I thought summer would be beautiful, like all summers are. But this time I seem to have uprooted its plant before it can possibly bloom. It is after all not the sun that will kill us, but that wintry blast that chills the heart…
Yup, bad news.
Poems for my Father & Others
“It will be a long sad summer,” says he
but all his words melt into air of Erehwon
O Fata Morgana of a mermaid on his heart’s shore
eyeing hunters outside his mind’s door
He who walks the softly lit corridor
of this hospital smelling of wine & alcogel
skeletal soldiers drifting, drifting toward nevermore,
longs for a perfect closure (that is & is not)
to end an endlessness of the body’s infernal stupor
(Yet, elders say, there’s only such a wish
for memory keeps prancing like a bull)
No, no! The patriarch rages in his morphine sleep:
Am not ready for Nanay, waiting in the tunnel, yet!
But who’ll understand this daily rite of leaving—
Whenever she strolls onto his heart’s black beach
Waves of acid lap at her ancient feet
& his root, mouth rolled into O–all skin & bones!—
to suck in the infinite gridlock of air & moons
O Incarnadine tears that furtively flow!
Aie, the world keeps on turning, turning, turning!
In this inscrutable turning, our inexorable dying—
O Remembering to disremember her who swims to siren calls
& vanishing like the patriarch in this “long sad summer”
Bad poets are condemned to text in a season’s fall.
No! It can’t be Manuel restlessly sleeping
on the old/soft bed, though older/softer are his bones
He can’t be Manuel who foraged in the land
of dust & crabs, watched the dying of the moon
But it is he! The last patriarch barely breathing
his mouth into pantomimic O of wordless pain
in Ward 17, Rm 259 that reeks of pagan prayers
like the Mindoro sea that keeps on sighing:
We are all going, going, going…
To where all loves return & begin
But how measure the finality of despair
Multiplicity of absence, final smoothing of the face?
What codex of the Third Eye do we read
to comfort our hearts & proscribe a leaving?
What manner of weeping dare we scream
to affirm a loss we can never regain?
How shall peace with our hearts be,
Now solitary orphans he had always been?
(Is it done with the buckling of the knees
to signify a sadness that comes like a thief
in the night, or the sudden trembling?)
This grief is forever telling
Ward 17, Rm 259
Is where all wisdom ceases
& forever is the grieving
How long must we wait
for the truth to unfold?
Here in Veteran’s corridor
the childlike silence of the living
decodes what we’ve always prayed:
Nothing, hijo, the world can do
But as in everything—obviously plain—
Death comes in small prescriptions
Like the drizzle at morn
ambush of rain at noon
Waiting—in love as in war—
is the existential rule
The helpless grin, histrionic hiss
are monstage of truth’s black dawning:
Whatever soundbytes & images
we’ve packed into our bags of hope
Only buys time for the etherized
outside the patient’s door
While doctors in white make the rounds
(the faithful alas! hear their hearts pound)
The truth on how life is lived
between entrance & nurse’s station
lingers at the crossroad
of televangelists’ salvation
& madmen’s nevermore
What offerings shall we bring him
What mode of fealty shall we give him
But the body refuses the ritual of our passion—
Stunned by its denial of his mind’s command
He stares at the feast from us able
(O Fruits lie succulent at the table)
How do we see what he now sees—
Spirits that embrace him
in his parents’ circle of light
How do we feel what he now feels—
Spirits that embrace him
in his kinsmen’s circle of arms
How do we know what he now knows—
Spirits that embrace him
in his mother’s circle of wings
O this game foretold
where smokes of burnt tribute
the armies of luminous warriors
dragging him into heaven’s door!
A notion of death
is what all discourses are
How in the very seeds of flowers
Are autumnal leaves & rot
How in the chime of the clock
Are grunts at the chopping block
How in the sun of love & compassion
Are shadows of loss & acceptance
Death, my friend,
is not the hooded executioner
who scares all with his bad-news face
Death, my friend
is not the awesome whisperer
that freezes apocalyptic horses to stone
O Death is the fire
that burns the heart of its poison
& cremates jealous bones
O Death is the lover
who kisses mouths of our minds
into holy submission
the council of wizards say
is you waiting for the train
at the waystation
to get you to the carnival town
where children of stars & moons
have violently gone
But when shall this cycle of grieving end—
Neruda once said: “Love is short, forgetting is long.”
