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This is Where it Begins

Merlinda Bobis


This poem is a celebration of the power of storytelling to connect Asian-Australians to their ancestral and cultural heritage, and thus provide them with a more complete sense of self. The opening epigraph establishes that the poet will speak in her ancestral languages, ‘Bikol, Pilipino,’ and her adopted one, ‘English,’ forever ‘over and over again.’ Here, Bobis immediately locates herself amid the hybridisation of cultures and identities that occurs as a result of emigrating to a foreign place. The first three stanzas contain the same content, but the first two are written in Bikol and Tagalog respectively. 

From there, Bobis recalls stories told to her by her grandparents of ‘the crab-stealer / hiding under the bed’ and ‘the lady in the hills / walking into his dream.’ The poet conveys the confusion she felt as a child listening to these stories. 


Indeed, the recurring phrase ‘This is where it begins,’ which after its first appearance is prefixed with the uncertain terms ‘But’ and ‘Or,’ reflects the poet’s obfuscated sense of identity, which is of course repaired throughout the poem as she participates in the storytelling. 


That sense of confusion is furthered when the poet’s recollection of her mother practicing for her college exam becomes merged with other stories told to her by her grandparents:


‘Or, this is where it begins. 
Mother reviewing for her college Spanish exam: 
Suddenly also under my skin, long before I understood 
‘Eyes': how they conjure ghosts under the bed, 
‘Lips': how they make ghosts speak, 
‘Hands': how they cannot be silent.’


Here, we see again the distorted sense of self experienced by the poet as a result of being uprooted from her ancestral and cultural heritage be embodied by the structure and content of her poem. 


Bobis then uses imagery to convey the power of storytelling, ‘Story, word, gesture / are all under my skin.’ 


With the final three stanzas of her poem, Bobis ruminates on the philosophical and emotional dimensions of storytelling, before affirming its restorative power and its capacity to repair lost connections: ‘Eyes, lips, hands conjoined: the umbilical cord restored.’ 

quote table

“they have never left, they who ‘storytold' before us, / they who are under our skin”
Cultural connections, Connection across time through storytelling
“Once upon a time in Bikol, Pilipino, English — /we tell it over and over again.”
Accumulation, Repetition, Literary allusion
Cultural connections, Centrality of storytelling
“No, storytelling is not lonely, / not as we claim”
Connection through storytelling, Cultural connection
“And so this poem is for my father, mother, grandmother, grandfather and all the storytellers, conjurers who came before us.”
Familial and cultural connection, Cultural connection, Connection through storytelling
“Under my skin”
Repetition, Metaphor
Connection with storytelling
“This is where it begins’
Repetition, Motif
Cultural connection with storytelling, Connection over time
“I am six years old, perhaps five.”
Storytelling, Connection over time

This is where it begins

Merlinda Bobis

New Accents

Ouyang Yu

Circluar Breathing

Jaya Saviage


Miriam Wei Wei Lo

Transluscent Jade

Maureen Ten


Voung Pham

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