ANGELINE KEK WRITES — One of the scariest moments of a child’s life takes shape with the realization that our parents are mortal beings no further from death than a wilting flower or a gray-whiskered cat. They have no friendly contract with the grim reaper. With the fleeting time, we have with them, who among us can really say with certainty that we know our parents as closely as we know our friends?
Even while they are alive, getting to know your parents often presents all sorts of stubborn knots to be untangled. With that in mind, how absurd is it to pursue the same task after they are gone? Like a Solid to a Shadow (2022) by Janice Lobo Sapigao examines this journey following a poet seeking to get closer to their late Filipino father who passed away years ago. Pulling together wartime love letter cassette tapes, Facebook messages from secret family members, and a labyrinth of family trees and portraits, the speaker attempts the impossible of unearthing the dead in this autobiographical poetry collection.
Studying one’s parents is like staring too hard into a cracked mirror: the more you unravel them, the more you unravel yourself. In the foreword, the poet divulges that in writing this book, they attempted to learn their father’s native tongue, Ilokano, with a mentor. This did not last long: “learning the language brought me too close to a family history that I was not ready to deal with emotionally.” Feelings of self-doubt and estrangement arise, prompted by proximity, or lack thereof, to their Filipino heritage. A crucial question lingers: how much truth does one want to know? Digging up submerged familial roots only to close your eyes at what is being exhumed; this motion of push and pull is the foundation of this book.
While reading, you wonder how feasible it is to separate someone from their parental identity, to see them as a person rather than a provider. To see a parent free of the pedestal their children often place them on and judge them accordingly, free of the mutual bruises and lacerations that come with nurturing someone else’s life in your hands.
Like a Solid to a Shadow is akin to an archeological experience. It is not a neatly wrapped present ready to be torn apart for quick amusement, but rather buried pieces to be carefully excavated and examined. As explained by Sapigao: “It is my intention to make this draft of this transcription and ultra-translation look like it is undergoing a process of editing … It is an important political choice for me to have readers work to understand and to construct their own meanings, at the risk of feeling frustrated or failing. By posing my text, then, as a dialogue, I attempt to distort dominant frames of reference.” By asking the reader to put in work to fully understand the collection, Sapigao creates a unique reading experience, a lively journey of give-and-take.
Angeline Kek is a book reviewer and contributing staff writer for Asia Media International. As a recent graduate from LMU, she majored in English with a concentration in poetry and creative writing. She is interested in poetry and writings that are unhesitatingly honest.
Edited by book review editor-in-chief, Ella Kelleher