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Sa Ating Paglakad

“At kung ang isang lalake ay sumiping sa kapuwa lalake, na gaya ng pagsiping sa babae, ay kapuwa sila nagkasala ng karumaldumal: sila’y papatayin na walang pagsala: mabububo ang kanilang dugo sa kanila.” — Leviticus 20:13

Nang ating nilakad ang kantong makitid
Habang sa bisig ko, ika’y nakakapit,
May mumunting batong sa ati’y pumatid
Na aking inusog patungo sa gilid.

Nang nakalabas na’t lumuwang sa wakas
Ang nilalakaran, sa ati’y tumambad:
Tinging matatalim, tinging nanunumbat
Sa pagsinta nating mali raw at huwad.

Kahit sa malayo, ramdam sa katawan,
Mga mata nilang binalot ng suklam,
Wari’y mga batong pinakakawalan
At ibinabaon sa ating kalamnan.

Nakita marahil na ako’y nangamba
Sa ipinupukol ng sanlaksang mata.
Pagkapit sa aki’y hinigpitan mo pa:
“Tayo’y umiibig. Ba’t mag-aalala?”

At naramdaman ko ang iyong pagtitig:
Matang sumisisid sa pusod ng galit.
At tila ba batong hinagis sa tubig,
Naglaho ang takot sa iyong pag-ibig.

*

I’ve been trying to write Filipino poems with acceptable rhymes and meters (all part of an assignment in this workshop I’m part of). This poem is not one of those assignments, but a prompt I’ve been wanting to write for a long time; and for some reason, I felt that the form caters to the sentiment.

Dream

I was thrown in it
as with every good story
in the middle of it all, the room already
awash with external light—
though there is no outside to speak of,
I do not know of it at that moment.

Unaware of how I got to where I am:
the bowl of peaches in the kitchen table
sitting just so, and you—not yet a thought
that it was not you
but a trick, and like the light,
it was only untrue after the fact—

you were a clear and vivid image—
strange, yes, but only in retrospect—
deprived of haze that consciousness lays upon it.
I believed it was your hands that held a peach.
The lips on its skin, surely yours.
It was the white of your teeth
bruising the fuzz, without a doubt.

Of course, none of it is real now—
now as the fact of your absence in the world here
takes precedence, as it always did,
in situations where it mattered,
although where it mattered is only a matter of law
and not a matter of reality, which law
can fabricate however one wants it to be,
for instance, in dreams and in poetry.

So it remains true after all:
What matters to the waking world
only stands true to those awake.

“Love”, Bob Hicok

Lev and Svetlana are science students at Moscow University.
They fall in love. World War II happens. Lev goes to war and is captured by the Germans. After the war, denounced by fellow Russians
who heard him speaking German, Lev is sentenced to death for treason,
his sentence commuted to ten years in the gulag. I am so far sorry
for Lev and Svetlana but not amazed. My amazement begins when Svetlana breaks into the gulag, not once but several times, to see and touch Lev.
I have lived for three weeks as a man who knows this thing was done,
have washed dishes and dug a trench trying to imagine her first step
after closing the door, the first step Svetlana took under the power
of the thought, I am going to sneak into the gulag. I felt I knew the world
and then found out it contained that first step and every next step
toward guns and dogs and the Arctic Circle, it made me so happy
that she did this that I dug a better trench and washed cleaner plates
and tried to think of a place on my wife’s body I’d never kissed.
I thought of such a place and kissed her there and explained
why kissing her there was the least I could do to show the world
I have a new and more generous understanding of life: I will get drunk
and throw knives at clouds but also kiss my wife’s darkest privacy
to demonstrate I am willing to convert reverence to deed.
After I told my wife the story of Lev and Svetlana, she went to the ground
and put her hands around a dead plant and screamed at it to try harder,
she looked foolish and I loved her even more and joined her in screaming
at death, it made me feel Russian and obstinate and eternal all good things
to feel, and where I kissed her isn’t necessarily where you’re thinking: maybe
miles into her ears and not with lips but words.

