Leny M. Strobel: Journaling with MDR Poetry
A gift of a Journal. A Poem with over a thousand lines. A gift published as a book: MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION (MDR) by Eileen R. Tabios.
Eileen’s promise: You can randomly choose however many lines and put them together to form a new poem. And if the poet is successful, the new poem will be beautiful!
In another journal, I did just this and I was surprised that this promise is true. I wrote about it HERE. Then I decided to begin a new journal for writing a one-page entry every day in response to a randomly chosen poetic line; I planned to do a free-write following what feelings, images, memories, stories the words evoke.
For three months, before going to bed, I made a date with Poetry.
You should know that I recently retired after more than two decades of teaching Ethnic Studies at a state university in California. After several published books, journal articles, edited anthologies, and chapter contributions to other people’s books, I declared myself free from the obligatory academic language, citations, and footnotes and such.
I wasn’t going to write anymore. (In any case, who reads for length these days?)
But when Poetry calls, I listen and pay attention.
I invite you, dear reader, to see what this poetic entanglement has evoked for me…that, hopefully, evokes something Beautiful for you as well.
Note: MDR contains a database of 1,167 poetry lines. Each entry is sparked off one of its (numbered) lines:
841 I forgot darkness was the key, not the lock.
In hindsight, the darkness that came to symbolize so many moments in my life as a Filipina—the childhood trauma of sexual abuse; the elopement at 17; the break down of a teen marriage; the disappointment and shame I brought home to my mother who had hoped there would no repeat of her children bringing home white men while the neighbors raised their eyebrows in mocking condescension; the hiding of trysts with lovers—were all keys that unlocked bits and pieces of that inner life searching for liberation. Only to find and finally be able to name the shame and guilt that isn’t only personal but historical and civilizational.
Only our understanding of the dark side of history can unlock and liberate the insecure and fearful child.
The story is cruel, you see. We have all been conned by a story because it was afraid of the Dark.
The fear of Dark as Other
To be banished To be excised To be denied To be untold
Is also named
Woman Filipina Brown Monkey Servant of Globalization Prostitute Comfort Woman Imeldific
65 I forgot the grandmother who always grinned at me, unashamed her gums held no teeth.
My Apu Sinang didn’t wear dentures. Nor did the other older people in our barrio back in the day. There was no shame in being toothless. And when she flashed a big smile, her cheeks would cave in, her lips against her gum straight and slightly upturned corners—she is beaming; her inner joy shows through.
I blame the purveyors of ideas of hygiene, health, and beauty for our eventual disdain for toothlessness.
Dentists started making money on dentures that were sometimes too big for the mouth. Or dentures that were clunky and ill-fitting. My Dad put up with loose dentures and he wouldn’t go to the dentist because he preferred to save his money.
When we were young, instead of getting an education about keeping teeth and bones healthy, instead of being taught not to eat too many candies to avoid cavities, instead of being taught to floss everyday—we were often rushed to the dentist who was only too happy to pull out a tooth or two. Never heard of root canals, putting a cap on a cracked tooth, or a crown.
Nowadays there’s tooth whitening, braces to straighten the teeth, night guard to protect from teeth-grinding.
Once the dentist recommended that at my age of 63, I can now afford to make my teeth white and straight.
I laughed aloud remembering my toothless grinning grandmother!
351 I forgot to be an angel is to be alone in a smudged gown, fingers poking through holes burnt by epistemology.
Epistemology. How do you know what you know? How do I know that epistemology can be violent? As in “psychic and epistemic violence” of colonialism.
The first time I wore a gown was at my senior prom in high school in the Philippines. We were the first cohort given permission to hold a prom—maybe to be taken as a sign of being properly inducted into American popular culture. It was 1968 and the hippies were flowering in San Francisco.
Since the graduating class voted me as their Miss Senior, my mother made me a long chiffon gown with bling around the haltered neckline exposing bare shoulders. She even sent me to the beauty parlor where I was coiffed and decorated with dainty pink silk flowers. I remember not being too happy that day as the gown was just a tad short and my feet ached from ill-fitting borrowed three-inch heels. I was nervous and giddy as we were paraded in the school’s courtyard in blistering sun.
Smudged gown. Alone. Fingers poking thru holes burnt by epistemology. Strange associations, memories that must mean something. M-e-a-n-i-n-g = what does it mean that I have longed to know whether the boy who escorted me at the prom held tender feelings for me then? A longing burning holes in my dream life for decades: Why won’t you love me?
A koan’s meaning takes forever to show up. It turns out that this longing harkens to loving a Homeland that doesn’t love me back. It turns out that the epistemic violence of being unloved is to be Alone.
692 I forgot him singing a shivering woman with no defense as soldiers arrived to do what they did to her and her too-young daughters.
There stood a silent witness to the horrors done to women.
I’ve just returned from a weekend retreat with indigenous women elders and young indigenous women that was quickly summoned in the light of a #metoo moment within the local native community.
In the circle, one after another, twenty five women said:
I was molested I was raped I was abused I was betrayed
By men in the community. Men who are leaders Men who are protected by other women Men who are damaged
In the end soothed by the words of a wise elder.
The perpetrators have done things to your body. But they took nothing from you. They didn’t take the stardust in you. Remember your strength and your Source. Cry. Let the tears flow. That is how we become human.
But you are warriors. You will rise up. You will end this scourge in your life. We will heal our communities.
Leny Mendoza Strobel also writes essays at https://medium.com/@lenystrobel. About Poetry, she says: I try to live as poetically as I could even though I feel that English fails me in writing poetry.
a garden instead.