The Gods We Worship Live Next Door
Bino A. Realuyo
The Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry was inaugurated in 2003 to honor the late poet, a nationally recognized writer and a former professor at the University of Utah, and is sponsored by the University of Utah Press and the University of Utah Department of English.
The Gods We Worship Live Next Door is the 2005 prizewinning volume selected by this year's judge, Grace Schulman, distinguished professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York.
Bino A. Realuyo was born and raised in Manila. He is the author of the acclaimed novel The Umbrella Country. His poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Manoa, The Literary Review, New Letters, and The Nation. He is the recipient of the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America.
The Asian Review of Books
From The Gods We Worship Live Next Door:
In the modern Greek dictionary, the word “Filipineza” means “maid.”
If I became the brown woman mistaken
for a shadow, please tell your people I’m a tree.
Or its curling root above ground, like fingers without a rag,
without the buckets of thirst to wipe clean your mirrorlike floors.
My mother warned me about the disappearance of Elena.
But I left her and told her it won’t happen to me.
The better to work here in a house full of faces I don’t recognize.
Shame is less a burden if spoken in the language of soap and stain.
My whole country cleans houses for food, so that
the cleaning ends with the mothers, and the daughters
will have someone to clean for them, and never leave
my country to spend years of conversations with dirt.
When I get up, I stand like a tree, feet steady, back firm.
From here, I can see Elena’s island, where she bore a child
by a married man whose floors she washed for years,
whose body stained her memory until she left in the thick
of rain, unseen yet now surviving in the uncertain tongues
of the newly arrived. Like the silence in the circling motions
of our hands, she becomes part myth, part mortal, part soap.
Praise and Reviews:
"Bino A. Realuyo has that rare gift of transforming modern horror into art. In The Gods We Worship Live Next Door he writes of his beleaguered country, the Philippines, in ways that reveal universal truths. The land is vibrant and alive, real with mythical shadows—rituals, dances, work—and, at the same time, racked by persecution and death. The book is passionate without a trace of sentimentality, a compelling account of destruction under a silent god."
"Realuyo's collection, with its ability to hold up a mirror to history and memory, to hold the reader's gaze unflinchingly, and to bring the neighbor out of his panoptic temple and into the full disclosure, is a fitting legacy of Ali's life work and a tribute to the survival of so many unheard voices."
"An angry and powerful testimony to the centuries of deprivation and inequality that the Filipino people have suffered under the yoke of successive waves of colonialism and corrupt and ineffective governments."
—The Asian Review of Books on the Web
"This is a fierce, fierce collection. Realuyo's poems are a relentless, fearless witness to executions, rapes, torture, injustice, fear, poverty, nightmares, myths, disasters, terror, salvaging, survival. An important, important book."
—North American Review
2005 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry Award