Donnalyn Xu reviews Take Care by Eunice Andrada
by Eunice Andrada
Reviewed by DONNALYN XU
How do we give shape to what resists language? How do words move against the body, in dialogue with its silence, its noise? These tangled questions emerge from my reading of Eunice Andrada’s second collection of poems, TAKE CARE, and the writing of this review, which has taken weeks of slow thinking. Like many others, I have found both comfort and discomfort in poetry during a time of immeasurable loss. I leave most things unread, I seek a return to what is comfortable and familiar. In my own work, I attempt poems about windows or flowers; always in the eyeline of where it hurts, but slightly out-of-focus. Yet, TAKE CARE is piercing in a way that cuts through the haze with a deliberate sharpness. Connected through the theme of rape culture as it exists in everyday and institutional scales, these poems do not flirt around the intensity of their subject matter—they demand your recognition, as well as your unease. As Andrada writes in her author’s statement with Giramondo Press, in TAKE CARE she has “attempted to get as close as possible to the hurting bone”.
The plurality of meaning layered in the phrase ‘TAKE CARE’ is magnified by loud and insistent capital letters. It is what I say to women instead of saying goodbye, always on my mind in the process of leaving: take care, which also means be careful. Take and care can also be read separately as verbs in their own right, though they might seem contradictory if we consider care as giving, or care as sacrifice. Structured into four parts—take, comfort, revenge, and care—Andrada weaves a tapestry that embraces multitudinous and non-linear paths towards healing.
The body is at the centre of Andrada’s poetry, though not always enfleshed by language—these are the bodies of our ancestors, our mothers, our sisters; the bodies of those who can only be remembered for having been dismembered. In the opening poem “Echolalia”, the collapse is imminent, as a disruption that is also an entry point. Tracing the violence of history in the space “[b]eyond a dilated island”, the rhythmic and rocking imagery of rising water culminates into bullet-like fractured sentences in the present—“Then the hands. Not mine.” The poem ends with a sombre reflection on the constraints of writing about the body through poetry as a medium; the traditions it must wade through, and inevitably carry: “For my human body to be seen as the centre / of a poem, it must be buoyant”.
‘Buoyant’ evokes a range of images that reverberate throughout the entirety of the collection, as the last word of the first poem. A buoyant body is lifeless, deceased, or maybe even light and at peace, having given in to the currents. Water is a recurring feature in Andrada’s poetry, not only as a symbol, but also structurally, through lines that float in and around empty space, and feelings that simmer. As an ecopoet, Andrada explores environmental and cultural imperialism through the connection between bodies, both human and non-human. The speaker does not simply observe nature, but actively participates in its ecosystems. Or rather, the act of observing is also a form of participation, much like our reading of these poems. In “Kundiman” (a genre of Filipino lovesongs), a Filipino senator orders radio stations broadcasted overseas to play music in the Tagalog language to ward off invaders. The speaker’s tone is cynical about this tactic, but ultimately closes with a sincere desire:
I want to be there with a love song
not to wield as a weapon,
but as a comfort to the water.
A love song is not enough to “thwart a battalion”, but it serves a different purpose, and it requires an approach to softness that extends beyond either weakness or strength. Softness as comfort, not only for each other, but for the pain the land and its waters have suffered, which we carry with us even as we leave its shores.
So much of the strength in TAKE CARE lies in its varied yet interconnected moments, like ripples on the surface of water. One of the longer poems, “Vengeance Sequence”, is spread across six pages. Divided into sections by a single colon, it follows the same structure as the earlier “Comfort Sequence”. While “Comfort Sequence” uses archival and documentary fragments of text to situate the act of rape in a history of imperial violence, “Vengeance Sequence” considers various scenarios in seemingly speculative and atemporal worlds:
The most dignified rape scene on TV
is where the rape doesn’t happen.
He attempts to do it but can’t get hard,
stroking his cock, pliant as shore-washed
seagrass. She can’t stop laughing.
The bliss surges from her throat,
a carafe unfractured, her cackles
erupting and erupting.
I am drawn to the simplicity of a bolded colon that speaks as loudly as the enormous silence it encompasses. It is a connector symbol, but standing alone, it draws a vertical line. It leads us into sentences that require the immediacy of present-tense to close the distance between the dots, the reader, the persona, and the words themselves. I love the description of bliss as “unfractured”, and the movement of cackles that are “erupting and erupting”. I laugh with the speaker as she laughs.
The delight that infiltrates Andrada’s writing does not outweigh the necessary ruminations of violence, but allows the reader to gain insight into alternative ways of being that do not replicate the simplistic narratives of grieving that have been assigned to us. I want to read closely into the deeper meaning of the poem as a series of disconnected but interwoven scenes, but perhaps a close reading also entails my fixation on this sudden and unexpected joy. It is the feeling of reading alongside, rather than watching from a distance. The speaker imagines an anti-rape device that comes with a KILL button, and I think, yes, yes. The speaker “take[s] naps to undo the myth that [she is] hardworking”, and I think, well, me too. Relationality is essential to the construction of these poems, and in every personal testimony that both is and isn’t an address to an audience, the speaker appears to ask—where are you standing? How are you reading?
