poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

July 11, 2015

In Memory of ISABEL A. GALURA (June 5, 1932 – July 10, 2015)

Isabel Galura w FWD Nov 2012

Remembering Tita Belle

by Emily P. Lawsin

With immense sadness, we mourn the passing of Filipina American pioneer, Isabel A. Galura, who was one of the three narrators featured in the book that her son, Joseph, and I co-authored, entitled, Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955, Oral Histories from the Filipino American Oral History Project of Michigan.

“Belle”, as she was affectionately known, died on Friday, July 10, 2015, after a courageous battle with cancer.

Isabel was born on June 5, 1932, in Bangar, La Union, Philippines, and immigrated to the United States on July 4, 1954, as the first Filipina accepted to the post-graduate internship in clinical dietetics at Detroit’s Harper Hospital. The few Filipina American women in the area befriended her and eventually introduced her to the man who would become her husband, Atilano Galura.galura wedding photo

When I first met Tita Belle almost 15 years ago, she and Joe invited me to her home for a delicious meal of Filipino food and then asked if I was interested in seeing some of her late husband’s photographs. She brought out several boxes that had letters and material artifacts, all neatly preserved in file folders, dating from the 1920s-90s. I peeked inside a crisp envelope and my hands began shaking when I found her husband’s boat ticket to America, dated 1929! Later, Tita Belle became the driving force behind our Filipino American Oral History Project, as she would open up her address book and call her friends from the Filipino Women’s Club of Detroit (founded in 1952), encouraging them to be interviewed for our project.

In 2004, Tita Belle became a founding member of the Filipino American National Historical Society Michigan Chapter (FANHS-MI) and was appointed Assistant Treasurer. She actively participated and regularly attended FANHS-MI’s intergenerational Filipino Youth Initiative classes every Sunday at the Philippine American Community Center of Michigan (PACCM).

Memorial services will be held this Sunday and Monday, July 12-13, in Westland, Michigan (see below).

Maraming salamat po / many thanks, Tita Belle, for being a mother/Lola-figure for me and so many others. We are eternally grateful for all that you did for us and for our community. Mahal kita / I love you and miss you.

*

*

OBITUARY and MEMORIAL SERVICES July 12-13, 2015

ISABEL A. GALURA
June 5, 1932 – July 10, 2015

Isabel A. Galura, a resident of Westland, Michigan, passed away on July 10, 2015 at the age of 83.

Isabel was the beloved wife of the late Atilano; the loving mother of Joseph (Catherine) Galura, Anna (Louis) Smutek and the late Peter; the dear sister of Georgia (Cirilo) Leoncio; and the cherished grandmother of David and Genevra Galura and Christiana and Andrew Smutek.

Isabel will be resting at the L.J. Griffin Funeral Home in Westland (7707 Middlebelt Road at Ann Arbor Trail) on Sunday, July 12, from 3-9 p.m. There will be a Rosary at 6:30 p.m.

She will be Instate at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, July 13, at St. Damian Catholic Church, 30055 Joy Road (West of Middlebelt) until the time of her Funeral Mass at 12 p.m.

Her final resting place will be Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations in her memory to either the University of Michigan Cancer Center, or the Philippine American Community Center of Michigan (17356 Northland Park Ct., Southfield, MI 48075).

 

Sign the guestbook online:

http://www.griffinfuneralhome.com/sitemaker/sites/LJGrif1/obit.cgi?user=83637935_IGalura

 

September 19, 2012

My Favorite Blair Poems and Songs: Happy 45th Birthday Blair (RIP)

I am thinking of my brotherfriend, the late David Blair, on what would have been his 45th Birthday. Here are some of his poems and songs that I love and listen to the most. I feel so thankful for all the gifts that he shared with our family and the world. 

http://www.thebestphotographerindetroit.com/davidblair

Blair, 2006. Photo by David Lewinski.

Excerpt from “Behind the Garage” Poem

by David Blair, 2002 National Poetry Slam

. . . I know people think I’m crazy

Because I dare to believe

That stars can fall into my cereal bowl

And mingle with the milk swirls.

And I know it’s irrational to

Throw crayons at God

And ask him to color the sky purple.

Yet, I remember the time that I did,

And the next morning I awoke to royalty skyward

To a majestic landscape of fantastic above.

And I remember later that evening

Finding the ladders tucked away behind the garage

Strewn amongst thousands of Crayola boxes all missing violets.

Does my memory serve me correctly or was there none of this?

Am I mad?

I won’t be angry.

It’s just that you’ve been dead for so long now

But I still wake up from dreams of you running through fields of flowers

The sound of one hundred acoustic guitars strumming and picking a beautiful music.

Today, I heard a music that could make the snow shine,

That could make the dead leaves claw a path through the lawn away from me.

Today I saw the beautiful shadow of a bird soar across a concrete wall,

Was that you?

