for a moment of joy or moments no one pays for, i give myself a ‘jornal’. this makes me rich. try it.

willow tree in Pilipino

I take a break from the haiku that I usually post here and would rather reply to someone who got to this site searching for the word willow in Pilipino (the national language of the Filipinos). 

I don’t think we have one like we don’t have a Pilipino word for snow–we call it hielo, which means ice in Spanish (Pilipino and some other Filipino dialects have a lot of Spanish words, understandably imprints of 300 years of colonization). Citing both cases of the willow tree and snow demonstrates how language is deeply entrenched in culture, the totality of one’s being layered over by influences of earth, air, water, living things, language whispered, sang, murmured, chanted, stated, shouted, screamed, written for one to read under flourescent light, Coleman light-flood, moonlight, candle light–how we whine and laugh and cuddle up wordless or word-ful, with what flowers we offer our sighs, what trees we carve arrow-pierced hearts, from what looming shadows we scamper away, what wings we shot down, what edges of cliffs we plunge off to get to our dreams.

Borrowed language, borrowed tongues entangle the mind like words to describe autumn turn into phantom leaves in tropical groves narra trees crown. Red and gold in song  that trail sorrow are mimed on plastered walls in made-up nooks while out on a window in constant blaze, a row of arbol de fuego (fire trees).

In languages like mine born of life, a borrowed word–just one, say cry or sob–fail to bring out how anug-og in Iluko (the dialect I was born with of the 87, one of which is Tagalog out of which Pilipino is derived) pictures a bent figure broken in grief, shaking with spasms of pain, sobbing an animal cry that escapes from the depth of caves. Dung-aw, simply translates as lament in English but in Iluko, unravels a dirge a man or a woman unleashes during a wake. A woman veiled in black sadness has wrinkled, creeps to the dead kneels  and beating her breasts, relates a life story now a dirge on the footmarks which those attending the wake follow in sorrowful steps, sniffling, but some chuckling, too, with humor thrown in–what life is ever without it?

Language is as mysterious as the spirit, indeed.

Yes, I recall willow trees along a highway that ribboned a small town still miles away from mine. I named them but they didn’t seem to root in my mind. When I came to north America and walk by them through the four seasons, their name, willow, took on a breath as in one of my sequences published in The Cortland Review, Issue 39, May 2008 and the haiku pieces I had posted here.

No, dear friend who’s asking if there is a translation of willow tree in Pilipino, there’s none I’m aware of.

March 10, 2010 - Posted by | language views | , ,


  1. […] I know absolutely nothing about but looks really beautiful. Third of all, this post reminds me of another passage on Alegria’s blog that I have always loved, a piece of highly poetic prose about the difficulty of translation not just from language to […]

    Pingback by Across the Haikuverse, no. 4 « Red Dragonfly | November 22, 2010 | Reply

    • “… a piece of highly poetic prose…” Melissa, I accept this phrase as a trophy, medallion, whatever it is they give to a “poet” who has (sort of) “arrived”! Loads and loads of thanks!

      Comment by alee9 | November 23, 2010 | Reply

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