Tag Archives: culture

An Austro-Canadian in Italy

Two weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to join a group of Austrian blacksmiths on their journey to the world blacksmithing championship in Stia, Italy. This poem is a sort of culmination of the various interesting experiences I had there – from hole-in-the-floor bathrooms, to five-course meals, they sure had it all.

We drive into a game of Minecraft
pass anti-terrorist stations without a bother
(The bar lifts, no need for passports)
drive on, drive on through a European Philippines

Public enemy: public bathrooms
without seats, without that northern need to pay
no fifty-cent charge, no landlocked terrain
Order pasta without a word of Italian
like a multi-cultural sage stricken mute

Up, up, up the mountains
passing Lego cars, tiny as the collective imagination
The buildings all brick; the rock all sedimentary
Layers upon layers follow us into no-man’s-land

Dinner that day is traditional
Serve me once, shame on you
Serve me twice, shame on me
Serve me three times –
where did all these courses come from?
Serve me five times, we’re in Italy

Back and forth like the ‘scape
Hammers ring and people mime like pros
Before we know it the bus is loaded
beers before midday, Austrian cheers
prayers sung at mealtime, prost
the works

We drive back out of that Minecraft game
into the familiar expanse of Terraria

Sept 1-16/17

I Remember

If you wanted to categorize me you’d call me a TCK. A Third Culture Kid.

The funny thing is, it’s a category for people who don’t fit the categories, who don’t fit one culture or another, but are stuck somewhere in between the fresh-water-drinking-taps-wet-leaves of Austria and the sickly-sweet-Jolly-Bee-pasta-and-jackfruit of the Philippines. Then throw in black-city-streets and coloured-playground-pufuleti-Romania and Vancouver-rain-mountain-syrup-Canada and you may have me figured out. Or maybe not. It’s pretty complicated, eh?

Whatever I am, I know I’m made up of memories. And sometimes they come running at me when I don’t expect it; they hit me like a jeepney or a 300-pound moose. So I write poetry. Because what else would I do?

I Remember

I remember the grass under the mango tree
– cut short
unlike the roadside blades
that used to slice at my feet as I walked

I remember dogs crowding on a rooftop
and remember nursing my pup
because we found her on the street
lying by our chainlink door with a bloody elbow

I remember telling her stories when I was sad
– she listened –
and finding a baby bat by the chain
that kept her from getting at our shoes

I remember sunsets on Mindoro
and pebbles bouncing down a mountainside
– my parents said they were boulders
rolling down from Mt. Mayon

I remember taping grey ash
to every single letter we mailed
because it rained down from the sky
and people back “home” didn’t know what that felt like

I remember the whitewashed front porch in Ligao
and finding a baby chicken in the bushes
and climbing the tree with the dangerous nest in it
while all the uniformed kids sang the anthem by the flagpole

I remember slipping in rice-field mud
and crying because my green dress got dirty
while wading through the water
and crossing over a tree and into a village

I remember getting chased by a scary dog
running from shadows
seeing a cobra in the dust
and hearing the Tokko* make noises by my bedroom window

I remember being told to hide under my bed
if anyone ever broke into the house
while my parents were away
– and I heard about those guns stockpiled under the kiosk too

I remember collecting bottlecaps
and saving up Pesos
to buy thin peanut butter cookies
or cheap pop handed out in a plastic bag with a straw

I remember begging my parents to buy me
the local ube**-flavored ice cream
and remember my dad eating balut
almost-hatched duck eggs, a delicacy

I remember sitting in the back of the car
and hitting my head on the roof
because Quirino Highway was bumpy
– filled with more potholes than actual road

I remember sliding down smooth rocks
and putting hibiscus flowers in my hair
or playing with the red blossoms
that could be chained into jewelry

I remember roosters crowing in the morning
and cats eating out leftovers
I remember feeding milk to kittens
and old pasta to Oliver, the grizzled tom who only let me pet him

I remember finding big bugs in our sandbox
and stepping on a giant thorn
and finding an orange spider
that was at least ten centimeters wide

I remember eating jackfruit and banana heart
drinking flavored milk
that came in plastic packages
and feasting on lechon, chicken adobo, and pancit

I remember being scared of the ocean
but playing in it anyways
I remember finding huge shells on the beach
and I remember what swallowing salt water felt like as a kid

I remember the day we found a toad in the toilet
the day I got a rash over my whole body
the day my brother ate a cockroach
the day we accidentally ate carabao*** instead of beef

I remember tuberculosis
and knocking down a stand of bitter green herbs
I remember hole-in-the-ground bathrooms
and how precious fresh water ran out of a hand-operated pump

I remember the weeks we had without electricity
because of typhoons
– seeing the banana palms twist and fall down
seeing streets flood with water and debris

And I remember the day we arrived
ignorant of customs and food
– ignorant of how our lives would play out
just waiting for the silver-blue jeepney to round the corner
and bring us home

Jan 19/16
*technically Tokay, a large nocturnal gecko referred to as “Tokko” because of the sound it makes. It’s bite can be dangerous to children
**a purple-colored type of yam
***water buffalo