Sagada mountains
Green is the color of mourning:
a young woman brushing her hair,
posed on a stool on top of the wood table
in an old house in Sagada mountains.
I cannot see her face, she’s swung her head back.
I will forever imagine
how her face must have looked
up close, what stories you told her
to fill the silence on long walks
up the trail where the mountains
bled green with foliage,
how you kept those days sacral
in the fields of myth, humdrum rituals,
why I believed you, why her memory
skims through the bamboo slats
where light escapes.
Patria Rivera, Puti/White, Frontenac House Press, 2005
Sitting down for tea with the First Lady, 1954
The sepia photo captures my mother
in her one-and-only favourite frock – palm-frond
silk shift with a shirr of chiffon draping
the bodice – while the other women, artfully made up
in their pompadour hairdos, smart city clothes,
smile widely for the cameras.
An afternoon tea with the First Lady
on her first visit to a rice-farming town
in the plains of Nueva Ecija.
The woman in the picture wants to disappear
into her shadow: she has never drunk
tea except to sip salabat with rice cake.
It is much too hot for an afternoon
of empty talk. Had they let her, she would’ve
stayed by the river to finish the day’s wash,
scrubbed off the day’s grime,
the full torment of strange faces,
with her work-scabbed hands.
But the presidential aides hustled her off
to the municipio to keep company
with the President’s wife. Photo opportunity,
El Presidente, recently proclaimed “Man
of the Masses,” knows how important
appearances can be: The First Lady spends
an afternoon with the local mayor’s wife.
She wouldn’t let on how she survived the day,
how the sour camias soaked in burnt sugar
went with the well-coiffed ladies and their two-toned nails.
She grips a Spanish fan, a memento from her abuela.
She appears tight and vestal, her thin lips feigning a smile.
Patria Rivera, Puti/White, Frontenac House Press, 2005
Fearless dresses
She cuts out dolls and dreams from an old Vogue catalogue,
mixing shirts and skirts, pants, pleats and Pythagoras,
the clickety-clack of the shears dulling her
to submission, as if it were her
metal-to-metal impulse not to negotiate the intake valves
of frowned-upon choices,
the remarkable assemblages constructed from found objects,
a desire without fronts or backs or sides,
like some vendeuse pirouetting the choreographer’s impressions
flat on the ocean,
calibrating her emotions to the second,
then as now,
curbing her tendency towards a tight-lipped lower case “a”.
Patria Rivera, The Bride Anthology, Frontenac House Press, 2007
There are languages that leave invisible chances,
slow knolls featureless between the tossing underfoot,
the backstreets of those damned to hell for all eternity.
When they can, they extract the maximum advantage
from speeding wind, as if to exact drift.
We take with us all the frozen poses of duty, the biting,
pinching snarls of doubt, the temper of irrationality, we
negate the measured assertions of our reversed roles
pinned to the blurred white night. It is unlikely
we can decipher all codes to the map of words,
where the site of the carnage vanished,
where what really matters happened,
the sequence after the pummeling and scarring,
the terrain where live the culturally and denominationally bounded.
Sometimes all we need is a finely-tuned ear to catch
the crumble of rusk in milk or the chilblain in flip-flops
or the soul pressing seed in the furrow, some Yeatsian vision
offering just what we need at just the right moment.
Patria Rivera, BE, Signature Editions, 2011