 ~by Blair

* * *

Blair’s performance of “Behind the Garage”  helped the Detroit Slam Team win the National Poetry Slam in 2002. Coach Aurora Harris said she told him that the opera singing would be a good addition, that it would blow everyone’s mind. Sistahfriend ain’t never lied. Now that Blair has passed away, the most poignant stanzas to me come at the end (transcribed above). Watch Blair’s 2002 “Behind the Garage” winning performance here:  http://www.myspace.com/video/vid/55781888  and a 2010 Performance at the Detroit Institute for the Arts (DIA) Film Theatre, for TedX (where Blair begins by taking a photo of the crowd), below:  http://youtu.be/AiheqPT0vL4

* * *

“Detroit (While I Was Away)”:  I love watching this when I’m on the road traveling. There are several, more polished video versions online (including Detroit Lives! and TedX 2010); I like this one because it reveals Blair’s own feelings and the way strangers in the audience responded to him. Despite his decades of award-winning, amazing performances, Blair would still get nervous at events like this. Because he was human. And the best at what he did: http://youtu.be/6CCnRr1dQvw

Video: Detroit (While I Was Away) by D Blair at TedX 10/21/09

* * *

Less than a year before Blair passed away, InsideOut Literary Arts Project commissioned Blair to put Emily Dickinson’s songs to music. This one is my favorite. In this video, he says he was working on a new album called “Reasons for Leaving”, as if he knew that he would leave us:  http://youtu.be/lIRu0eW9hig

Video: Blair Performs “I Haven’t Told My Garden Yet” a Poem by Emily Dickinson, at Wayne State University, February 28, 2011

* * *

More of David Blair’s music, poetry, and merchandise are on his manager’s website: http://seriousartists.com/honor/

Blair’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/BlairandtheBF

Obituary on the memorial website is here: http://www.dblair.org/

For some poems that I wrote about Blair, see elsewhere on this blog: https://divadiba.wordpress.com/?s=blair

Happy would-have-been 45th Birthday, Blair. Rest in Peace and Poetry. We love you and miss you.

* * *
* * *
www.emilylawsin.com
* * *

June 22, 2012

Vincent Chin 30th Year Remembrance Events in Detroit, June 23-24, 2012

Filed under: Detroit,Memorials,Performances — EL @ 12:23 am
Tags:

I am honored to be invited to perform a poem at the gravesite of Vincent Chin, during the 30th Year Remembrance, this Saturday, June 23, 2012. See below for the Detroit-area commemorations happening this weekend. Hope to see you, and if not, I hope you are doing your own part to remember Vincent Chin; help stop hate crimes and anti-Asian violence. Rest in Peace, Vincent Chin (May 18, 1955 – June 23, 1982).

Vincent Chin:

30th Year Remembrance

Saturday, June 23, 2012

10AM-2:30PM Panels and Nationwide Townhall, Chinese Community Center, Madison Heights, MI

3PM Visit to Gravesite, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Detroit, Featuring Poet Emily P. Lawsin. 

Organized by American Citizens for Justice and Association of Chinese Americans

Followed by a Tour of Asian American historical sites, lead by Detroit Asian Youth Project

Vincent Chin gravesite, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Detroit. Photo by Emily P. Lawsin, June 23, 2010.
Forest Lawn Cemetery, Detroit. Photo © by Emily P. Lawsin, June 23, 2010.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Legacy of Vincent Chin – Commemoration and Action in Detroit’s Historic Chinatown 

Detroit Chinatown Mural, 425 Peterboro St (and Cass), Detroit, Michigan. Designed in 2003 by Tony Osumi, Soh Suzuki, and Scott Kurashige, with youth and community members from the Detroit Chinatown Revitalization Workgroup (Detroit Asian Youth Project) and Detroit Summer. Photo by Soh Suzuki.

3PM – 7PM BBQ, plant flowers, and help restore the mural on Peterboro Street and Cass, in Detroit

Sponsored by Detroit Asian Youth Project and Detroit Summer

Click here for the Sunday event info on Facebook.

***

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To learn more about Vincent Chin, see Helen Zia’s book Asian American Dreams. In  2002, Amerasia Journal 23:3 published reports from Detroit’s 20th Year Remembrance, including a piece “Detroit and the Legacy of Vincent Chin”, by Scott Kurashige.

For films, see the Academy-Award-nominated documentary, “Who Killed Vincent Chin”, by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña:http://www.pbs.org/pov/whokilledvincentchin/

and the recent film “Vincent Who?” by Curtis Chinhttp://vincentwhomovie.com/

Yesterday, The Detroit News published a pretty good article, “30 years later, Vincent Chin’s family awaits justice in fatal beating”, by Shawn D. Lewis:  http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120621/METRO/206210385#ixzz1yVGcYPNG.
For a roundup of recent articles and a list of Vincent Chin 30th Year Remembrance events nationwide, see: http://www.apaforprogress.org/vc30

www.emilylawsin.com

December 15, 2011

Tomasa Parinasan Balberona (1923-2011), Filipina Pioneer of Detroit

Remembering Tomasa Parinasan Balberona, Filipina Pioneer of Detroit

(December 29, 1923 – December 8, 2011)

© by Emily P. Lawsin with Joseph A. Galura


    It is with deep sadness that we share the news that Tomasa Parinasan Balberona, one of the three women narrators of our book Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955, died last Thursday, December 8, at the age of 87. As one of the first Filipinas to immigrate to Detroit in 1947 under the Fiancées Act, which temporarily waived immigration quota restrictions for alien fiancées or fiancés of armed forces personnel, she was a pioneer in the local Filipino American community.

Tomasa, or “Aunt Masy” (pronounced “MAH-see”), as she was affectionately known, was born on December 29, 1923, in a rural area of Cebu City, Philippines. The eldest daughter of seven, her father was a farmer and carpenter, who, with her mother, protected their family when World War II erupted in their hometown. After the war ended, Aunt Masy took shorthand and typing classes, and one day accompanied her sister to the nearby camp to do laundry for American servicemen stationed near their province. There, she met Homer Sheppard, who had just arrived in the Philippines after serving in New Guinea. Homer courted Masy, slipping letters to her in his shirt pockets via her sister. After a year, Masy moved to the barrio of Esperanza, on Camotes Island, to finish school and worked as a first grade teacher. Meanwhile, Homer continued mailing letters to her two or three times a week, even after he was discharged and had returned to his previous job at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn. He asked her to marry him and move to Michigan and after much contemplation, she agreed.

In a 2001 interview with University of Michigan undergraduate Elizabeth Varas, Aunt Masy recounted her immigration story by saying, 

My parents were in Cebu. I did not tell them [that I was leaving]. . . because I know they are not going to let me go.  And I cried, because it is not the right way to do it.  But (laughs) I wanted to go to the United States, to be with my husband-to-be.  So, I left.  I was so brave, traveling alone.  I had all my papers ready because the Philippine Red Cross help me and the American Red Cross, also. . .  I took the Pan American World Airways.  It’s a big plane but it is propeller type. . . It takes a long time.  We stopped on almost every island from Guam to Wake Island to Midway to Honolulu to San Francisco. . .  It’s a long trip, it’s a long trip, honey.  I slept in San Francisco at the YWCA, free.  I did not have any money.  Well, I had money but I didn’t want to spend it.  Then I arrived in Willow Run Airport.  It is not Romulus, it is not big Metro Airport, it is Willow Run, close to Ann Arbor.  So I was there and I called my husband-to-be to pick me up. He didn’t know whether I was Downtown. . . or at the airport, so he went Downtown. That is quite a ways from Dearborn and then he went to Willow Run. . .  I arrived at his brother’s house in Royal Oak. . . early morning, about five o’clock. I stayed with his sister, his brother and family for two weeks, while our papers were being processed so we could get married. And, July 25, 1947, we got married at Most Holy Trinity Church, Sixth and Porter, Downtown [Detroit].

A patriotic person, Aunt Masy never wanted to admit that racism existed in America, even as she remembered tales of being questioned of her ethnic identity when she first arrived. “They thought I was from Hawai’i because of my brown skin,” she said. Instead, Aunt Masy found happiness in making new friends and creating community. When new Filipina/o immigrants would arrive in the area, she and her husband would pick them up, drive them around, and host them in their home in Detroit. They lovingly connected local Filipina/os together in the post-World War II period, when there were few families in the area.

In 1952, Tomasa and five of her friends founded the Filipino Women’s Club of Detroit, a mutual aid, social-civic organization that provided scholarships to students and promoted Filipino and Asian American culture. Tomasa was elected President twice of the Filipino Women’s Club, proudly co-sponsoring events like Rizal Day Banquets in the 1950s, Christmas parties with folk dancing at the International Institute in the 1960s, and the annual Far Eastern Festival on Detroit’s riverfront in the 1970s.

In our book, Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955, Joseph Galura remembers fond memories of his childhood in a photo spread titled “I Saw Masy Kissing Santa Claus,” as Masy’s husband always dressed up as Santa for the Club’s annual Christmas party. Joseph states, “As a young child, I remember asking Aunt Masy why she and Uncle Homer didn’t have any children.”

“You are all my children,” she replied, “the children of the Filipino American community.”

Indeed, Aunt Masy was the “ninang”, godmother, to two-dozen Filipino American children. Moreover, as a housewife, she would raise money by sewing wedding gowns and tailoring ternos – intricate Philippine ball gowns with butterfly sleeves – for Detroit area relatives and friends, then send the money back to the Philippines so her niece could go to school.

After Homer Sheppard died in May of 1974, Masy remarried a widower, Victor Goloyugo, a year later in 1975. Victor was a Filipino American commercial artist in Detroit, whose painting of Jose Rizal now graces the main hall of the Philippine American Community Center of Michigan. Masy and Vic were married 18 years until his death in 1993.

Tired of being lonesome, Masy traveled the world. In 1994, on a visit to Singapore and the Philippines, her god-niece introduced her to Lolito Balberona, who had been working for the Central Bank in the Philippines. Masy remembered, “When I meet him, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, you are such a young man, what are you trying to do, tease me?'”

“Age doesn’t matter,” Lito replied, smitten. Lito courted her, called, and wrote letters to Masy, even from Australia. On another one of Masy’s visits to the Philippines, she married Lito in a small ceremony in November, 1998, and she brought him to Detroit. (They just celebrated their 13th Wedding Anniversary this past Thanksgiving.)

Aunt Masy was disgnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2006, yet she insisted to Lito that they continue to travel, returning often to the Philippines to see her relatives. Lito fondly states, “She was petite, but strong, proud, and independent, even in her last few months. I loved her so much.”

When we launched our book in 2002, Aunt Masy and  Lito  traveled with us and the other narrators of the book, her longtime friends Rosalina Regala and Isabel Galura, to the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Conference in Los Angeles, with over 500 people in attendance. As audience members posed with them in pictures and asked for their autographs, Aunt Masy said, “Thank you for this. I feel like a rock star.”

We thank you, Aunt Masy, for sharing your journeys and paving the way for future generations of Filipino Americans in Michigan.

In addition to her husband (Lolito Balberona of Detroit), Tomasa is survived by her sister, Vicenta Laurito, of the Philippines, her nieces Dolores Ramia of Maryland, and Milagros Lictawa of St. Clair Shores, grandnieces Charissa Ramia of Maryland, Naimi McAndrew of Louisiana, and Rey (Tess) Parinasan of St. Clair Shores, and several great-grandnephews/nieces and relatives all over the world.

A Funeral Mass will be held for Tomasa Balberona at 10:00 AM this Saturday, December 17, 2011, at St. Clement Catholic Church, 5275 Kenilworth, Dearborn, Michigan.

