Poem of the Week | April 11, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “San Maló” by Luisa A. Igloria.

Luisa A. Igloria is the author of Maps for Migrants and Ghosts (Co-Winner, 2019 Crab Orchard Open Poetry Prize), The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis (2018), 12 other books, and 4 chapbooks. Originally from Baguio City, she makes her home in Norfolk, VA where she teaches at Old Dominion University’s MFA Creative Writing Program; and at The Muse Writers Center. In July 2020, she was appointed Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Academy of American Poets awarded her a 2021 Poet Laureate Fellowship in April 2021.


San Maló

              No birds, no boats
are visible on the water, which roils
and foams as if an acreage of cotton
rippled from a whip or a prod, above
and below. You could say it doesn’t take
much to feel how little influence
we have in a world we once thought
we could make our home. My people leaped
ashore from the blue-black hold of a three-
masted ship, sick of salt-winds, aching
for the remembered tenderness of bodies
before they wore a harness or bent
under cargoes of cotton and silk,
amber, cassia bark. Never mind
that the bruise from such a severance
might not heal. Never mind that water—
old sojourner, restless tenant—
would still wind through the centuries,
through houses on stilts in the middle
of an estuary, before fanning
back out into the sea.


             *”Saint Malo was the first permanent settlement of Filipinos and
              perhaps the first Asian-American settlement in the United States….
              The settlement may have been formed as early as 1763 or 1765 by
              Filipino deserters and escaped slaves of the Spanish Manila galleon
– Wikipedia


Author’s Note

“San Maló” is part of a manuscript in progress which examines linked histories of colonial expansion, plunder, subjugation, loss of language and material culture. From the late 16th century, there was a thriving galleon trade between the Spanish colony in the Philippines and other parts of Asia and Europe, with one of the routes taking the ships through Mexico. I raise questions in the poem about dispossession, displacement, or loss of home and country relevant to those of us who live in the diaspora today. I imagine such questions were also important to the “Manilamen,” Filipino sailors and servants who jumped ship in Louisiana in the 1700s—where they established what is known to be the first permanent Asian American settlement.