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.

www.emilylawsin.com

   

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