José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes
Instructions to Travelers from the Third World
Before you cross the border, you must learn how to use your passport,
the sine qua non of any voyage. Guard it as your life; you must not lose
Your photo may adorn it, but it really is the property of your
crumbling republic, as you are. It is a crime to alter or reproduce
Peculiar to you as your shadow, your fingerprint, your double helix,
it is neither carte blanche nor diary of hopes. Don’t abuse
You dream of glimpsing snow, cathedrals, fist-sized diamonds
plundered from your land
First you must queue for hours in the sun, wait for the consul to peruse
When he slams down his crimson stamp like a gavel, and you walk
home dusting off your shame, how easy it will be to accuse
(But it is guiltless as a tortured root that causes you to trip and
break a bone.
Blame instead your fellow terrorists and refugees, and excuse
Think you can sneak by without a visa, feign ignorance, charm
the immigration officer
with your strange locution? Your scheme will boomerang once he
views your passport.
Your name, the theorems you’ve proved, your cancer cure are of
Its pages blighted fields, your passport is your world. You cannot
choose your passport.
Invite a tiger for a weekend.
—José Garcia Villa
According to the 2002 Encyclopaedia Britannica
Book of the Year, the Philippines has the
fourth-largest population of English speakers
in the world, ranking after the United States,
India, and the United Kingdom.
To show our appreciation for your gift
of language, we’d like to offer you one word
of our own, bundók, which means “mountain.”
It may not slide as smoothly off your tongue
as the French montagne, but we hope nonetheless
your lexicon can accommodate this term,
which has been blessed by the goddess who scatters
ginger along Makiling’s slopes. Keep it
as a souvenir of the times we fought side by side
when the Japanese hunted us down
in the Cordilleras, and let your poets repeat it
when they recount those still-unnamed battles
in their slim volumes. Remember to say the word
out loud, for luck, before you leave our shores,
your frigates full of timber, siblings, gold.
Present Values won the New England Poetry Club Chapbook Contest in 2019.
You can read the judge’s comments here.
-from Present Values (Backbone Press, 2018), selected by Fall 2020 PoemoftheWeek.com Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres
Born and raised in the Philippines, José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes is the author of the chapbook Present Values (Backbone Press, 2018), winner of the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award from the New England Poetry Club. His poems have previously appeared in various Philippine and U.S. journals and have been anthologized in The Powow River Anthology, Villanelles, The Achieve Of, The Mastery: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English, mid-‘90s to 2016, and No Tender Fences: An Anthology of Immigrant and First-Generation American Poetry.