Thursday, August 30, 2007



Bridgeable Shores: Selected Poems (1969-2001) by Luis Cabalquinto
(Galatea Speaks, an imprint of Muae Publishing/Kaya Press, New York, 2001)

My daughter Eileen and I were chatting idly over coffee when she asked, “Have you ever been encouraged to do some creative writing—poems or short stories?” We were discussing the time I spent at the graduate school in Silliman University in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, Philippines.

My answer: “No.” No time. I was a part-time graduate student and part-time college English instructor. As a new instructor I was just a chapter or two ahead of my students reading our textbook. I had to study my graduate course, write related term papers, research and prepare my master’s thesis. And I had to eat and sleep, too. I had a very disciplined routine for two years. I still marvel at how I survived with only four hours of sleep a night.

Then it occurred to me: Yes, I did do creative writing—a lot of it. It’s just that they were never published in magazines or elsewhere for public consumption. But at the same time, I also thought that my “creative writing” efforts might have been thwarted by being encouraged at the time to function more as a literary critic.

Eileen interrupted my thoughts: “Why don’t you review some poetry books? I have plenty looking to be reviewed.”

“I no longer remember the literary tenets I once knew,” I replied.

“You don’t need ‘literary tenets’—just share something about the poems and how you responded to them. Readers of [Galatea Resurrects] arrive at the journal within the internet, so the readership can include those who don't know, or care about, 'literary tenets'. Readers include those who don't ordinarily pay much attention to poetry,” she said.

I said I would “try.” Later, Eileen gave me four books. I took them to my bedroom where I chose one which happened to be Bridgeable Shores by Luis Cabalquinto. I opened the page to the first poem, “Depth of Fields,” and started casually to read, but then paused to read more slowly as I felt as if the first two lines were created for me:

I walk some hundred paces from the old house
where I was raised, where many are absent now

“where many are absent now” caused a lump to form in my throat; I could feel the possibility of tears. I read on until

it changes me now,
like someone restored to the newness of his life.

I broke down and wept. I wept for those “who are absent now” in my life.

My son, Roy, died about 26 years ago from a car accident when he had just turned twenty-one. How does a mother bear that grief and loss? Family and friends, my church family, rallied around to offer comfort. As the days passed, I felt a deep need to go Home, home to that little barrio where I grew up. I strongly felt and believed being in my old home in the Philippines (where Mother was still alive) would make me whole again.

We did go. My husband and three children and I. And I did feel “like someone restored to the newness of [my] life.”

What is it about going home that haunts one when away from home? I had a family, I had a new home made of my husband and children and myself—but why did I feel I had to be in my old home? I was already surrounded with friends and relatives and their warmth and love, but still I needed to go back to my earlier home.

I was not disappointed with my return. I still grieved, but I felt the burden of my loss and grief become more bearable.

And as I continued to consider Luis Cabalquinto’s poem, I continued to weep—this time for my mother who died when she was 88 years old. Two years before she died she lost her desire for food. More often, she would eat only one or two meals a day and she ate very little, according to my niece (a nurse) who took care of her. She would tell my nieces and my brother when they urged her to eat that she was “ready to go.” She said the same thing to me—I visited twice a year during her last few years. I couldn’t stay long with her because I also had to take care of my husband who then had just undergone open heart surgery. How does one feel when the props of one’s life are suddenly taken away?

And my tears continued as the poem also evoked my youngest son, Glenn. Our family had thought he was in good health but at age 43, he died unexpectedly about two years ago. He had been tinkering with something in the garage and when his daughter went out to ask him something, she discovered him lying flat out on the yard. He was brought to the emergency room of the local hospital, but he never revived. I wept for my daughter-in-law and my then 14-year-old granddaughter.

And I wept all the harder for my husband whom I lost to brain cancer just a little over a year ago, three days after our 50th wedding anniversary.

Many are absent now in my life. Would my childhood home still have the power to restore and rejuvenate me?

Well, I just returned from a visit to the Philippines. The old house, mine now according to my mother’s wishes, resounds with new life. My niece and her husband, with their three lovely young children, live in it. Because of them, I can say my old home, “where many are absent now,” remains a part of my life.

My youngest brother—there’s just him and me now among the original four siblings—and his wife built a new house next to the old house that my mother bequeathed to me. I stayed there, felt absolutely welcomed, during my trip. One of my brother’s rooms was reserved and furnished for me. Yes, going back to my hometown, to my birthland, still has the power to restore and rejuvenate.