* * *

Emily P. Lawsin and Joseph A. Galura teach at the University of Michigan and are the co-authors of Filipino Women in Detroit:  1945-1955, Oral Histories from the Filipino American Oral History Project of Michigan. Emily is a Trustee of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and Joseph is the President of the FANHS Michigan Chapter.   

OralHistoryProject (at) umich (dot) edu 

www.emilylawsin.com

August 27, 2011

MORE POEMS: For Blair (While I Was Away)

Blair 2006 David Lewinski Photo

Today, another memorial for our brotherfriend, singer-songwriter / National Poetry Slam Champion, Blair, will be held in his hometown of Newton, New Jersey. I wish I could be there, but have family obligations here in Detroit. Here are more haikus and poems I wrote after I heard that Blair died. Hearing such tragic news while out of town makes one realize what makes a city a home. I love and miss you, Blair. Thank you for everything you did for me, our family, and our world.

.

Haikus for the Haiku Champion, David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Monday, July 25, 2011, Del Mar, California

Sunset near Del Mar, the day after Blair died.

In Exile in Del Mar

.

most would enjoy this

self-imposed exile at the

foot of the ocean

.

thousands of miles

away from where they found you

in the Corktown Inn.

.

Sir Duke belted on

my phone; i thought it was Grace.

the news numbed, threw me.

.

i locked myself in

the bathroom to cry all day

humming “no, no! why?”

.

Blair 2008 Photo by David Lewinski

.

Lost South of L.A.

remembering your

last visit here to help your

friend, queen of type keys.

.

.

Blair Had a Fear of Flying?

despite your fear of

flying, you soar far and wide

above all others.

– – – – – – –

 

There’s No Room at the Inn, Blair (Or, Anger is the 2nd Stage)

Blair 2006 David Lewinski Photo

 © by Emily P. Lawsin

 Tuesday, July 26, 2011 2:43 AM Pacific Time, Buena Vista, California 

for David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

.

for the second night in a row since your sunset

i sit in a strange motel room

struck with insomnia amidst the inquiries of your passing

.

a man cussing, paces drunk outside my window

i can hear his voice above the rumble of the a/c

ten minutes past last call

.

i want to scream back at him,

throw the spikes of my high-heeled shoes at him,

show him how we would take care of this problem in the D

.

i imagine lighting his foul mouth on fire

with the stench of the incinerator

just a few blocks from your many homes

.

i wonder what has wounded this stranger

that would allow him to crash my private pity party:

afraid to lie down and innocently rest like you did

.

just to catch my breath.

  – – – – – – –

   Blair, You Made the Earth Quake

Blair in Detroit. Photo by David Lewinski

© by Emily P. Lawsin

 Thursday, July 28, 2011, 4:55 AM Pacific Time, Culver City, California  

for David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

On the night you left this earth,

The ground shaked,

While everyone else in this Crowded House slept.

.

A 3.3 earthquake centered near Gardena,

For just the length of an Urban Folk verse,

Jolted me awake.

.

I searched for a news report

To see if anyone else felt it,

Or if it was just the washing machine in the garage,

Or my imagination, spinning.

.

On the radio, Purple Rain played.

.

Tell me: when the soils shook this sunbelt sliver of our shores,

Was that you

Trying to find us to wave goodbye?

.

Or the angels

Lifting you up to your violet colored sky?

.

Or the gardens of bees rumbling

Because you had not yet bid them Farewell?

.

Or the ancestors’ spirits, trying to ground you,

Who knew it really wasn’t your time to leave?

* * *

www.emilylawsin.com

For my other poems/blogs about Blair, click HERE  https://divadiba.wordpress.com/?s=blair

The New Jersey Herald just published an article on Blair, HERE.

To read the cover story Remembering Blair in Detroit’s Metro Times, click HERE. 

To read  the article by Scott Kurashige eulogizing Blair, in The Michigan Citizen newspaper, click HERE.

To read The Michigan Citizen article about Blair’s funeral in Detroit and the text of his “Detroit (While I Was Away)” poem, click HERE.

To see videos of Blair performing songs and poems, see his manager Serious Artists, HERE

Thank you to David Lewinski, for the beautiful photographs of Blair: http://www.thebestphotographerindetroit.com/davidblair

Donations for Blair’s family and a healthcare fund for Detroit artists are still welcome at www.dblair.org

Rest in Peace and Poetry, my friend.

.

July 30, 2011

5 MORE POEMS: In Memory of David Blair (1967-2011)

I’ve had insomnia since learning about the sudden death of our friend David Blair,
singer-songwriter/musician/organizer/performer and National Poetry Slam Champion. Here are some of the poems that I’ve written as a result, Blair’s parting gift, I suppose. 

1.          Denial is Always the First Stage

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Sunday, July 24, 2011, 1:00 PM 

for David Blair, 9/19/67 – 7/23/11

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh NNNOOOOO!!!!! This cannot be happening.This cannot be true.Tell me something different.Not this.I need to hear something different.How can this be true?Why is this happening?Why did you leave us so early?

Goddamnit, WHY?

I keep hoping that

Maybe this is a case of the game “Telephone” gone bad:

You know, I watched you lead that once as an icebreaker

To entice a giggling circle of youth to craft bodacious poems,

Enjoying the whisper of words and lies unfolded.

So, you know, this could just be “Telephone” gone bad, right?

Or maybe the static between the sobs on the other end of the phone

Muffled the real truth: that you are really alive.

Maybe Jenny and the five other Detroit Summer doulas who called

Didn’t mean to say that you died in your sleep, trying to escape the heat.

Maybe they really meant to say that you were just “vacationing”, oh, I don’t know—“in Sleeping Bear Dunes? To escape the heatwave of the D?  Yeah, that’s it. That sounds much better. (You know I had wanted to take you there one day, Snap a photo and title it “Blair on the Bear”. Maybe we can still do that. Together.)

