The Law
(For Cris, Aika, Len & Aya)

In the country of mists,
a strange constitution rules:
The law is not immutable –
it changes with the rhythm of the heart:
The judge is the penitent,
the jury does not convict nor exonerate
& justice is not a pound of flesh.
The truth is nowhere else –
Between the orders of the signifiers
& the spaces that stare you in the face
signifying what the logic of the realm
rules out –
None satisfies the thirst for blood
nor the disquiet of the spleen:
We all sleep uneasily,
the troubled times rage in the ears
like the sea.
In the country of mists,
strange constitution rules:
The law is not immutable –
It changes with the rhythm of the heart.
The rest is sweet, tumultous infamy.


New Year


At the edge of forgetting,
over crevasse of uncertainty
& infernal wisdom,
I see you sipping chamomile
to calm down tremors the heart sends
in waves through your fair, fair hands
& we think not how infinite
are the possibilities.
Only this moment that expires
& disremembers everything.
Years later,
how did we gain & lose each other?
The stones will not be witnesses.
Nor the air.
The heart ever forgets
because the pain is unbearable.


There is the usual accounting:
Deeds undone,
words unsaid,
life unlived
& the math of daily existence
is a zero-sum
in the universe of old men
wasting away in a corner,
guzzling gin;
the young strutting around
as though they can outrun time;
& the women
who grow fat & toothless,
thinking of their young loves.
But there we go again:
We hear new tidings of new prophets
who invent new worlds
like they were there all the time –
If only we had looked.




We dare not send each other gifts:
They are unthinkably passe.
Why remember a presence
that didn’t exist?
Passion is a filthy rag
we throw away
because it doesn’t suit the times
all the time.
The gift stands for nothing.
Your absence is too real.
The clock cannot unwind itself.
The manger child is cold comort
from the hellish torment:
We live, love & perish.
That’s all, dearie, that’s all.


(For Camille)


The jeepney ride,
cramped & choking on fumes,
is long & tortuous.
The cops keep traffic
to a halt
in enforcing their law.
Time slouches like the smog
that canopies the humid route –
Yet here she is
& he thanks God
for the small mercies:
The small coffee talk
massages the ache in the bones
& erases the grim streaks
on his face in the mirror.
Nah, he’ll not wear
his trousers rolled.


The way of the world
(For Criselda)


Suddenly, she was gone.
He had an intimation of it.
Late it dawned on him
like the tingling pain
after a slap in the face
that leaves one speechless, unprepared.
Of course, that is as it should be.
Yet, he regrets the lack of protocol.
Do people just come & go?
Sometimes, he wonders,
if we had all regressed
to the coldness of rocks.


Warning shot
(For Lala)


The body’s strategem
to ward off brigands
melts into air
when the Trojan horse
enters the mind’s gates
like a royal gift.


(For Sarah)


Such is the law:
A daughter’s filial duty
goes beyond compassion
& childhood memory
but the existential moment
that must be cherished
at all costs
because the root is real,
incomprehensible like the route
mapped out before you.
Neither duty nor compassion
but the truth of being imaginable –
Such is the law.


(For Luisa)


She’s leaving for homes
like half-submerged boats
in a sea of lahar;
people who count their loses
every minute of the day.
The evening falls
to the clink of gin bottles
to welcome a troubled sleep
that rages like the sea in their dreams.
She’s coming back to Manila
not to escape the nightmare
but to construct a possibility
of return.


Madonna & Child
(For Jemima)


She states her case simply:
He was simply a sperm donor
& their lovely child
for whom her hours
would be an eternity of waiting
for something to turn around
is all that matters
right now.
She’s looking at her future
through her child’s eyes:
She states her case simply.


The fire-eaters
(For Janus & Bugsy)


It’s almost like a family curse:
Their roots insist
they must live for others, not themselves.
Thus, in their own fashion,
they map out the routes.
How long will the journey take?
They’re keeping their fingers crossed.


(For Myrna)


She’s selling the house & lot.
It’s too big a space to fill:
Her kid sleeps with another woman
somewhere in Manila.
She buried her father this year;
before that, her mother
who sheltered her from life’s
daily ambushes.
she is completely alone –
But for her yaya
who’s stuck through thick & thin.
Two old women
guarding an ancient house
like Nick Joaquin’s doomed personae.
How cruel
that life must imitate art.

