Wednesday, 29 March 2023

American Life in Poetry: Momotaro in the Philippines

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Marianne Chan, in her riddle of a poem, “Momotaro in the Philippines,” reminds us of how the world contracts by migration, by communication technology, and by trade, and how every culture finds a way to make sense of the cultures that somehow find their way into their worlds.

Momotaro is best known as the boy hero birthed from the seed of a peach in Japanese folklore.

For Filipino-American poet, Chan, peaches evoke alienness: Europe, cans, boy-heroes, Japan, and America — peaches are part of the global world of trade.

Her “peach girl” becomes a counter-hero. She is not “a warrior, no hero.” She loves and she stingily consumes delicious peaches for her survival. I find her defiant self-awareness strangely comforting.

Momotaro in the Philippines
By Marianne Chan

Here, peaches come from boxes
that smell like Europe, from cans
made of a tin-coated steel.
I lie with the peaches soaking in
saccharine darkness until freed.
I don't recognize the children
who run toward me. Their faces
like the feathers on the feet
of birds. Their slippers repeating that
melancholic drone. “Wake up,” they say.
“Wake up.” And as I rise from
the dreamy fluid-oh, the America,
which preserves me -I press
my sticky forehead on your sun-­
freckled hand. I love you, am sorry,
am not a warrior, no hero. I
fight for nothing, am stingy. I ate
all the peaches from the can
from the box from which I came.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Marianne Chan, “Momotaro in the Philippines” from All Heathens (Sarabande Books, 2020.) Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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03.29.2023 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm
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