Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish: A Labor of Grief: The Colleague (4/5)

Corner of Mira Mesa Blvd. & Camino Sante Fe, Mira Mesa, San Diego, CA.

This series documents and reflects on the critical, creative, and lived processes of drafting, revising, and mourning. Since the passing of a dear uncle in February 2018, Jason Magabo Perez has been drafting, performing, and thinking through a one-sentence-long narrative which eventually took on the title “Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish.” Along the way, Perez has mourned and continues to mourn multiple additional deaths: a homie (July 2018); a colleague (August 2018); a collaborator (August 2018); a cousin (November 2019). In this prolonged mourning, in an attempt to de-fetishize the literary art object, using this single narrative work-in-progress as a point of departure, return, and escape, this 5-part series investigates the poetics of revision and the labor of grief. Each part shares the same pattern: A) a distillation of mourning; B) excerpts from drafts of “Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish”; C) passages from concurrent and related reading; D) fragments from proximal texts, i.e. e-mails, tweets, revision notes; E) a revision or experiment. Ultimately, in attending to that which haunts and generates the creative process, this series performs and archives a mourning. In Part 4, Perez draws inspiration from the beloved Bay Area Pinay feminist and peoples’ historian, teacher, mentor, colleague, kasama Dawn Bohulano Mabalon (1972–2018).

A.

dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart when you get the text dawn mabalon is in the heart when you are in shock dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart when it sinks dawn mabalon is in the heart when you are sunk dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart when you barely knew her dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart when knew who & what she carried on her back dawn mabalon is in the heart when oral history dawn mabalon is in the heart when a people’s history dawn mabalon is in the heart when she asks you: what’s your archive? dawn mabalon is in the heart when she asks you: what’s your site? dawn mabalon is in the heart when she says: i can teach you how to be a real historian dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart when stockton dawn mabalon is in the heart when manilatown dawn mabalon is in the heart when labor of love dawn mabalon is in the heart when love of labor dawn mabalon is in the heart when manongs dawn mabalon is in the heart when manangs dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart when her sisters mourn dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart when kasamas mourn dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart when students mourn dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart when beats dawn mabalon is in the heart when rhymes dawn mabalon is in the heart when resistance dawn mabalon is in the heart when she teaches you how to listen dawn mabalon is in the heart when she teaches you to serve the people dawn mabalon is in the heart when you move back to your own hometown dawn mabalon is in the heart when makibaka dawn mabalon is in the heart when huwag matakot dawn mabalon is in the heart when isang bagsak dawn mabalon is in the heart when what lies ahead dawn mabalon is in the heart when isulong dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is in the heart dawn mabalon is

B.

Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish, Draft of Endings…

2/9/2018
that lakay, skin now almost all scales, walked into the waves further & further until he needed to swim, & he swam & swam & swims & swims, his walking pneumonia no longer, his arms emerging fins, his legs braiding as fishtail, the pockets & canals of water in his lungs no longer, no longer cracks in his breath, or his lungs, or his breathing, his body, now gills all over, now bursting so full of the Pacific

4/4/2018
that lakay, skin now almost all scales, walked into the waves further & further until he needed to tread, then swim, & he swam & swam & swims & swims, his walking pneumonia no longer, his arms now fins, his legs braiding as fishtail, the pockets & canals of water in his lungs no longer, no longer cracks in his breath, or his lungs, or his breathing, his body, now gills all over, now bursting so full of the Pacific

5/5/2018
that lakay, skin now almost all scales, walked into the waves further & further until he needed to tread, then swim, & he swam & swam & swims & swims, his walking pneumonia no longer, his arms now fins, his legs braiding as fishtail, the pockets & canals of water in his lungs no longer, no longer cracks in his breath, or his lungs, or his breathing, his body, now gills all over, now bursting so full of the Pacific

10/17/2018
that lakay, skin now almost all scales, walked into the waves further & further until he needed to tread, then swim, & he swam & swam, his walking pneumonia no longer, his arms now fins, his legs braiding as fishtail, the pockets & canals of water in his lungs no longer, no longer cracks in his breath, or his lungs, or his breathing, his body, now gills all over, now bursting so full of the Pacific

11/21/2018
that lakay, skin now almost all scales, walked into the waves further & further until he needed to tread, then swim, & he swam & swam, his walking pneumonia no longer, his arms now fins, his legs braiding as fishtail, the pockets & canals of water in his lungs no longer, no longer cracks in his breath, or his lungs, or his breathing, his body, now gills all over, now bursting so full of the Pacific

9/27/2019
this lolo who here and now is walking and whistling along the shore, still in white briefs, still in his white socks, still in his Solvang cap, still in his crooked spectacles, this whistling and walking manong whose skin now has become almost all scales, brown and gray, this manong who is walking and whistling into the waves further and further until he needs to tread, then swim — and now manong is swimming and swimming, his arms now fins, his legs twisted into a thick tail, his walking pneumonia no longer, pockets and canals of water in his lungs no longer, no longer cracks in his breath, or his throat, or his song, manong who is now over there, all the way over there, beyond this, beyond this sentence, beyond story, beyond narrative, toward home — O, sweet manong, o, sweet fish, your naked body now bursting bursting so full of the Pacific

C.

In the middle of this, I’m wondering, and I’ve been wondering since my early undergrad days, how to capture in language the anxiety of forgetting, how to struggle for memory despite conditions — state, violent, personal, familial, communal, cultural, biological — that ensure our removal & erasure from history.

Barthes writes: “We don’t forget, / but something vacant settles in us” (227).

