Today’s poem of the week for National Poetry Month is by Renato Rosaldo, from his book of ethnographic poetry, The Day of Shelly’s Death: The Poetry and Ethnography of Death. This deeply moving collection focuses on the immediate aftermath of Renato’s wife Michelle (Shelly) Rosaldo’s sudden death on October 11, 1981, the day after she and her family had arrived in a northern Philippines village where Shelly and Renato were to conduct fieldwork. In free verse, Rosaldo explores not only his own experience of Shelly’s death but also the imagined perspectives of many others whose lives intersected with that tragic event and its immediate aftermath, from Shelly herself to the cliff from which she fell, from the two young boys who lost their mother to the strangers who carried and cared for them, from a tricycle taxi driver, to a soldier, to priests and nuns.
I’m Jun’s driver.
The pale, trembling man
offers heartfelt thanks,
his name Renato, but nobody knows
my name, the back of a head behind the wheel.
Late night round trip—Kiangan to Bayombong—
carrying a dead body and the husband who shudders
each time a checkpoint soldier requests
the death certificate. This is not
just a piece of paper he says
then drifts into silence
through clouded black on narrow road,
hair-pin turns, steep drops.
My focus shrouds me
passengers trust my velocity
will be measured, my senses sure.
In my darkest hour of need
let there be a no-name
driver to transport me.