Who links to me? the journal of a semi-insane man: A critique of Michael Andrada's Ascaris lumbricoides

Monday, March 19, 2007

A critique of Michael Andrada's Ascaris lumbricoides

Michael Andrada's "ASCARIS LUMBRICOIDES": a case of mistaken worm?
Rodelen C. Paccial

First, here is a link to Michael Andrada's poem

I first talked about this poem to my dagyangpulong colleagues down at a manokan/watering hole near our spiritual home of University of San Agustin and our meeting place Coffeebreak at Gen. Luna St., Iloilo City

To my pleasant surprise, the two younger poets in the group were very much appreciative of Mr. Andrada's poetry (Pure San Diego and Laurence Bernabe), and one actually was a co-fellow at the 2nd Iyas (Rey Salem). It actually means that the younger ones are reading contemporary Filipino poets (and this would bode well for the country's literary future). So as you can see, my next comments on Mr. Andrada's poetry were very much discussed.

As in the 4th Iyas, of which I was a part, there was a lot of discussion on poetry and science, as we had a lot of writers with science backgrounds (Andrea had a postgrad on Chem, Arkaye is studying Chem, Bebang was working for IRRI, Rex is a Mathematics/Lit teacher, and myself, am a medical graduate). The discussion was very interesting when it came to poems with scientific frameworks. There were poems which relied heavily on the science to bring about its poetic effect and maybe in the future I could quote some works from that workshop. This, for me, was problematic when the poet didn't get the science right!

My view on poems tackling issues with science in it, is that it should get the science right. The poems which would rely on the science to bring out its poetic effect should get the facts right. I remember Dr. Evasco talk about a poem as a "world" on its own. The reader gets into the world and gets himself lost in it, experiences it, and hopefully is affected by it and takes meaningful thoughts with him. Hopefully, this makes him a better person, for the experience of a poem is a real experience and as meaningful as the lessons that we learn from travels maybe, or from the idle time inside the bus while travelling.

A poem with scientific discrepancies, if not designed by the author (for example, a poet may talk of flying cows and talking fish), would come out as a defective poem. If the poem was a "world", an author then is selling a False world, and the readers who gets into it gets a false experience. If the author is ignorant of his mistakes, then he is selling ignorance, and the reader who is ignorant then, will take the falsehood as truth. Therefore, it is a situation of ignorance begetting ignorance.

Let me put a qualifier however, lest this comes out as a mere negative critique of an excellent poets work. I have read some of Michael Andrada's poems (mostly those published in the internet, in Panitikan. com and Makata) and I've found his poetry to be good. His knowledge and experience of what good literature is, his tastes, his skills, are definitely better than mine, and if ever I develop to be as good a writer as he is, it would be as if I have reached my own dreams. I will however use a poem of his to illustrate my point, that the poet must be sensitive to the facts that he sells. We must be merchants and pedants of truth when it comes to this.

The second to the fourth stanzas of the poem presents one such problem:

Pansinin mo ang magkabilang dulo
Ng aking patpating katawan.
Alin sa tingin mo ang aking ulo?
Alin ang puwitan?

Alinman sa dalawa
Ang ituro mo,
Pasensiya na Ginoo,
Ngunit nagkakamali ka.

Nasa tagiliran ko
Ang labasan
Ng sama ng loob,
Ng dumi ng katawan.

These stanzas involve the persona (the "ascaris") asking the man pouring the salt, where his head or his ass is. When read in isolation, the second stanza has no problem, as it is probable that a layman who pours salt on "ascaris" would not know any better (as a layman who watches ascaris, which would've come from human feces i'd presume, he really doesn't know any better; it is possible to point the head and the anus of the ascaris grossly). but when taken with the third and fourth stanza, it becomes problematic. The real "ascaris" seems confused with his own anatomy, in two ways:

1) It is true that the Ascaris has an excretory pore on his so called "side" but this is most of the time, except in a few natural variations, located near the head (ulo). Therefore for an imaginary thinking ascaris to think that his excretory pore isn't near the head when the man points at it is absurd. (We will use head here instead of "anterior end" because a poet can call any part of the anatomy any name, that is his creative discretion. Anterior end if translated to Filipino should read as "ulohan")

2)Since the adult nematode is cylindrical, the ascaris cannot possibly point to any side "tagiliran" of his body.

These three stanzas also follow a non-sequitor flow of thoughts. After the ascaris asked the salt pouring gentleman where his head or ass is, and presumably after the gentleman has pointed to either end of the ascaris, the ascaris then said "nagkakamali ka", The gentleman at this point would have asked why? The ascaris answered "Nasa tagiliran ko/Ang labasan/Ng sama ng loob,/Ng dumi ng katawan." This reply is non-sequitor to the first question which was where do you think my head or ass is? Take note, the question of where the ascaris head or ass is wasn't a question of where his excretory pore was. This ascaris then is an illogical ascaris, and we should be careful of him.

The first and second stanzas of the second part I think presents the central problem in science, or facts, of this poem:
Ngunit ano ba'ng marumi?
Lupa ang aking agahan,
Tanghalian, minindal, hapunan.
Ito rin ang aking tahanan.

At kapag umulan, ang mga butas
Na ginagawa ko sa ilalim
Ng lupa - ang aking lagusang-
Tahanan - ang siyang dinadaluyan.

You see, the life cycle of the ascaris is such that it only becomes a worm almost exclusively inside the human body, although in pig and dogs, they might also. An ascaris worm will not survive the environment outside the human body for long, for several reasons: one, as a parasite, it has evolved to live mostly in the optimal conditions of the human intestine; two, as a parasite, it will have no food source outside the host; three, it has no adaptations for living as a full grown worm outside the human body, meaning it can't burrow under the ground, it can't make tunnels, etc...

The ascaris doesn't eat dirt for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It can only gain nourishment from the blood supply of the intestinal mucosa. The earth isn't its home (as an adult, as eggs the earth serves as its home) The Tahanang-lagusan then cannot be the ascaris worms doing.

In fact, I have a great suspicion that the poet was talking about the earthworm when he wrote the poem, which could be any of a great number of species around the world... There are many more instances in the poem which would indicate that indeed this is an earthworm and not ascaris. See them for yourself...

So the poem suffered a loss of "believability" and some "error of facts" because of this. There are some facts in science that one can overlook, when this is not the central symbol/metaphor of the poem, one may as well read beyond it and give the poem a chance to "speak its utterance". But in this case, in my humble opinion, the wrong worm drove the poem into dangerous "semento na pumipigil sa (kanyang) paghinga."

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