From “The Galleons”

1


Her story is a part of something larger, it is a part
of history. No, her story is an illumination

of history, the matchstick lit in the black seam of time.
Or, no, her story is separate

from the whole, as distinct as each person is distinct
from the stream of people that led

to the one and leads past the one. Or, her story
is surrounded by history, the ambient spaciousness

of which she is the momentary foreground.
Maybe history is a net through which

just about everything passes, and the pieces of her
story are particles caught in the interstices.

Or, her story is a contradiction, something ordinary
that has no part in history at all, if history is

about what is included, what is made important.
History is the galleon in the middle

of the Pacific Ocean, in the middle of the sixteenth
century, swaying like a drunk who will take

six months to finally reach his house.
She is on another ship, centuries later, on a journey

eastward that will take weeks across the same ocean.
The war is over, though her husband

is still in his officer’s uniform, small but confident
among the tall white officers. Her hair

is marcelled like a movie star’s waves,
though she has been too sick with the water’s motion

to know that anyone sees her. Her daughter is two,
the blur of need at the center of each day’s

incessant rocking. Here is a ship, an ocean.
Here is a figure, her story a few words in the blue void.


 
2


Research is mourning, my friend says. Which means what,
exactly, for the things listed in the archives

as filling the galleons when they left Cebu and Manila — 
ivory objects, jade objects, copper objects,

brass objects, lacquer objects, mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture,
pearls, rubies, sapphires, bolts of cotton cloth,

silks and gauzes, crepes and velvets, taffetas
and damasks and brocades, stockings, cloaks, robes,

kimonos, bed coverings, tapestries, linens, church
vestments, rugs, blue-and-white porcelain that numbered 1,500

in one ship, wax, tallow candles, cordage,
sailcloth, musk, borax, camphor, cigars, varieties of tea,

cinnamon that was dried and powdered, 40,000 pounds of it
listed in one ship’s manifest, cloves, pepper,

nutmeg, tamarind, ginger, martaban jars from Burma,
dragon jars from China, Vietnamese jars,

Siamese jars, Spanish jars, 800 jars found with the wreck
of one salvaged ship, jars that would have

contained tar for caulking, oil, wine, bizcocho bread,
salted meats, dried fruits, lard, bacon, beans, chickpeas, lentils,

flour, garlic, cheese, honey, rice, salt,
sugar, food for months, not enough food, not enough water,

chickens, cows, pigs, up to one thousand souls
depending on whether the ship had a tonnage of 300 or 500

or 1,000 or 2,000, ships that in the 250 years
of the trade route wrecked somewhere along the way

more often than they arrived in Acapulco, sailors,
mercenaries, officers, noblemen and their entourages, priests

and missionaries, slaves that were called indios
or chinos, nails, tools, iron cask hoops, fireworks, opals — elegy?


 
3


We didn’t want to be noticed, so we put charcoal on our faces.
I listen to the hours of tape, of the two of us at the dining table.

All the girls, looking like dirt. / My father was always drinking
Questions about the town, her parents, the names of people

or with women, my mother had to take care of the business. /
that only she could now remember. The images, I imagined,

My sister broke her back when she was a child, she grew up
scrolling in her mind, and translated into the answers she gave.

into a hunchback. She died very young. / They set up a dance
Sometimes pausing, not because she couldn’t recall, but didn’t

at the municipal tennis courts to celebrate the end of the war,
want to recall badly, the pause a kind of gap between what she

and he was there, in his US uniform. / He always insisted that
knew and what the words could do. The two things a voice

we sit at the front, but when I was by myself on the bus I sat
can say when it is saying one thing, the things that suddenly

somewhere in the middle. I didn’t want trouble. / I was around
return when you are speaking, like pockets of color coming to

fifty-five when I had my first real job, working as the security
life in your mind: I listen to her with my skin and my eyes,

at Macy’s. / I always liked to read. I wanted to go to college
my ears. I had had the notion that asking her about her life

like my sisters, but I got married. / You know that wedding
might add something to what I thought of as my art, as though

dress in the picture, we had to borrow it from our neighbor. /
her past and her love could be vectors of use. But I started to

I liked Japan when he was stationed there. It was so clean.
realize that what I actually needed to know, I would have

Then Norfolk. Richmond. / I was so sick on the ship, I can’t
to conjure for myself, because what we know most deeply

remember much. Your mama just kept running all around.
we guard best, even as she spoke, laughed, passed the glow

It was a navy ship. / My mother’s name is Canuta Sacay and
of each story to me, like a document I could have in hand

my father’s name is Enrique Omega. My grandparents were
but could not understand. I put the tape away, felt for years

farmers outside Ormoc. / I was born in Ormoc, December 8,
that it was enough, the responsibility done. Our conversation

1924 or 25. / This was the apartment we lived in in Maryland.
stopped when my aunt came to take her out for some errands.

That’s Junior there in the picture. And there’s your mama.
Chatter, chairs moved around, then noises that are just noises.


 
4


In Madrid I orient myself     I walk on the wide boulevards
and know an empire is its boulevards     I stand below the angel


skeptical of the beauty of angels     at the royal gardens I count
the 138 kinds of dahlias     at the crystal palace I imagine


the exhibition of plants indigenous to my islands     I walk
up the street of the poets     read the bronze lines on the ground


the longing and song of the pirate     in one museum I stare
at Picasso’s lightbulb     in the oldest neighborhoods


I wonder if  José Rizal walked these streets     studying diseases
of the eye during the day     writing his novel in the night


in another museum I look     at the paintings of the dwarves
of  the horses     of  the undying fruit     in the train station


I visit the memorial for the murdered     in the great white
square at dawn I walk     inscribe myself  like letters on a page


at the naval museum I look into the face of  Magellan     show the
painting my face     I sing the neighborhoods of Huertas


and Chueca     maybe only in Madrid     is the light a gold
weight always     at the supermarket I overhear     two Filipinos


speaking and I turn away and break     I find myself in
the cathedral     in the movie theater     where I watch a movie


without understanding the words spoken     around a corner
I stop because a kind of meadow     has been grown on the side


of a building     like a tallness of heart     a dream carried
into waking     my life breathing before it     incredible and true
More Poems by Rick Barot