poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

July 5, 2011

POEM: Ode to Pinoy Hill: On the Centennial of Seward Park, Seattle

I was feeling a bit homesick yesterday, so I wrote this poem about our family’s favorite picnic spot, Pinoy Hill, located in Seward Park, in the southend of Seattle. Please post comments below. Salamat/Thanks.

Ode to Pinoy Hill: On the Centennial of Seward Park, “Shatil”

 © by Emily P. Lawsin

Oh, Pinoy Hill:

As little brown kids growing up in the Central District and the Rainier Valley,

We looked up to you.

Uncle Fred made our FYA Drill Team march five miles around your waist to build stamina,

Keeping in step with congas and cut bamboo canes tapping at your feet.

Afterwards, waves of forbidden boyfriends blasted beats

In bouncing low-riders, kissing Lake Washington’s shores.

Every Fourth of July,

Marveling  at the Magnificent Forest of conifers and Madrona trees

And ignoring the poison oaks and ivy that embrace your bluffs,

Our Filipino Community of Seattle partied and danced with you, Pinoy Hill,

With the grace and style of our social box queens,

Long before the August moons and the pageantry of Pista sa Nayon of SeaFair.

Oh, how we remember, Pinoy Hill, every Fourth of July, when

Auntie Mercy threaded beef inihaw skewers between your bedrock boulders

And Uncle Eddie butchered and barbecued fifty pounds of Acme chicken

Next to a roast pig clenching a Wenatchee Red Delicious in its mouth.

Oh, Pinoy Hill, in the bend of your elbow, just beneath your silver clouds,       My sister and mom on Pinoy Hill, July 4, 1964

The puttering burr of the cotton candy machine twirled your skirts:

With me always dropping my jaw at how the old-timers rigged that one.

Propped up on your back slid a towering block of ice for halo-halo,

All of us begging to shave it and flip open the metal scraper housing summer’s snow.

Before the dawn of Pambihira and Beacon Market,

Nanay soaked her own red azuki beans in syrup so we could slurp the island treat,

While Auntie Isabel taught the other war brides

How to make rice-paper-thin lumpia wrappers from scratch,

Their sales helped pay off the mortgage

Of our old bowling-alley-turned-Community Center,

Just a mile jog down your neighboring Juneau Street.

Oh, Pinoy Hill,

Waltzing in the willows of your wilderness, we won coins at watermelon-eating contests,

Spitting black seeds into your singed hairs of grass to see if they would take root.

Did any of us ever win the annual Seward Park pie-eating contests down by the beach,

Pinoys ever getting even one piece of the elusive American pie?

As we grew older, one of the manangs who worked at Dairigold off Genessee

Would burp you with a caravan of carved flat spoons atop Creamsicle cups

To prevent us from getting run over by the melodies of your ice cream trucks.

Oh, Pinoy Hill,

We can still hear the cha-cha-cha laughter of the manangs’ mah-jong table,

The silent shuffle of the manongs’ five-card stud,

See the puffs of Winstons and Marlboros scored from the Commissary,

Rings of smoke signals:  pinching your lips with the nod of your flat nose.

And who among us never emerged from the bosom of your blackberry bushes

Only to be met by our mamas beating the fingers of your branches across our bottoms?

Oh, to wander lost in your woods again.

Between ballets of tackle football with no borders or boundaries,

We raced relays in rice sacks from Uwaji’s,

Or potato sacks that the manongs carried home from the fields,

Knowing, except for maybe one solo summer working at canneries in Alaska,

They would never let us follow in their footsteps,

Their fedoras and worn shoes too big to fill.

At dusk, renegade cousins would tickle your ears with

Firecrackers pirated from the Yakima Indian reservation,

Their elderly fathers baptizing the widows peak of your forehead

With holy water that Uncle Junior forklifted right off the line from Rainier Brewery

And flasks of whiskey pulled from purple felt bags:

Their liquid medicine to forget the double shift they have to pull tomorrow.

Oh, Pinoy Hill, we still salute you, especially on America’s Independence Day,

Reclaiming the colors of a colonial era

That once dubbed July 4th as “Philippine-American Friendship Day”,

When your heart gave us shade: the only open space where Pinoys could play freely.

Oh, Pinoy Hill, our memories run deep as the soils of your brown soul.

Does the post-65 generation still love you like we did?

Do they still park down by your tennis courts to make out,

Pray at the pagoda statues beneath your sakura cherry blossoms,

Swim into the shining streams off your shoulders,

Leap frog to your landing pad to sun themselves,

Then stomach your winding hill to stoke the fires in your belly?

For a century now, you stand tall: the roots of our family tree.

