Hispanic Heritage Month: A Costa Rican poet honors Carlos Bulosan

Carlos Sampayan Bulosan (1913-1956) was a class-conscious English-language Filipino novelist and poet who spent most of his life in the United States. His best-known work today is the semi-autobiographical novel America is in the Heart. Bulosan left for America in 1930 at age 17, in the hope of finding salvation from the economic depression of his home. He never again saw his Filipino homeland. He was forced to work in low paying jobsas a farmworker, harvesting grapes and asparagus, and doing other types of hard work in the fields of California. Bulosan was active in the labor movement along the Pacific coast and edited the 1952 Yearbook for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 37, a predominantly Filipino American cannery trade union based in Seattle.

Alvaro Cardona-Hine was born in Costa Rica in 1928, and moved to the United States. He edited the magazine Coastlines. His poem “Bulosan Now,” in tribute to the Filipino writer, was first published in Mainstream magazine in 1956. Many Filipinos speak Spanish fluently, as their country was a Spanish colony until 1898.

Bulosan Now

had to be
she would come
with telegram
stop instead of comma
rest in peace

with cable
come in place of reason
rest on earth

had to be
your absent-minded flesh
would answer
in time and wiry body
and we would be companions
beyond a nasty seam

but no moment knows you dead Bulosan
or gone or vacant or destroyed
intervals are vaults
where death can bandy us
in a wild arch
but between its twin possessions
the wasted eternal instants
of life
and the flicker and the crush
in the clasp of generations
the permanence of those
who like you
gave yes an answer

oh persecuted of autumn
hunted by door and day
for instigating orchards
here is where abuse
kneels in your presence

accomplished now
fulfilled in lesser shadow
are loaves of bread
sturdy ladders
inches of protection
growth by womb of membership and dues
this done by daring lift
the rocks of the forehead
into clammy notebooks
stuffing marine upon jails
by abandoning your hungry fingers
to the mercy of suspect pages

peculiar feeling that
when freedom shares a fingerprint with fear
when a sick lung has to share its milk with ulcers
or when a country lane is blocked
and unionists dragged
immediately before the innumerable agonies
have lips
or your knuckles have bruised
the tender radiance of America

strange crammed feeling
by dint to hounds behind the life expectancy
of a moment
Philippino of I suppose
tight skin upon fine bones
you were brave
in those days
your manhood
of smashed testicles
standing by the brothered stranger
like a little flag frayed at the edges
of incapable bullets

and I wonder
at how wide the interval
between the center of Carlos Bulosan
and the ifs and ohs of a careless funeral
that are gently setting the date for a reunion
I can raise the thankful inkwells of my voice
to place you squarely and concretely among this brutal instant of life
in irreplaceable fashion
as one who knew how to forever subsist later upon now

From Walter Lowenfels, ed., Poets of Today: A New American Anthology, New York: International Publishers, 1964.

Photo: bulosan.org


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.