On that communist mode, what poem therefore
Can we add to what was briefly told
Everything, anchorites say, happen as they would
Neither novel nor new in eons of planetary moves
Logic has discovered nothing but the cosmic rule
You say it ain’t so? It’s always been juvenile bull
Grief is always, real—why dramatically roar
The Galilean cave is changing semiotics of the soul
Who has told you discourses are only for fools
The fertile soil turns itself over to recover all
But when must this cycle of grieving end—
Saltimbanques said it all: eat, after talking to the wind
“He is tired; he wants to go.” The caregiver’s words
are brief, brutal, expected. The congress of children
inside the humid room cramped with visitors & provision
tell us, no way, no one can stop the universal sermon:
The body can only handle so much; orphans can only
prop their heads on the wall. What is there to say-
every text has been writ, solace has failed to explain
why people pat your head, then leave. & Easter
is the blindman’s breach in the wall of disbelief.
“He is tired; he wants to go.” He’s got to dance the dance of truth
that nothing haha! is forever—joy/grief, beauty/flesh, love/hate
He who once was pillar of his time must now submit
To Time’s imperial rule. & she, who once was beautiful
must now look at her ruined looks
which young & stupid lovers once cut their wrists for
Every moment haha! is time for hello/goodbye
Every leaf haha! like rain, must fall
Every word haha! must grammar the age-old metaphor
of blood that dries, smiles that stop & calcify
on the digital screen haha! of our sunless sky.
The arrows point: turn right, turn left, then right again
Until, after the circuitous, steps you reach Ward 17,
the heart’s labyrinth. Then pushing past rooms of wasted men/women
whose faces recall your own quiet prayers of a speech
you enter Rm 259— its ceiling fan faithfully whirling—
where children of the patriarch guard him with their singular wish.
Dozing after the shot of morphine, veins on his skull swollenly throbbing
his blank eyes signify life, hijo, is a burning candle is…
& all the enclosure of love they could whip up—spongebath,
pillow eased onto his back, massage of arms & feet
like some paramour’s strokes of whitehot love—
is an absurdist’s ceremony of desperate measures by those
who can only watch, gnash their teeth, then booze
& in this hole where dogs & children are not allowed
he has turned again into a child we all are/have been.
Such is the raison: you become what you were in the beginning.
How do you salvage nuggets of justice from all of this?
What of the memories, their perverse trajectories,
As he mumbles them darkly in his tumultuous sleep?
Will it be lost with him in some cosmic pyramid?
He is never one to complain — O tough guys only bleed!
For sufferance, loyalty, duty are his holy creed
What of the blank names that tumble out of his lips
on nights when the air burns & body upturns
as though they were some diamonds glimmering up from the abyss?
His warrior’s habit to resist the blackbirds
may not stem the tide of forgetting that frames his face
until he slowly drowns in his own heavy breath.
What of the universe of dreams he alone keeps?
None can decipher the codex of his grief
for his generation of comrades had long abandoned ship…
His children surround him, but O! he is all alone & cold in his sleep!
Imagine the sharp edge of a blade slicing your arm open
Or a million pins stuck in the nerve fibers of your flesh…
To imagine is to recover the signifier of pain
but, my friend, it is not the sacral word you can imagine
for the Patriarch rising to meet an angel at the edge of dream
No word can approximate that moan, that wordless speech
that tears out of his guts, arms & limbs
as he lies weightlessly cradled by his aging children
in the crowded room where implode empty verities
How do you see mortality unfold? This is,
this is not, when the body fails to follow itself
& fly into the coolth of Time’s secret gardens
where brats laugh & gamble, lovers shriek their passion,
sun filters through the mist, professors affirm salvation —
& you close your eyes imagining this is how eternity happens
In the cosmic clock, you live & die in split-second
O But the pain, pain, pain! Pain that is no longer pain!
That which cannot describe itself because it has no mouth to speak
What catastrophe of theater unfolds before us!
Like arms, arched to embrace, turn iron clamps, crushing all!
