Review: Antiemetic for Homesickness by Romalyn Ante

Romalyn Ante’s debut poetry collection ‘Antiemetic for Homesickness’  illustrates that longing, desire, and need for home. In the poem ‘Memory’, Ante’s speaker uses Tagalog to demonstrate the undeniable claim in longing for a place that is now absent in one’s life. ‘Tahanan means Home, Tahan na means Don’t cry anymore’. Each poem in Romalyn Ante’s book helps navigate the journey in moving from one home and creating another. The poems teeter on the language of two different perspectives, one from birth, which was the Philippines, and one of bombardment that was the United Kingdom, where she now resides. The poems move between English and Tagalog, which speak to Ante’s experience, navigating her own culture and that of the culture she has to present in. There is the Westernized Gaze glaring at Ante, and these poems speak to that fight against assimilation and succumbing to it. Ante’s book also speaks to the people who are left behind in search of a better life. One only has their memories to keep their hope and drive alive to find better opportunities as an immigrant. In the poem, ‘Only Distance’, Ante’s speaker recalls a memory,

“When all the stars are out, she returns/ to this tropical wind, to the constellation/ of moles on his shoulder, his second-hand clothes./ He slices mangoes, and lays them on a banana leaf./ She’s with him…”

Romalyn Ante grew up in the Philippines and lived there until she was 16 years old. She migrated to the United Kingdom in 2005, where she now works as a nurse practitioner. This background is heavily threaded into the poems. It is more than the experience of adjusting; it is also a recollection of important Filipino stories and culture. In the poem ‘Patis’, ‘There is a Batangas I cannot return to—/ gathered round my grandma’s table/ glazed by dusk,/ where each of us/ takes a pinch of the rich fish flesh/ and all we need is in our reach,’ Batangas is a city in the Philippines and Patis being a fish sauce that is a staple in the household with meals, these near-dear recollections of a place that was once comforting with its food and landscape is now a memory. 

Memory comes up in Ante’s poetry, it is the one string mingling throughout each poem, like a thread through a wound, stitching it together to make sense of the travel, change, and growth. 

In the titular poem ‘Antiemetic for Homesickness’, Ante leaves the reader with a look at how the past meshes with the present, ‘A day will come when you won’t miss/ the country na nagluwal sa ‘yo.’ The cyclical memory that pervades the poems is poignant and beautiful. It is hard to leave a space you’ve known for so long and then have yourself adjust and relearn skills for a whole new place and its people. Ante takes in all that pain to heal and move through her life, much like what she does in her daily life as a nurse, it prevents the unease and nausea of remembering. If you remember for the sake of healing—and when that does not hurt—it helps with the pain. The poem goes on, ‘So, here is the karaoke mic—/ sing your soul out until there’s El Nino/ in your throat, and you can drink/ all the rain of Wolverhampton.’ 

Romalyn Ante’s debut collection presents an important and magical display of culture and perspective. There is always that memory that pervades someone’s mind of what it is to migrate from one’s home to another place. How are the people back home? The people who were left behind, how are they? Have they changed? This poem aims to tackle those questions with folklore and spirit and honor. This poetry book is a balm and antiemetic for the way one must feel after journeying somewhere new for a better life while holding onto the memories of home.

About the author

Shawn Anto is from Delano, California. He’s originally from Kerala, India. His writing appears in Sonora Review, Sierra Nevada Review, and elsewhere.

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