Mrs. E & Other Sentiments

Mrs. E & Other Sentiments

Mrs. E

(for Mila Laurel & Babeth Lolarga)

Always, she had small gifts
for her class—
candies, books—
as she ended the day’s work
in her faculty room.
She would lend him
some authors,
attuned as she was
to the latest in hermeneutic world.
From the corner of her eye,
she saw him once
having coffee by his lonesome:
forthwith she snapped at a waiter
for some pastry to be served
at his side.
That was that: some mindful
gesture of solicitude,
as if she couldn’t live
without fulfilling to the fullest measure
that generous assault
of Socratic good.
She’s gone now:
her room padlocked
as if no one could occupy it
without souring
an absence
as sweet as paradisal fruit.
Her cats are gone, too,
desolating the neighborhood.
When he mentions her name
to a circle in nostalgic mood,
the silence would evasively be deafening,
everyone groping for the right words
of pain, of loss.

Kuya Perry

He was
by his clan’s rendition,
the anointed,
US navy’s pipe fitter
who could troubleshoot
classified repairs
at Subic
when he retired
he suffered a stroke
that left him hobbling on a cane.
At the reunion,
he couldn’t tipple
the Napoleon brandy from Cyprus,
but would point
to a granddaughter
sired by a Greek,
laughing that their stock
had maintained its looks.
But he was antsy,
& couldn’t stay on,
rushing back to Cavite
where he would only brood
over the good, old days
when he was the strongest bull
in the pen.
He is in the twilight of his years,
hearing neither the din
of merrymakers,
nor stories he had himself spinned.
Only that today
his nerves have abandoned his limbs
& a wealth of memory had served him nothing.


“The future,” he drawls on,
“cannot be imagined.
The details of what’s in store
could never be the obverse
of images in the mirror.
It’s always something else,
& we’re always unprepared
to meet the backward-looking angel.
You must always speculate
for what couldn’t be comprehended:
should it be just & good
O should it say we’ve moved
only toward another holocaust?
O let it be, let it be…”
So saying, he thinks how swiftly
the women of his memory
had ripped out his heart
& cut it to shreds—
He didn’t foresee it would be brief.
He was a blinded Cyclop
stumbling like a drunk
toward some unfolding in the dark.
His future a luminous spark?
It barely lights up his winding path.
He’s as clueless as any bloke on the block.


Dante & Beatrice, Romeo & Juliet:
ill-fated lovers, as if to conclude
true love never happens, stays…
So why this devotion to her
who snuggles by his side?
Nothing left between them
but the interim of memory & silence
that stops him from fatal leaping.
What manner death is this?
What manner of life to persist?
There’s a crowd of witnesses outside
but only a passel he could make out.
Yes, everyone is condemned
to his small circle of space & friends:
choosing whom to keep close to his heart…
Count on his fingers
the dreams that could spill out
when sentiments rule in the dark.
He can only straddle the lowest meridians
for the world’s too wide to explore, junk.
Dante is destined for Beatrice;
Romeo for the tragic tears of Juliet.

Money Talks

She had to hock
the family heirloom
to a cousin banker’s wife
so she could buy her mother
with formal prayers.
It was a mere 20 grand,
but now she couldn’t even
raise the middleclass pittance
to retrieve her inheritance.
Blood is thicker than water?
Pletaal can thin it out
& fabled relations
are so much diluted liquid
under the imagined bridge.
We live off myths
of intimacy & kinship,
blindered to the truth
that money camouflages
crazy, beastly attitudes.


He is restless,
inexplicably fidgety
as he glances stupidly
at the hands of the clock
winding down minutes into seconds
like a waterwheel.
There must be something occurring
beyond all his imaginings.
Some ghostly wire
must have pulled him up
& left him hanging on a string…
The phone rings
& he knows the improbable
may yet happen.
Her heart slips & bounces
on an imaginary trampoline
& this wild, draining swing
leaves him huffing & puffing
even if he has been
a yogi meditating.
He let’s events flow through him,
as if he’s on a bullet train
& the figures outside vanishing
like leaves in the wind.
But a blur of a face
sticks to the glass window—
yet sadly so
because staying briefly like a rainbow.
Who’ll wait at station’s end?
The world’s dizzily
rumbling, rumbling, rumbling…

A Question of Language

Lenin had to change course,
see things in another light,
for Russia, after the Czar,
had turned for the worse
like a convulsive patient—
its medical bulletin
wouldn’t fit the trajectory of passion,
the world spinning out of reason.
Dreams had turned into nightmares
& he must rein in
the horses of destruction.
In Manila of the millennium
where fiery brats grapple
with hooded death squads
how should they rouse the sleeping
with the cabala of redemption?
Pompous bureaucrats
jeer & laugh at
their ancient jargons & resistance…
Shouting “Makibaka! Ibagsak!”
May be real
but are hollow calls to action,
barely kindling the prairie fire
that signals a revolution.”
The Katipunan war chant is dead.
The First Quarter Storm’s
are buried with the departed.
Yes, language must suit the times,
the situation.
“& must not speak” locutions
“borrowed from the past.”
O this generation
must let go of old warrior’s song
& reinvent the lyrics
to open Future’s door.
But how should the present
enter the new, rising world?

