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Life and Times in Leschi

Frink Park 7: Carlos Bulosan, Part 2

Carlos Bulosan’s union work and his writing ability led him from California back to Seattle, where, late in 1951, he went to work as publicity director for the largely Filipino Alaska Cannery Workers Union, Local 37 of the ILWU. He produced the local’s 1952 yearbook. This was the first US union local to be organized by Filipino workers. Bulosan’s work was often cited as an inspiration by the young Local 37 reformers Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, who were murdered in Seattle in 1981 at the behest of the Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

At a party given for Bulosan shortly after he arrived, he was introduced by union organizer Chris Mensalvas to Jo Patrick, a member of the Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, which fought the deportation of union leaders. Patrick was a longtime activist for farm workers’ rights who had met many of the young leaders of Local 37 while organizing at farms near her Yakima hometown. Bulosan wrote of their meeting in the summer:

The sun was perched on the pillars of the sky,

But it came down to sit upon her feet;

Then it entered her shining brown eyes

And stayed there to gaze upon the moaning world.

Patrick, 33, was separated from her husband and raising two young boys. As a communist, she was blacklisted and unable to find work in teaching and worked instead in factories and sweatshops. She was instantly drawn to Bulosan, then about 39. From about 1953 to 1955, they lived together in her Lake Dell house, and he helped raise her children. In the autumn, he wrote,

The moon stepped out from her hidden throne,

And sat upon a carpet of hidden cloud;

Then she clapped her hands, and the sky

Became a splendor of gold and blue.

He wrote long letters to her older son, Tim, about his life, the history of the Philippines, and its colonization by Spain and the US. These were also his most productive years in writing poetry, though little if any of it was published until years after his death. In the winter,

She smelt of snow, white snow, pure snow.

… the wind was howling in the bare trees,

Not long after his return to Seattle in the early ‘50s, he had a recurrence of tuberculosis, for which he had earlier been hospitalized in California. He recovered somewhat after treatment at Firland Sanitarium, north of Seattle. In the springtime,

Many flowers were dancing about her feet,

Clapping their hands and dancing, about her feet.

His years with Jo Patrick were complex. They each had found the love of their life. They made a pact: I will write to you and you write me back every single day. Yet, due to his health struggles and excessive alcohol consumption on the part of both, there were difficulties, and they eventually separated.

In 1956, his health declining from the effects of TB and alcohol, Bulosan died of pneumonia.

In researching this story, I explored the extensive collection of Bulosan’s papers at the UW Special Collections, with support from the helpful staff. There I saw a chronology of Bulosan’s life by Licerio Lagda, who had written his master’s thesis about Bulosan at the University of the Philippines in 1984. I found Mr. Lagda, well into his 80s and sharp as a tack, in Southern California, where I visited him, and he generously shared with me his thesis and many other papers not found in Seattle. My heartfelt thanks go out to him and his family for their support.

~Roger Lippman

The author writes monthly about Leschi history and his experiences over his 48 years in the neighborhood.


It was morning, not too early, not too late,

For the air was low and blue;

And the downward hill, sloping under our feet,

Was fresh with dew:

It is a wonderful day, she said,

Touching leaves and grass, eating flowers

Off the vines and bushes.

“Do you hear it, the song of summer? she said.

Touching her hand, going downhill,

Trying to discover the enchantment that charmed her,

I tried in vain; and in vain did I hear the song of summer.

What was lacking in me, what was amissed in my heart?

We walked through the woods, holding her small hands,

Down the hill, fresh with dew,

Toward the waiting lake, and her memory;

And at last, seeing sailboats flying on the water,

At last I saw, or seemed to see,

The rapture of her summer morning …

“Do you hear it, the song of summer,” I said.

“O I wish it will never end, until eternity!” she cried.

Through her I heard the song of summer.

Through her I saw the glorious day.

That summer, a year ago,

I found everything through her,

and through her alone.

Come with me to her forest and lake.

Under a dewdrop is her bright white face,

Surrounded by unicorns racing on blades of grass,

And fairies dancing in newborn flowers.

All her summers are in the maplewood.

All her springs are in the heartshaped crocuses.

Come with me, come with me,

To her forest and lake;

Where it is never too late

To see her small white feet dancing downhill

Toward her enchanted paradise.

—Carlos Bulosan

An unpublished poem among those written in Leschi for Jo Patrick. Credit: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections


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