Reviewed: Eunice Andrada, TAKE CARE, Giramondo
sang ballads under their breath
while they worked, if they made
love to each other and did not wait
for the yield.
On Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung Country, I turn almost hourly to TAKE CARE as something approximating ritual medicine to soothe the thousand-kilometre distance between the Maribyrnong River and my lola and lolo’s apartment on Gadigal Country, a loved and nurtured place of deep kinship. That phrases from TAKE CARE are invited into my life’s slow procedures this season—making tea, catching small moments in the sun’s burnt-brown-orange pilgrimage from pole to pole—charges these acts with oblatory light, transmuting the book into something more than a book,1 a trusted companion to that felt sense of deep kinship. It’s also a reminder of Eunice herself, a dear friend.
I imagine I’m not the only pinay for whom TAKE CARE in its artefactuality indexes the stuff of the more-than-textual, for whom joyful possession is a measure of archipelagic pride; our fierce, pan-oceanic reaching towards the relational echolocations Andrada weaves as thematic tissue across the brea(d)th of the work. In complicated companionship with that joy, however, is the political context of TAKE CARE’s publication. A book by an Ilongga poet living in so-called ‘Australia’ about the machinery of rape as imperialist technology, anathema to life-saving care, opens the aperture to both ecstatic reading and resounding grief.2
The 40-year-old poet who pulled me close
and kissed me when I was 17.
The poet who came up to me from behind and draped
his arms around me because he just had to.
If salt was the obsessive pulse at the heart of the fixation with assault of Andrada’s debut collection, Flood Damages (2018), the reader’s emergence into TAKE CARE reveals the explosion of that fixation as a matter of spatial and relational prudence: ‘Science declares we come from a detonation / like this’ (‘Echolalia’).
From this first poem in the collection’s first section, ‘TAKE’, we are torpedoed into eruptive disassemblage, referenced in both that section’s epigraph (after Diane Seuss) and the sonic dislocation alluded to in the poem’s title itself: ‘The only way to know tenderness is to dismantle it.’
In ‘Echolalia’, Andrada’s refusal to locate (or specify) the persons engulfed by the wreckage of ecological-engendered detonation proffers a relational ethic rooted in kapwa, togetherness—the polyphonic and diffuse objects of the summoning in rapture that also presage the call to ceremony; eulogy, celebration, convalescence invoked in each of the collection’s 33 poems.
stay here with me.
There are things we must kill
so we can live to celebrate.
As reader and the ‘human bod[ies] at the centre of a poem’ are recursively summoned to collective grief and solidarity across settler and neo-colonial states—Palestine, the Philippines and ‘Australia’—the frontiers of that togetherness are elasticised to include the inays, the ates, titas and lolas, the strangers taking care: caring: taking, taken from and made kin because of it. For Andrada, the boundaries of kapwa are dismantled on approach. Always denying oneness, or the singular speaker-subject to whom her reader’s attention might be called, TAKE CARE’s estimation of the racial and engendered dimensions of rape, imperialism and the dual movements of caring for oneself and caring-for also implies the dismantling of an earlier thesis posited in Flood Damages. Where Andrada’s debut focused on the lyric ‘I’, through whom the bloody consequences of abuse, sexual and racial violence are mobilised (as if perlocutionary force were expressed in these things happened to me, so they matter), TAKE CARE’s explosive ‘we’ resounds with abundance (these things happen to us; they matter and are mattering).
Pause for a moment to appreciate the stakes of that translation. The lyric ‘we’ in ‘Australian’ and global poetics is so often deployed in service of the fabrication of a cultural commons, such that racial grief and gendered trauma may be thieved without accountability to persons, histories or kinships brutalised in that theft. The task of speaking responsibly and skilfully from the multiple-subject position commanded by an ‘us’ is already laden with decolonial imperative. Andrada makes clear this is a responsibility that TAKE CARE will interpret with exceptional generosity and creative latitude, moving with fluidity between the contexts that conditionalise the making of bodies in the machinery of imperialism’s brutalities and the body/ies at ‘the centre of a poem’.
… You stand in a procession
of hundreds. The largest remittance of kin
in our history of organised exile.
… so blood-
close I call you ‘te
wherever we are.
This suspension of ebb and flow between decolonial matter and the bodies that matter showcases Andrada’s ability to charge metaphor with injunction, to vitalise imperative with a lyric tenderness animated with kapwa, deep pain and loss. Andrada’s address is no less militant for drawing on that aggrieved loving-together. In ‘Trick Mirror’, brown women brutalised in the racial politics of pornographic viewership are interpellated into assertive, vibrant presence via the zoom-bombed image of a faceless kin come alive. Resolute, Andrada commands us to witness the horror that haunts ‘bodies like mine’, produced as spectacle in the theatre of white voyeurism and brown women’s non-consent. Alive, she inhabits agency.