*

Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Song”, Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Listen: there was a goat’s head hanging by ropes in a tree.
All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then
They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat’s head
Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly
The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away
Beside which the goat’s headless body lay. Some boys
Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.
The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they
Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school
And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.
The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.
The head called to the body. The body to the head.
They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,
Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until
The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies
Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.
Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,
Sang long and low until the morning light came up over
The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped….
The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named
The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
The night’s bush of stars, because the goat’s silky hair
Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night
She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train’s horn
Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke
To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang
Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.
She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily
That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming
Made it so. But one night the girl didn’t hear the train’s horn,
And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat
Was gone. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm
Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone
Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called
To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling
Like the feeling of the stones gouging the soft undersides
Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat’s body
By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles
At the goat’s torn neck. Then somebody found the head
Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take
These things away so that the girl would not see them.
They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.
They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear
Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke….
But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they
Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,
Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
What they didn’t know was that the goat’s head was already
Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn’t know
Was that the goat’s head would go on singing, just for them,
Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,
Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would
Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees
Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There
Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother’s call.
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.

(RIP, 1951-2016)

“Vermeer’s ‘Woman Reading a Letter at an Open Window'”, Nick Lantz

“If I said yes, that would then suggest that that might be the only place where it might be done which would not be accurate, necessarily accurate. It might also not be accurate, but I’m disinclined to mislead anyone.”

— Donald Rumsfeld

I think it must always be the same
light in Vermeer’s paintings, here
a girl laughing at an officer’s joke,
a geographer pausing to look up
from his maps, a woman practicing
the lute, her fingers curled around
the neck, its body pressed to hers.

The light always falls from the left.
The window may have many panes
or few, the room bigger or smaller.

Vermeer’s light fools you. It comes
from a world outside the window,
outside the painting, a world greater
than the sleepy canals of Delft.

Here is my desk, the window to my
left, but where is the light Vermeer
saw? I look outside and see a hawk
swooping for rabbits in the yard,
the municipal mowers trimming
the median grass, a parking lot
that fills and empties like a lung.

My wife looks at these paintings
and says that many of the women
are pregnant. Here, she points,
the woman’s waist, how the dress
is unbelted? I grow impatient.
What about the light? I say. I want
to say that Vermeer has painted
these men and women only to give
the light something to fall against.
Instead we argue for hours about
whether the women are pregnant.

I want to believe in a room filled
with Vermeer’s light, the world
outside the room that glows so
warmly, the people who spend
all day gathered by the window.

When my wife and I reconcile,
we’re lying together on the couch
late at night. The blinds are drawn.
The only light comes from the TV.

Here is a woman reading a letter
by an open window. She’s nearing
the letter’s end—some news, good
or bad, from the impossible world
outside. Here are her small hands,
the curled paper, an overturned
bowl of fruit, the same light falling.

(from We Don’t Know We Don’t Know, Graywolf Press)

Buwan ng mga Akdang Pinoy 24: “The Most Careful of Stars” ni Ruel S. De Vera

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Sa pagbabasa sa “The Most Careful of Stars” ni Ruel S. De Vera, matutunghayan ng mambabasa ang isang uri ng panulaang tinatanglawan ng purong kaliwanagan ng wika. Bawat pahina’y mistulang patunay ng kahusayan ng makata sa paghawak ng lirikong tinig, sa pagsasakuwadro ng mga damdamin at kaisipan sa mga talinghagang parehong pamilyar at hindi—mga takot at pangungulila, buhay at kamatayan, at ang pinakadalisay na pag-ibig. Sa madaling salita, hindi dapat ituring ito na koleksiyon sa pagtinging may nagbibigkis na sangkaisipan sa bawat tula. Bagkus, mas mainam na tratuhin ito bilang isang maingat na pagmamapa ng iba’t ibang pagsasatitik ng samu’t saring pantaong karanasan: kasinglawak ng langit ang saklaw at kasinglinaw ng mga bituin ang mensahe. Isang sipi mula sa “First Words”, ang unang tula sa libro:

“Mother always told me
I never whispered a word
until I was two years old.

