Merlinda Carullo Bobis
Biography of Merlinda Carullo Bobis
Merlinda Carullo Bobis is a contemporary Philippine-Australian writer and academic.
Born in Legaspi City, in the Philippines province of Albay, Merlinda Bobis attended Bicol University High School then completed her B.A. at Aquinas University in Legaspi City. She holds post-graduate degrees from the University of Santo Tomas and University of Wollongong, and now lives in Australia. Written in various genres in both Filipino and English, her work integrates elements of the traditional culture of the Philippines with modern immigrant experience.
Also a dancer and visual artist, Bobis currently teaches at Wollongong University. Her play Rita's Lullaby was the winner of the 1998 Awgie for Best Radio Play and the international Prix Italia of the same year; in 2000 White Turtle won the Steele Rudd Award for the Best Collection of Australian Short Stories and the 2000 Philippine National Book Award. Most recently, in 2006, she has received the Gintong Aklat Award (Golden Book Award, Philippines) for her latest novel Banana Heart Summer, from the Book Development Association of the Philippines.
Merlinda Carullo Bobis's Works:
Rituals: Selected poems, 1985-1990. (1990)
Summer was a Fast Train without Terminals. (Melbourne: Spinifex, 1998)
White Turtle. (Melbourne: Spinifex, 1999)
The Kissing (Aunt Lute, 2001)
Banana Heart Summer (Murdoch Books, 2005)
The Solemn Lantern Maker (Sydney: Murdoch Books, 2008)
Fish-hair Woman (North Melbourne: Spinifex, 2011)
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Merlinda Carullo Bobis Poems
From Cell Nine
it is not bare tonight, this black wall. it suddenly wore a tiny star,
Life Today, Manila, 1990
i love too beautifully today, as if tomorrow I will die. i even tie my hair from cliff to cliff
Summer Was A Fast Train Without Terminal...
I, too, can love you in my dialect, you know, punctuated with cicadas and their eternal afternoons —
THIS IS WHERE IT BEGINS
Once upon a time in Bikol, Pilipino, English — we tell it over and over again. Digde ini nagpopoon. Anum na taon ako, siguro lima. Si Lola nag-iistorya manongod sa parahabon nin kasag Na nagtatago sa irarom kan kama. Dito ito nagsisimula. Anim na taon ako, siguro lima. Si Lola nagkukuwento tungkol sa magnanakaw ng alimango na nagtatago sa ilalim ng kama. This is where it begins. I am six years old, perhaps five. Grandmother is storytelling about the crab-stealer hiding under the bed. Each story-word crackles under the ghost's teeth, infernal under my skin. I shiver. But perhaps this is where it begins. Grandfather teasing me with that lady in the hills walking into his dream, each time a different colour of dress, a different attitude under my skin. I am bereft of constancy, literal at six years old, perhaps five. Or, this is where it begins. Mother reviewing for her college Spanish exam: ‘Ojos.' ‘Labios.' ‘Manos.' Suddenly also under my skin, long before I understood ‘Eyes': how they conjure ghosts under the bed, ‘Lips': how they make ghosts speak, ‘Hands': how they cannot be silent. I remember too Father gesturing, invoking once upon a time. This is where it begins. Story, word, gesture all under my skin. At six years old, perhaps five. And so this poem is for my father, mother, grandmother, grandfather and all the storytellers, the conjurers who came before us. They made us shiver not just over crab-stealers hiding under the bed or a lady uncertain of her garb. They made us shiver also over faith, over tenderness. Or that little tickle when a word hits a hidden crevice in the ear. Just air heralding the world or worlds that we think we dream up alone. No, storytelling is not lonely, not as we claim—in our little rooms lit only by a lamp or a late computer glow. Between the hand and the pen, or the eye and the screen, they have never left, they who ‘storytold' before us, they who are under our skin. Perhaps they even conjured us, but not alone. Storytelling, all our eyes collect into singular seeing, our lips test one note over and over again, our hands follow each other's arc, each sweep of resolve. Eyes, lips, hands conjoined: the umbilical cord restored.
When I met you, you even wished to learn how to laugh in my dialect. Between the treble of bees and the deep bass of water buffalos on tv's ‘World Around Us'. Between the husk and grain of rice from an Asian shop. Between my palms joined earnestly in prayer, you searched for a timbre so quaint, you'd have to train your ears forever, you said. And when I told you how we village girls once burst the moon with giggles, you piped, ‘That must have been a thrilling sound, peculiar, ancient and really cool— can't you do that again?'
how easily a speck of bird shatters the evenness of skies— she peers, stunned, from cell 22 that such dumb minuteness can shake the earth
the blind are showing movies in the plaza so the deaf are gathering in the plaza so the mute can debate in the plaza the fate of one beloved nation
for Mama Ola the sea clings to the roof of my mouth, but the tide of my heart cannot swell. only this salt-taste, this dumb remembering, sharp as the flavour of fish dried on the beach.
