poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

June 20, 2010

POEM for Papa


Vincent & Emily Lawsin at FANHS Manila Conference 1998

Papa and me at FANHS Conference in Manila 1998

As I wrote in my previous post, this is a particularly poignant Father’s Day for my family and me, since it is not only the first Father’s Day since my Papa passed away (last March), but it is also my mother’s 2-year-death anniversary, and my Auntie Pacing’s one-year death anniversary. My father, Vincent A. Lawsin, even up to his death at 85 years old, was a fighter, with a strong will and unique character, that is sometimes hard to describe. I wrote this poem for Papa 12 years ago, in 1998, before he and I went to visit the Philippines together. I printed an earlier version and mailed it to him for Father’s Day that year. He told me he brought it to the Community Center and showed it to everyone because he liked it so much. I performed it at Ohio State University last month, for the first time since Papa passed away, and an African Amerian woman in the audience came up to me afterwards and told me that it made her cry, as she remembered her own parents and their struggles in the South. Please feel free to leave comments here too.

Happy Father’s Day, Papa. I love you and miss you much.

Vincent Avestruz Lawsin 1995 Papa’s Two Worlds

© by Emily P. Lawsin

His mama nicknamed him “Teting”, back home in his Babatngon province,

A shelled seaside village near Tacloban, Leyte,

A city whose two great claims to fame became:

1) The infamous landing of General Douglas MacArthur’s bloody “I Shall Return” and

2) The birthplace of the Queen of Shoes, the Dictator’s dictator, Imelda Marcos.

Two claims Papa would feverishly explain to mga puti

In his adopted land of America.


My proud Papa would explain to his engine-room mates

That his roots lie in the heart of the islands,

Penciling a map of the Visayas in the center of the archipelago

On any available napkin or newspaper or oiled rag,

Sometimes telling dirty white lies of going to high school with the First Lady,

Even though Imelda is five years his junior.

Any poor listener who seemed even remotely intrigued

Would get a faster tale of how he

Could have dated her,

Could have married her,

Couldhave—

Then “Just imagine where we would all be now,” he’d say.


So I wonder, what would have happened if my father had married Imelda?


Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have joined the Philippine Guerillas in 1942,

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have a scar of shrapnel poking his lower left back.

Perhaps then

Papa would have kept editing his high school newspaper

Instead of enlisting in the U.S. Merchant Marines.

Perhaps then

Papa would’ve stayed in engineering college

Instead of fighting MacArthur’s war.


Perhaps then                                                    

Papa wouldn’t have migrated from port to port:

Korea, Japan, Guam, New Guinea, Germany, Vietnam, Africa, and Arabia,

Or from dock to dock:

San Francisco, New Orleans, Texas, Norfolk, New York, and eventually Seattle.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have been so segregated from his family

Like when his captain wouldn’t even allow him to sail home from New Guinea

For his poor mother’s funeral,

A faded black and white photograph of her coffin, his only remembrance.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have remained a bachelor until after his mother’s death,

Leaving me with a father the age of my classmates’ grandfathers.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have lost his hearing

After being relegated to the confines of two too many ships’ boiler rooms.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have kept his seafaring union’s news clippings,

Where in the 1950s, his beer-drinking shipmates

Nicknamed him “Chico”, meaning “Small”,

Because they couldn’t pronounce “Vicente”, much less “Teting”.


Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have the memories of the 1980s either,

When Washington State Ferry workers nicknamed him “E.T.”,

After the shriveled up alien from the movies,

Even circulated a glossy cut-out from a magazine of the Extra Terrestrial:

With Papa’s name scrawled beneath it.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have faked laughs at it in front of them,

Wouldn’t have secretly crumpled the clipping,

Shoving it into the pocket of his grease-stained overalls.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have brought the insult home for our mother to find

As she washed laundry,

Taping it to their bedroom mirror,

Giving us kids a quick lesson in “workplace diversity”.


Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have gambled at finding the American Dream,

Wouldn’t have clung so tightly to his faith.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have sought a haven in local politics,

Wouldn’t have become President of Seattle’s Filipino Community,

At the height of martial law,

Heading the Reform Slate, with anti-Marcos activists engineering his victory

and his infamy.


Yes, I often wonder

Which world, perhaps then,

Would have been better or worse for my father,

Ang Papa Ko, Teting, Vicente,

Legally: “Vince”, or “Vincent”.

Which world, perhaps then?

The Iron Butterfly’s world of lies and corruption,

Or, Papa’s corrupted world of white lies?


North Hills, California, 1998.

www.emilylawsin.com

Click HERE to read my previous post: “Babang Luksa II: Memories of Auntie Pacing”


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