Prau by Jean Vengua
(Meritage Press, St. Helena and San Francisco, 2007)
Narratives are slippery. Inside the slippage, there’s poetry.
I sat through the movie Moby Dick while crocheting scarves for holiday give-aways before I realized that I had made an earlier mental note to read Prau at bedtime.
There is a Prau on my bedside and it shares a resonance with C.L.R. James’ reading Melville’s Moby Dick in his book, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways.
To this day people read these chapters and will not understand them. But if these chapters are read and accepted, then right early the book itself can be seen for what it is, the grandest conception that has ever been made to see the modern world, our world, as it was, and the future that lay before it. The voyage of the Pequod is the voyage of modern civilization seeking its destiny.
Ahab, we know, is consumed with anger at that civilization. (25)
This civilization that launched not only whaling ships but ships of “discovery” to the “new” world -- is what I’m thinking of. In Melville’s novel, the white whale haunts Captain Ahab and consumes his passion for revenge; in Queequeg, Ishmael projects his longing for what he himself has lost for having become a modern man in search of identity.
What does this have to do with Prau?
I recall a professor who used to chastise me for using words and concepts out of context. Right now the word ‘bricolage’ comes to mind. Is Prau a bricolage? Jean -- a bricoleur? I’ve since learned what this word means and it belongs to Jean.
I, on the other hand, think of myself as a fishing woman and so I think of Prau as an ocean to fish from. This is what her abstract poetry offers to me -- a water-world full of mystery, stories, and images that gives birth to other creatures and creations.
Question inside the Dream: why don’t you write poetry? Answer: I am afraid of words falling and hurting people.
But this I can do…do a collage on Prau.
There’s always mingling past present tenses. The drowned fluffing and flailing because the sky is too thin, no tether. Pigafetta’s voyeurism and hunger making history in momentum. Poetics of geodetic control. Migration busting sacredness of the journey. The body’s tik-tok doesn’t fit. Shifting and aching vicinities -- what did all this traveling mean? Night stammers. Manong photographers outside the frame. What matters?
On the crossroads I don’t know how to run in place. Catatonia: in this state progress doesn’t exist. California as conveyor of forgetfulness. Crows run flagpoles to the ground. Home is what you choose to forget. This paper house I furnished with loneliness -- it became beautiful, a pilgrimage to kool house. A glorious machinery of internal stimuli. In the city and garden, we are angry, indifferent and in love. Like this. Trade.
I’ve lost the connection to holy things. Space once longed for is now repellent. A demon can be your amanuensis. Before going to bed, separate. The great chain of being is a zombie calculus and erotics. I have a crushed heart. I am a story going down, falling forever into universe, eroding my lover down vortics of narrows on Wednesday, August 25, 2004. Dear so and so, why? Frequenting crosswalks, awkwardly we go, but do not linger.
Subject to sentience, the mountains across the bay disappear, framing desire from a distance. I outstrip you through the cracks of fearful foundations revealing the moment. Identities pass by aching for some taste of something to hang along the trembling seams as if it could delete or change the meaning slightly. Promises, promises, promises. Koan – the rest has been disremembered. Empty this boat.
I don’t know what I just did above. But your words that I’ve chosen from Prau came to me… beckoned by what? I do not know. As I read what I culled afterwards, I felt an affirmation, a gentleness that soothed a sad little corner of my heart that has felt abandoned by a Beloved Stranger. Having said that, however, what slips through that narrative is the other feeling: a wholeness unto itself.
Who is this Beloved Stranger? Is it Language? That which refuses articulation in English? How do we begin to articulate the depths of all things mysterious if those things were born in another tongue? Before the praus got there.
In Prau (I don’t know why I keep typing ‘pray’) I see glimpses of stories about our received History: of colonialism crossing the waters; of Manongs on board praus, who sold pieces of land to come to America; of their descendants learning to make peace with this crossing through music, art, poetry. And through revolutionary struggles for dignity and justice.
And then there is that which remains unsaid. Perhaps it cannot be said. Fragments can be told only in poetry. Are some truths about this History too horrible for recall? As we have yet to discover what would assuage the safety of recall, those memories will remain at the bottom of the ocean. I pray for the day when our bodies will be strong enough to excavate the depths and bring to the surface the stories waiting to be told. And then perhaps, we can empty the boat of Memory and row it to destinies beyond.
While CLR James offered me an intellectual critique of modern civilization via Moby Dick, Prau offered me beauty beyond measure. What a pleasure and a treasure to know that poets like you can offer this to me, to us.
Leny M. Strobel lately has been stalked by a group of young women calling her a "babaylan-trainee magnet" and the women calling themselves "babaylan-stalkers"!