Bridgeable Shores: Selected Poems (1969-2001) by Luis Cabalquinto
(Kaya, New York, 2001)
Luis Cabalquinto has lived life. In his first American published collection, he gives us thirty-two years worth of writing, to 65 years of intense living, full of love and labor and loss. Constantly making and re-making his home in the Philippines and New York, he has spent his life shuffling between those two places as well as everywhere in between and beyond. He takes us on a diasporic journey through his poems. He does not simply write poetry, but lives it, and we the readers are able to feel the immediacy of his experiences and emotions. His poems do not act as mere containers of documentation, but active vehicles that carry though his sentiments.
In the very first poem, “Depths of Fields,” he situates us in his childhood home and immediately lets us onto the project of his poetry:
Disclosed in this high-pitched hour: a long-held
secret displaced by ambition and need, a country
boy’s pained enchantment with his hometown lands
that remains intact in a lifetime of wanderings.
Bridgeable Shores is Cabalquinto’s effort at un-keeping this secret. He has spent his life meandering through the world in search of worthwhile experiences, letting go of his body to be taken in and on by the world. Throughout this process, he has allowed his body to become the bridge that binds the disparate shores he has lived on and through. In this anthology, Cabalquinto is not merely collecting poems, but connecting them, piecing together meaning to make sense of his life.
Cabalquinto writes about everything from everywhere. Because he is not tied down to a singular location, he takes on fully every setting he enters. He is aware and appreciative of the multiple spaces he occupies, paying particular attention to the environment and how these different landscapes have shaped his life. He feels the wind and leaves and the air he breathes that passes through him and out again. There is a flow, ocean currents that sparkle and glisten, bringing a perpetual motion even in during a calm.
The many movements inside weeds—
Growing, growing: fulfilling a cyclical dictum—
Feed of cattle that feeds man who feeds, feeds.
Bodies too are landscapes that Cabalquinto traverses and takes in. There are the bodies of boys who have yet to come into their sex as well as the body of a man being carefully inspected by his lover. His childhood desires and sensualities come through, not as innocence but as exploration without inhibition. He is not afraid to put forth poems about sex that hang with an air of playfulness alongside those he crafts with tenderness and wonderment; he shows an appreciation that is not singular in scope.
Unseen, someone would be singing from afar—
a young woman’s voice, riding thin and fragile
on the southeast gust that would brush past your ear like fur;
and some deep part of you would be yearning for her
to come and share this pain, the stinging ache of your joy.
(“Some Night” 12-16)
In life, with love comes labor. For Cabalquinto, there are rules and regulations that maintain the structure of society which necessitates that its citizens perform in a particular way. The passage of childhood into adulthood involves how one’s life gets squeezed into order, with dictations about how to pick up after your dog on a city walk, or the proper way to wait in line at the bank. There is a quiet sadness to this predicament, but he shows that things could be—and are for some—worse. As in times of national upheaval, these options narrow, and young men turned rebels are forced to make difficult decisions: “Now, for them, there are just two exits: // Not to be a killer is to be killed. They choose to kill.”
Even with the trappings of adulthood weighing, there are chances to flee from responsibility. In a weekend getaway from the city to Lake George, Cabalquinto gestures towards “a reaching out to an old self that is // being repeatedly lost and replaced.” He can never return to his childhood innocence, but he can constantly remake himself anew from the little country boy he was. In this he is always being pushed forward as he wishes to go back.
Bridgeable Shores goes through the range and depth of human experience. Because this is a wide-ranging collection, poems about Disney World are given equal weight as that of a young man’s brutal murder, or Cabalquinto’s poetic dedication to his friend and mentor, José Garcia Villa. He shows us how to notice the little things that transpire during the day in between the enormity of life. He chooses to use the simplest of language so as to best get at the rawness of life. There is a richness to his words that gently encourages his readers to live life to the fullest each and every day as he has.
That even if tomorrow the crops should fail
A war be declared
Or a death in the family occur
only this moment’s knowledge
only this closeness to kin
To bird and cricket and grass and tree
And to stars or moon and trucks heading North
only this alignment
(“Blue Tropic” 37-45)
Linda Nguyen is a student at MacAlester College.