We do not banish one another.
… she lingers to hear the poems.
This lingering is a tonality that works as careful counterpoint alongside Andrada’s excoriating critique. In Andrada’s hands, implosion is artifice and leitmotif, the ignition of what we must destroy producing the poem as choreography for the promise of world-making kinship and nation-demolishing rage.
In ‘Vengeance Sequence’, the second of the collection’s long poems, the obliterative force of her speaker’s anger clears a path for the emergence of loved and loving agencies. Pullulating catfish ushering the speaker’s menstrual blood back to the river of their birth and a woman disinterred from the blood-water are but two of the fantastical presences Andrada incantates into brilliant, impossible life. In TAKE CARE, the Jordan River, insects, elephants, manta rays and ruby-throated hummingbirds are written into relational entanglement with the speaker to reiterate her incandescent rage.
Rage is the whale I must dwell in
when I move through cities my body
This is no hero’s journey.
The objective of my wrath is not to save.
The effect is exculpatory. In TAKE CARE’s narrative ecology, the desire for bloody justice—the chainsaw driven through your abuser’s rotting flesh, your rapist, your cop, your coloniser—is not an occasion for shame, the therapeutic banishment of ‘bad’ affect or democratic mediation. Bloody justice is life and life-giving. The second section is titled ‘Revenge’, after all. That the reader feels this as embodied truth is a function of Andrada’s voice: moving steadily, through polyphonic excess, towards a singular line of reasoning that fortifies the same sentiment. She reinforces the fact that in fierce, embodied resistance, grief, tenderness and rage are our greatest collective power.
Don’t you hate it when women …
kill the cop / the colonizer / the capitalist / living rent-free
in their heads / demolish the altar built on their backs /
without blame / walk away
—‘Don’t you hate it when women’
In the collection’s last section, ‘CARE’, animalities interwoven with the speaker’s small and profound liberations dilate the ‘we’ located in that resistance, seeding the possibility of a vast planetary kinship. Here, insect and ocean kin are agential and autonomous, the scope of Andrada’s imagination never exceeding the relational movements outside human knowability, but which exist as sovereign life nonetheless. I am reminded of Alexis Pauline Gumbs, poetic kindred to Andrada’s meditations on the non-human presences and reciprocities that animate the practice of care as ecological in its dimensions. In her book-length meditation on marine life, Undrowned, Gumbs asserts that ‘the intimacy, the intentional ambiguity about who is who, speaking to whom and when is about undoing a definition of the human’.3 Likewise, littered throughout Andrada’s collection is metacommentary on the entanglement of animal and decolonial justices, our freedom from the spectre of rape and neo-imperialism also presaging the freedom of animal kin from unbridled ‘resource’ acquisition.
Filipino women die
so heroically, our nation’s infinite natural resource
our bodies, essential even
when not at work, taking
all the air needed
—‘Nature is Healing’
Gumbs asks in the introduction to Undrowned, ‘What is the scale of breathing?’ TAKE CARE demands the answer to the question ‘What is the scale of rape?’ Andrada explodes the frontiers of the question in her estimation of the vastness of kinship, a relation diffuse and multiple. The subject of kinship is capable of speech, of holding out her hands and finding her brown joy echoed and echolocated beyond time. Human and non, without terminus, and exceeding the singular, alienated victim of brutalisation to revel in polyphonic abundance. Together, we assert our agency, our resounding, collective no. Together, always capable of beautiful, brilliant living. •
Lou Garcia-Dolnik is a poet working on unceded Gadigal land. Their writing has been awarded second prize in Overland’s Judith Wright Poetry Prize, and was recently shortlisted in the LIMINAL and Pantera Press Nonfiction Prize.
- Billy-Ray Belcourt, ‘Fatal Naming Rituals’, July 2018, <https://hazlitt.net/feature/fatal-naming-rituals>.
- See Merlinda Bobis’s meditation on the opening of the eye / ‘I’ and the ‘singing, speaking’ throat as ‘storying back colonial frameworks and paradigms’ in ‘Decolonial Poetics: A Panel with Melinda Bobis and Rick Barot’, chaired by Eunice Andrada.
- Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Undrowned, AK Press, Chico, Edinburgh, 2020, p. 9.