the true color of the sea


sages’ gardens, ginger root, and siren
glow of mist, green tongues of light
smoke and portents arousing hungers
magnolia plumed gold moonstone heart
collecting rain in turtle shell hollows
of shoals and shelter, of stones that sing
of coral, of wine, of luminous unnamed


cinnamon groves, veil of monsoon
moonless midnight’s milky stars
the finest gold dust, tinder, mirror
of angels’ tears, of devils’ blood
of cooing doves, a child’s fine bones
of sugarcane, and fistfuls of salt
of silk brocade, of laughter, of waiting

by Barbara Jane Reyes

From Diwata, by Barbara Jane Reyes. Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010. ‘the true color of the sea’ is reprinted by permission of BOA Editions.

Notes courtesy of BOA Editions:

Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of two previous poetry collections including Poeta en San Francisco which was awarded the 2005 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. She was born in Manila and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She works as adjunct professor in Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco. You can read an interview with Barbara Jane Reyes here, and find out more about her from her website, where she frequently updates her blog. Reyes also recently contributed to Harriet, the news blog for the Poetry Foundation, and you can find her entry here. There are a number of recordings of Reyes reading at this site (scroll to the bottom of the page).

In her book Diwata, from which ‘the true color of the sea’ comes, Reyes uses such Filipino oral tradition devices as meter, repetition and refrain, call and response, incantatory verses which verge on song, and the pantoum (which has Southeast Asian origins). She frames her poems between the Book of Genesis creation story, and the Tagalog creation myth, placing her work somewhere culturally in between both traditions. Also setting the tone for her stories is the death and large shadow cast by her grandfather, a World War II veteran and Bataan Death March survivor, who has passed on to her the responsibility of remembering. Reyes’ voice is grounded in her community’s traditions and histories, despite war and geographical dislocation.

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