WORD GIFTS FOR AN AUSTRALIAN CRITIC

written by Merlinda Carullo Bobis

WORD GIFTS FOR AN AUSTRALIAN CRITIC

— Merlinda Carullo Bobis

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unless withdrawn—kot—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.

About the poet


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...

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