Could it be I foresaw
how this beastly burden
of words 

would eventually lead
to the terrible offer
I could never refuse?”

Buwan ng mga Akdang Pinoy 23: “Labi” ni Kristian Sendon Cordero

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Mistulang nasa mata ng pagguho ang tinig na bumubuhay sa mga tula ni Kristian Sendon Cordero sa kaniyang koleksiyong “Labi”—bulkang nagbabantang sumabog, katawa’t paniniwalang dahan-dahang naaagnas, at mga elementong nasa bingit ng paglipol ng sanlibutan. Ngunit katambal ng mga pagguhong ito ay ang muling paglikha—sa inilura ng bulkan bumubuo ng panibagong buhay,ang katawang nagiging sityong tagpuan ng korporeal at espiritwal ay sinasalat at ginugunita, habang ang mga elemento’y may pangako rin ng pagbuo ng (panibagong) mundo. Itong tagisan ng paglikha at pagwasak ang siyang ubod ng aklat: ang mga “labi” ng ganitong proseso bilang siyang mahahawakan natin sa kaguluhan sa anyo ng parabula, ng relihiyon at mitolohiya, sa katawa’t pananalig na puno ng pilat na ating sinasalat, mga sugat na iniiwan ng marahas na pagbabago ng lunan at panahon. Samakatuwid, pagbabanyuhay, at itong mga tulang ito ay nagsisilbing matitingkad na pruweba ng nalalabing buhay. Isang sipi mula sa “Ilang Kahulugan ng Katiyakan”:

“Patuloy kong hinahanap ang maaaring pagsidlan ng kaluluwa
doon sa yugto at espasyo na ang kaligayahan, ang hapis, ang liwanag
at kaluwalhatian ay nagaganap bilang misteryo at ang Via Crucis
ay kailangang ipagpatuloy nang ipagpatuloy hanggang sa muling bumalik
sa unang estasyon: ang paghugas ng kamay.”

Buwan ng mga Akdang Pinoy 22: “Clairvoyance” ni Carlomar Arcangel Daoana

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Ang sining ng pagtula ay isang sining ng pagsasahubog ng mga di-(pa-)mapangalanang mga danas, ng pagpapaliwanag ng mga puwersang di-madaling mamalas, ang maging tagahatid ng mga di-makita at ng pagnanais na makita. Sa kaibuturan ng “Clairvoyance” ni Carlomar Arcangel Daoana ay ang ganitong tungkulin ng makata na maglatag ng isang arkitektura upang ipirmi ang di-mapirmi at bigyang-anyo ang walang-anyo—panahong nagdaan at paparating, mga danas ng dahas at lagim, ang kaluluwa (o ang maaaring kawalan nito)—dahil iyon ang kondisyon ng pag-iral natin bilang mga tao: ang magpakahulugan, gaano man kalabo o kasalimuot ang paliwanag. At sa koleksiyon ni Daoana, ipinapaubaya natin sa kaniyang talas ng pandama at mala-propetikong pananalinghaga ang ating pagnanais na makita ang mga di-makita, at pagsara ng libro, lumabas kahit papaano nang mas marunong, kahit ang karunungan ay iyong pagkilalang hindi tayo tunay na marunong. Isang pagsipi mula sa “Dream Sequence: IV. Intramuros”:

“…the past still flows, coterminous, with the present
[…]
we are simply inspectors now
we press against walls for what they hold
we discover garrisons, rusted chains, churches built and rebuilt
we have the hindsight to consider all of this as evidence
not a witness
the long dead will not speak except through a chamber we don’t have access to”

Buwan ng mga Akdang Pinoy 21: “Kung Baga sa Bigas” ni Jose F. Lacaba

 

