Amigo Warfare

by Eric Gamalinda
Cherry Grove Collections 2007
Reviewed by Scott Hightower


Songs of Fertility and Subversion

gamalinda cover

One hesitates to say that the poems in Eric Gamalinda’s most recent collection, Amigo Warfare, could be the poems of the love child of Emily Dickinson and César Vallejo…but there, it is said. There are moments in this spell of poems where one might have opted for Dickinson and Rumi—but Vallejo and Dickinson form a distinctively colonial American union.  Swimming in the false exactitude of things like calendars and numbers, Gamalinda launches into displacement:

  Like Sitting Bull, may you find America a hard place
  in which to save the soul. …Twelve years ago
  I crossed six time zones, three continents
  half a lifetime.  Existence is mathematics:
                                                                (“Plan B”)

Mallarme has already adjured us that the coordinates of reduction for Existence are Poetry and Economics. 

                                     …people think 
  they’re dreaming us but we are really
  dreaming them: we grow tired of resisting
                                          (“False Hopes, True North”)

The “I” in English romantic lyric poetry functions a bit differently than the “I” in a poem by Cesar Vallejo…or Gamalinda.   Both Vallejo and Gamalinda are writers working in colonially-received mother tongues, languages in the discomfort of cultural inheritance; both are poets of emigration and self-imposed exile. Gamalinda arcs from the Philippines to the U.S., where Vallejo left Peru to close out his life in Europe, both moving closer to the seat of their inheritance, both technically green-card poets.

Gamalinda has no trouble finding material:  Bollywood, Jesus, the Mayan prediction of 2012. He evokes Luis González Palma, another artist (Guatemalan) who, like himself, unwraps social and political realities to expose mysticism and indigenous suffering. In many ways, Palma and Gamalinda bookend one another:

  This is the graveyard of broken watches and discarded
  This is the time of the arrival of assassins.
  Sorrow is all stillness, a pool of rainwater.
  Sorrow is a red silk line between the dreamed and the
  This is what I dreamed last night
  (you can’t see it, because it was just a dream).
            (“Poems of Sorrow, after Luis González Palma”)

But one cannot stay in the dream. One slips back down the red silk line to the broken world.

The collection is divided into three sections. Each opens with the apparatus of an epigraph.  The first epigraph quotes Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni.  The second quotes Argentinan writer Jorge Luis Borges. The third quotes Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky. This is art that is aware that it is art; thoughts stay in the meanings of sentences.

The title poem appears in the second section. “Amigo Warfare” is what the Americans derisively called the Filipino style of resistance [from 1899 to 1904]. The Filipinos were friends during the day or when confronted; but at night or when no one was looking, they were guerrillas.

In the third section Gamalinda unfurls a majestic poem in four movements, each movement shaped like a pendulum or downward pointing arrowhead.  “Abell 2218” draw its title from a cluster of galaxies. Gamalinda slides in scale from cosmic to personal. Out again. Back again. The poetics can be dizzying, but there is no doubt about the poet’s ambitious and dazzling vision. One might even evoke another English, mystic poet involved beyond the disquietude of the mortal with the spirit of prophecy, William Blake:

  To begin this small, to know
  one life alone completes the world.

  Until the sun cuts through the waves,
  until the planets dwindle and hold still,
  and love rips us open
  and another million years begin.
                                                (“Yellow Tang”)