Best Worst Year: Episode 52 (Or, Been a Son)

I am the son of shared blood. Coal mines and volcanos. Islands and boom towns gone bust. Anthracite and rice. Culasi and Jedo. Pennsylvania and Antique. They both barely register on a map–I can’t and don’t call either home. My father fell in love with the echo of Antique. With the ghost of Culasi in my mother’s eyes. With the smell of jasmine rice. With the islands. With the volcanos which made my mother a poem written in private language across broad shoulders. My father brought his Pinay bride home to Pennsylvania. To Jedo. To anthracite. To boom towns gone bust. To coal mines.

I am the son of shared blood, and we didn’t stay long in Jedo either. Central Pennsylvania and cornfields. And cornfields. And cornfields. No rice. No mines. Just powerplants and better schools. Lopsided nuclear family in a place as white as the rice steaming in a Sanyo rice cooker. I was taught early on that you need to rinse your rice three times before you finally cook it. You wash away the starch, the dust of labor, hard days, and start clean and fresh so the grain won’t burn to the bottom of the rice cooker.

I am the pale sameness of days spent behind a desk. A simpler transition–elementary desk to dorm furniture to an office desk with attached credenza. I am the pressed olive of tension and conflict. An island reflecting the volcano but powered by coal. I am the son of smouldering.

I am a product of my own pressures. My own insecurities in the chained days of paperclip supply lines. I am a delta at the mouth of the river of words, collecting right here at my desk, knee deep liberal arts anxiety. The older I get, the harder and heavier my hands feel. Even here, in climatized air and four digit phone extensions, I have knuckles dried and cracked with an iron-fisted clench which comes from holding a bolo–the echo of back breaking work pounding against the chambers of my heart as I thresh and clear nameless days of homes I can’t hold as my own in a fleeting chase to borrowed memory and overexposure.

I am the son of janitor, working through night school on the G.I. bill to push his way from the mop to the powerplant control room. I am the son of teenage maid, working almost 300 miles away from home to take care of rice paddies bursting at the seams with brothers and sisters, to honor deathbed promises, and to make beyond good on sending nieces and nephews, too many to name, to school and lives beyond folding laundry.

I am an only child and this story is not unique.

I am the son of promise and potential still trying to figure it all out. Just like you. I am the product of restlessness. My father doesn’t sleep. I take after him that way. My mother works too hard and too late into the day. I take after her that way. I am responsible for their story as well as my own. I am the deafening echo of toil and blood-rich soil–of coal miners and rice farmers. I am all of this and none of this as well. I have broken the spine of days not in a field or a factory or a power plant or as a mother or a father. I am tirelessly tired, mining the spaces where blood seeps up through the pages of days and lives. I’ve always wanted to ask my parents about their insecurities–I’m old enough now to know they’ve had more questions than answers–even when their answers were good enough for me, more often than not, they were not good enough for them.

A few years ago, a fellow writer suggested to me I may better be served by using my mother’s maiden name–maybe it’d make me sound more authentic as I wrote about experiences which are and are not mine alone. It’s weighed on me–am I my father’s son more and my mother’s name less? I am more coal mine than volcano? More boom town busted than island? Will I ever be Pinoy enough? I already know I am not white enough. Am I the son of dust? I wash my rice as I have been taught. It’s white and clean to taste.

Last week, I sent my application to Kundiman–the Asian American poetry collective–for their summer retreat in New York City. I am the son of hope and opportunity. I will work my pages until my fingers are crescent moon crooked–bolo shaped and black lunged with exhaustion. I am the son of incompletion.

Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, PANK Magazine, and The Minnesota Review. He lives in Springfield, IL. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.

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