Maybe I can just call you right now to see if you pick up.

Maybe just to be able to hear the tenor and bass of your voice.

Maybe this is all just a dream;

Maybe I should go back to sleep now and

Maybe you will call early in the morning, like you usually do.

Maybe the heat is just getting to me too.

Maybe I have really lost my hearing and am hallucinating.

Maybe you were really an undercover agent, just assigned to Detroit to infiltrate the Left.

Maybe the FBI decided to just give you a new identity. I would be perfectly fine with that.

Maybe if I wander to a remote state, like I don’t know — Kansas,

Maybe I can wave a magic wand or click my heels three times and find you there,

A spectacled professor teaching African American music at a community college, or

A bearded bartender at your own saloon,

Listening to other people’s stories and writing your own.

Maybe my island blood has spent too many years bleeding in the Mitten

To even think that the most unbelievable could be true.

I mean, how am I supposed to believe that you, the one person who was so full of life,

You, who survived Michigan winters with no electricity, reading poetry by flashlight,

You, who survived the assembly line at Cry-Slur and the streets of the D,

You, the bravest, hottest man I know—died, maybe from the goddamn HEAT?

Yeah, I said it.

That just makes no goddamn sense at all.

————


2.         The Last Time I Saw You: Questions for Uncle Blair

         © by Emily P. Lawsin

Sunday, July 24, 2011, 11PM 

for David Blair, 9/19/67 – 7/23/11

The last time I saw you,

We shared a typical Detroit summer day.

You walked in your slippers to meet us in the Cass Corridor,

Kissed me on the cheek, while slyly clicking a snapshot of my jeweled sandals,

Crooning, “Look at those shoooooooes,” and

Guessing correctly: another gift from my (other) gay brother.

We ate Mexicantown’s tres leches birthday cake together, in the three sisters’ garden,

Which, until a couple of years ago was attached to an abandoned

“Blair Hair Salon”, where I had always wished we had taken your photograph.

My five-year-old daughter sat, as she always did, bouncing in your lap,

At Kibibi’s backyard barbecue-turned-impromptu-open mic,

Where you, of course, were the unannounced featured artist,

And the five year old, for the first time ever, volunteered to be your opening act.

Your jaws dropped when she sang a Glee medley of

“Lean on Me”/”Don’t Stop Believing”, a cappella.

Well, why wouldn’t she, with you as her most influential and favorite “uncle”?

Then, when you performed your signature “Detroit, While I Was Away” poem,

As a gift to everyone in the backyard dust,

Hanging your arms like slam dunks in the sky,

We all wondered if you would notice the electrocuted squirrel right above you,

Completely thawed from its assailant snowstorm, and

Dangling from the electricity line that DTE still has not yet removed!

But even that couldn’t throw you off beat:

The depths of your Ebony Eyes have seen much worse tragedies.

Before Pat and Julia broke out the plastic bags of week-old fireworks

And host Shayla and pregnant Becca stoked S’mores in the fire pit,

You took an hour to kiss everyone bye like you always did,

With the five year old trying to anchor your leg,

And exited the party before sunset.

Your Reasons for Leaving: to have family Sunday dinner at Matt and Bev’s.

Their toddlers would be asking for you, their godfather, their “Uncle B”.

Had I known that would be the last time I saw you,

I would have agreed to more picture taking,

And clicked my own rare candid of your gap-tooth smile –

Which I told you is a sign of royalty.

Your humble self would laugh that off, then in all seriousness say,

“I don’t know if it’s a sign of royalty, or a sign that I get no royalties.”

Then share your bellowing laugh again.

Had I known that would be the last time I saw you,

In the purple and gold shimmer of Second Avenue,

I would have clenched you so much tighter and longer when we hugged goodbye,

And I would not have scolded the five year old to let go of you,

As she pulled on your hands and shirt tail, begging you to stay.

Now, just two weeks later, can you or someone please tell me:

How do I tell her the news about her favorite “Uncle” Blair?

What do I tell this child, the one who would always run to you,

Squealing your name, jumping up and down,

Even through a Crowded House, just for one of your big bear hugs?

What do I tell this little girl who adores you,

Who can sing all of your songs and poems by heart,

The brave soul who tiptoed to you on the border of one stage,

Passing you a block letter “E” colored with brown felt marker,

Just so you could tell her joke mid-set? (And you did: Do you want a brownie?)

Cue: thunderous applause.

This is the first-grader who only wants to hold

Your hand crossing these Motown streets,

Just so the two of you can sing Ease on Down the Road, together.

So I need to know:

How do I tell this child that you’re not going to be able to teach her

How to play guitar, what more, in a New York subway so she can pocket some change?

How do I tell her that we can’t have that sushi-making tea party we had planned with you?

How do I tell her that the idea for making Hurricane Popcorn while watching a

Passing Strange/The Wiz/Akeelah and the Bee movie marathon with you

Has to be cancelled, or changed?

How do I tell this child, who has never had stage fright because of you,

Who has danced at all of your shows,

Whose curled-up belly you kissed with your music, even before she was born,

How do I tell her — my heart and my soul — that

The next time we dance down the streets of Detroit,

It will never really be the same?

——-

3.            But I Loved Uncle Blair

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For David Blair (9/19/67-7/23/11)

Today, we told our five-year-old daughter that you died.

She cried a flood of crocodile tears like I have never seen her cry before.

We cradled her like you would,

And she asked the same questions that we have: Why?

