Al Robles Living Library Book Review: Ay Nako: Writing Through the Struggle by Lorenz Mazon Dumuk
Eldership, remembrance, memory, survival and struggle, all stitched together in humility and respect in Ay Nako: Writing through the Struggle, a wonderful collection of poems by Lorenz Mazon Dumuk. Reading this beautiful collection of poems reminds me why I am a poet and what the function and purpose of the poet is. In Lorenz’s work, I hear the laughter and pain of manongs, manangs, grandmas and grandpas while feeling the poet’s persistent fire, self-effacing humor and ever present mist of hope that rises from the pages.
In “Always going”, the poet laments the impersonal and fleeting nature of human interaction:
We’re all going
But never knowing
With a maturity and irony that is reminiscent of poet Oscar Penaranda, Dumuk asserts:
Don't say you know me
My reality cannot be inhabited on this earth.
Too many willing to kill a dreamer.
I know, because I watch the death to some of my hopes,
even poisoned some of my own wishes
My thoughts are looked with opens eyes
with pupils that contain no light.
I am undefined
and my soul still yearns to be written
Eldership is given its proper place in Lorenz’s poems. In “Passing the Sipa” Uncle Roy is spoken of with reverence having never been afraid of breaking bread with the youth and feeding them the wisdom of his life. The poem evoked the memories I have of my Uncle, the poet Al Robles and of his friend—activist Bill Sorro. They broke bread with the young people of the I-Hotel and left behind a legacy of struggle and wisdom that was attained from years of struggle. The honoring of elders is weaved with hopes for a better future:
You physically left a world
That still needed to be repaired,
But your spirit gracefully reminds my
Soul that I, like my brothers and sisters,
Can still make this life better
If I do not give, offer or provide
Myself for this world,
Then who will be left
To build the bahays
Our dreams long to wake up to
Lorenz honors the Manilatown poet Al Robles with the offering “Al Robles, A treasure not lost”. In the poem Lorenz remembers Robles and his iconic beard and glasses and words “perfumed with the scent of sampuguita memories:
This world painted and created
By the strokes of your poetry;
Communities built with the beat of your heart
The spirit of grandparents moves through this collection of poems, anchoring painful and funny moments alike into collective memory. The reader is called to evoke his or her own memory, bringing it alive through the poem. Lorenz’s memories grace the pages, each one a stitch in a concrete ocean which is continuously, “holding on, letting go, moving forward”. The pain of losing a grandparent to Alzheimer’s and his role as caregiver to his ailing grandmother--memories of love and moments come through with clarity and gentleness:
My hero, not matter how much I forget,
I can always recall your love, which forever
Reconnects me with you. Even time
Itself, cannot wither that away from me
And in “My Roommate Rosita”, the poet writes of his grandmother’s dreams, shared while sitting in bed, the spirits prompting her to shout to them in Illocano:
When her dementia kicks in,
I hold her palm and rub the back
Of her head with my thumb.
My grandma smiles peacefully;
I tell her to back to sleep.
She tells me okay. I’m trusted, I’m love,
Which makes these moments well shared
The poems in this book are a beautiful act of resistance against the cult of independence and angst that is seeded in order to separate us from our families. These poems are refreshing, ringing free of academia which, for me, wrings the truth and passion from poems with an undercurrent of motives—much of which are self-serving--leaving them stiff and cold, not able to move from page to heart with the grace of humility and sincerity. The poems in this book are not encumbered by such things. The poems are powerful in their gentleness yet burn and rage with the fire of the Filipino soul that will stay with you, calling you to remember, to engage and share and stay afloat in a world intent in bringing you down, which the poet so skillfully illustrates in “Staying Buoyant”.
Then, like me,
There are those simply trying to stay afloat:
Caught in storms of unexpected rage,
Stranded, adrift, no sense of direction,
Escaping whirls of vortexes
Ready to claim us in
And always, the hope that anchors this collection:
After a deep sigh, we set
Our sails in search of better seas,
Hoping to make sense
Of this thing called life.
These poems are a beautiful collection that dance and cry out the songs of the manongs that still live in the wind of Watsonville, Salinas…all over. It speaks of the haunting history of the Philippines whose memory is cloaked in the hearts and minds of a people that live in two worlds—one here and one back home. The poems in “Ay Nako: Writing through the struggle” illustrate what the poet Al Robles meant when he said, “The best part of our poetry is our struggle and the best part of our struggle is our poetry”.
To get a copy of his chap-book email Lorenz @ Lorenz.Dumuk@gmail.com