Seed Syllable, 1

(For all hotel workers, majority of them are Ilokanos, who continue to receive unfair treatment by the hotels they are working for. Today, there is a call for a boycott of one hotel in Waikiki. This poem is in sympathy with the workers who have yet to receive economic justice they deserve)

It is catching the poem of protest on the street
in between thought and sadness
this seed syllable of our struggle
we commenced since a hundred years

The freeways in Honolulu on Monday mornings
are generous of these gifts seeing
what injustice is when you go
for a sunshine slowdown
rev up to a slow motion, inch up
when time flies and you go nowhere
when you fly and time goes everywhere

Such is our hurried lives over here:
we are migrants all between times
migrants between places and revolutions
we keep to ourselves, just to ourselves
between a Honolulu sunrise and a Waikiki sunset
the tourists come to pay for

But who knows about our people
browned by dreams of getting on ahead
but they have tourist rooms to keep
tidy up and put away the smell of strange loves
while the contended laughter in hotel lobbies
make them sadder each day, our own,
they who cannot afford to stop
working with their tired hands
thinking with their worried minds
they who cannot afford to call it quits?

Sixteen rooms a day and you
have to put in an immigrant's dignity as well
the heart callused by capital in dollar terms
at its earnest, your human labor by the hour
brown man, brown woman with your accent
thick as the mountains you came from
parched as the earth you left behind
your life a dailiness you cannot run away from

You can rehearse before an old, shrouded mirror
say how to roll the R for a thousand times
make it softer, the long a's coming
the t's in between grief and another
even as you soften those gnarled hands
put on some Ilokano ointment to the joints
or clear your throat of a lump that does not go away
but richochets to your bed when you make a syllable
hear the one voice you have always wanted to echo

You are everywhere, migrants, colored and docile
or immigrants, new Americans you are
or whatever you are called or call yourself now
and poised to strike, your own people, your own kind
take on your strength, keep the ballroom banquet
filled out on Saturdays and Sundays till kingdom come

and they do laugh out loud, talk of token charity
back home, tuition money for the poor they exhibit
coffins for the dead, churches for the living

and there you are, bringing in the joy
the trays heavy with food and care
the coffee pot brewing with Kona
and that rare delight of aloha no longer sweet
you put on tables, hide it in red napkins
until the curtains fall and you clean up

one by one you pick up the pieces
of work you need to do to send the dollar
home, send kin and kith some balikbayan boxes
of goodies, goodness, and remembrance
so they can figure out what Hawai'i is
and the dear America of the brave and the free

I sense the seed syllable in your word
you utter in total silence once in while to keep the calm
in your raging soul, its heat the cold of moonlit nights
on deserted beachsands in Kapolei and the west winds
there you go, in ceremony, to secretly throw away
what can be abandoned to the wild waves
like a worker's tear that does not well up

I keep this sacred war within,
this sanctified resistance out

A Solver Agcaoili
Hon, HI
Mar 2/08


debster said...

Has to be my favorite from this blog. Can I ever open your blog without shedding a tear? Im trying to keep you from blame for this sudden rise in my blood pressure. (Just kidding, Manong!) You speak truth and your poem articulates what my mother cannot. Dios ti agngina Manong.

ariel said...

Ala, we have to have high blood for what is happening to our people, di ngamin? Onward, onward with our struggle for freedom and social justice wherever we are.