Oh, Pinoy Hill,

What I would give to tango and swing in your arms again,

Despite the scars from my youth,

Salted with salmonberries and wearing your evergreen firs,

Itching to savor and breathe in the scents of those days long ago.

* * * 

July 4, 2011

Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan

With thanks to Allan Bergano, Carmen Español, Carmelita Floresca Bridges, Harry Rivera, and Vanessa Ventura Valencia for their input.

Emily P. Lawsin grew up in Seward Park and teaches at the University of Michigan.





  1. So beautiful–thanks so much for sharing this.

    Comment by dcommunicator — July 5, 2011 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

  2. Beautiful poem, Emily! Such rich imagery–I could picture it all. Thanks for sharing this.

    Comment by tess abellera — July 5, 2011 @ 12:26 pm | Reply

  3. it took a Pinay to describe those summer days on Pinoy hill so eloquently. nice job Emily.

    Comment by Allan Bergano — July 5, 2011 @ 12:51 pm | Reply

  4. Thanks for sharing this Emily!!! What great memories of our great childhood…i could picture all those great times we used to have and seeing my dad opening the car trunk and unloading cases of Rainier beer….Love, love, love those great memories!!!!!

    Comment by Arnel M. Porcincula — July 5, 2011 @ 12:53 pm | Reply

  5. Great memories of getting up on the hill early in the morning to get a parking space and reserve a table/area. My Grandpa (Henry A. Gamido, Sr), would give me a dollar. Watching my parents play volleyball. Blowing up illegal fire crackers and M-80’s in the woods. I can still smell the smoke of the bar-b-que……. Thank you Emily for taking me back.
    Monte Murray

    Comment by Monte Murray — July 5, 2011 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  6. Thank you, sistahfriend. Miss you as much as all these memories. Your writing, as always, so alive, so rooted, and just as vivid as you. xo-Michelle

    Comment by Michelle Corsilles — July 6, 2011 @ 11:19 am | Reply

  7. I just moved back into the neighborhood and often walk the loop at Seward Park but reading this brought me back to a different time. Thanks for making me smile 🙂

    Comment by JeannieBeth Asuncion — July 6, 2011 @ 12:24 pm | Reply

  8. Reading your poem brought back wonderful memories. I was envisioning your moments in time.Thank you Emily. It’s a beautiful poem with alot of heart.

    Comment by Vanessa Ventura Valencia — July 6, 2011 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

  9. THANK YOU everyone for all your great comments! They read like a whole new stanza of poetic memories. 🙂 I really, really appreciate the comments; writing can be very isolating without a family / community like you all to share it with – I guess that is why I became a spoken word poet too. Keep the memories/comments a comin’! Love and thanks to you all, Emily

    Comment by Emily Lawsin — July 6, 2011 @ 11:27 pm | Reply

  10. Another beautiful poem, Em! I tweeted this (actually RT / MT from Allan 🙂 and a poetry paper published via Twitter picked it up. It’s somewhere on my timeline.

    Just tweeted your moving tribute to Blair. It’s how some of us now “meet” him.
    Much love to all of you, especially this sad weekend,

    Comment by forourcommunities — July 29, 2011 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

  11. Thanks Emily for your wonderful poem. It brought back a flood of memories about our family picnics when mom would make her famous fried chicken and couple it with pancit, rice, watermelon and a leche flan. Dad and I would go early to Pinoy Hill and scout out a table. He’d leave me to guard it while he went back home to bring the family and our dear Manongs Eddie and Pablo. These were wonderful days as kids when we’d traipse the woods, walk around Seward Park’s perimeter road and visit every family. Who could possibly forget the sharing spirit and comraderie of the Filipino community! We were all family. Bob Flor

    Comment by Robert Flor — June 18, 2012 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

    • Dear Bob, Thanks so much for your comments and your wonderful memories! It means a lot to me, coming from you, a fellow Seattle Pinoy poet. Your mom and dad were two of my parents’ oldest friends. They were always so generous and kind, at church and in the community. Maraming Salamat! ~Emily

      Comment by EL — June 21, 2012 @ 1:29 am | Reply

  12. In my mind’s eye, I see the huge covered shelter with picnic tables overflowing with food, smoke billowing from grills spewing the unmistakable smells of soy, vinegar, pork, and chicken.

    From the shelter the huge field slopes downwards to a grassy baseball diamond with dirt running paths. Beyond the tree lined field Lake Washington surround Bailey Peninsula. Footballs whiz overhead as teenager boys display strength and skill.

    Mostly I recall auntie’s beckoning me to eat at their table or blanket every ten yards! I am so full.

    Comment by Larry Alcantara — August 1, 2020 @ 9:29 am | Reply

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