Follow Harriet on Twitter
A few things about R. Zamora Linmark’s ‘The Evolution of a Sigh’
[R. Zamora Linmark: Photographed by Roger Erickson in Los Angeles. From Out Magazine.]
I wanted to say a few things about R. Zamora Linmark’s energetic collection The Evolution of a Sigh (Hanging Loose Press, 2008) which I’ve read and reread, and which had me cracking up at some of what I enjoy best in Linmark’s work; he mines and dredges that space between languages and all of the weirdness of that space, which facilitates communication and miscommunication. As in his first book, one of my favorites, the novel Rolling the R’s, he writes unapologetically from a place of historically and culturally misused English. This misuse leads to the creation of new sets of definitions, as in the first stanza of “Surviving the Post-American Tropics”:
when entering the Postmodern Islands
of Beyond Repair is that “to salvage” means
to exterminate someone, ice their heart
and kidneys for transplant trafficking before
dumping the boy in the tallest manmade
mountain of refuse, or selling the corpse
whole to the media, as in: “69 journalists salvaged
since ’86; president vows to salvage salvagers.”
The Postmodern Islands of Beyond Repair is, of course, the Philippines, and the abusers of English are salespeople (“Sir, have you availed / already of the 2-4-1 skin-bleaching promo”); blonde-dyed Filipinas in Starbucks in Manila (“The acting manager-in-relief, you know, / gave me an ocular inspection”), sugar daddies in bathhouses (“Use ‘my dick’ in a paragraph. / And then I’ll pay you.”), action heroes who’ve become politicians (“To be / what it takes to be. Only then we shall / be so be it because it is.”). We have here the irony of a nation of people who pride themselves on their mastery of English and American popular culture, and obscenely misuse them both, as in “Doris Day & Night Eatery”:
ee plumbings, chief rival of Christopher Plumbing.
FELIX THE CUT SALON, located right beside the SINE QUA NON convenience store.
I believe the above Philippine businesses’ names are real. I also believe the gusto with which Filipinos pun the English language and American popular culture references has to do with staking a claim in English, transforming it rather than being disenfranchised or victimized by it.
Language and communication are about context, as we see from the use of “salvaged,” and in the poem, “In Tagalog”:
Instead: siya, while we is split
into two, designed especially to include
(tayo) – or exclude (kami) — you.
at the eggplant and bitter melon market
behind the Virgin Mary grotto
and are greeted by someone
telling you how fat (sobrang
taba) or dark (itim na itim)
you’ve become, that’s normal.
Remain calm, avoid the specifics.
The vague response diyan lang
(just there) is enough
to end the conversation.
What I like about the above excerpt is that it reads like a politically impolite rendering of the Culture Shock! series, you know, the travel guide book series which is supposed to instill cultural understanding in westerners traveling to the “Post-American Tropics.” Makes you wonder if the “you” of this poem is included or included in “we.”
In the book’s final section, Linmark explores the spaces between English, Tagalog, slang spoken in Hawaii, and Japanese.
“‘Chichi’ are “tits” in Hawaii but a “father” in Japan. Don’t laugh because ‘haha’ is your mother.”
“Taeko” is a Japanese girl’s name but “my shit” in Tagalog.
This final section reads like zuihitsu, a compilation of various notes from Japanese 101 class, post-it’s from a one night stand with a Burberry suit wearing “salaryman,” Yahoo chats, pantoum crafted using a friend’s text messages, and travel notebook entries through Japan. Through his travel notebook entries, we see he is jarred by his interactions the marginalized Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) population and community, who are both familiar and foreign to him:
7:57 p.m. 85% of Filipinos in Japan are women.
8:04 p.m. The Japanese government issues only three-to-six-month visas to OFW’s … less for Filipino tourists.
8:33 p.m. Cassius’ apartment, on the kitchen table, a still life of banned foods: oxtails cooked in peanut sauce, shrimp paste, mongo beans, pork innards, and rice.
8:35 p.m. Dumbstruck by Filipinos conversing in Japanese, he sees himself as an invited guest through a common origin but made exile by language.
8:38 p.m. Autumn moon-viewing at Kashima Shrine, Basho said:
“Neither monk nor warrior
I call myself a bat —
Neither bird nor mouse.”
10:33 p.m. “The moment, like eternity, is in a word” — Edmond Jabès
I think it’s appropriate to end my write-up with Jabès, who also wrote, “Always in a foreign country, the poet uses poetry as an interpreter.”