Publication Year: 2004
In Jon Pineda’s debut collection Birthmark, loss takes the shape of a scar, memory the shape of a childhood, and identity the shape of a birthmark on a lover’s thigh. Like water taking the form of its container, Pineda’s poems swell to fill the lines of his experiences. Against the backdrop of Tidewater, Virginia’s crabs and cicadas, Pineda invokes his mestizo—the Tagalog word for being half Filipino—childhood, weaving laments for a tenuous paternal relationship and the loss of a sibling. Channeling these fragmented memories into a new discovery of self, Birthmark reclaims an identity, delicate yet unrelenting, with plaintive tones marked equally by pain, reflection, and redemption.
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
Series: Crab Orchard Series in Poetry
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the editors of the following magazines where these poems first appeared...
One summer in Pensacola, I held an orange this way, flesh hiding beneath the texture of the rind,...
Before the season, we were already pissed, our bodies tightening around ribs, our eyes, like panthers, sinking into shadows....
Memory in the Shape of a Swimming Lesson
If anything, it is like water. Taking the shape of what surrounds it. A concrete pool. The walls of a throat. My earliest memory is of my father...
Visitation, or How a Son Came to Resemble the Archangel
The children dig, dulling new plastic tools, their backs to the surf never ceasing to surprise them. The father watches from a chair with only a few days left in it,...
Maybe the great tragedy of my childhood is that I could never keep a fish alive for longer than a week. On Sunday, I’d slide a blade on the cheek of a bag & watch everything empty into a round, glass bowl: water, fish, & beige strands that rose when each suddenness rippled from its body...
The Metaphor of Sunlight Can Be Carried in a Bucket
As children, we waited for low tide & walked through the slick thickness, threatening each step deeper than the next in pools formed by the creek’s edge. Schools of minnows flashed in a stir of light. A half mile into the heart...
A Shadow of Gulls
Against the ferry’s hull, a knot of water fell when the engines died, & we drifted between pilings woven together with rope. As the boat pressed into boards, the crew appeared, pulling free blocks chocked behind tires...
The Muse, or Stars Out on Interstate 81 South
On the tip of a hill, the silhouette is of something not of this world, the body silent in the birth of another shadow, swelling still among stars & veins. The sun dropping below the mountains left hardly any light, except what glimmers on the membrane & slips...
In the middle of the tunnel, his car loses power & coasts, but there is not enough momentum to push him through the upswing. He stops, listens as horns begin to mimic the beat of his hazards, drivers cursing behind the glass...
2. Door That Always Opens
Outside, barking dogs from our neighbor’s yard remind me of boxing matches my father & I used to watch at the Amphib Base in Norfolk....
Memory in the Shape of a House Made of Doors
If anything, it is like the house his friend had told him about made completely out of doors, somewhere in Colorado or California. He liked the idea: A house built with nothing but used doors, each with its own history of useless hinges...
Have you forgotten the way my face winced at my father when, instead of shaking your hand, he walked off sputtering...
Black Sea Bass
It lay in a cooler filled with ice the night we were out of power from the storm. Its skin was gray when I reached inside, not the way...
After they make love, he slides down so his face rests near her waist. The light by the bed casts its nets that turn into shadows. They both fall asleep. When he wakes, he finds a small patch of birthmarks on her thigh, runs his finger over each island, a speck of light brown bundled with others to form an archipelago on her skin. For him, whose father is from the Philippines, it is the place he has never been, filled with hillsides of rice & fish, different...
3. Inevitable Distance
We’d been trying for months when, one night, we heard what sounded like a baby, its cries sharpening outside. Our neighbors had gathered in the backyard...
Five about Flowers
One summer I could not walk into one of the rooms where we lived without first seeing them spread about, watered, in handfuls. Daisies....
A man edges his way toward a herd of horses that have slowed in the receding water. He offers one a handful of vegetables while his other hand comes into view like a bird from far off, hovering just so above the horse & its mane...
The morning after their son is born, he goes home to feed the cats. He drives through Ghent, with its thick Victorians, & crosses the tracks to the edge of Riverview where the same-styled homes stand, though the paint peeling from each shutter makes them seem ruined...
A Few Words on Rome, or The Neighbor Who Never Waves
Passing Viareggio, he sees his reflection in the window & past that, part of a beach where it is said the poet’s body washed on shore, where a pyre was built there on the sand, the blaze filling him...
On the steps of Santa Croce, a woman held her child, his hand cupped above a plate of coins...
We build a bonfire in the backyard. The world is a different place now, someone says, & they are the first to light a match & let it set it off. Light hammers the surrounding dark each time fire strik...
Our son cries from the other room, & it is this sound that wakes me, wakes us both. Because we share in caring for him, I ask,...
Bruce Denbigh placed a stick in the spokes of my tire, & I went flying...
In Strange Circles
How is it that, years later, after watching a few men along Franklin heave bloated bags of trash into the back of a truck, I remember that summer at Atlantic Beach when hundreds of man-of-wars had washed onto the shore, & though a voice on the radio kept warning everyone to “stay away from the oceanfront,” we drove there anyway, just to see our blurred reflections in the steamy globes slowly deflating in the sun? Later that night, underneath the pier the sounds & lights from the bars along the boardwalk receded into the on-shore break, this world slipped into other worlds. We touched by accident...
I try to see him as a boy, back in the Philippines, waking to the sound of machine guns. His family would spend their morning spreading a paste over the sores of the house’s thick walls...
In the Romance of Grief
There are three oaks in the yard. As saplings, their translucent branches were braided...
It is where she has gone. A spoon clicks in her mouth while her eyes fall back, & the one holding her hand is not me or you. It is a boy, her brother, & he is afraid, though he remembers something...
Other Books in the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry