A Poem For Friday: “Uncommon Denominators”

This week’s poem is dedicated to my fellow Filipinos in the sciences, and to everyone involved in building The Mind Museum:

“Uncommon Denominators” by Patrick Rosal*

I add up the times I’ve fantasized about
women I’ve seen but never spoken to
and divide that by the hours
I drive past cemeteries and add again
the weight of breath in your mouth
measured in the ancient Tagalog word for yes
—but the number always comes out the same

So I subtract the moon
and the smell of incense on Good Friday
trying to connect Planck’s Constant
to the quantum moment between
a candlelit flick and the back of your neck
setting aside my 7 dreams of having sex once
with Tyra Banks who tells me God
You Filipino guys know
how to make love to a woman
and even if I tally the 10,069
channels launched by satellites
which have an asymptotic relationship
to the count of stones cast
from a sinner’s fist raised
to the power of eight million punch-clock
stiffs heading home late
still the number comes out the same
and when a beggar pirouettes
along an expressway’s center lane
swearing this won’t be his last
cigarette (smoke rising from
the rust in his moustache ) I suddenly know
the acceleration of a falling body
has little to do with slipping
a mother into the ground or
a whole greater than the sum of its parts

And if you ask what I’m doing
with 7 loaves and 4 fish multiplied
by the root of a dried tamarind tree
or the coefficient of friction
of a bullet on the brink of a rib
or the number of clips emptied
into an unarmed Guinean man
on a dark Bronx stoop I’ll tell you
I’m looking for the exact
coordinates of falling in love plus or minus
the width of a single finger
lost along the axis of your lips

(Taken from: “Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive”, the poet’s debut collection, and winner of the 2003 Members’ Choice Award of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.)

The Mind Museum at Taguig is a project of the Bonifacio Art Foundation, Inc. and is curated by Maribel Garcia.** Already 30 percent complete and scheduled to open in the last quarter of 2011, the country’s first world-class science museum is invitingly at hand. If you can, please help make (and keep) this vision a reality.

(*Patrick Rosal is a New Jersey native, the son of immigrants from the Ilocos region of the Philippines. His latest book, “My American Kundiman” was published in 2006.)

(**Maribel Garcia is also one of National Geographic’s “Live Curious” campaign ambassadors. You can find her weekly science column, “De Rerum Natura”, in the Philippine STAR.)

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“Chaos Given Order”: Link by link

In my previous post, the first (of many) on Miguel Syjuco’s wise novel “Ilustrado”, the protagonist (also named Miguel Syjuco) wonders if his mentor, accomplished Filipino author Crispin Salvador, had “grown too soft for a city [Manila] such as this, a place possessed by a very different balance.” It continues:

Wholly different from the zeitgeist lining the Western world, with its own chaos given order by multitudes of films and television shows, explained into our communal understanding by op-ed pieces and panel discussions and the neatness of stories linked infinitely to each other online.

(Emphasis mine.) Miguel wonders whether this has kept Salvador from going back.

This is my favorite passage from the book. It put into words what I implicitly know, what I have slowly and deeply internalized over my years of living in the West. For me, it got right to the heart of the question: “To return or not to return?” It assured me that I was not alone in that respect.

I work as a scientist.* But more than that, I engage the world as one. I observe, organize, ask, and analyze. I need to give order to the chaos. Even if— deep down I understand— it is an exercise in vain. Hence, this blog: making sense of being Filipino, of who I am and who I can be– book by book, link by link.

I humbly invite you to follow along…

 

(*Yes, this observer is also an astronomical one.)

 

Dear Reader: I am eager to hear from you— care to share your precious thoughts?


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