Words for the photo by the unknown author

 

Originally commissioned for World War II, but incomplete at the war’s end, the USS President Cleveland was redesigned as a passenger ship in 1946- the same year the Philippines was granted independence after almost fifty years as a colony of the United States. From 1948 until 1973 the ship traveled between San Francisco and “The Orient” making roughly eight round trip journeys per year. For each journey over three hundred “Tourist” class passengers boarded in San Francisco, making stops in Honolulu, Yokohama, Hong Kong and finally Manila. They were entertained by an on-ship orchestra, feted with nightly banquets and balls. The ship featured smoking rooms, a cocktail bar, beauty salons and a massage parlor. There were deck games and lounge chairs surrounding a pool. Promotional material promised “those whose heads are turned with excitement towards the Far East” to give “the first touch of what they are seeking” through the ship’s Asian inspired interior design.

 

Third class quarters, designed specifically for Asian immigrants, were at the ship’s aft and consisted of dormitories, a cafeteria, a recreation room and a small deck for fresh air. Separated from tourist class quarters by a series of pass protected entryways, the third class quarters held over 450 passengers, many of them students traveling to the United States from Japan, India and the Philippines. 

 

In July 1962 my mother, at nineteen, boarded the USS President Cleveland in Manila. She was part of a diplomatic program which invited young women from the Philippines to study at American universities. The journey from Manila to San Francisco took roughly thirty days and —as she has told me— the third class passengers were often bored. Left to entertain themselves, they held a talent show in the low ceilinged recreation room pictured here. In the photograph my mother is dancing the tinikling- a traditional Filipino dance in which pairs of dancers move between bamboo sticks played percussively against the ground. They dance to rondalla music, a nod to the country’s earlier occupation by Spain, but it’s unlikely there were musicians in the room when this photo was taken.

 

I’ve never seen my mother dance the tinikling and this photograph always surprises me. She tells me that the man she danced with in the photograph was a poor dancer. That they had found the bamboo sticks in the rec room- undoubtedly left behind by previous passengers who —on so many identical journeys— performed the same ritual, dancing their last tinikling on their way to the western world. She told me that she went to bed at 9pm every night, as her mother had made her do her whole life, and slept below the muffled sounds of banquets and balls and drunken raucous laughter of the tourist class above her. Her journey like a reverse mirror to theirs: she traveled quietly deep in the ship’s hull as it sliced west across the dark pacific night. Who knows if the moon shone on the surface of the sea that night?

 

Moriah Ulinskas

Words for the photo by Cosmos

 

Poem for Grand Union 

 

Most of us alive

See that thigh

flutter between

bench and language

Jump but don’t lose

the grain of affection

where salt rolls in

and sand shines wet 

 

Most of us alive

hunger to be walking

while smiling

Dinosaurs cartwheel

against the sky 

Jump but don’t lose  

Trisha’s reflection

 

Most of us alive

push pull to stand 

a scene on end 

Jump but don’t lose

the word for beginning

and why not sneeze 

as geese go barking 

across the sky

Simone Forti

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