(This is a continuation of our solidarity with the hotel workers of Hawai'i. No, the sugarcane plantation workers are not yet gone but are very much around, disguised by unbridled capital in new clothing; nor have the plantations been replaced; they are still here, in high rise hotels for the rich. The structure of oppression has remained, with the moneyed lording it over, taking in all the sun and surf and sand while the workers have yet to break loose and lose their chains. And many of these are Ilokanos who literally ran away from the hardships of the Ilocosland only to end up the same way over here, in the land of milk and some honey. This poem is for one father, in particular, who worked in a hotel for many years, joined the union, and then sacked for fighting for his economic rights.)
We keep repeating the same story
its title and plot are in perpetuity.
They do not change, ageless as they are
as with these shining seas surrounding our dreams
in clear water, fluid and green and aquamarine,
their virgin blue that of the skies with their canopy
of clouds and dense blessings
or the turquoise of calm currents
passing through rooms and windows
that look out to the vastness your weary
mind cannot reach.
You open the drape, heavy with sleep,
look at the scene from here, in the emptiness
of beds needing your hands, the creases of linens
demanding release from the evenings
of their mischiefs, some scents of love lingering
and then running through the streets below.
What agony you keep, what shame,
in your years of doing the same thing:
this pampering that has to go on
this ministering to someone else's needs
and never your own or your holy hours
this bowing down to the caprice of paying guests
whose thankfulness and memory
will never yours in the first place
but their demands yours
for the sweet labor that you give
to keep them come and again too soon
so the coffers would give that ring
of fullness, so the profits will fill this earth
with more of the same, today and onwards,
so the title of your story will remain
its plot forever be the same, for always?
You cannot count the days
with your fingers. Or your complaints.
You have none of those capacities
neither grieving nor grief except your fears.
You count them on, the days and your fears,
on bathroom floors your wipe clean
the virus of their weight infecting you so
until each evening when sleep takes hold
of your reminiscing of what suffering brings.
The bones will trick you as with the muscles
unable to distinguish work from prayer
or stillness and chaos of hands shooing
away the images of rooms to be redeemed
by your father's hands
and you will not feel all of the pain
that goes with serving and serving
to your heart's content
and for years and years on end.
You have children to feed,
their future to be fed as well.
I heard you: you said you are a father
of three daughters, all of school age:
one asks you, when you are going
back to work again, father? When do we
have the time to sit down on a park
and run after the leaves that fly
with the wind on Blaisdel, go catch the ripples
of the pool water on Ala Moana
or the reflection of stars on the sea
in Parker Ranch?
You cannot be honest, hotel man.
You cannot. You are from the Ilocos, man,
and your duty is to love and no less.
Not today, not this revelation,
not now, not when you fought for your right
they make you stumble and fall
they make you crawl like snake in your daughter's zoo
they make you beg for work, beg for mercy
not now when the singing tells
of Christmasses you will miss
or the carols you will forget
or the gifts that you will never be able to buy
for the daughters that give you something to hope for
You cannot say, pray tell, you cannot:
that you have the pink slip, its color
the hue of fate gone berserk
or faith losing sight of the meek
the humble, the seeker of justice,
the pink slip on your hand
and you have been shown the door
never to come back after these years
of scrubbing them white these walls
of removing the dirt of lovers gone wild
on sinks as in staircases
on window sills looking out
to the evening universe of glow and quiet
You worked from the early hours
to the dark hours, and you smiled
the smile of tired and worried archangels
You gave your heart to this job
you only know how, gave your hand
have your laughter counted
have your crying tagged with brooms
and cleaners, their whirring your cantata
or oracion, their dizzying sounds their quick matins
Your weary worker's smiles they counted
as your honor carried a price tag.
You cannot be honest and say,
today, daughter, we have to begin
to laugh, laugh out loud for not knowing
that the capitalist is all brick and brusqueness
is all dollars in dirty tricks and might
and his power is in divining our future
forever, one assured and certain for the rich,
one past for the poor and wretched
their ransom for their salvation that of a thief's.
A S Agcaoili