A JOURNEY is never complete unless a traveler keeps the memories of the terrains he has entered, taking in all the unfamiliar sights and associating them with his own emotions.

The poems in Alice Sun-Cua’s Charted Prophecies (De La Salle University Press, 2002) tell such tales of her many travels. As a traveler, the Thomasian gynecologist lays down every poem as destinations waiting to be explored, the hidden emotions raring to burst open in all the sights that mean more than eye candy to the traveling persona.

In reading these mementos of Cua’s own travels (not always in the geographic sense), the reader is transported to the very moment that the poet had stepped on a certain location, when all her senses are centered on an unfamiliar spectacle.

For instance, when the poet finds a female statue separated from the others, she pays close attention to the statue’s peculiar appearance. The poet notices the anger in the statue’s face, with its mouth wide open and its fists clenched tight, “no need for language/ in her screams, her fears/ her protests.” In this particular poem, Cua recognizes the pain in the statue’s face, echoing the pain of every woman, the one voice, the same wound that haunts “…mothers/ aunts, daughters, from home,/ exiled to toil in distant fields.”

The poems on travel, particularly those of the section “Loy Krathong,” illustrate journeys as vividly as a scrapbook does, with Cua’s use of simple images and metaphors. Cua’s sharp senses capture the rawness of a scene, such as her arrival in an airport in Indonesia, where the native language is “strangely familiar,” and the ambiance of the place is “a perfume hovering/ over leafy corners.”

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Cua also takes note of the differences in the countries she visits, such as the three New Years in Thailand, one celebration marked by the Loy Krathong festival. As a foreigner taking part in the festival of boats, she solemnly sets her own boat adrift on the river, knowing that there are “journeys only flower boats/ can take,” but still keeping faith that what she wished for would come true.

The poet also writes of her moving on after the demise of a loved one. In this case she takes the road to healing after her father’s death, chronicling her longing for him in the section, “Absence”. “Absence I,” is where the longing for the father is pronounced loudest. The presence of her father’s personal belongings, such as the black umbrella, his shirts which reek of cigarette smoke, and the magnifying glass marked by his fingerprints, emphasize her desire to see him alive, using these items again.

Her acceptance only comes full circle in “Absence VII,” but not without a final acknowledgment of her own pain when she feels his presence in Jardin du Luxembourg near the Sorbonne, where “the rain/ stings my eyes, blurring the very words I write.”

In “Hypothesis Testing,” she tests not only scientific problems, but also her relationships with people. In “To A Friend Leaving for Southern California,” she clearly expresses her attachment to a friend and her regret in seeing him leave, while the friend waits impatiently for her to finish eating.

Some of Cua’s poems speak of her self as a medical doctor. She is able to depict the art of her profession especially in “Midwife,” where she is “woman, with woman/ assisting,” a willing companion to another woman’s pain, where the most awaited moment is “the birth of a song.”

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Finally, “Charted Prophecies” ends Cua’s series of journeys. In this set of poems, she is the one who is left behind, pondering on the emptiness that trails after a loved one’s departure for other places. She is open in revealing her sadness, as in the lines, “I hold your arm tight/ even as you would not let go” in “Departure,” and her comparison of distance to the Andaman Sea in “When Distance Speaks.”

All journeys end when the persona comes home, as with “Thirteenth,” where the poet tells the story of a stormy night spent with a loved one, the presence of the other comforting amid the terror of the house shaking, windows rattling, and ceiling lamps swaying. In this poem, the long chronicles of desire also end, as all objects, tangible or not, have finally “grown so familiar.”

In her use of simple imagery and raw emotion, Cua’s poetry speaks with a clear and loud voice. As she travels farther and farther in the terrains of the human experience, her poems record the true essence of the journey—that is, the discovery of the unfamiliar will always lead the traveler to long for home, where she can see the familiar in a new light.


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