I turned more pages of Bridgeable Shores. I read more poems before pausing at page 62 which contains the poem “At Lake George.” The first three lines held me and stopped me from moving on to the next page:

it seems it is the one sane act you do
this week, which puts some substance
to the whole business of living

These words are for me! “One sane act”—what is this one sane act that “puts some substance to the whole business of living”? Only after a while did it dawn on me—and I was shocked at this realization!—that I had given up on the “whole business of living”! Ever since, following my husband’s death, I arrived to live with my daughter and her husband here in St. Helena, my thoughts underlying my acts had to do with “many are absent now” and it won’t be long before I’ll join them, too.

I wept for myself, too. Among other things, I realized that I had been insulating myself from feeling more grief, for example, turning to reading light fiction so that there’s no room for memories of absent beloveds to lodge in my mind.

So I finally wept with gratitude for coming across Luis Cabalquinto’s poems. “At Lake George” shocked me into realizing that I had stopped putting “some substance to the whole business of living.”

I suppose the concept of "bridgeable shores" relate to bridging the shores of the poet's two residences or homes: the United States and the Philippines. But in finding such direct relevance in the poems to my own life, I feel that the poems also act as bridges between the author and the reader.

I also want to say that part of the poems' "healing" effect on me didn't just have to do with their narrative content, but the general tone of calm and peace throughout Luis Cabalquinto's poetry collection. It's a calm that fits tone to content in a very effective combination.

And, now, how do I begin “one sane act” that would give renewed substance to my life? I read on:

…this engagement
with tall pines [here, I substitute oak trees which abound on the mountain where I now live with Eileen]
the new air’s friendship, the people
with laughter in their talk
and looseness in their gait
the finest words come easy in the mind

there is something special
about remaining with the living after all

something there is about evenings
in green and moist villages that brings on
a reaching out to an old self that is
being repeatedly lost and replace
for tomorrow…

So I shall begin my “one sane act” then with the thought:

there is something special
about remaining with the living after all


Beatriz Tabios, 77-years-old, received her B.A. with English as her major from the Silliman University in Dumaguete, Philippines. She developed her love for poetry as a sixth-grader reading Homer, William Shakespeare, John Keats, Alexander Pope, William Wordworth and Samuel Coleridge while trying to survive World War II. She would further develop her appreciation for poetry as a college student instructed by poet Edith Tiempo, the first woman to receive the title of National Artist for Literature in the Philippines. The late Dr. Edilberto Tiempo, then the head of the English Department, encouraged Mrs. Tabios to continue her study of English and American literature. With Edilberto Tiempo’s encouragement, Mrs. Tabios wrote her Master of Arts thesis which was the first investigation, regarding Filipino literature, of “(The Use of) Local Color in Short Stories in English.” Later, she taught English literature at Dagupan College (now University of Pangasinan) and University of Baguio, before becoming a teacher at Brent School, a boarding school initially built for children from U.S.-American military, missionary and gold-mining families stationed in the Far East.


At 9:59 PM, Blogger Kathang Pinay2 said...

Manang Betty - please don't stop writing! This is so stunning. You are the original genius, Eileen- the clone. Looking forward to more from you.

At 11:12 PM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Thanks Leny. I'll pass on your note to Mom. She doesn't do internet (grin).

It's sort of interesting belatedly finding out various aspects of her past -- like, she was telling me how the Tiempo's encouragement of her as an undergraduate student led to her receiving her M.A. ... and she became just the fifth student ever to receive that lit degree. These, in the early days of Filipino English-language literature, before the Tiempos would come to form the Silliman Writers Workshop modeled after Iowa's....

....which only means she (ahem) wrinkles her brow at my poems :-)


At 8:01 PM, Blogger John B-R said...

This is maybe the best book review I've ever read. I want to write like this.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Thanks John. I'll pass on your comment to Mom.

It is pretty amazing, isn't it, to see how a poem can so affect a reader....


At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deep thoughts, beautifully written.
This is the most touching feedback
BRIDGEABLE SHORES has received. It's
most gratifying to know that the poems in the book continue to resonate with readers and to provide
"bridges" of the uplifting kind.


At 7:33 AM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Thanks for writing, Don Luis! I'll pass the message on to Mom.

And the Silliman Review has requested reprinting Mom's review! Nifty, eh?!


At 10:37 PM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Another view is offered by Linda Nguyen in GR #11 at


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