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  1. criselda says:

    Hi Sir Edel, I lost my phone in a mugging incident that involved having my wrist slashed. I rarely check the net but I have a new number. Email me if you get this. I don’t just wanna post my number hehe… hope you understand. Merry Christmas and guess what? My pop’s home :)

  2. Sorry to hear about it. Suspected as much. My email is egarcellano@yahoo.com. Merry Xmas to you and your pop and your family. Cheers!

  3. jan isaac nolasco says:


    salamat sa paggawa niyo po ng tula para sa amin. :)


    How would reviewing a poem about yourself feel? Let me try and see how what happens. I hope I make sense here and that I’ve organized it relatively well enough.

    Let’s do this according to line, but before that, a few comments about the poem as a whole. It is very subtle in its display of contradictions, ironies, twists and tensions, all of which capture the ambiguous situation of the fire-eaters.

    In the first line, the use of “almost” hints at the persona’s uncertainty in describing what s/he’s seeing. S/he is quite unsure of what to make of the roots’ insistence. Is it a curse or not? It’s a curse but not quite so. This ambiguity is reflected in the situation of Janus and Bugsy, as will be seen later.

    Moving on, there is a contradiction in the first and the second/third lines. Normally, a life lived for others is seen positively, not least for Ateneans who are taught to be “men for others.” But for the persona, it can be a curse. And indeed it is. There is an inherent violence in such generosity. For instance, people help others, but at times, if not always, they have to sacrifice themselves (give up their lives or families, etc) to do so. It’s such a tragedy that they have to, even if a lot of good flows from it. Furthermore, people who live for others, a group which includes radicals who seek a better society, are often persecuted, a fact that Jesus himself said. What comes to mind are the activists who were “taken care of” because they were fighting against the status quo.

    The fourth and fifth lines introduce another tension/contradiction. If the imagery of the roots connotes an immutable, natural fate, the fact that Janus and Bugsy “map out the routes in their own fashion” undercuts this resort to destiny. And the use of “thus” creates this tension. It is as if the insistence of the fate/destiny/roots causes both Janus and Bugsy to decide for themselves where they should go. Interestingly, the tension is captured in the homophones, routes and roots.

    Biographically speaking, the tension is derived from the generational gap between Janus/Bugsy and their roots. Janus and Bugsy are both living in what some have called “post-radical” times, when some have declared revolutionary activism passe. But at the same time, their roots (their older relatives) were activists during the Marcos regime. Which/who then do the follow, their origins or the sway of their own post-radical generation?

    The poem has no definite answer to this question. It doesn’t clarify “the journey to what? And the routes to what?” And fittingly so, so that the ambiguity that was set up will be preserved. All that the poem does is to label the decision-making as a journey. And this presents another tension, for the word “journey” romanticizes the ambiguity inherent in a situation that’s far from romantic: middle-class society, pro-poor or anti-poor, status quo or revolution.

    Anyhow, on a deeper level, Janus and Bugsy’s situation captures the essence of the middle class, whom Marx once called, “contradiction incarnate.” Whom shall the middle class serve, the upper class to whom they aspire or the lower classes, to whom they have sympathy? This is the question that underlies the sixth line, “How long shall the journey take?”

    The sixth and seventh lines display another subtle twist. The query “How long shall the journey take?” is asked of course from the persona’s perspective. But the answer involves a shift in perspective. Previously, the events are seen through the persona’s eyes, but in the last line, things are now seen (or focalized, to borrow a term from Mieke Bal) through Janus and Bugsy. One actually expects the persona to keep his/her fingers crossed, since he’s been the speaker for 90 percent of the poem. But no, the poem disappoints this expectation. It suddenly shows us what Janus and Bugsy are thinking. This shift grants the two an involvement they’ve been denied. For most of the poem, readers are just told what they are doing, what they should do, how the persona sees them. But come the last line, they leap out of this passivity (just being described, controlled by the persona/narrator) and display how they act amidst the ambiguity they are caught in. They keep their fingers crossed.

    But here is the final tension in the poem. The poem tells us that Janus and Bugsy “mapping out the routes,” but at the end, this active stance is undercut by a touch of passivity: “keeping their fingers crossed.” Both of them forge their way “in their own fashion,” but at the same time, they’re merely waiting for the path to come…..

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