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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Pinay Observer: Companion Book List

As a reader and (now) blogger, I keep a keen eye out for works by Filipino and Filipino-American writers. They truly deserve more attention.

To do my part, I have created an open and interactive companion book list for this blog. If you are looking for a good read, or simply want to familiarize yourself with Filipino authors, please check it out here— better yet, leave a bookmark, I promise to add more books as I discover them.

For a peek into what I am currently reading, check out my Reading List. Happy reading!

A Poem for Friday: “Where are you from?”

“Where are you from?” by Alex Cena, Gowri Koneswaran, and Jenny C. Lares (collectively, Sulu DC)

Where are you from?

Where are you really from?

Where am I from?
Your question makes me flinch
Makes me narrow my eyes
At your narrow ways of defining me
Suspecting me of being foreign
‘Cause this phenotype doesn’t match yours
And my answer’s not what you were expecting

I live down the block, across the state, past the river
Inhaled American air in my first breath
I speak English in my dreams, out loud
Lies in the depth of my parents’ arms
Outstretched to their history
And the one we share in this country

So tell me where are YOU from?
Where are you REALLY from?

Asked by strangers, I used to say “the Philippines”, now I simply say “Jersey.” I was unaware such a simple question (when asked one too many times) can cause offense.

Now I know, thanks to an eye-opening talk by Fil-Am psychology professor Kevin Nadal.* And now I have a word for it: racial microaggression, covert or subtle racist behavior that causes psychological confusion (“Did that really just happen?”). I realized instantly that I have been on both ends of the deal. The question lingers, what do I do about it? What would you?

(Full poem here via Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry.)

(*Prof. Kevin Nadal teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY, and is the author of the research handbook “Filipino American Psychology“– the first of its kind.)


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