Poetry: Clarissa Mendiola


a rocky stretch fizz
and hiss of thin waves
we too bone and skin

having not acquired
the weight of the world
or the theatre of this moment

we cave into ourselves
stage a reverse creation

story reclaim landscape
all the rock salt and clay
once foolishly offered you

reach for ribbons color in rain
fasten firmly the hard mound
above your eyes i grasp again

energy beaming green
child-bearing photosynthesis
rightly recovered then

the gruff motion
            of a shell at our feet

soft unarmored center
            the lash-flick of legs

Deer Lagoon

path cuts through marsh that
we may fill our ears with birdsong
and ocean wind

            refuge for those endemic

slow rise of a wading heron
spindly legs nearly invisible
in flight

mallard trio skims a rippled
surface never to land again

bend of blackberry bushes
and dune grass suddenly

            a          rigid          gale

perfume of home sends all
my strands of hair into flurry

whipping at the sky

a body’s hope for

All of my work, no matter how hard I try to write about something else, is really about cultural identity, and the search for a sense of belonging and place as a mainland-born Chamorrita. The Chamoru (both the language and indigenous people of Guam) creation story involves a pair of siblings: a sister (Fu’una) who used her energy to transform her brother’s (Puntan) physical body into the world. Once his body was in place as the earth, Fu’una used her body to create Fouha Rock, out of which our first ancestors emerged. In this poem, I recall exploring a particular beach on Guam with my brother back in the early 90s. Che’lu (Chamoru for sibling) attempts to recreate the experience and take ownership of one of the most important oral histories of our culture … to own our story, even though by circumstance, we were born and raised stateside.

I wrote Deer Lagoon while in residence at Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers located on Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington state. While in residence, I took daily walks to Deer Lagoon, an estuary near the retreat property known for excellent birdwatching. My experience on Whidbey Island was extra meaningful because my paternal grandparents lived on the island for a stretch of time in the 80’s, and I recall visiting them there as a young girl. I spent a lot of time imagining them on Whidbey Island, so far from their home island of Guam, but still connected by the Pacific. Deer Lagoon is really about finding home in any place we are surrounded by ocean—no matter how different the landscape, climate, flora or fauna, where there is ocean, we are transported home.

cmendiolaAs a Chamoru woman raised on the mainland, home is straddling the International Date Line, where it is today and tomorrow simultaneously. Clarissa’s work attempts to describe that place, however disorienting. Her work can be found in The Offending Adam, As Us, and Literary Hub. Clarissa has an MFA in Writing from California College of Arts and was a 2011 Hedgebrook Writer in Residence. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons. Also … she is a lifelong supporter of the serial comma.