A Word

Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico's Laguna Pueblo, has become the first Native American Cabinet Secretary of the Interior in U.S. history. NPR News 3.15.2021
When she testified in February at her confirmation hearing, Haaland began her opening remarks by introducing herself to senators in her tribal language of Keresan.  CBS NEW 3.18.2021

At this very point in time
was the word.
And the word was,
that the language of my parents
had died.

remnants of wars and insurrections    land acquisition


contestations of tribal assertion through     statistical attempts to nationalize consolidation
evolution and adoption     of one language    over others

tightly   gripped    media
facebooking the primary mode    of communication as if

a thousand cuts    of the fake news     breaking up
hand-held computer devices     with slow and intermittent Wi-Fi

vinyl bright 60-foot political banners of the current valoric regime
versus      flagging opposition

arriving by plane, SUV, bus, chrome plated jeepney,
tri-cycles, on foot     slowing at each barangay     through the provinces

a five hour trip becomes ten hours     driving

a narrow path
between the sun dried
palay on concrete.

Here in this time and place
was the word.
And the word was with 9 million native speakers along the western coastal regions
of the island of Luzon…

…and the countries
to which they have migrated…

squatting Baroque church and its colonial motifs in brown adobe stone

exactly    as my mother had described
school in her third tongue,

            Anako, this is where we learned English.

And the word was with her.
And the word
presides     over the rice fields     grasshopper green
to earthen brown         bulul spirits    monolithic in myth

and the word gives atang to the
patience           of our unrelenting ancestors

And the word was silent

and the word was word-of-mouth
and the word was hand-to-mouth
and the word was disseminated from village to barangay to town to city
and the word was blood
and the word was atrocity
and the word was genocide
and the word was rape
and the word was shame
and the word was sorrow
and the word was hunger
and the word was guilt
and the word was depression
and the word was survival

and the word    is    in my DNA

nocturnal YouTube    tutorial    insomniac
losing linguistic heritage at the rate of 26 languages    each year—

one language    lost every two weeks

ampay? / why?
 bakit?  / why?

as Haryette sleeps with the dictionary,
Myung Mi enunciates the sound of the phoneme    ng

wen ngarud / yes, indeed
oo nga / yes, indeed

and the word    is    within    us.

Copyright © 2021 by Catalina Cariaga. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 31, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.