Review Novenas for the Zeitgeist, Flood Damages by Eunice Andrada

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 “Flood Damages” by Eunice Andrada

  Giramondo Publishing Company, 2018, $24

80 pp, Print ISBN : 9781925336665

Reviewed by Jena Woodhouse

 

The Acknowledgements to this first collection of poems by Eunice Andrada begin with the following sentence:

For the single mothers, the undocumented immigrant parents, the survivors of trauma after trauma, flood after flood, and for the quiet brown girl with the stubborn accent, forever caught between cultures – this is for you.

With these words, Eunice Andrada indicates the focus and parameters and the experiential compass of Flood Damages, which was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry 2019: a striking body of poems that are by turns visceral and lyrical, and frequently both at once.

From the outset, the opening lines of the opening poem, the reader is arrested by the uncompromising nature of the subject matter and the poet’s propensity for risk-taking rawness, alleviated by language that is precise, supple, yet unequivocal enough to accommodate an intensely experienced spectrum of extreme states and situations, braced at times with incisive irony.

Morning has barely dragged its limbs through the

curtain and Angelina is sitting up on her straw mat.

She raises her milky irises past the ceiling and to

her god. Her throat, a busted faucet, the worship

dribbling from her lips. The floor is wet with hymns.

Every morning she is a vessel emptied.

(a series of half-truths about drowning)

 

The contents of Flood Damages are arranged in three sections, titled flood damages, pilgrim sweat and water births, so the pervasive element that runs through the entire collection is water in various guises, including blood and other bodily fluids. Many poems make reference to the Philippines, Eunice Andrada’s country of origin, and incorporate lines and phrases in her first language. It soon becomes apparent that separation and trauma, hardship and poverty, and in particular their impact on women and children, form part of this legacy. As does spiritual grace.

this roiling carcass of ocean

making ragdolls of our foreign

limbs.

 

In the end

our brown skin

married to seabed.

 

When I return to the storm

of my islands

with a belly full of first world,

I wrangle the language I grew up with

yet still have to rehearse.

I play with the familiar rattle of consonants

on my tongue….

I am above water, holding

onto a country that drowns

with or without me.

[(because I am a daughter) of diaspora]

 

In the middle section of the collection –  pilgrim sweat – domestic violence, generating images of ill-treatment that are brutal, confronting and bitter, gives rise to shame in women like the poet’s mother, conditioned to expect contemptuous treatment from men. Images of sexual abuse, sickness, infestation by vermin, give way to the redemptive, or quasi-redemptive, agency of prayer, for instance in novena for fidelity. There is a novena in each of the three sections: in the first, flood damages – novena for her sickness; in the third, water births – novena for my mother’s collarbones; suggesting that all these texts might also be read as spiritual exercises in poetic form, albeit searing, scarred and painful exercises that grapple with often intractable subject matter, where physicality is not separable from spirit.

Lord, here is my mother’s right

collarbone

the part of her that didn’t suffer

permanent trauma

from the time her husband

thundered his fists against her;

left her partially deaf.

 

Take this and remake me whole.

Let me be

in my own garden.

(novena for my mother’s collarbones)

 

Matrilineal consciousness is present throughout this collection, and the final poem is a portrait of the poet’s grandmother:

her language turns heads

in the carriage I wait

for someone to tell us

to go back to where we came from

 

I will only find my mouth

its own country snarled

in borders

(recognition)

 

In exposing the damage, gratuitously or grievously inflicted, on the female body and spirit by colonialist attitudes; racism; male violence and migration under duress (diaspora) to a society often intolerant or hostile towards the disenfranchised, Eunice Andrada is simultaneously expressing resistance to those agents of destruction — by acknowledging and thereby empowering women who suffer from such adversities, and creating spaces where love can be a force for healing.

 

 

 

          

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