What is that vacant something? Is it an emptiness? A hollow feeling? A falling feeling? Is it a space for archiving? Is it itself the material, internal presence of absence?

This exercise is challenging because I have to fight the urge to clean things up, to polish, to revise in a way that suggests an end product.

Talking about the politics of confessional writing, bell hooks writes to women of color writers: “To be serious we must dare to be critical of our urge to tell our stories, of the ways we tell them” (68).

This is an opening, I think, for a kind of feminist writing praxis.

The ways: the methods: what is a sentence: what is a text: what is revision: what is grief.

D.

Revision Notes, Excerpts, 12/7/2019.

1. what initially motivates the work: Uncle C; this is story about grief

2. the story of Mira Mesa: Kumeyaay land, also I spent a good part of my life as a visitor there

3. “my work as constellation of thinking” (Nao Bustamante)

4. meditation on representations of labor

5. for dawn mabalon, cut-up, suggests a kind of relationship

6. mark nowak’s work with labor (worker writers’ center)

7. transparency in the creative process: what that means in the classroom and how I might start to practice it — the contradiction of radical pedagogy and the trap of hegemony; poem as bibliography, or a poem has genealogy

8. critical reflection on a new vista of literature (Bulosan)

9. cut-up poems/blackout poems/mash-ups of America Is In the Heart

10. Bulosan’s poetics: getting into the headspace

11. writing from experience: labor: panda express, mowing the lawn, the homecare, Worthington Dodge; labor activism: SEJ, post 9/11 (the CFSC);

12. books: Rhacel Parreñas; Robyn Rodriguez; Valerie Francisco;

13. geographic imaginary: engage (via poem’s and critical engagements) Blu’s book, engage Goeman’s book

14. de-fetishization of creative labor, but also the refusal to fetishize labor itself

15. post versions/sections (?) of the poem and reflect on them (?) lists of tasks to do

16. videos, photographs, sound ethnographies of space

17. reflections on two works: the worker in Philip Levine’s work; Janice Lobo Sapigao’s work; Hari Alluri’s work: chorus for broom

18. engagement with chicken muralist (via Alex Villalpando)

19. Labor Poetic Labor (?)

E.

Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish, Draft 9/27/2019, infused w/ fragments from Mila Aguilar’s “The People’s Poem” (see previous post) & the introduction to Dawn Mabalon’s Little Manila Is In The Heart.

at several junctures, lives the subject, when the storm comes, a quiet and unremarkable man, a labor of a man, a brown man, a brown other, two hands tug, his brownness an archipelago of radiation pink, his nailbeds a tint of acidic green, his oversized blue and orange Pendleton pressed neatly but full of loose threads still running and running, a thin, worn string, his unevenly hemmed custodian khakis consistently starched, cognac Florsheim penny loafers surely polished, blue Solvang cap gently tilted on his scalp, his thick black spectacles resting crooked and uneasy — its lenses foggier by the minute, the hour, the day, decades, here, this man of labor, damned up rivers stay quiet, who at the end of this mourning, a patient excavation, this story, this sentence, a sky foreboding further ill, shall be remembered, what is left, simply as manong, kasama, compa, pare, amigo, asawa, abalayan, lolo, dust, tatay, tito, thick concrete, tío, uncle, sir, mister, stranger, laborer, labor, a widower who could never petition — torment unimaginedhis familia, a sometimes lettuce-picker, sometimes strawberry-picker, laid-off bellhop, laid-off postal worker, freelance handyman, freelance groundskeeper, part-time caregiver, Dollar Tree stocker, retired custodian, the growing knot itself of which they dreamed

Read all of Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish: A Labor of Grief:

1. The Uncle
2. The Homie
3. The Collaborator
4. The Colleague
5. The Cousin

Works Cited

Aguilar, Mila D. “The People’s Poem.” A Comrade is as Precious as a Seedling. Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1984.

Barthes, Roland. Mourning Diary. Translated by Richard Howard, Hill and Wang, 2009.

hooks, bell. Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work. Henry Holt & Company, 1999.

Mabalon, Dawn Bohulano. Little Manila Is In the Heart: The Making of the Filipino/a American Community in Stockton, California. Duke University Press, 2013.

AUTHOR BIO: Jason Magabo Perez is the author of Phenomenology of Superhero (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016) and This is for the mostless (WordTech Editions, 2017). Perez has also written and performed three live multimedia works — The Passion of El Hulk Hogancito (Kularts, 2009); You Will Gonna Go Crazy (Kularts, 2011); and Blue Bin Improvisations (MexiCali Biennial, 2018). Blending poetry, prose, performance, film/video, and oral history, Perez’s body of work investigates the historical presence of colonization and state violence. NEA Challenge America Grant awardee, formerly featured artist at New Americans Museum and community scholar-in-residence at San Diego Public Library, Perez has performed at notable venues such as National Asian American Theatre Festival, International Conference of the Philippines, La Jolla Playhouse, Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. A VONA alumnus, Perez holds an MFA in Writing and Consciousness from New College of California and a dual PhD in Ethnic Studies and Communication from University of California, San Diego. Currently, Perez serves as Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at California State University San Marcos and is a forthcoming artist-in-residence at the Center for Art and Thought (CA+T).

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The Operating System & Liminal Lab is an open access social practice experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and infrastructures founded and facilitated by Elæ Moss with an ever evolving global network of creative collaborators of all disciplines (and species).

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Jason Magabo Perez

Jason Magabo Perez

Author of This is for the mostless (WordTech Editions, 2017). Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at California State University San Marcos.

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