in his footsteps?
With this year being the 30th anniversary of PCI, my auntie asked me to write an ode to the hometown. I obliged and began brainstorming ideas. I drew upon my personal memories from past visits to Pototan, recalling sights, sounds, and smells. My most vivid recollections came from my first visit to the town, when I was only ten years old. I walked around the plaza with my cousins right after a rainstorm. This place, so different from anything I’d experienced before, became etched into my mind’s eye. I used this moment as my starting point.
I shored up the poem with some extra research. My parents, their eyes still rich with childhood experiences, helped to fill in some blanks. After several false starts, I struggled past the shadows of self-doubt and managed to create something decent. I consulted with some trusted friends and family members, whose suggestions elevated my work from decent to good. I’m certainly no Robert Frost, and I don’t expect anyone in the field of poetry to ever call my piece “great.” However, when one of my readers told me the poem made him homesick, and another one said she teared up at the end, then I knew I’d at least accomplished what I set out to do. Whether or not my poem is “great” doesn’t matter. Contributing to my uncle’s legacy and paying homage to my roots in a town on the other side of the Pacific… Those are the things that truly matter.
You can read my poem, “The Place of Many Putat Trees,” online right here.
Title Quote: “Lives of great men all remind us / We can make our lives sublime / And, departing, leave behind us / Footprints on the sands of time” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from “A Psalm of Life”