One of my favourite poems in TAKE CARE, “The Chismis on Warhol”, begins with an epigraph from a poem by Alfred A. Yuson entitled “Andy Warhol speaks to his two Filipino maids”. Written from the perspective of American pop artist and filmmaker Warhol, Yuson’s poem offers a poignant and humorous meditation on the meaning of art and American imperialism. Andrada’s poem responds to Yuson (and to the speaker of Yuson’s poem, Warhol himself), not by ‘speaking back’ to the man, but by speaking behind his back; speaking in a language that is entirely our own. I cannot faithfully translate the meaning of the gossip that is ‘chismis’, except to note that my family often calls me chismosa, which has a girlish inflection to it that I revel in, which this poem revels in too. A poem full of chismis and rhetorical questions (“Did you hear the canned sopas / was a hit at the galleries? / How they ate that shit up.”) ends with a question that answers itself: “Did you hear / he calls them ‘girls’? Just girls alone / a few moments, all theirs.”
When I read that line, I feel like I am in the room with them. He calls them girls, but their loneliness is theirs. Andrada is attentive to the colonial narratives that strip Filipino women of their agency, and in writing about these women as more than bodies of service in the imperial machine, she has ascribed them with possibility. There are only questions, only imagined scenes of intimacy. However, the significance lies in the asking, which orients the poem away from what has been lost, towards what we can hope for and wonder.
Of course, I am cautious of intrinsically leaning towards expressions of joy and comfort in a collection that is also a necessary punch to the gut. There were some moments in TAKE CARE that I found so graphic and painful, I had to close my eyes. I was tentative to write about this feeling, but I have come to learn that hesitation and uncertainty are critical tools we must engage with meaningfully. In Curating Difficult Knowledge, Erica Lehrer, Cynthia E. Milton, and Monica Eileen Patternson ask: “what is our responsibility to stories of suffering that we inherit?” I don’t think that poetry can offer a suitable answer to this question; it can only ask it again, in a different language, with a repetition that is comforting, and unsettling.
I often find that the most difficult feeling to draw into poetry is anger. “I’m not an angry person, but I have to be one” is a phrase that I have used many times. It sounds too much like an excuse, like saying “in my defence”, but what am I defending myself from? Anger, or the way I feel it has been unfairly given to me? In “Uninhabitable”, the speaker’s anger does not transform or serve a purpose.
Rage is the whale I must dwell in
when I move through the cities my body
This is no hero’s journey.
The objective of my wrath is not
The sense of surety in the speaker’s position is echoed in the use of enjambment that cuts like a blade. It reminds me of a passage in Audre Lorde’s 1981 essay “The Uses of Anger”, in which she states, “the angers between women will not kill us if we can articulate them with precision, if we listen to the content of what is said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves against the manner of saying. When we turn from anger we turn from insight, saying we will accept only the designs already known, deadly and safely familiar.” In reading TAKE CARE, I felt invited to sit with resistance—against oppressive power structures, and against my own unease. There is movement in resistance, because resistance is also mobilisation. Significantly, the final poem “Echolocation” ends as a call-to-action, much like how Lorde writes about anger as growth:
Our song maps the terrain
of past to future labour.
We trust the others hear us.
They are gathering.
It is also significant that Andrada refers to struggle and survival as a song, which is to say, musicality. There are echoes and resonances that lift off the page. I hear them, I feel compelled to respond. I feel that the loneliness of writing as a Filipina poet living on unceded land—the specificity of that loneliness—is shared by a choir.
A final note on music for a collection that truly sings—the first time I read TAKE CARE in one sun-filled afternoon, I listened to Andrada’s eponymously named Spotify playlist on shuffle. As Rina Sawayama’s “Chosen Family” faded into Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money”, I was reminded of the varying and often conflicting shades that exist in the act of ‘care’, whether that be anger at the exploitation of caregivers, care for one another, care as a weapon, or care as the most vulnerable and necessary act of survival. What TAKE CARE teaches us is that care is not the antithesis to pain. Sometimes it is joyful, at other times, blinding with red. An anger rises and cools within us. It continues this way, but it does not settle.
Andrada, Eunice. “Eunice Andrada: a note on TAKE CARE.” Giramondo Publishing. 31 August, 2021, https://giramondopublishing.com/eunice-andrada-a-note-on-take-care/.
Lehrer, Erica, Cynthia E. Milton, and Monica Eileen Patternson (eds). Curating Difficult Knowledge: Violent Pasts in Public Places. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger: Responding to Racism.” In Your Silence Will Not Protect You, 107–118. London: Silver Press, 2017 .