About this poem
"My humble relationship to the earth's history and power has evolved dramatically after several visits to the Philippines and having witnessed Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. Noel Celis' photograph shortly before Typhoon Lupit hit (also in 2009) made me think of the climate, of brown children and their parents, of the Philippines, of America, of ruin, tenderness and grace and making it through-generations and generations and generations of making it through." (Patrick Rosal)
"Mijn nederige relatie tot de geschiedenis en de kracht van de aarde is drastisch geëvolueerd na verschillende bezoeken aan de Filipijnen en na getuige te zijn geweest van de tyfoon Ondoy in 2009. De foto van Noel Celis kort voor de tyfoon Lupit (ook in 2009) deed me denken aan het klimaat, aan bruine kinderen en hun ouders, aan de Filipijnen, aan Amerika, aan verwoesting, tederheid en gratie en aan het doorstaan van generaties en generaties en generaties die het doorstaan."(Patrick Rosal)
Photo: Noel Celis: Filipino elementary school students use chairs to cross a flooded yard inside their school grounds on October 20, 2009 in Taytay, Philippines (Rizal province east of Manila).
Children Walk on Chairs to Cross a Flooded Schoolyard

Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton mangle
of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume
it’s holding something back. In this country,
it’s the season of greedy gods
and the several hundred cathedrals
worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages
like this one, where a girl is likely to know
the name of the man who built
every chair in her school by hand,
six of which are now arranged
into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates
can cross their flooded schoolyard.
Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,
the girls brown and bare-toed
in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.
They hover like bells that can choose
to withhold their one clear, true
bronze note, until all this nonsense
of wind and drizzle dies down.
One boy even reaches forward
into the dark sudden pool below
toward someone we can’t see, and
at the same time, without looking, seems
to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl 
behind him. I want the children
ferried quickly across so they can get back
to slapping one another on the neck
and cheating each other at checkers.
I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe
in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like
to be in America, to kneel beside
a six-year-old, to slide my left hand
beneath his back and my right under his knees, 
and then carry him up a long flight of stairs
to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,
the little ridges of the spine
with my palm, the tiny smooth stone
of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted
a sleeping body so slight I thought
the whole catastrophic world could fall away.
I forget how disaster works, how it can turn
a child back into glistening butterfish
or finches. And then they’ll just do
what they do, which is teach the rest of us
how to move with such natural gravity.
Look at these two girls, center frame,
who hold out their arms
as if they’re finally remembering
they were made for other altitudes.
I love them for the peculiar joy
of returning to earth. Not an ounce
of impatience. This simple thrill
of touching ground. 
Photo: Noel Celis: Filipino elementary school students use chairs to cross a flooded yard inside their school grounds on October 20, 2009 in Taytay, Philippines (Rizal province east of Manila).
Kinderen lopen op stoelen om een overstroomd schoolplein over te steken 

Bijna niets houdt de kinderen boven, elk kind
half in de lucht nauwelijks de bal van een kleine voet
die het hout van de stoel kust, dus
ze stappen er niet gewoon over, maar pauzeren
boven het water. Ik kijk naar die katoenen blubber
van een lucht, post-typhoon, en veronderstel
dat ze iets achterhoudt. In dit land,
is dit het seizoen van de hebzuchtige goden
en de honderden kathedralen
het water waard dat ze op kleine tropische dorpen morsen
zoals hier, waar een meisje waarschijnlijk
de naam zal kennen van de man die
elke stoel in haar school met de hand maakte,
waarvan er nu zes staan opgesteld
als een geïmproviseerde brug, zodat zij en haar vriendinnen
hun overstroomde schoolplein kunnen oversteken.
Jongens in koningsblauwe korte broeken en rode regenlaarzen,
de meisjes bruin en blootsvoets
in gesteven witte hemden en plooirokken.
Ze zweven als klokken die hun ene duidelijke, heldere
bronzen noot kunnen kiezen, totdat al deze onzin
van wind en motregen is verdwenen..