I bit my lip so hard so she wouldn’t see it quiver with tears, that it left a scar.

“But he was my favorite fake uncle”, she said,

Her own way of saying extended family.

“But I loved Uncle Blair because he always played with me,

He never got mad at me. Did he ever get mad at you, Mommy?”

“No, I don’t think so,” I said.

“How about you, Daddy?”

“Nope, he never got mad at me,” he said.

She did that hummingbird cry, rocking back and forth in our arms,

And we told her how she could remember you,

What we would do to celebrate your life:

“On Sunday, we’ll have a parade of poetry and music with all of your friends.

We are going to feel sad for a while, but that’s ok.

It’s ok to cry and let it all out.”

She repeated over and over, a scratch in a vinyl record:

“Uncle Blair died? We can never see him sing again?”

Oh yes, we can watch all of his videos and listen to his music.

We are really lucky that he gave us so many gifts of so many of his poems and so many of his songs

That we can play over and over again.

“But that’s not the same as seeing him in person.”

She ain’t never lied.

“Uncle Blair died. That makes me so sad,” she repeated more, her face crumbling.

And just when I thought I would have to do something desperate

Like let her eat all of the candy in the whole wide world — despite her four cavities —

Or buy out the whole toy store down the street – including the display window doused by her drool —

Just to make her feel better,

This brilliant child, who you have nurtured as an artist since she drew murals in my belly,

Asked with her Ebony Eyes: “Can I have a picture of Uncle Blair? One, just by himself?”

As always, your divine intervention saved us.

Do you want one of the two of you together?

“Yeah! That too. I want to color it, make it look special so I don’t forget him.”

We printed two photos that she chose from the treasure chest of your albums.

She cut them out, shaping slowly around your halo.

She folded two origami paper cups like flower pots

And placed one picture inside each like planting a seed.

She drew rainbow colored petals and wrote:

“One of my favorite uncles, Uncle Blair. I’m sad that he died.  😦  “

Then we glued a purple origami crane to its sky and a red, white, and blue kite to the front;

She drew a ribbon of bows to anchor it near your heart.

It is, by far, the most beautiful piece of art she that has ever made.

————-


4.         Spelling B Haiku

          (c) by Emily P. Lawsin

for David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

“how do you spell ‘died’ ?”

our five-year-old asked us, clenched

crayon in bent fist.

  

5.    In My Child’s Dreams

Thursday, July 28, 2011, 10:45 AM

for David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

this morning, daughter

woke up saying she saw you

play music in dreams.

you did not say her

name or talk to her, just sang.

the other day, we

met a native owl

who said when dream bird spirits

speak your name, it is

your time to depart

this earth, soaring high above.

So thank you, brown bear,

For never naming

Names in your dream songs of love.

Rest in Peace, my friend.
 

 ———————————————————-

To read my other poem Dear Blair that I posted yesterday, see: https://divadiba.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/dearblair/  

*  *  *   

 For information on Funeral Services and how to Donate to the Memorial Fund for David Blair, please see:  www.dblair.org  

Please donate to the fund. Every bit helps. Thank you.  

* * * 

www.emilylawsin.com

July 29, 2011

POEM: In Memory of David Blair (1967-2011)

Blair, 2005

Blair. 2005 David Lewinski Photo.

Dear Blair

© by Emily P. Lawsin

In Memory of David Blair (September 19, 1967 –  July 23, 2011)

Like all the poets you’ve linked as kin, I want to write that epic poem for you,

With your favorite Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Tracy Chapman songs

Crooning between the lines,

Where strangers pour out beneath the lamplights of Crowded Houses like

Bittersweet, Xhedos, Urban Break, and Circa Saloon,

Clapping and clamoring to buy you a beer

If you belt out a song or poem or both, again, just one more time.

As your biggest fans, we want the never-ending encore, my friend.

I want to show the world

The brilliant light that shines from your pensive eyelids

As you strum your beloved guitar.

How you would hug it with your arms and knees

In the front seat of our car,

Skipping dinner if it meant leaving it out in the open:

Never wanting your livelihood stolen.

I want all performers to learn your level of humility and grace,

Replay for them our long discussions about how

All talented artists need patrons,

How we should all put our money behind healthcare for indie artists

How maybe that would give you a crown for your missing tooth,

And an EKG to detect any suspected heart irregularities

From your days at the Cry-slur plant or the racial tauntings of your childhood in Jersey.

Given this, I want to film you walking down Woodward,

Where all the shopkeepers, the bus drivers, and

Even the bag ladies pushing stolen shopping carts know you by name.

I want to eat dinner with you at Union Street again,

Watch the manager admonish the host for not seating you sooner again,

Take a sip of the draft he just poured you, on the house, again.

Ask him why he’s not piping your music or poetry overhead

And whip out seven or eight of your albums to stop his stuttering.

I want to watch your fans come up to shake your hand again,

Talk to you like they’ve known you forever,

Have you nod at me with one twitch of your lip, which was code for:

“Tell them your name so they will tell you theirs; I’ve forgotten. Please help!”

I know this because for years, I was one of those same fans.

At our age, our minds start to slip, but at least we know our routines.

We want the never-ending encore, my friend.

I want to fly to Berlin, Copenhagen, South Africa, and Siberia with you,

Take you to Hawai’i, Japan, Jamaica, and the Philippines too,

Not just for the adventure and stardom,

But to be able to hold your calloused hands

On the transcontinental flights that only your closest friends know scares you,

You, a denizen of Greyhound and Amtrak.

I want to always remember how one time,

I bought you a train ticket to speak to a class in Ann Arbor

And you showed me the brand-spanking new kicks you bought by the station

During a train delay.

