By Aurelio S. Agcaoili

With this ritual

Of remembrance,

I am.

I am a Filipino American,

Without the hyphen,

Without the tentative tale

Of loves lost and found,

Lost and then found again

In these parts, here, now

Where snow is not a dream

But the reality of a chill coming

Too soon to possess me

In the cold of the early hours

Of late mornings

In lonely Los Angeles

In sad San Francisco

In hopeful Honolulu

In insomniac New York.

With the hyphen removed,

I am as Filipino as

I am as American.

Two narratives of the same

I am, this act affirming

A new beginning, an old end

Coming in ceaseless renewing

Like the calm seas remembering

The journey from home to here

From the language of easy laughter

To this tight and taut tale

Of quick joys, instant in the mix

Of days of drunkenness from the riot

Of colors in the mountains where I carry

My soul to remember my mountain

In Montalban where the hero etched

His cry for freedom,

This mountain that I have to climb now

In English as in numbered steps,

Careful not to tread upon the sacred

Ground, that piece of earth where the dew

Chooses to sparkle with the young sun

The way my children in their absent

Memory of hunger in the homeland

Do not see the pain of growing

Without the story of fullness

From meals served on time

From coffee without the salt

From rice without the anguish

That goes with a stomach grumbling

For more of the grace that we harvest

In the streets of the big cities

Of San Diego where Tagalog is spoken

Where kindness is shy and aloof

But the green money comes in handy

And keeps me company

All the days of my life in exile.

I face my America without

The history of disgrace woven

By its leaders who have learned to lie.

I face my Philippines

Without the sweet salvation

Of words said in cadence,

Empty as empty tombs

Where desire and dream are embalmed,

Preserve for a future use.

I face my America this way

Each day: I pray it will be a new land.

I face my Philippines this way:

I pray it will grow again after the storm seasons

I pray it will festoon itself with the welcome ribbons

Of sons and daughters coming home.

I have this America tucked in my heart

I have this Philippines taking residence in my soul.

My America and my Philippines

Are rituals of two plots

Of the same life story that I am

The same story line

As in a melody made out of two songs,

The words twining

Each completing each other

In the lyrics of sorrow as in joy

I come to grief

I come to remember

I come to sing again.

I am

An exile of memory.

I am

A memory of exile

From the fierce lands

With the fierce hopes,

The memory brown in the beginning

And then becoming

All the colors that

The rainbow makes

After the monsoon rains

Or the storms in their strange seasons

Ravishing our woolly world,

The one created out

Of porridge and prayer and patience

To let each day pass without dying

But allowing hope to come to terms

With the dream that matters

Like this coming over to this part

Of earth where dream is real

Where the ritual of remembering

Leads to a tryst with two fates,

One a rubric for resisting forgetting,

Another a mantra for acceptance

Of my being American for some split seconds

Of my being Filipino for many moments

I convince my ear of the sounds of American English

Spoken in my presence

And I am lost in this labyrinth

Of language becoming less strange

To the Filipino ear without which daring

Is impossible, or courage too, or even boldness

For this eternal wandering

Of my heavy heart

Of my sad soul

Of my mindless mind

Of my betrayed body

And it is the break of dawn in these parts

Even as beyond the seas, my evening comes,

And this memory of calm after the storm

Battering my islands and my spirit

After the downpour

Even as the rainbow takes on a habit

And officiates in the re-gathering

Of our selves and our hopes

Even as we have become strangers

For we are a people gone astray,

Gone away from the hearth

That warms us in winter nights.

We think of all that which are:

The sum of our fears and failures

Now the product

Of my America in my heart

Of my Philippines in my mind.

I gather the wild winds

From the familiar and strange shores

Those that peak in the heights bearing

The good news of having arrived

At my soul, me a stranger coming home

From the war of selves fusing,

Two selves becoming one

In this ritual of remembrance.

In this ritual of remembrance,

My dual worlds come to meet me

And I am.

December 17, 2005

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