O None can explain why Kilroy was here on this ship of fools
that holds us, dangling by the skin of our teeth, on the rings of Saturn
Yup, creatures of finitude & diseases are we –
like those living stones, water, air, smoke, fruits:
If they are all immortal, won’t decay or perish
why shed a tear over everything that passes?
If there’s no death, why would immortals comfort each other?
If we’re all strong, why would we seek each other’s arms?
If there’s no love, why would we agonize in our hearts?
If there’s no forgetting, why would we remember all memory?
Was he thinking of the long walk from one town to another
to relay the message about some kempeitai maneuvers? The
sight of his first-born, but there was no food on the table?
The old school where he could only reach the 6th grade
because his tubercular grandfather had sold off all their properties?
Could it be his children whose names he sporadically remembered
between visits of delirium & injections that had ravaged
his body & mind? He would sit up, lie down, sit up again –
propped by his children & children’s children; he would toss
in his bed, oblivious of the day or night but that knife
of a pain that cuts him open like an animal…
He would fall asleep — while the voice of a grandchild
floated through the air like some soft hand caressing his
forehead. He would close his eyes deeply, like another
child, his fingers clutching at some invisible straw
floating in his memory like wayward dust in the wind.
“Lolo is asleep now,” a voice, stern & solicitous,
would break the air heavy with the
silence of centuries.
Thus is the rite of love repeated, hour on the hour.
His family watched the bier being eased into the crematorium
window. When the aluminum cover was pulled down to
start the ceremony of gas fire, a father of a child announced
the birthday of his grandchild. The conversations
segued thereafter from the mournful to the celebratory,
as everyone seemed to have silently agreed that life must
go on… It was, after all, the patriarch’s flair to sip
red wine- his children would insist that it be
from the best vineyards of Europe- as though to
impress upon the living that he didn’t care about the
ticking of the clock.
The body, of course, is a different thing. It argues against
the mind in a different way. But he would aver in
private that it is just a temporary haven for the sun of
energy- this signifier of the soul – that defines life.
If this shell turns hollow, you can already exist among
You think back on the days of his illness—
the morphine tablets, nutripack , albumin & the pharmacy
of chemicals that flowed into his arteries to exercise
the pounding pain; the hours of watching him gasp
for an ocean of air because he was warding off the
demons of destruction…
It finally hit you that he’s no longer here—
when the black metal box was finally locked up
so no outside contaminant, not even your prayers,
can disturb his certain peace.
But Emma, my mother? She who grieved silently
over her son’s street bravura & truancy
“Maybe if you could shave off that moustache…”
She would suggest. Soft was her voice. O!
But was he cruel, juvenile – never knowing
hers was a coding of affection, never of rule!
Depression was not listed in family lexicon.
When she left for Manila, he conjectured
She’d be out for a week – & he couldn’t forget
how her eyes brimmed with tears when her fourth child
from her embrace fled.
She feared so many, it seemed:
the gruel to be heated, entresuelo to be paid
tailoring shop to co-manage, centavos to be saved.
Town life in later years would improve a bit
but Elbert was diagnosed with epilepsy
& she would try to cope with familiar, low-class,
She’d gain some pounds, lose some
her temper in quiet disarray like the meandering
chartline of her children’s histories. Break
into shy smile, if, in banter, kumadres would tease
first grandchild was spitting image of her self.
That day the world stopped
I wanted to refuse to even glance at her face.
It wasn’t right. No, it wasn’t right
that she couldn’t be happy,
truly happy on planet earth.
Let us, amigo, no longer talk of summer & sadness —
That you’d see the shadows, not the shaft of light
Spider in her mouth, not peacock on her smile
knife in the skull, not the soldier’s heart in the charge
is the axman’s invite to cheap barkada nights
that leave old, bad poets slobbering & blind
The golden mermaids are O back in the deep
where they swiftly swim into their lovers’ arms
So what’s the buzz? You were never a sailor
but an eremite marooned on a river’s third bank:
Who’d tell you were your heart’s sacrificial lamb
Acceptance, resignation, death…Seasons come & go:
Dust that settles on your hair, voices that turn low—
You limp back to the cafe to get stupidly drunk
on bitter coffee & nada at the table of dying men
O Summer is just a game played much too often