IN A ROOM TO LET
every night from work, she proceeds to test for damp the lingerie redundant on the line. the wash are shadows of other hangings; they need to be tucked away like virtue nightly slipped into an old rose vanity. she shuts her windows tightly from a fire-wall never higher than her grim stare, and begins to strip away the opaqueness of the day. she resists the sin of a lone mirror; it might reveal her luminous. a monotone of rice and fish is laid out then—the voyeur yellow bulb is asked to dinner. it's their affair to have it hug her limbs, and gentle them to grace. she squints in welcome of its savage repetition on her face. nightcap follows, a glass of milk for gut-wounds. they nag for feasts that hush with sleep. tucked between eight and nine, the willing mattress holds her down, its weight unstirring as a mother's arms. she, too, does not stir, except on moments when her hands flail, ever slightly, to toss aside this mother's clasp in dreams of maybe younger arms. but they only flail-flop back to her breast like some impotent reliquary. her mouth half-opened cups the darkness for posterity. so she does not hear the rustle, the young wife's skirt, the fabric-sigh that ransoms the next room from shadows.
IN BED WITH LORCA
when fringe of lips and tips of hair run a sweet fever at one o'clock in the morning when a shameless nipple stares like a hot-hard eye at one o'clock in the morning when the little finger and the little toe burn holes on wind and earth it is the hour of the gipsy heart vagrant of my lover's body cul-de-sac of belly avenue of thigh still dark and silent at one o'clock in the morning when the whole world sleeps save me who waits for the double somersault of the heart
WORD GIFTS FOR AN AUSTRALIAN CRITIC
I bring you words freshly prised loose from my wishbone. Mahal, oyayi, halakhak, lungkot, alaala. Mate those lips, then heave a wave in the throat and lull the tip of the tongue at the roof of the mouth. Mahal. mahal. mahal. ‘Love, love, love'—let me, in my tongue. Then I'll sing you a slumber tale. Oyaiiyaiiyaiiyayiiiii— once, mother pushed the hammock away—oyaiiyaiiyaiiyayiiiii, the birthstrings severed from her wrist when I married an Australian. So now I can laugh with you. Halakhak! How strange. Your kookaburras roost in my windpipe when I say, ‘Laughter!' as if feathering a new word. Halakhak-k-k-k-kookaburra! But if suddenly you pucker the lips—lung— as if you were about to break into tears or song — watch out, the splinter cuts too far too much—lunggggggg— unless withdrawn—kot— in time. Lungkot. Such is our word for ‘sadness'. Ah! For relief, release, wonder or peace in any tongue. ‘Ah!' of the many timbres; this is how remembering begins—ah!— and is repeated—lah!-ah!-lah! Alaala. This is our word for ‘memory'. How it forks like a wishbone. Mahal, oyayi, halakhak, lungkot, alaala. How they flow East-West-East-West-East in one bone wishing it won't break.
take me not in mid-winter, only to thaw the frost of your old bones, imagining how stallions rear in the outback, hooves raised to this august light, kakaibang liwanag, kasimputla't kasinglamig ng hubad na peras.¹ but take me on a humid afternoon made for siesta, when my knees almost ache from daydreaming of mangoes, tree-ripe and just right, at higit sa lahat mas matamis, makatas kaysa sa unang halik ng mansanas.² ————————— ¹‘alien light, as pale and cold as a naked pear' plucked from my tongue you have wrapped in a plastic bag with the $3 mango from woolworths while i conjured an orchard from back home—mangoes gold and not for sale, and ²‘above all, sweeter, more succulent than the first kiss of the apple.'
DRIVING TO KATOOMBA
Today, you span the far mountains with an arm and say, ‘This I offer you— all this blue sweat of eucalypt.' Then you teach me how to startle kookaburras in my throat and point out Orion among the glowworms. I, too, can love you in my dialect, you know, punctuated with cicadas and their eternal afternoons: ‘Mahal kita. mahal kita.' I can even save you monsoons, pomelo-scented bucketfuls to wash your hair with. And, for want of pearls, I can string you the whitest seeds of green papayas then hope that, wrist to wrist, we might believe again the single rhythm passing between pulses, even when pearls become the glazed-white eyes of a Bosnian child caught in the cross-fire or when monsoons cannot wash the trigger-finger clean in East Timor and when Tibetans wrap their dialect around them like a robe lest Orion grazes them from a muzzle. Yes, even when among the Sinhalese the birds mistake the throat for a tomb as gunsmoke lifts from the Tamil mountains, my tongue will still unpetrify to say, ‘Mahal kita. Mahal kita.'
DRIVING TO KATOOMBA
Today, you span the far mountains
with an arm and say,
‘This I offer you—
all this blue sweat
Then you teach me
how to startle kookaburras
in my throat