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The Galleons

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Notes From Your Bookseller

Don’t be fooled by this slim volume of poetry. Its 88 pages are full of beautiful poems that get to the heart of the world—from heritage (where we came from) to destiny (how we got to our ultimate destination). Also included are poems on the world of nature and the nature of the world. "The Girl Carrying a Ladder" and "The Blink Reflex" may take you aback. Give the 88 pages here your full attention and you are sure to find your favorites as well.

Longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry
Finalist for the Pacific Northwest Book Award
A New York Public Library Best Book of 2020

For almost twenty years, Rick Barot has been writing some of the most stunningly crafted lyric poems in America, paying careful, Rilkean attention to the layered world that surrounds us. In The Galleons, he widens his scope, contextualizing the immigrant journey of his Filipino-American family in the larger history and aftermath of colonialism.

These poems are engaged in the work of recovery, making visible what is often intentionally erased: the movement of domestic workers on a weekday morning in Brooklyn; a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, fondly sharing photos of his dog; the departure and destination points of dozens of galleons between 1564 and 1815, these ships evoking both the vast movements of history and the individual journeys of those borne along by their tides. “Her story is a part of something larger, it is a part / of history,” Barot writes of his grandmother. “No, her story is an illumination // of history, a matchstick lit in the black seam of time.”

With nods toward Barot’s poetic predecessors—from Frank O’Hara to John Donne—The Galleons represents an exciting extension and expansion of this virtuosic poet’s work, marrying “reckless” ambition and crafted “composure,” in which we repeatedly find the speaker standing and breathing before the world, “incredible and true.”

ISBN-13: 9781571315236

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Milkweed Editions

Publication Date: 02-11-2020

Pages: 88

Product Dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)

Rick Barot was born in the Philippines and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has published three previous volumes of poetry: The Darker Fall; Want; which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and won the 2009 GrubStreet Book Prize; and Chord. Chord received the UNT Rilke Prize, the PEN Open Book Award, and the Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award. It was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Poetry, the New Republic, Tin House, the Kenyon Review, and the New Yorker. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Artist Trust of Washington, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and Stanford University. He is the poetry editor for the New England Review. He lives in Tacoma, Washington, and directs The Rainier Writing Workshop, the low-residency MFA program in creative writing at Pacific Lutheran University.

Read an Excerpt


Her story is a part of something larger, it is a part of history. No, her story is an illumination

of history, a matchstick lit in the black seam of time.
Or, no, her story is separate

from the whole, as distinct as each person is distinct from the stream of people that led

to the one and leads past the one. Or, her story is surrounded by history, the ambient spaciousness

of which she is the momentary foreground.
Maybe history is a net through which

just about everything passes, and the pieces of her story are particles caught in the interstices.

Or, her story is a contradiction, something ordinary that has no part in history at all, if history is

about what is included, what is made important.
History is the galleon in the middle

of the Pacific Ocean, in the middle of the sixteenth century, swaying like a drunk who will take

six months to finally reach his house.
She is on another ship, centuries later, on a journey

eastward that will take weeks across the same ocean.
The war is over, though her husband

is still in his officer’s uniform, small but confident among the tall white officers. Her hair

is marcelled like a movie star’s waves,
though she has been too sick with the water’s motion

to know that anyone sees her. Her daughter is two,
the blur of need at the center of each day’s

incessant rocking. Here is a ship, an ocean.
Here is a figure, her story a few words in the blue void.



We didn’t want to be noticed, so we put charcoal on our faces.
I listen to the hours of tape, of the two of us at the dining table.

All the girls, looking like dirt. / My father was always drinking
Questions about the town, her parents, the names of people

or with women, my mother had to take care of the business. /
that only she could now remember. The images, I imagined,

My sister broke her back when she was a child, she grew up
scrolling in her mind, and translated into the answers she gave.

into a hunchback. She died very young. / They set up a dance
Sometimes pausing, not because she couldn’t recall, but didn’t

at the municipal tennis courts to celebrate the end of the war,
want to recall badly, the pause a kind of gap between what she

and he was there, in his US uniform. / He always insisted that
knew and what the words could do. The two things a voice

we sit at the front, but when I was by myself on the bus I sat
can say when it is saying one thing, the things that suddenly

somewhere in the middle. I didn’t want trouble. / I was around
return when you are speaking, like pockets of color coming to

fifty-five when I had my first real job, working as the security
life in your mind: I listen to her with my skin and my eyes,

at Macy’s. / I always liked to read. I wanted to go to college
my ears. I had had the notion that asking her about her life

like my sisters, but I got married. / You know that wedding
might add something to what I thought of as my art, as though

dress in the picture, we had to borrow it from our neighbor. /
her past and her love could be vectors of use. But I started to

I liked Japan when he was stationed there. It was so clean.
realize that what I actually needed to know, I would have

Then Norfolk. Richmond. / I was so sick on the ship, I can’t
to conjure for myself, because what we know most deeply

remember much. Your mama just kept running all around.
we guard best, even as she spoke, laughed, passed the glow

It was a navy ship. / My mother’s name is Canuta Sacay and
of each story to me, like a document I could have in hand

my father’s name is Enrique Omega. My grandparents were
but could not understand. I put the tape away, felt for years

farmers outside Ormoc. / I was born in Ormoc, December 8,
that it was enough, the responsibility done. Our conversation

1924 or 25. / This was the apartment we lived in in Maryland.
stopped when my aunt came to take her out for some errands.

