by Kiko Matsing
I came across a video on Facebook made by a Filipina maid working in Saudi Arabia. Dressed in imposed ascetic garb (she is not Muslim), she describes her plight in the hands of her cruel Saudi employers. Her mistress would abuse her for various infractions, and when she asked to leave, they locked her in her room. She worries about her parents who worries about her, and pleads to the Philippine government for relief. She fears ending up like those who come home in body bags, and clings viciously to life for the sake of her family who await her return.
I followed the link to her Facebook page, and found this moving poem she wrote about her daughter. Well, I don’t know if she meant to write a poem–it is partly written in texting idiom–but it certainly has a beautiful lyric quality:
GOD namiss kuna ung me mgsasabing..
Mama pakis ako
Mama kumain kana
Mama ang ganda mo
Mama ang bango mo
Mama haba ng buhok mo
Mama tabi tayo
Mama dito kana lng
Mama sama ako
Higit sa lahat
Mama umutang ako ng biskit bayaran mo ha..
(by Langga Yenoh Plasus)
Here’s my translation:
God, I miss being told…
Mama, kiss me
Mama, let’s eat
Mama, you look lovely
Mama, you smell good
Mama, you have such long hair
Mama, stay beside me
Mama, don’t leave
Mama, take me with you
Most of all:
Mama, I got biscuits on store-credit
Pay for it, yes?
The poem is so simple, yet devastating. It captures the playful language, the push and pull, between mother and child, and at the same time, the situation of Filipinos who leave their families behind to find work overseas. It is even more biting knowing the realities of the poet’s life. It reminds me of the understated style and ironic precision of Nobel poet Wisława Szymborska.
Woman, what’s your name? –I don’t know.
How old are you? Where are you from? –I don’t know.
Why did you dig that burrow? –I don’t know.
How long have you been hiding? –I don’t know.
Why did you bite my finger? –I don’t know.
Don’t you know that we won’t hurt you? –I don’t know.
Whose side are you on? –I don’t know.
This is war, you’ve got to choose. –I don’t know.
Does your village still exist? –I don’t know.
Are those your children? –Yes.
(trans. by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)
This is why I rail at the current state of poetry exemplified by the insipid stuff they publish at The New Yorker (though they do put out Szymborska once in a while), and the conceptual poetry of so-called “experimental” poets. I have been recently chastised by one of them so I will not name names. (But really, dude, your White Privilege, comes off as decadent and self-absorbed.) I demand better toilet reading.
Poets trained in academia, despite their ostensible cosmopolitanism, live in their small privileged ghettoes. What of import can they say to the world? No one is interested in their arcane work (and de rigueur snark) except for the same people in their writing workshop circuit. But anyone reading these few lines from a Filipina maid in the Middle East cannot help but be wounded by her loneliness.