Composing fates

Cover Art Erka Capili Inciong

Words by

Contributor

On a bus ride through the Arizona desert, Merlinda Bobis sees a black bird flying across the grey sky, close to an eerie white sun—a sun unlike the yellow orb often depicted in artworks and children’s drawings, unlike the smiling (or screaming) icon in cartoons. The scene, which could have belonged to any time, ordinary but also bordering on the divine, revealed itself as a poem. “I began seeing images as if for the first time… Seeing was a beautiful accident,” Bobis writes in her afterword. It was the scene or the image’s becoming—bird, sun, sky—that prompts meditation on the progression and arrangement of life. How every decision, or deferral, composes our fates.

but which composes which

and which is accidental?

(“After the Grand Canyon”)

Apart from poetry in English, Bobis has also written works in Filipino and her native Bikol. In Accidents of Composition, Bobis explores often visceral experiences in her poetry; how global events and natural calamities have changed the course of human lives to the seemingly invisible events in a kitchen foretelling a historical event. Among the poems, knowing and knowledge are presented as afterthoughts, only coming to light after an event is finished or a deed done. Memory teaches us to anticipate and prepare, because remembering is only the first step to a journey.

An incantation




found in the hole

that used to be a house.

to the howl

of rain and wind

as he listened to

his daughter say, Ay, Papa—

before the line was cut.

(“The Lost Notebook”)

 

On the other side of the world,

Ferñao, you too will be gutted

by the namesake of a fish.

(“Auguries of a Fish”)

Traveling allows for a person to expand their horizons and, for some, a way to learn about oneself. Journeying, both in the physical and spiritual sense, are replete in Bobis’ verses, as reflected by her life. From the lush jungles at the foot of Mount Mayon to a placid river in China, life unfolds and, through recollection and documentation, reveal themselves as poems. It can be considered that Accidents of Composition, Bobis’ return to the poetry book after four novels, as a statement about her creative process or poetics.

Within the lyric lines and vivid imagery, Bobis takes the reader into an experience otherwise unfamiliar or alien. Drawing connections between images and texts, events across time and space, Bobis also expands the meaning of ecology from its physical definition. Every thing and image is an index or reference of another, image and texts are combinations of the known and unknown, our relations are mediated and determined by reasoning with elements beyond our control. One can navigate their fate through a ripple caused by the smallest fish; one can find their love in a different time or in virtual space.

So sweetheart

from the other side…

faceless yet to each other

there is hope for us.

(“Love is Planetary”)

There is a balance of cold and warmth, toughness and affection in Bobis’ language. In “After Reming”, for instance, she takes the color purple to mean a bruise, but also a flower, that from the void of loss is the possbility (or inevitability) of return and growth. Even when concrete replaces the earth and technology serves as surrogates of our affection, life will take its natural course.

In Accidents of Composition, travel moves from the mundane to the meaningful, through a tour bus across the desert in 2014 to a galleon crossing the Pacific Ocean in the 18th century, Bobis drew arcs of light—the very poems every reader and seer holds, or will hold, in their hands.