poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

November 15, 2008

POEM: Padasal: Novena at the Polls, November 4, 2008

Last week, the day after the historic election, someone asked me how it felt to vote. She knew that I had lived in Detroit earlier this year, and Barack Obama’s name was not on the primary ballot in Michigan (damn it), so I never had the chance to vote for him before. Now, I live in Massachusetts: ’nuff said. After she asked me that question, I went home and wrote this poem. I hope you like it; please leave comments below. Peace and salamat/thanks!

Padasal: Novena at the Polls, November 4, 2008

© by Emily P. Lawsin

“I go to prepare a place for you.”

~Harriet Tubman

Yesterday, as I approached the voting booth,

in this bluest of blue states,

where the last senator lost his bid four years ago,

a few miles down from where

another senator — the martyr Benigno Aquino — once lived,

tears streamed down my cheeks,

my hands trembled like my heartbeat

and I took a slow, deep breath,

careful to not close my eyes

in case some fool tried to spoil this dream and my ballot,

and I whispered a prayer,

not just for Barack Obama,

but for our country and our families,

remembering all of our ancestors

who carried us here to the Promised Land

despite centuries of broken promises.

I remember my Lola Carmen,

born nine years after the revolution

and 30 years before women’s suffrage

in the colonial Philippines,

how she birthed six children

yet only five survived;

how, during World War II,

she had to resort to selling socks (not stocks) —

on the black market —

as in insulation for soldiers’ feet,

then fled to the mountainside

with a pillow up her dress

to protect her and her children.

I remember my Lolo Sergio Sr,

the stern patriarch,

how he immigrated to America

to follow his pioneer daughters, right before I was born,

then worked as a low-paid post office guard

while his wife — our grandmother — watched us sleep;

how they mailed all of us grandchildren

crisp $5 Lincolns on our birthdays

with a carefully typewritten note

to “spend it wisely”.

I remember my Auntie Nora,

my mother’s Até, eldest sister,

how as a teen in Tondo,

she rolled tobacco at the Alhambra Cigar Factory

to help make ends meet;

she never smoked herself,

yet her grandchildren always wondered why

she suffered from lung disease.

I remember her husband, my Uncle Eddie Sr,

who fought in the Philippine Scouts

long enough to re-enlist under the U.S. flag

before the Rescission Act could rescind his benefits;

how one Thanksgiving,

he showed us kids the bites on his leg

from the Bataan Death March,

denied that he had PTSD,

then passed it on to his Vietnam veteran sons,

and we were never the same.

I remember my sister’s father, Leandro,

who, with calloused hands from picking unripe grapes,

cutting asparagus and fields of lettuce,

building bunkhouses and picket lines,

like thousands of immigrant Pinoys,

struggled to put food on our kitchen tables,

moved from crop to crop

from the California Delta to Seattle,

then became a Private

in America’s 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment,

his enlistment papers checked his civil occupation off as

  • "Gardeners and grounds keepers, parks, cemetaries, etc."

as if there were no other words to describe “stoop labor”,

he never lived long enough to explain it to his daughters.

I remember our own mother, Emma,

who on her death bed last June,

when the Critical Care doctors finally

let up on her morphine drip,

allowing her to wake up from a three-week coma,

a breathing tube just removed from her lips an hour before,

mouthed the words,

asking if Obama had won the primaries.

When I said, “Yes he did,”

she closed her eyes and smiled.

I remember my father, Vincent,

the only one who outlives them all,

a merchant marine who followed MacArthur

after the general declared his “I Have Returned” speech

on his hometown of Tacloban’s shores,

in forever pursuit of the American Dream,

how on the day that I turned 18,

lectured me — not on the birds and the bees —

but on the urgent importance of democracy now:

then took me to the public library

to promptly register me to vote;

how a decade later, after 40 years of his U.S. citizenship,

Papa was finally called to Jury Duty,

wore his “JUROR” badge proudly for weeks,

framed his “I Served” certificate to display in our

cracked china cabinet,

volunteered to serve three more times,

proclaiming to the judges that, aside from voting,

this was his highest honor,

to finally feel like a true American.

So yesterday, I stood there (yes I did) and I did not care

if a long line would stretch around the whole block from that polling station,

because Barack told us:

This is our time. This is our moment.

Kaya Natin, Yes We Can.”

So I took my time, savoring the moment.

I stared at my ballot, carefully wiped my cheeks so tears would not smear it,

filled the black hole

with the smoothest black pen I have ever felt,

my hips swaying like I was birthing a newborn child,

standing on the shoulders of these ancestors

and a rainbow of so many more,

who fought for this right, who fought for this night,

thankfully remembering                      thankfully remembering

ang bayan ko:                                       my country,

ang kababayans natin:                         our compatriots,

ang pamilya ko:                                    my family,

ang buhay natin:                                  our lives,

and prayed that our President, our next President will remember them too.


November 5, 2008 – Watertown, Massachusetts

Padasal = Filipino for novena, a prayer session for the respose of the souls of the dead.

“Leadership is only incidental to the movement.

The movement must go beyond its leaders in order to survive.”