Eén jongen reikt zelfs naar voren
naar de donkere plotselinge poel beneden
naar iemand die we niet kunnen zien, 
en op hetzelfde moment, zonder te kijken, lijkt hij
de toppen van zijn vingers terug te geven aan het kleinere meisje 
achter hem. Ik wil dat de kinderen
snel naar de overkant worden gebracht zodat ze weer
elkaar op de nek kunnen klappen
en elkaar bedriegen met dammen.
Ik heb keer op keer gezegd dat ik niet geloof
in mysterie, en dan word ik eraan herinnerd hoe het is
om in Amerika te zijn, om te knielen naast
een zesjarige, om mijn linkerhand te laten glijden
onder zijn rug en mijn rechter onder zijn knieën, 
en hem dan een lange trap op te dragen
naar zijn bed. Ik kan de fijne botten voelen,
de kleine ribbels van de ruggengraat
met mijn handpalm, de kleine gladde steen
van de elleboog. Ik herinner me dat ik 
een slapend lichaam zo licht heb opgetild zodat ik dacht
dat de hele catastrofale wereld weg kon vallen.
Ik vergeet hoe rampspoed werkt, hoe deze een kind kan veranderen
een kind terug kan veranderen in glinsterende botervissen
of vinken. En dan zullen ze gewoon doen
wat ze doen, en dat is de rest van ons leren
hoe te bewegen met zo'n natuurlijke zwaartekracht.
Kijk naar deze twee meisjes, midden het beeld,
die hun armen uitsteken
alsof ze eindelijk beseffen dat ze voor andere hoogtes gemaakt zijn.
Ik hou van hen voor de bijzondere vreugde
terug te keren naar de aarde. Geen greintje
ongeduld. Deze eenvoudige opwinding
Op de grond te staan. 
PR: I grew up with such amazing storytellers. My brother Anthony is a great storyteller, all my cousins who grew up in Balacad and Hawaii, the many family friends and relatives who visited our house were various storytellers, musicians, liars, etc. Story is a way to relate. What we understand as narrative conventions, to me, are tools to orient the poem (or essay or story). We think of lyric as wildness, as a disorienting feature of speech, something approaching pure feeling, almost languageless itself (though—paradoxically—language carries the lyric impulse). I love both those modes. I love good storytelling and I still aspire to be a good storyteller and I love beautiful singing. Rarely in art do they happen fully and equally at the same time. More often than not, we move between story and song. And rarely is one absent from the other. There’s always a little bit of story embedded in song and some singing in the best stories. So all the play and howling and aria-esque growling and smashing and breaking and intricate fractures of lyric bear both the failure of narrative and its potential. The lyric can reveal an informal order and the narrative can reveal a formal lostness.
But you have to remember the name / they gave you first. The one you came with. / My cousin, a younger man than me, / told me: if you manage to escape / any darkness (say a haunted grove / or thick wooded stretch patrolled by enemy / soldiers), right away, you have to turn / toward the dark. You have to shout / your own name back to make sure / your soul follows you into daylight / or at least into some dim street.” -Patrick Rosal .
I’m often going back to John Coltrane just as a fan. I’m sure I learned so much about statement and variation and departure and return from his music. It’s just a lot of fun to take all these pieces of memory and history and research and dream, and, yes, let them orchestrate themselves, some of which make story sense, some of which make lyric sense. Coltrane, among other improvisational artists, has the gift and skill to be so open at any given moment that any idea or motif might enter during the process. You have to relinquish control and that’s terrifying. You might say or play something ugly or violent or painful. But the other part of this skill is the ability, I think, to very swiftly step back from this intrusion, this ghost, outcast fragment and begin to explore how it actually fits into this composition. It’s opening all the doors and windows of this house and letting it all fly in—the birds, the trash, the bugs, the vagrants, the beauty queens, the saints, the yo-yos, the murderers and the murdered. And having enough wits to find a place for them. It’s a dynamic, associative process. You have to train yourself toward it. I’m still working at it.
Patrick Rosal is a multi-disciplinary artist and author of four books, most recently Brooklyn Antediluvian, winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize. He has taught at Princeton University, the University of Texas, Austin, Sarah Lawrence College and has earned fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fulbright Senior Research Program. A professor at Rutgers-Camden, he has led workshops for youth, incarcerated populations, and many other communities across the U.S.