Lessons from Another Language of Love: Roda Daignré and Her Tigaonon Poems

When s/he was born, Roda, who is Rodel Añosa in dull “legal” documents, her mother became very seriously ill. Roda, whose umbilical cord was not yet cut from the placenta, was then taken to the hospital in Mainland Masbate, a good three hours from her village in Guiwanon, in Ticao Island.

Roda would not see her mother anymore because she would pass away soon. Roda would leave the island and when s/he came back, transformed into a woman, her father would shock her with the words: I feel young to see you look the way you look now. You remind me of your mother.”

“That is why, I need to preserve my beauty,” Roda whispered to the audience that night in Savage Mind, the night she would read her poetry in Tigaonon, the language of Ticao Island and the language of her love, desire and loss of love.

That night, she would read “Desiderio.” This was my first encounter with this poet and his/her verse. This poem about unrequited, or even unexpressed love, was what made Roda achieve the status of a poet.

Here was a young man who was becoming a young woman feeling the desire for a man that would always be a man. Manhood and womanhood were crisis of rapprochement and détente enough. Where would a woman in transit be in a world where love was limited to two genders? Where would deep relationship between a man and a man/woman locate itself if sexuality was a mere binary?

Roda would find a solution: construct a world of metaphors and similes, conjure words and phrases, present a universe where the lost is found, where the vanished is made to reappear. This was her poem, named after the man of her desire and love. Desiderio.

The poem started with the lines: Usad ako na babayi,/naka-istar sa may/baybay halapit sa halapad na hubasan./Baga an kadlagan! (I am one woman/Who lives by/the beach near a wide seabed./It is like a forest.

The poem described the day where she met a man who was there to catch fishes. The man introduced himself as “Desiderio.” The next day, on the same spot, she would see Desiderio again out to fish. She described herself as nagduko (looked down), a timid woman before an attractive man. As she did this, she found herself stepping on a tayum (sea urchin). It was painful and, for those who lived near the sea, there was only one way to remove the pain from the hurt foot. It was at this point that Desiderio approached her: Kadi, ihian ko./An iya hangyo. (Come here, let me piss on it/This was his offer.

Love poems for all the facileness that the form seems to impress on us belongs to a genre difficult to achieve. Roda knows this. Roda seems to know, however, that there is in her person and the fact of her fluidity that would allow her to travel with ease through lines of tenderness and sweetness in the love poem. Her passion for a man desired makes her a kite: bagan buradol kun/nalupad – waran kahadlok/maski higtan, turusan/sa may kadlagan (like a kite when/it flies – there is no fear/even when tightly tied, or let loose/in the woodlands.

The same poem about kite is about “lab at per sayt.”

The wonder in the lyricism of Roda’s poems is not in the fact of her use of a language that is rarely seen in mainstream Bikol poetry but in the freedom to use words that we do not expect from languages of the peripheries. Roda’s freedom is also found in her liberated sense of her maleness and femaleness. She is not caught in the politics that we usually ascribe to a person in search of her gender. She is, however, conscious of the web of roles and the passion in those roles as they relate to other roles. Thus, in her reading of poems she is at once the timid woman, the man anxious about her leaving that part of being a man, a poet remembering loves, and a son who becomes a daughter who never felt the love of a mother.

In the night at Savage Mind, Roda was asked how one could teach her poems to students given the fact that it is written in Minasbate language. Would she suggest that teachers use translation of her poems?

To the question of translation, Roda offered a different view. Read the original and write on the board the difficult words or those that are new and cannot be understood.

Indeed, Roda’s presence in Savage Mind convinced us that there is no language that cannot be embraced. That we have always seen the other languages as different and, thus, refused to listen to them when spoken. In Savage Mind, on the 11th of February, Roda spoke a language that was different but each time she finished a reading, there was a sigh, an applause, a palpable hush. The audience understood Roda’s poems. It helped that when she read, she used a smile, a grin, a sad twist of the lips, a jubilant leap in a phrase all because she understood the lines and she hoped and assured we would make her language our very own.

Roda was invited to Savage Mind as part of celebration of the National Arts Month celebration in the said bookstore and cultural hub.