Small Press: Joseph O. Legaspi, 'Imago'

August 10, 2009

I am especially drawn to this poem for various reasons. It is an apt
beginning to a collection of poems which handle the difficult subject
of Filipino manhood, the problem of male role models, and blooming
sexuality. Legaspi's poetic speaker enters manhood wearing a flowered
skirt, his newly circumcised penis bathed in guava leaf broth, cared
for my his mother.

In "Imagined Love Poem to My Mother from My
Father," even in the domestic and bloody act of scaling, slitting, and gutting a milkfish, the mother is an mythic mermaid, a precious trophy,
"a silver mine to be mined." Here, "to be mined" is also to become the possession of another. Legaspi is especially adept at layering
gendered roles and power dynamics, mythological and religious wonder, and desire that is
both beautiful and brutal: "Do unto me, the spy / up in the thick fruit tree, as you have done / unto the milkfish...."

Imago's midpoint, we come across the poem, "Circumcision," which opens
with the sleeping father, and the almost adolescent boy who longs to be
just like his father. That is, he longs for his penis to look just like
his father's penis, which the boy admires as the father sleeps. This scene is both tender and disturbing. Contrasting "Imago," this poem presents clinical terminology
associated with the procedure, anesthesia, "contact of hard metal on
skin," and stitches. Contrasting "Imago," it is the proud father who
accompanies his sons, "his minions," to the clinic, to which the
sisters tease: "They are sending you both to the butcher."

there is so much more to Legaspi's Imago than circumcision. As a
conscientious reader of a Filipino American male poet's work, I hone in
on these two poems precisely because I am interested in discussions of Asian American
masculinity and sexuality, and I admire Legaspi's honest and intimate meditations on these themes.

You can hear Joseph O. Legaspi read from Imago, and you can pick up copies of the book, when he visits the Bay Area next month. He will read with Kundiman at the Barbara T. Christian Room, 554 Barrows Hall at UC Berkeley on September 17 at 12 noon, and with PAWA, Inc. at the Bayanihan Center on September 19 at 2 pm.




i really like this book. it's one of my favorites from the past few years.
Is it really the boy who longs to have a diminished penis like his father's? As big, perhaps, and it is a widespread myth in the Philippines, where boys are circumcised just before puberty, that circumcision is essential to make them grow. Or is it the father who insists that his son will not have something (~20,000 nerves and a unique rolling action) he does not have?I suspect that Legaspi looks back on his circumcision the way women look back on childbirth, remembering only the "lovely details".
This illustrates the massive cultural conditioning that is required to persuade a child to submit to genital mutilation. The words of this article are intended to make it seem so normal when it is a sexual perversion on a national level. Certainly, no child would conceive of such a thing on his own and certainly would not long for it.