‘A Letter to My Mother from Her Suitcase at the Start of Her Last Journey’ and ‘The Truths of Places’

 

This is part of a series of ekphrastic poems presented alongside ‘Hyphenated’ at The Substation. Eleanor Jackson’s poems respond to the work of exhibiting artists Hoang Tran Nguyen and Tammy Wong Hulbert.


 

A Letter to My Mother from Her Suitcase at the Start of Her Last Journey

 

 Dearest,

I’m so sorry. After all we’ve shared, it has come to this: a short ride in the back of a long car to nowhere in particular, to the repetitious lawn lozenges of finality, eternity. Even as this was our always destination — everything else being detour/non sequitur/aside — I know we deserved better.

Remember that first trip? The airplane lifting us up and away from the Pasig, you watching the water lillies receding on the swill-heavy water, your face arrayed so joyously on the tarmac, waving, anticipating what was to come. I don’t know why you cried as soon as we touched down. You could not have known it would be nothing like America. Who could have anticipated the dry stale air, the empty streets, the flat rows of Monier-tile houses with no one to talk to, the night free from street vendor’s call, “balut, balut”, nothing to pray to but the overhead fan in the night? We only knew it was sooner than Canada. Maybe we should have waited.

Let’s be grateful together instead for visiting your sister (twice), the rich one, as resplendent as a golden salamander, basking in her radiated heat; the strange ferry journey to that dark, stunted island with its tacky antique stores and terrible coffee, with the man who paid for some things and not others; the electrical storm that came in as we went to the stacked, twinkling boxes of Hong Kong, in the knowledge we would not spend our Sundays in Little Manila, we would Imelda-cruise the shopping malls with our gluttonous credit card and superiority. I know you loved me as a watchmaker loves time, with reverence, holiness. I’m sorry we never saw Disneyland, that America was so disappointing: brown people and black people and yellow people all poor, willing to work for food, just like back home. Surprise.

I’m sorry we lay so dormant for so long, waiting for our Golden Ticket, our lucky ride, that next deal, our big break, the chasm that never came. In the long rain of our lives, we all wish for the clouds to part in glorious sunburst. Surely we were happy enough with the brief respite of light showers? Life has been much better than it could have been, even as it has still been disappointing. I did not mind. Did you?

I’m going to your daughter’s, the child who hasn’t yet forgotten you, despite her very best efforts. She says you linger like perfume. It’s fine there, for now, I wish she wouldn’t refer to me as baggage.

Travel lightly.

 

The Truths of Places

 

Now that the idea of West no longer frightens (or is all they can afford) they’ve come
To hollow out the truth of old sullen places, where once, under sour skies
Transients, indigents, migrants – all the piled up people – lived, refracting
Thin dry light against hopes for the children and memory. The tatters of home flutter

To hollow out the truth of old sullen places, where once, under sour skies
They worked hard with cracked hands, sang with unchecked spirit:
A thin dry light against hope. For the children and memory, the tatters of home flutter
Faint as a moth wing beat, bleak with the same futility.

They worked hard with cracked hands, sang with unchecked spirit, so
It’s strange to watch the cranes erect the new apartments to the sky.
Faint as a moth wing beat, bleak with the same futility
They clean the songs the smells the wicked spirits of the past.

It’s strange to watch the cranes erect the new apartments to the sky
Now that the idea of West no longer frightens (or is all they can afford) and they’ve come
To clean the songs the smells the wicked spirits of the past:
Transients, indigents, migrants – all the piled up people who lived, refracting

Author: Eleanor Jackson

Eleanor Jackson is a Filipino Australian poet, performer, arts producer and community radio broadcaster. Eleanor Jackson is a former Editor in Chief and Poetry Editor of Peril and currently Chair of the Board.

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