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On Raphael Coronel's "Treefingers"

Simone Yatco | Oct 9, 2020

Commuting to work is one of the most stressful yet common experiences, especially in the Philippines. Whether it be by jeep, tricycle, bus, or train, we have all fallen victim to suffocating traffic. Intending to make the most of his time on his commute, Raphael Coronel often listens to music and audio books, while allowing himself to observe and be amused by what is around him. Influenced by these sights and encounters on his hours-long daily commute on the MRT, Coronel wrote the poem “Treefingers” with the purpose of expressing one’s thoughts on the way to meet someone else. He shares that although the poem is not completely based on his experiences, it describes some memorable moments he has witnessed on the way to work. 

To Coronel, being stuck in traffic has become a relatable daily activity for Filipinos. The poem means to elicit a sense of tension from the reader, stemming from the common experience of having a destination but having to stand still, unable to reach it in time. He describes the frustration that comes from being stuck in one place when you want to be elsewhere, whether it be physically, emotionally, or mentally. He wrote this poem as a way to experiment with the idea of space, further exploring how we occupy spaces around us and how we interact with them. To emulate this physically, the persona gives the instruction to the reader to fold the page in order to make the poem whole again. This, in turn, also gives the effect of the words being separated when the page is unfolded. 

Through both the words and the form of the poem, Coronel wants to convey the persona  commuting to meet someone, but ultimately finding themselves late, bothered, and unable to reach their destination. Additionally, the poem is also an attempt to show how the dichotomies of nature versus technology, distance versus time, and the “I” versus the “other” can blur. These concepts were depicted through the poem’s combination of opposing elements, such as buildings with flower stalks and the two different cities miles away from one another. By describing an urban landscape through an imaginative commuter’s perspective, Coronel plays with the tension and dissatisfaction of being restrained by elements beyond our power. 

In “Treefingers,” Coronel depicts noise as the stress and anxiety in the persona, caused by the commuter’s lack of control over his time and environment.  He expounds that this disturbance is experienced when one’s desire is derailed unexpectedly, even by something as mundane as traffic. He shares that everyday experiences like this create a ‘sound’ of their own, giving the example of having to fight for a place on the train during rush hour and the sensory overload that follows. Using unique imagery and a creative exploration of form and space, Coronel’s “Treefingers” captures the noisy helplessness and impatience felt when one is ultimately hindered from reaching their destination. 

To see Coronel’s work in full, among other published works in the Heights 67.2 folio, click here: bit.ly/HeightsTomo67-2

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