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Kalipunan ng mga piling tula ang “Kung Baga sa Bigas” ni Jose Lacaba, na mismong ang makata ang pumili mula sa tatlong libro’t halos apat na dekada niyang pagsusulat. Bilang koleksiyon/antolohiya, nilalayon nito na ipamalas ang husay ng may-akda sa sining ng panunula. Malinaw at namamalas ito sa isang banda, lalo na sa mga tulang mistulang kanon na para sa mga mag-aaral at mambabasa ng panitikang Filipino (narito ang “Nakatingin sa Bituin”, “Pasyong Mahal ni San Jose”, “Paksiw na Ayungin”, “Ang mga Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Juan dela Cruz” ang klasikong “Prometheus Unbound” at ang paborito kong “Lahat ng Hindi Ko Kailangang Malaman, Natutunan Ko sa Pelikulang For Adults Only”.) Sa kabilang banda, may mga tula rin ditong maaligasgas ang panitik at pananalinghaga ni Lacaba, madalas ay iniiwan ang malikhaing paghahayag para sa tuwirang pagkakataga. Aminado naman dito si Lacaba, ngunit sa mga panahong magulo ang mabuhay (sa mundo, sa sariling bansa—kung isasaalang-alang din na sa kalagitnaan ng Batas Militar nabuhay ang makata at nasulat ang ilang mga tula), hindi hinihingi ang mabulaklak na pananalinghaga. Sa mga pagkakataong minumulto ang ating kasalukuyan ng karahasan ng nakaraan, at may pangangailangan ng katarungan, ang tanging obligasyon ay ilahad ang katotohanan bilang katotohanan, “walang borloloy at walang palabok.” Narito ang sipi mula sa “Sining ng Pagtula”:

“Kung baga sa bigas,
hindi rin naman mainam sa tula
ang sobrang kiskis at kinis.
Malinamnam ang milagrosa,
pero masustansiya
ang bigas na pula.”

Buwan ng mga Akdang Pinoy 20: “Dreamweavers” ni Marjorie M. Evasco

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Ang librong “Dreamweavers” ni Marjorie M. Evasco ay, sa buod ng talinghaga ng pamagat, isang paghahabi-habi ng sanlaksang karanasan ng daigdig: mula pag-ibig, panahon, kamatayan, pakikipagkapwa, at tulad nga ng “dream” sa pamagat, hindi lang mga panaginip kundi mga pangarap—ang pagbibigkis ng sansinukob bilang isang obligasyong pambabae, ang sining ng/bilang paghilom, na nagsimula pa noong panahon ng mga babaylan at ngayo’y inaari ni Evasco bilang tagapagmana ng tradisyon at legasiyang ito. Bagaman sinasabing ito’y mga piling tula sa loob ng takdang panahon ng buhay-makata ni Evasco, hindi dapat ito mapagkamalang antolohiya ng samu’t sari. Walang sinasayang ang makata na hibla ng salita; bawat tula’y dumaragdag sa dahan-dahang pagkakabuo ng isang obra maestra na hindi lang feminista sa kaniyang nilalaman (proyekto ni Evasco ang magbigay-tinig sa isang boses na kaytagal nang inaapi at pinatatahimik: “I have come home to my own, contributing to our kind these personal struggles with the dangers we face as women and as women writers of color,” sabi niya sa kaniyang napakagandang sanaysay sa umpisa ng aklat) ngunit pati na rin sa kaniyang anyo. Isang sipi mula sa “Caravan of the Waterbearers”:

“We have joined the trek
of desert women, humped over
from carrying our own oases
in the claypots of our lives,
gathering broken shards we find
in memory of those who went
ahead of us, alone.

When we seize the watersource
our ranks will complete the circle
we used to mark around our tents,
making homes, villages, temples,
schools, our healing places.
And we will bear witness
for our daughters and sons,
telling them true stories
of the caravan.”