For today’s Poetry Friday, I’ve been given the opportunity to post my contribution to this ongoing meme. In the tradition of Gathering Books, today’s poem coincides with our bimonthly theme: Festival of Asian Literature and the Immigrant Experience. Check out Katya of Write. Sketch. Repeat. for this week’s round-up.

The poem I chose is representative of a Filipino reality. Almost every Filipino knows someone whose relative works abroad. The Middle East was one of the first to open its doors to Filipino Workers. The poet, Jose Dalisay, Jr. isn’t really known as a poet in our country. I know him more as a columnist to the Philippine Star, a national newspaper. Jose Dalisay, Jr. has published over 20 books of Fiction and Non-fiction. His second novel, Soledad’s Sister, was shortlisted for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize in 2007. He now teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines.

This poem is taken from his book of poems, Pinoy Septych and Other Poems.

Bound for Saudi

Airports are where

The families of the poor

Reconstitute themselves

Around the loss

–Albeit temporary–

Of one bound for money.

His passport gleams;

Again he checks the spelling

Of his uncommon name.

His contract clads

His abdomen in iron;

No one will go unfed.

While businessmen

Rush past him, wifeless and cool,

To Tokyo, Rome and LAX,

Deserts blanket

His cold brain. He dwells on their

Irrigable vastness.

Cousins bemoan

The porkless tracts of Jeddah

(Go for the VCR!)

Uncles applaud

His inbred plumber’s genius

(Tax-free Johnnie Walkers!)

His father counts

The interest to pay on

Their mortgaged happiness.

His mother frames

His swarthy neck with special

Bishop-blessed crucifix.

His bride endures

The taunts, his gritty silence

Their hard, abraded love.

He wonders if

It will still be morning when

They lick the scraps of his

Pre-departure feast,

Propitiate their saints

Then bold the door, and sleep.

If you wish to check out more of Jose Dalisay, Jr.’s writing, you might want to check out his blog.

Have you ever had a similar experience? What’s your poem for today?

13 comments on “Life in the Overseas for Poetry Friday

  1. weordkrasa

    Yesterday, as I was just skimming the table of contents of my book, Under the Storm (An Anthology of Contemporary Philippine Poetry) and Rio Alma’s poem, Seaman, caught my attention. I want to share it with you vis-a-vis your post for today 🙂 both English and Filipino translations are on this link.check it out 🙂

    One can never really get used to saying goodbyes to their loved ones no matter how many time they have done it.


    • Hi,

      Thank you for sharing that poem. It was beautiful;. Yes, goodbyes are never easy and yet in the Filipino context it is a undeniable reality.


  2. Hi, Myra. I am a first-generation American. Growing up, we were always greeting and goodbying our family at airports. There is so much hope and emotion wrapped up the experience of immigration, even when it is temporary.


    • Hi Laura,
      Your comment reveals that this poem, while particular in its portrayal of Filipino reality, is universal as it tackles goodbyes and greetings. It is true, that such goodbyes are packed with emotions that are both sad and hopeful for they promise a good life, but a parting. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂


  3. Pingback: Poetry Friday Roundup: The Master Speed | Write. Sketch. Repeat. — Katya Czaja

  4. Thanks for sharing this poignant poem. It’s universal and timeless!


  5. Wow – thank you, Iphigene, for introducing me to this writer and for sharing such a poignant poem. I was in two airports yesterday watching folks – so many stories inside each one.


  6. haitiruth

    “Mortgaged happiness.” Yes. Ruth,


  7. I have known some who left their country so they could slowly save to bring everyone to American & wondered how they endured the separation. Sometimes children are left behind. Thanks for giving us this poem, Iphigene & the background too.


    • Hi Linda,
      One of my oldest friends spends 6 months without a mother and another 6 months with them. While she is by now used to it, it was difficult adjusting and readjusting their lives when her mother would come back and then leave.

      I’m glad that you enjoyed this poem from my side of the world.


  8. Poetry can truly give us the experience we ourselves have never had. This is the life of many of the students I teach — if not their parents, then their uncles and cousins. Thank you for showing my heart the pain of these sacrifices. (My head already knew…)


    • Hi Mary Lee,
      Yes, good literature (Poetry) allows us to vicariously go through an experience. I am glad that this little poem was able to reach out to you and in some way share the heart of other people’s sacrifices.


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