Eric Abalajon

Readings in Translation

//I spent more time researching Wopka Jensma’s life than actually reading this. He was very involved in the cultural scene and the fight against apartheid during his time. Suffering mental illness later in life, leading to vagrancy, one day he walked out a Salvation Army facility and disappeared.//With Raul Zurita, Chile’s history and landscape come alive and goes under your skin, transcendental and nightmarish at the same time.//Another Roberto Sosa, more poems from Honduras during a time when it was a vital strategic asset for Reagan’s Contra War against the Sandinistas.//Adonis rocked the Arabic literary scene with Mihyar of Damascus: His Songs, the comparison to Eliot or Pound shortly came after. Surrealism to interrogate the self, the nation, the sacred. I heard he’s getting a lot of heat for statements directed on both sides of the war, unfortunately I can’t speak Arabic or French.//Countersong to Walt Wiltman was amazing, but Amen To Butterflies, Pedro Mir’s poem about the Maribal Sisters is just divine.//Some of Humberto Ak’abal’s more ‘modernist’ works, specifically talking about hardships of indigenous peoples in Guatemala. In 2004 Ak’abal declined to accept the Guatemala National Prize for Literature because it is named after Miguel Angel Asturias.//Looked up Ghassan Zaqtan a bit and read about the controversy over his visa application denial when this book was nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize. The visa officer said his reason, to attend an awarding ceremony, ‘wasn’t convincing enough’ and he also had ‘financial and employment’ issues, from the eyes of the Canadian embassy this means you probably will overstay illegally.//A glimpse of Mario Benedetti’s career in one anthology, and as a poet of commitment throughout his life, it also serves as a nation’s history. From early satire, to urgency of struggle, one poem dedicated to Raul Sendic, to years in exile, to seeking of post-authoritarian closure, ending in elderly introspection that is as biting as his early poems.//Strong influences of Apollinaire, Eluard, Rimbaud, et al meet the urgency of national liberation struggles in Fayad Jamis, in Cuba and elsewhere. Most poems talk about time in exile in Paris, many dedicated to contemporaries like Guillen, Retamar, Depestre.//Christopher Okigbo, towering African modernist poet, darling of postcolonial circles, fought for the then newly established Republic of Biafra and eventually died in combat defending the university town where he found his voice.//Paradox of contemporary Palestinian poetry; various defeats lead to wider readership, as new generations of poets write more ‘palatable’ poetry which usually means ‘you can talk about how miserable your people’s situation is, just not how to fight back’. Najwan Darwish, no relation to Mahmoud Darwish, is impressive, the more sanitized the presentation, the sharper the poems appears.//Great poems, horrible introduction, better just skip it. You could learn more about Yannis Ritsos from his Wikipedia page. No in-dept discussion of the Greek Civil War, or how the pre-WWII Metaxas dictatorship burned Ritsos’ books in public, how he was still imprisoned by the post-WWII Papadopuolos dictatorship, so you’re basically reading prison poems without the idea why this guy is in prison. It was mentioned he won the Lenin Prize but doesn’t discusses it’s significance.//David Mandessi Diop is a lesser known member of the negritude movement, born in France to a Senegalese father and a Cameroonian mother, it was only logical for him to be eventually a Pan-Africanist, served as a teacher in newly liberated Guinea, before dying in a plane crash along with his wife and manuscript of a second book of poetry.//A poem mostly made up of names of Latin American revolutionaries from Leonel Rugama. He and three comrades were cornered by the National Guard, when the chief told them to surrender, and Rugama replied, ‘Tell your mother to surrender!’ They were all killed, he was about to turn 21.//Juan Gelman, chronicler of the Dirty War, before and after his exile. His son and daughter-in-law were disappeared by the junta, his son’s remains was only discovered in 1990 in a barrel filled with sand. Later he found out that his daughter-in-law was pregnant at that time, and by virtue of Plan Condor, his granddaughter grew up in Uruguay, they eventually met in 2000. This book is dedicated to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, to the families of the Argentina’s Disappeared.//Claribel Alegria was already exiled and a wanted person when her mother passed away. She wanted to go home, but her father said something along the lines, ‘there will be two instead of one funeral.’//Early Martin Espada, introduced by Amiri Baraka, and with poems being how I want my diasporic literature to be, looking at Empire in the eyes.//Jim Smith’s poems for, and a bit of translations of, Rugama and Dalton. Struggling with form is very apparent, the target audience is Canadian readers after all. A lot of dark humor via irony. This might be as agitating as it gets. Stand out poem asks what if events in El Salvador happened in Ontario.//


Pet Sitting

I was asked to watch over a dog for the weekend, while my aunts go for a drive to Quebec. They assumed I would welcome a pet sitting gig. I never watched over a dog before. She was ten years old and named Shelby. Black with scattered white spots. Anyone can handle her. They left the house at five in the morning, she was already tied in the kitchen when I woke up. 

I was supposed to feed her once at midday. Snacks in the morning and afternoon. Water bowl should always be full. Go outside twice to do her business. Put her shit in a bag and throw it in the garbage bin outside. You can take her for a walk, but let’s not risk it. Her food is in a container on the fridge. I took it out and placed it on her bowl. Pets here are fancy; she has her own dish cooked for her. She smelled it and just stared. I checked again. There’s another container with boiled chicken gizzard. She ate it unceremoniously. Turns out, the adobo was for me.

I was mostly in the room reading in the afternoons. She would bark when the floor tremors as trucks pass by the four-lane Main Street outside. I would sit in the kitchen to calm her down. I needed to rest my eyes anyway. I took a shower, when I came out, she was chewing her leash and the rubber mat within her reach. The first time we went out, she was quick. Around 3 P.M., I think I need some sun as well. I bought a chair outside first, went back to for my laptop and Shelby. I sat and tied her leash on my armrest. She was walking around the small stony yard, making do.

I was writing an experimental story in response to a call for submissions for anthology of political speculative fiction. This is my first serious effort to write again. I felt I needed to insert being in Canada somehow. That’s just what writers do. The story is made up of book reviews and ends at the preface. About dictators being resurrected, history being repeated, and places in the world being found. Shelby eventually stared at me while I type, her face leaning on my right arm. This was what I was missing.

They arrived Sunday evening a bit after dinner. Exhausted, but with tourist glows on their faces. They asked if me and Shelby are now best friends. I wouldn’t take it that far. Everyone said goodbye to get ready for Monday. They asked me to try the cheese bagels they bought. I got twenty-five bucks for my services, which I genuinely refused. No this is how we do it, they insisted. The next day, I went to a bookstore in Westdale to buy a used copy of Fredric Jameson’s book on science fiction. 


Eric Abalajon is currently a lecturer at the University of the Philippines Visayas, Iloilo. His works have appeared in Ani, Katitikan, Loch Raven Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, The Tiger Moth Review, Dx Machina, and elsewhere. Recently his poems are included in the collections Sobbing in Seafood City (Sampaguita Press, 2022) and Footprints: An Anthology of New Ecopoetry (Broken Sleep Books, 2022). He can be found on Instagram at @jacob_laneria, and on Twitter at @JLaneria. He lives near Iloilo City.