I laughed when you told me you left your old funky shoes with worn holes in them

On the train, under the seat, in a box for someone else to discover.

“Do you think I should’ve taken them home?” You asked.

That sounds like a poem-in-the-making, I laughed:

“Even if the air hangs like your dirty dogs hummin’ on the train, I still miss you.”

We want the never-ending encore, my friend.

I want to paint a chocolate picture of you

Taking photographs in the Cass Corridor

With the second camera that you’ve lost this year,

Highlight how bumper stickers Emerging from stop signs could move you,

How graffiti that told an ironic story never needed any captions,

How on one recent day, on Second Avenue in Cass Park,

Some young punks yelled at you to put away your camera,

Patting their baggy pants by their crotch like they had a pistol in their pocket,

And you tried to talk them out of it, tell them a story and listen to theirs like you always did.

You told me it was the first time that you ever felt even an ounce of fear in this hood,

In 15 years of living here. That’s when I should’ve started to worry about you, shaken.

For all your humble, gifted talent, I want to put your name in lights at the Fox,

Have you sing “I Rise” with Maya Angelou on Oprah,

Cheer when Burying the Evidence wins a Tony Award on Broadway,

Uncover your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, next to Aretha or Paul Robeson.

I want to name you the Poet Laureate of the United States of America,

Or a Macarthur Genius Award Winner,

Or a Resident Artist as the Langston Hughes or Jimmy Boggs Endowed Chair,

Give you all the Kresge, NEH, Sorros, and Fulbright fellowships you could possibly need

So you don’t ever go hungry again, living from paycheck to paycheck,

So you don’t ever sit in a cold empty apartment reading with roaches and flashlights again,

So you don’t ever get so thirsty or so hot that you find some sleazebag motel

In the heat of the night to find peace in, just because it has air conditioning.

You deserve so much, so much better, my friend.

I hope somehow, in your short life, you realized that.

* * *

 I love you, Blair.

Thank you for all that you did for Detroit, for our world, and for my family.

Rest in Peace and Poetry. 

More poems to come.

www.emilylawsin.com

* * *

For information on Memorial Services and how to donate to the memorial fund for David Blair, please see:  www.dblair.org   Every bit helps. Thank you.

* * * * * 

Update 7/30/11

To Read 5 More of my Poems – on 5 Year Old’s Uncle Blair, click here:

https://divadiba.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/blair/  

 

May 26, 2011

‘Queen of Jazzipino’ Charmaine Clamor Performs in Michigan thru Saturday

Last night, I took our kindergartener to see Charmaine Clamor perform at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe Farms and of course, we both loved it. The 5 ½ year old loves to sing and is proud of being a “Pinay” = Filipina American female, so she was really excited to meet the “Queen of Jazzipino”. She swayed and sang along through Charmaine’s 60-minute set, which included “Doodlin’ in Taglish” (half Tagalog, half English), a traditional harana (Filipino serenade), a Duke Ellington song, a cover of U2’s With or Without You”, and so appropriate for Motown: “Feelin’ Stevie” (a tribute to Stevie Wonder). My favorite song of the night was when her musical director Abe Lagrimas (yes, Pinoy from Hawai’i) broke out the ukulele with Charmaine singing the classic Tagalog love ballad “Minamahal Kita”. Even if you are not fluent in Filipino, you should learn that title, which means: “I love you very much”. I surprised my American-born-self by being able to translate most of the Filipino verses for our daughter and our non-Filipino sistahfriend Deborah, who joined us for “Girls Night Out”.

The Dirty Dog Jazz Café is an intimate, classy restaurant, with white linens and candle lanterns adorning each table. (Being from Seattle and the daughter of an Alaskera [salmon cannery worker], I am pretty picky about my salmon: theirs didn’t need the seafood velouté sauce, but it was pan-grilled perfect, and their bread pudding with cherry port reduction was divine.) It was fun for our daughter to get gussied up and practice her table manners, since she has taken a liking to reading all of the Fancy Nancy books (about a young girl who loves all that is French and fancy). As we do for all entertainment outings, I prepped her for the show by letting her watch some of Charmaine’s videos that are on her website and YouTube. Her favorite videos are “My Funny Brown Pinay (a spoof on “My Funny Valentine” with a good message to be proud of our brown skin and flat noses. “Hey, I have a flat nose too!” she said) and Charmaine’s latest video “Flow” (about the need for potable water and how it affects women). In “Flow”, our daughter loves seeing other children singing along in the studio clips. During the live show last night, she said, “I don’t think all of those kids will be performing with her like on the computer.” And then later, “Are YOU going to perform a poem, Mom? I could sing my songs from my recital.”  I shook my head and wondered if other performance poets who are also parents get similar questions from their precocious kids. 🙂  Now, I’m not recommending that every parent take their little kid to a jazz club, but hey, it’s not every day that a little Asian American girl is able to see talented role models who look like her, especially in Detroit/Grosse Pointe, where Asians make up far less than 2% of the population.

After the show, we bought CDs and a cute “Funny Brown Pinay” tote bag. The 5 ½ year old greeted Charmaine with a hug and the traditional “mano po” blessing of the hand; she was so happy to meet her and get her autograph. During our conversation, we realized we have many mutual friends in Los Angeles (Pinay extraordinaire Prosy de la Cruz is the one who connected us prior to the show). I was really surprised to discover that Charmaine attended California State University Northridge the same years that I taught there – and she said she minored in Asian American Studies (my home department)! Do any of you CSUN FASA alumni remember her from back then? Of course, she said she was in PCN (Pilipino Cultural Night), but I forgot to ask her if she sang in it, because how could I have forgotten her voice if she did?