That’s Junior there in the picture. And there’s your mama.
Chatter, chairs moved around, then noises that are just noises.



In bunraku, when you are watching bunraku,
there is that sweet moment in your mind

when you stop noticing the three puppeteers hovering around each puppet like earnest ghosts

and begin to follow the story being told by the puppets. The chanter sitting off to the side

voices the love, connivance, outrage,
and eventual reconciliation at the heart of each play,

though often what reconciliation actually meant was everyone banished, broken, or dead.

The seeing and non-seeing that make humans humans: I’m thinking now of the placid

English estates where the servants had to face the wall whenever anyone of importance was near,

where workers had to cut the lawns with scissors in candlelight at night, to save the master

the trouble of seeing and hearing all that effort.
What the mind does with this kind of information

is probably the knot within the post-
in what we call post-modernism, knowing all we know

now about the cruelty that made modernism modernism. In the Philippines, growing up among

servants, I loved the servants the same way
I loved my parents, with helplessness and tyranny.

Walking in the exhibit of the black artist’s paintings of young black men in brocaded tableaus,

I am absorbed by their beauty as much as I am by finding out that the intricate backgrounds

were outsourced to painters in Beijing, taking part in the functional ambiguity between

one kind of labor and another. I guess all this matters only as much as you want it to matter,

the mind making its focal adjustments between foreground and context, present and past,

as well as it can. For example, this morning my sister sent me a photograph of my grandmother’s

hands. Sitting outside in her wheelchair, taking in the gold sunshine, my grandmother

had her hands folded in her lap, and I looked at them until I had to stop. This is foreground.

For context, today I learned that the farthest galaxy we know of, located by scientists in 2011,

is 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away.
It goes by the name of UDFj-39546284,

for reasons that I haven’t yet looked up.
In the photograph you can see online, the galaxy looks

like the dusty stuff in the corner of a windowpane,
something you could look at sometimes,

something that is nothing, and has nothing to do with what you know about distance and time.



I have this notion that if you live long enough,
there are three or four great stories that you will have in your life.

A story of a journey or a transformation.
A story of love, which will likely mean the loss of love, a story

of loss. And a story of spiritual illumination,
which, for many, will probably be the moment of death itself,

the story untellable, its beginning and middle and end collapsing with its teller into a disappearing conclusion.

I have believed long enough in my notion to know that it is a romantic notion, that it erodes each time

I realize that the shard and not the whole comprises a life, the image and not the narrative. Otherwise,

there’s no reason why all I remember of the airplane
I took as a child from one country to another

is the moist towelette packet we were given with our meal,
the wonder and absurdity of it. Or that, in love,

high in a tree in the dark, and high, he and I sat in the rain-damp branches and ate 7-11 donuts. Or this, this piece

of a story that isn’t even mine, that isn’t even a story but a glance of an experience, of the friend who held the stray

dog after it was struck by a car. Not knowing whether the dog was dead, my friend called a friend

who worked for a vet. Poke the dog in the eye, this friend said.
Because if the animal no longer has a blink reflex,

it probably means the animal is dead. Decades after college, when you could do such a thing, I typed his name

into a search engine to find out what became of the 18-year-old boy from the tree. Like dozens of old keys

in a drawer, so many of the wrong people with the right name.
The child dead from leukemia, with a school gym

named for him. The wrestler who had a perfectly square jaw,
like a cartoon police detective in a fedora.

When I arrived at a page that was certainly about him, I no longer knew the face but I recognized the life

that he had had. He had transferred to another college, gone to film school, and become a producer

of TV documentaries. A film about fishermen, the harsh fishing season in Alaska. A film about Abraham Lincoln

and a film about the last days of Adolf Hitler.
A film about the Sherpas who go up and down the Himalayas.

Table of Contents


The Grasshopper and the Cricket
The Galleons 1
The Flea
The Galleons 2
Still Life with Helicopters
The Girl Carrying a Ladder
The Galleons 3
The Blink Reflex
Virginia Woolf’s Walking Stick
Dragged Mass
The Galleons 4
Cascades 501
The Marrow
The Galleons 5
The Names
The Galleons 6
The Galleons 7
Adjacent, Against, Upon
Wright Park
The Galleons 8
On Some Items in the Painting by Velázquez
The Galleons 9
Broken Mirror Against Tree Trunk
A Poem as Long as California
The Galleons 10
Ode with Interruptions