Poem of the week: #family by Romalyn Ante | Poetry



All this time, I had misread,
seeing only broken things.
In orthopedics, # is read as ‘fracture’ –
#NoF is ‘fractured femoral neck’,
#clavicle is ‘broken collarbone’.

When I was young, my mother used to dab
dalangita oil on his hands to soothe
a crack in my chest – a finger swept away
the muscle between my ribs. The window
trembled with lightning fractures
as frayed shadows engulfed the room.
I focused on her touch and all
relaxed in the restlessness of the leaves.

But I woke up to the rattle of her luggage
to find her gone.
Perhaps this is how every waking hour begins.
Now I’m rubbing Vicks on my sternum, hoping
the storm below will cease. I walk a dislocated
world, and every place I walk on clive.

Romalyn Ante was born in Lipa, Batangas in the Philippines in 1989 and came to live in the UK aged 16. She followed her mother’s profession as an NHS nurse and she also works as a psychotherapist. Her award-winning debut collection, Antiemetic for Homesickness, was released in 2020 and is dedicated to her mother.

Although Ante delights in the textures of language and uses Tagalog words and phrases to stunning effect in many poems, #family suggests how a symbol could do some of the work of a word and even do it more simply. , coldly, with fluidity. The first stanza explains how the hash symbol is interpreted in orthopedics and gives examples. The terms “fracture” and “tear” are used interchangeably in clinical practice, although there are degrees of severity as explained here. If no displacement occurs, the fracture is less severe. As we glance at the title of “fractured femoral neck” and “fractured collarbone,” it seems we are being asked to see “family” as fractured or broken. But the stanza contains a warning to oneself against “seeing only broken things”.

Now a vivid childhood memory comes to the surface. The special oil used by the mother to treat her daughter’s wound comes from the dalanghita, “a small fruit tree widely grown in Batangas”. The effect of the massage on the child and on the storm in front of the window with its “fractures of lightning” is soothing: “everything / appeased in the din of the leaves”. It is as if the essence of the fruit has somehow shared this maternal calming and healing with the tumult outside.

The reassurance is shattered in the final stanza, with the “clapping” of the mother’s luggage and the inconsolable discovery of her absence. There’s tremendous sadness in the suggestion, “Maybe this is how every waking hour begins.” Somehow, now, the speaker takes care of her own motherly care. In the new country, “Vicks” is the old-fashioned, comforting “folk” remedy. It is not a certain balm in the poem, though the speaker places his hope in his power, like the dalanghita oil of childhood, to heal an inner storm.

The poem does not take us to a place of comfort. “I walk in a dislocated world /, and every place I walk on divides.” The line break accentuates the displacement, and the rhyme of “cleave” with the “leaves” of the previous stanza further reinforces the devastating change. Even the ground is not trustworthy. While the poem has raised an internal argument against the idea of ​​a complete breakdown of family relationships, it also expresses the more complex fact that it is not just “things” or bones that can be broken.

Romalyn Ante was recently named one of the 2021/2022 Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship winners, along with Dzifa Benson and Jamie Hale. Congratulations to all three and best wishes for their future projects and publications.

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