Marie La Viña

Winner of the George Bogin Memorial Award in 2017

Correspondence

As in a history lesson: what happens after
one escapes the imeldific slaughterhouse?
Thirty years pass. Then a long-awaited leader
from the underserved island of my ancestors
takes over the city of my childhood,
wide awake as I fall asleep each night.
An acquaintance I haven't spoken to in years
writes, Your father is quite the believer in this
administration. Whether it's a note of accusation
or empathy depends on my response, but I
am not obliged to say who doesn't speak for me.
These days I think often of the nonbeliever
in the believer, a friend I miss from Sunday school.
I too love the unabashed sometimes,
though I haven't joined them yet. I reserve
the right to speak and not to, this privilege
of distance. Note to myself, as a friend:
Do not become an apologist out of habit.
We'll be fine, she writes again, softening.
But we are not a country. There are times
it's more accurate to say it was indefensible.
If it passes the verity test nothing need be true
in a poem. I close my eyes on you, Manila.
I fold my silence over you. Move cautiously
through the world. I too am corruptible.

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Victoria Redel on Marie La Viña

The poems of Marie La Viña all reckon with a question asked in her poem Correspondence: "what happens after/one escapes the imeldific slaughterhouse?" The answer in her poems is not easy—ranging from death to complicity. In language at once beautiful and painful, these poems never shy away from a brutal past or present in the Philippines where "necklaced over/ a maze of shanties" is the same light that also illuminates "bodies stacked like firewood." I am deeply moved by La Viña's refusal to find an easy path or answer. "Buried to the neck in empty fields/In the dust of their flesh falls this poem" she admits. But even she admits a poem cannot save you. Marie La Viña is writing poems of necessary witness and this gorgeously wrought action within each poem is a small answer to her essential question.

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