A Poetess' Perpetual Quest for Home
Nerisa del Carmen Guevara's Reaching Destination: Poems and the Search for Home [Manila: UST Publishing House, 2004, 131 pages] chronicles metaphorically her poetic persona's many meanderings in the perpetual quest for that holy grail called home.
This much-awaited, long-overdue first volume of verses, which took the poet ten years in the making (1993-2003), has for its central metaphor the most fluid of the four basic elements: water in the shape of rain, river, tears, the sea. Arranged in reverse order, the 50 poems in this collection eddy around the subject matter of loss: lost loves, lost causes, lost moments, the loss of home.
For readers who are not too familiar with Guevara's brand of poetry, it is highly recommended that they peruse the book from the back to the front to witness her development as a wordsmith, especially since Reaching Destination ends with an exegetic essay explaining her creative process. Read in this way, one becomes privy to her transformation from a timid, spare, almost haiku-like lyric poet to a more intrepid, profuse, ballad-oriented troubadour.
Her earlier pieces, like "Baguio Poem", "Garden Pond", "Nocturne", "Scars", and "Full Moon", are very Japanese in both inspiration and execution. "Garden Pond" and "Nocturne", in particular, are written in tanka form, each poem consisting of five lines made up of five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables. Like the typical tanka, the two poems manifest restraint, depending on concrete, puissant images to elicit an emotional response rather than employing abstractions to directly declare feelings and ideas: "A pale stalk standing/ Among the purple lilies,/ Drooping into a woman.//" [Garden Pond]; "We walk scented by moonlight,/ Staring at the bracts of stars.//" [Nocturne].
Although not forged in the limiting structure of the five-seven-five syllables of the haiku, the three other verses still retain the flavor of Japanese poetry with its usual ingredients of exactitude, clarity and suggestiveness. In lieu of a kigo or seasonal word that denotes the time of the year being depicted, Guevara employs key images to evoke the time of the day, which is usually after dark: "And the night bleeds/ A green sadness.//" [Baguio Poem], "Two hungers/ Cut by the edge/ Of stars.//" [Scars], "Reflecting/ The pale fullness/ Of Ourselves/ Back to/ The moon.//" [Full Moon].
Her latter works are more narrative in nature, some of which are written as poetic anecdotes or prose poems, like "Stuffing", "Acid", "The Last Rite", "For Neil", "Home", "Movement", "Kabuki", "In the Heart of Malate", and "Hunger". The virtue of these compositions, despite their sometimes apparent lack of lyricism and organic unity, resides in Guevara's virtuosity to verbalize the pain of parting, which by itself is the most sonorous of sufferings.
For a sensitive reader of her ouevre will soon discover that Guevara's poems are awash with leaves in the form of images, similes and metaphors, as well as leaving in its diverse verbal variations (italics mine): "The wind leaves/ Its voice/ In this house The dead leaves/ Are fallen tongues" [Chime House], "We are speckled by pieces of sun/ Sliding between the leaves" [Boulevard Tree], "Playing on a pattern/ Of pavement and leaves" [Grandfather on a Sunday], "If the leaves and playing children/ Did not make larger ripples" [Forever in August], "You tell me words/ Change colors like leaves" [With the Fading of Poets and Leaves], "And the rain that left/ The leaves of acacias/ Drooping on the Boulevard" [Distances], "It will leave me/ And I will be/ Alone" [Nightbird], "His touch is music,/ Copper like the late leaves" [Copper Like the Late Leaves], "Shadow by shadow/ Leaf by falling leaf" [Cicada], "Leaving the memory/ Of other roads/ In thinning petroleum/Rainbows" [Urbanities], "No leaves fell/" [Understatement], among others.
But the pervasive paradox, or even pathos, in Guevara's poetry is her persona's dual desire for complete unity and total freedom. Most of her poems are attempts to articulate and reconcile these opposing tendencies for attachment and flight, the Apollo and the Daphne principles of a relationship, romantic or otherwise.
It therefore comes as no surprise that a good number of her poems gravitate around the image of trees, symbolizing what Thomas Moore describes in Soul Mates as "the upward yearning for simplicity, order, meaning, and freedom, with the downward need for complexity, change, moodiness, rootedness, and attachment."
Aside from "Boulevard Tree", "Distances", "The Last Rite", "Home", and "The Death of a Bar", where tree(s) somehow function as the focal trope, some of her poems surprisingly turn arboreal in the middle of nowhere: "Trees bristle in the wind." [Sacred Mountain], "Trilling/ The sound pulls the night/ From the sky/ Into a circle of trees,/" [Cicada] "Our laughter/ Disturbed the trees./" [Ibaan-Descending], "The trees always leave an instant mix," , "Once/ There was a River/ Winding warm,/ And Trees./ And Trees." [Reincarnation].
In her introduction, Edith L. Tiempo, 1999 National Artist for Literature and poet-critic par excellance, aptly describes Guevara's poetry as "the consequence of slanted perceptions." And this critic cannot help but agree, for Guevara views the world from a most peculiar perspective, perceiving things in her own unique and oblique way(s). Abandonment, alienation, absence abound between the lines of her poetry, in the interstitial spaces between what she sees and what she says. For her self-fashioning as a poet often skewers her discernment of life, which is not necessarily bad, as long as she shares her many fresh insights to one and all: "The word absence would not/ Make sense./" , "We have packed them all,/ Scrubbed the place clean/ Of memory.//" [In the Heart of Malate], "Everything will end/ Soon/ Like all love will.//" [End].
It is hoped that Guevara will soon reach her final destination wherever that may be, slowly realizing along her arduous passage that home is not a dwelling place, but a sacred state of indwelling.