Pool by Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas: A Review

(I attempt to make an analysis of Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas’ “Pool,” which appeared in the 1976 edition of Sands and Coral)

by Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas

Here is a pool:
Carp, bronze and slow
To age, sleek
Bodies hardly
Breaking the slow water,
Feathery fronds, or washes
Of Matisse.

Here is a star:
Fallen swift and free
Of time, it splashed light-
Years in the water,
Spilling falling holding out
Outlines of a bright
Illusion: water or sky.

Here is the accident:
Where carp intersect with stars
Briefly – light’s long journey
Measured on trailing fins,
Ended here and barely begun
The light weight on scales
Of turning suns.

When kuya Moses Atega gave his old copy of  the 1976 edition of Silliman University’s Sands and Coral during the Silliman Writers Workshop to me, the first contributor I sought from the table of contents was our director-in-residence, mom Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas. We had heard her give her comments on our work, and circumstances have conspired such that I was never able to read her poetry before going to Silliman.  I was naturally curious what kind of poetry she would be able to write. The poem “Pool” was what I found first, and it turned out to be more than a pleasant surprise, it was bordering in amazement.

Ever since my poetic sensibilities were birthed by my Literature teacher Pam Castrillo when she taught Eman Lacaba’s short poem “In puddles and in rivers,” I have found pure image poetry to be quite rare. The vast majority of poems I’ve read thereafter were lyrical or expressed political sentiments. I always found myself reacting to any poem that dedicated itself to what Don Pagusara called the “transforming image” with fond appreciation.

The imagination explores into transforming imagery with “Pool.” In the poem, we see two worlds perceived in one scene by the playful perspective of the poet.

The poem begins, simply enough with a description of the titular pool. Therein we see carp – ornamental, we can assume from the bronze colour, and of the long lived Koi variety from the description of “slow to age.”  Somehow, we see them swimming lively in the pool with the high pitched word “sleek” used to describe their bodies, and with the aliteration of /b/ we also hear them sipping air from the water’s surface. We also hear their splashing with the repetition of /s/ in “sleek,” “slow,” “fronds,” “washes,” and “Matisse,” as well as with the repetition of /f/ in “fronds” and “feathery.” The carp are described as “washes of Matisse,” and the mention of the painter invariably makes the poem a sort of “impressionist poem,” which is most apt as Impressionism places a strong emphasis on the portrayal of light.

The second stanza introduces the second main subject of the poem: a shooting star. It is described as having “fallen swift and free of time,” and it is described as splashing “light-years in the water.” the cutting of the line at “light” must be noted, for here there is transition into the poem’s main image: in its act of “splashing light” into the water (in other words, in being reflected), it is “splashing years” into it, “light years” to be specific. We see how the star becomes the “outline,” the central catalyst for “a bright illusion:” the water in the pool becomes like the night sky it reflects, with stars in it!

The magic happens in the last stanza. The poem develops the thought of long light years being “pooled” among the carp. And we have a delightful personification of carp measuring “light’s long journey… on trailing fins.” Moving a bit outward from of the image the scene is described as “ending here and barely begun,” capturing how the long journey of star light  seems to end so swiftly to the eyes it barely begins.

The poem ends with the lines “the light weight on scales of turning suns,”  two lines of double meaning: that the star is barely a burden (“light” here being the opposite of “heavy”) on the scales of the ever-moving carp, which can be seen as “turning suns” with their bronze colours,  in which case the poem ends inwardly into its image; or that the light’s “weight” (with respect to time) is being “weighed” – or regarded – with the (weighing) scales of “turning suns” – that the length of light years is being perceived and regarded with the standard of mere  days (which are governed by the turning of the sun), in which case the poem ends outwardly to its realization. The pun on “light” and “scales” makes it possible to pull off this double meaning. The double interpretation also gives two possible means of looking at the poem: the reader may choose to see the light as not even weight on the carp’s scales, and so stay in appreciation of the refreshing image of carp measuring a shooting star; or the reader can choose to realize how unusual it is that the star’s long journey could seem so quick, and so seeing that the carp might not be that “slow to age.”

In the poem we get a realization of the relativity of time, as highlighted by the movement of light, playfully portrayed with a refreshing image. And the strength of it is that we as readers are given the option to realize it, or simply enjoy the “bright illusion.” In this poem, Mom Weena successfully made Einsteins out of carp!


2 Comments on “Pool by Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas: A Review”

  1. Rowena Torrevillas says:

    Heartfelt thanks for the great honor, Karlo. “Pool” was an early poem, written with the certainty and creative brio that comes when one has begun to discover and get some grip on the ever-elusive uses of language. You’ve caught exactly what I’d seen flashing in those waters: the play on words, and the fleeting astonishment that occurs at those glimpses one gets whenever the cosmic and the earthly intersect in a flicker at one’s feet. You’ve mentioned Einstein and carp: I don’t know if I’ve told you this anecdote I read, of how a youthful author (I believe it was William Golding) met Einstein. Golding was an undergrad at Oxford when, during a walk, he saw the world-renowned physicist standing on a footbridge, gazing down at the fish in the pond below. The young man stood beside the Nobel laureate, wondering what he could possibly say to one of the great minds on the planet. They stood together in silence, looking at the carp gliding through the water. Finally Golding pointed at the water. “Fish,” he remarked. “Ja, fish,” said Einstein, nodding in agreement. They stood in amicable silence for a few minutes before walking away. The profundity of human encounter is relative.

    • Lefthandedsnake says:

      I am delighted that you found my review to have captured your intent, mom! I was practicing for when I teach, and I do intend to share this poem to my students.

      Was that little anecdote also in your mind while you were writing this, mom! It’s an interesting way of demonstrating Special Relativity!

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