Braving the rainstorms on a school night, we went to the early show so I could get the kindergartener back home in time for bed, even though I wanted to stay for the next set. I highly recommend everyone go see Charmaine Clamor while she is in town; it is a rare treat to have a Filipina artist – all the way from Los Angeles —  perform in Michigan!

Charmaine Clamor and her trio (Andy Langham [piano], Dominic Thiroux [bass], and Abe Lagrimas, Jr. [drums and ukulele]) will be performing two shows a night — 6PM and 8:30PM — at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, 97 Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, tonight through Saturday, May 28, 2011. Thursday shows are only $15, Friday and Saturday shows are $30. www.dirtydogjazz.com Call for availability: (313) 882-5299.  www.charmaineclamor.com  

 

Charmaine also appeared on Detroit’s Fox2 Morning Show on Wednesday. You can watch the video here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqAbktvaBhc 

 

 www.emilylawsin.com 

 

Emily P. Lawsin is a poet, lecturer, and co-author of Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955.

May 17, 2011

THIS WEEKEND: Mosaic’s Play on Northern High School 1966 Student Strike in Detroit

 Last weekend, we took our kindergartner to see the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit’s production of Northern Lights 1966: The Powerful True Story of Detroit Students Who Stood Up For Their Rights and Won and she loved it; we all loved it. It is the moving inspiration that we need, in a time when all levels of education in Detroit and throughout Michigan are in a crisis. Anyone who believes in people power and values education should see this play! This weekend is the last chance to see it. There is a special student matinee on May 19, half priced tickets on May 20, and closing performances on May 21-22, 2011, all at the Detroit Film Theatre inside the DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts).

 With an original play written by former Detroiter and current NYU Prof. Michael Dinwiddie, the Mosaic youth performers are excellent actors who perfectly punctuate the script by singing songs of the time between scenes and set changes. All of the 72-member cast of Northern Lights 1966 are believable actors because they are high school students playing their own age, lead by actors Charles Hurt, Nathan Alford-Tate,and Joselyn Hill. Kudos to our friend Courtney Burkett, who brilliantly directed the play. In the playbill she writes,

“This story is one of triumph, of rising above adversity, and standing up for what is right. . . When the inequities of their education reached a point that was no longer tolerable, these students created a new reality.  . . Unfortunately, the problems that plagued the students on Northern High School in 1966 are many of the same problems that plague the system today, forty five years later.”

Northern High School was an historic school in Detroit, with many famous alumni, including Aretha Franklin, Betty Shabazz, and Smokey Robinson. It is where the Motown singing group later called “The Miracles” was founded.

The day we went to see the Northern Lights 1966 play, Rick Sperling, Founder and CEO of Mosaic, introduced some Northern High School alumni who were in attendance. One who stood up was Karl Gregory, a Wayne State University Professor who, we find out later in the play, helped the students. In April 1966, more than 1000 students at Northern went on strike to protest inequities and unfair treatment at the school.  During their walk-out, they decided to start their own Freedom School and asked Dr. Gregory to become the Principal; he managed to get other university professors to be teachers during the 2.5 week strike. It was cool to see the audience reaction to the dozens of actors who were portraying people that they knew. I won’t spoil the ending for you, because you really need to see this play.

Lastly, we were extra proud to see a shout-out in the program insert to our colleague and friend, Stephen Ward, Assistant Professor in the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies and the Residential College at the University of Michigan, who directed the historical research done by UM students in the Semester-in-Detroit program and funded by the UM Arts of Citizenship. As an oral historian, one part I appreciated the most was the use of archival images on screens in the backdrop during different scenes and even intermission. You can read more about Stephen’s Semester-in-Detroit project that lead to the play and see archival images HERE: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/UMICH/lsa_alumni/Home/_TOPNAV_LSA%20Magazine/2009%20Fall/09fall-p42-43.pdf

Stephen is also on the Board of the Boggs Center and just published the book Pages From a Black Radical’s Notebook: A James Boggs Reader.  Reading that book, alongside The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige, and seeing the play Northern Lights 1966 should give you plenty of inspiration to accomplish anything: even, and especially in Detroit.

Go see the play THIS WEEKEND and  tell me what you think! 🙂

* * *

See related Detroit News article:  “Play reprises student protest at Northern High”

* * *

Emily P. Lawsin is a spoken word performance poet and the co-author of Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955. She teaches Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies in the Program in American Culture and Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.

www.emilylawsin.com

April 9, 2011

Haikus of Daughter’s Hope in Detroit

I found some old journals, with a series of poems that I wrote four years ago, when my daughter was just a baby, learning to walk and talk. Here are one weekend’s worth of my favorite haikus: poems that have exactly 17 syllables, usually with three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each. Coincidentally, I wrote these when she was 17 months old, a very precious age. With thanks to: our Detroiters Dream for Children group for their constant inspiration; to Julia Putnam and Jackie Victor for always asking, “Where do we see hope in the city for our children?”; and to Grace and Jimmy Boggs for always asking, “What can we be that our children can see?”

Haikus of Hope in Detroit:

17-Month-Old Daughter’s 17 Syllables

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Friday-Sunday, March 23-25, 2007


Stroller Ride Home from Preschool

“Ha? What’s that?” she points

at the working stoplight, with

cooing river winds.

 

Recycle!

“Uh-oh,” she states,

raking plastic grocery bags

fallen to the ground.


Rice and Resistance

Hope rests in toddler’s

balled fist: full of sticky rice,

she opens to share.


* * * www.emilylawsin.com * * *


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