~Philip Vera Cruz

For my bio, Click HERE www.emilylawsin.com


Click HERE to read my previous blog post: POEM: Seattle / “She-attle” / Personified -For Blue Scholars


  1. […] POEM: Padasal: Novena at the Polls, November 4, 2008 … Massachusetts, Michigan Primary, migrant workers, novena, Padasal, Pinoys, Poetry, Poetry by Emily Lawsin, Presidential Election 2008, PTSD, Seattle, suffrage, Tacloban, tears, Tondo, Voting, voting booth, Watertown, World War II. […]

    Pingback by Presidential Race On Best Political Blogs » Blog Archive » POEM: Padasal: Novena at the Polls, November 4, 2008 — November 16, 2008 @ 1:18 am | Reply

  2. I just discovered your blog via Facebook. This was amazing…I can only imagine how powerful this would be performed.

    We missed you at PCN this year. If I could create poetry even half as moving as yours, I will be a happy man.

    Comment by Drew — November 16, 2008 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

  3. Maraming Salamat Emily. Your powerful poem brought tears to my eyes. I missed church today, but I definitely heard the sermon.

    Comment by Cisa Payuyo — November 16, 2008 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

  4. Maraming Salamat Emily. Your powerful poem brought tears to my eyes. I missed church today, but I definitely heard the sermon.

    Comment by Cisa Payuyo — November 16, 2008 @ 2:31 pm | Reply

  5. I cried after I read it. I felt the same way and had the same sort of thoughts after the election. Thank you.

    Comment by Gerie Ventura — November 16, 2008 @ 3:28 pm | Reply

  6. Beautiful. Thank you for posting, writing, creating, remembering, and honoring. Just what my heart knew but needed to hear. Especially after today’s episode at a neighborhood eaterie where I confronted a man who was pointed out the children (all of color) – including my sleeping toddler in her stroller – proclaiming “monkey” “monkey” “monkey.”

    Comment by Michelle Corsilles — November 16, 2008 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

  7. Hello Emily, We have missed you Scott and Tula! Thank you so much for your deeply moving poem. I thought I was fully involved in placing my ballot for Barac but your poem showed me what I did not do. I did not give thanks to my ancestors and spend enough thought on their gifts to me. Your poem brought tears to my eyes, making even more real the gift of the past and the hope of the future. My grandchildren will forever benefit from this election. I hope they read your poem someday and that someday they remember me and those that have gone ahead. My heartfelt thanks, Fran Dorn in Detroit.

    Comment by Fran Dorn — November 17, 2008 @ 7:26 am | Reply

  8. Emily, I scrolled down to comment and stopped to read Fran’s and realized that she said everything I wanted–that I, too, failed to take a moment and pray and reflect. Although, I must say that I voted a straight Democratic ticket this time, but I couldn’t help but fill in the hole for Obama/Biden. I just wouldn’t have felt right not filling in that hole. It felt great! And I do remember looking around the church where we vote and noting that the boy who took my name was young and dark and handsome and looked like those beautiful clean-cut freedom riders in the sixties and I had to stop staring at him and if I could do it all over again I would have given him a hug.
    Thank you for the inspiration, the prayer, the reminder that life is all about the present moments and the moments that led up to them. I hope you and Scott and Tula are well. We miss you all alot. Love, Julia

    Comment by Julia — November 17, 2008 @ 10:46 am | Reply

  9. Beautiful!! Your writing, as I’ve said before, reflects more and more depth/feeling/experience with each poem. This is one of the best ones yet!
    Sending much love to you all,

    (who is still trying to make it to Boston for the concert… What do you think?)

    Comment by Joan May Cordova — November 17, 2008 @ 2:34 pm | Reply

  10. Dear Emily,
    Thanks for writing and sharing this. I find myself blinking away yet more tears as I read this. I have never cried like this–such tears of joy and wonder and possibility….
    Like you for me these past days have been as much about those who went before..as for those who will come after…I find myself going through names of those who fought so hard for this moment…in all its glorious contradictions…
    Love to you and the family..shea

    Comment by Shea Howell — November 17, 2008 @ 3:45 pm | Reply

  11. Dearest Mama Emily,

    Thank you for this portal into your family’s saga and the vivid colors/ textures/ stories all nubby with labor and love you all have embroidered into the broader American epic. This feels like a novella/ chapbook with visuals. Just a thought; I know you’re way busy.

    Thank you too for revealing the deep, underground waters that flowed beneath the tears and emotions erupting election night. On to the inauguration!

    Peace & much love to you and your family,

    Comment by Miriam — November 18, 2008 @ 4:09 pm | Reply

  12. wow!!!
    this should be in an as am anthology!
    i really want this print this and give this 2 my co-workers ( and I work a labor union with blk and brown folks but here in LA and they still don’t get us!)
    do your thing gurl!!
    peace & blessings,

    Comment by yun — November 19, 2008 @ 5:01 am | Reply

  13. […] Click HERE to read my previous blog post: “POEM: Padasal, Novena at the Polls, November 4, 200… […]

    Pingback by POEM: For Corky Pasquil on his Birthday « poetry & tsismis: emily’s blog — December 14, 2008 @ 2:37 am | Reply

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