America, America

Her nurse visa
is on hold at the Embassy:
George Bush is fine tuning
the policy on immigrants
to protect domestic Americans
from illegal aliens
who do menial jobs
& keep America functioning.
She’s silently crestfallen.
She has always wanted
to help the family out…
& visit Disneyland.
But she’s got to cool it:
Manila has always been
the trusted imperial alley.
She traces her lineage
to Gen. Pantaleon Garcia
who served President Aguinaldo
in fighting Spaniards & Yankees
to whom eventually the Magdalos
& were rewarded
land & privilege in the Commonwealth .
In the hearts of generations
there is only food at the table
& carnal pleasure to remember ,
not history’s triumph & despair.
As in Elia Kazan’s movie,
she’ll probably kiss
the tarmac
once she makes it to a US airport.

Breaking Out

O To be young & in love!
As she was years ago
when she couldn’t hush
the onrushing waves
of her emotion,
for him
who was a stud in Converse shoes.
But Time is so devouringly cruel,
washing away into the sea
the spot of land
where true love’s rooted firmly.
So in the twinkling of an eye,
she found herself
disastrously falling out of love
& wishing she had cozied up
with another guy.
When daily life
was all summed up
by the constant drollery
of raising cash,
the mounting boredom
in the bedroom,
the ticking of the clock
to pull the night down…
Where would she flee
& find the mirthful solitude
of real intimacy
in a disinterested world?
She used to be so brazenly
playing the field
& shuffling her desires —
So there she was finally,
boarding a plane
& nervously eyeing the ticket
in her bag,
sighing: why life continuously surprises:
She meanders to wherever
her heart would feast on at first sight.

Revolving Door
(for Camille & Cora)

“Sir, I’m leaving now.
The text came down
like a karate chop
he had always tried to parry—
She’s off to Taipei
on a scholarship,
& it would be at the end of infinity
when she returns,
or whatever…
The night before
he saw off another woman
of sweet affection
take a cab for home
& he surmised
she too would be gone
for Bangkok soon.
They always come & go,
as though sucked in
& spat out
by Time’s revolving door.
is waiting at the airport
where the heart
stops & stutters
at every arrival & departure.
Even this poem
is a repetition
of Dante’s hell stations.


She flinches whenever
she looks in the mirror:
there is something to be desired
over here, over there
& with bated breath
she broods over the dance
where she’ll only end up
adorning the festival stand.
But there’s something
in her that wishes
to grace impulsively the affair:
the boy next door?
The lights & dance steps
that let her body
ascend the air…?
When the night drones on,
& the guys nary throw her
a glance,
she starts to wither inside
like a crushed edelweiss…
But someone yanks her
out of her stolid seat
like some God’s imperative…
O She’d never forget
that time
when she was young but undesired
& this cavalier of a fellow
made her traipse
a pathway to the stars.
But it was never to happen again
in her heart & mind
when she secretly smiled
at the nameless swain
who held her hands
as if she was all that mattered.


She hailed from the barrio,
& all the boys in the field
never gave her that second look:
Was she really a plain Jane,
or some ugly duckling?
At the Karaoke bar,
even the sleazy buns were last
to pick her up,
like dogs settling for crumbs…
It was enough for her
to slash her wrists
or OD on drugs
until she decided otherwise:
She’d set up some girls
& some silly enterprise.
It was a long, winding road
& now awash with cash,
she has all the time
to play the field
like a black spider
spinning her silken web.

The Real Deal

The truth is—
she’s tired of being poor.
She had dunked it
in his face
& he had stayed
frozen on his feet.
He’s a hardluck guy
vainful about his capabilities,
but unimaginative
& couldn’t pass beyond
his mediocre wage.
He had thought
love is all there it is to it
to keep marriage
on solid ground.
But she was damn right.
He couldn’t shove it
up her arse,
for the flesh hungers for
from the pauper flight.
She was hissing—
she’s damn too old
to suffer the lack of plenitude:
wouldn’t it be fair
if she’d splurge
in Vegas & Macau.
The body is meant for pleasure:
& life isn’t worth a living hell
of daily inexactitude.
“When you die, nobody cares.
Who’d think fidelity
is a just reward for Paradise?”
This Christian ethic
is all pure shit
& serves only the mentally decrepit.
O She’s tired of being poor!
A tale of all lovers
who dreamt when young
they, against all odds, had it all.

The Nun

He has almost
forgotten her—
by willful design
or circumstance—
this professor of humanities
who abandoned art,
aesthetics & possible lovers,
when she vanished
to zealously pursue
the Christian good.
Her work with the laity
was a virtual
global positioning system
that traced her to Mindanao
where compassion was a vocation.
Yes, she was a beauty
with her sleek dark glasses on
but her eyes must have,
beyond the amber lenses,
encompassed a vision.
Suddenly, she was snugged
in the convent’s solitude
to emerge decades later
like some familiar ghost.
She’s lost to another world.
She affirms the passion
of the multitude .
He denies the beatitudes
of this holified servitude.


Her expressionist strokes
were swift & strong
& the stallions galloping
across the frame
were pure action
of animal sinew
against the slowness
of light on the greens.
She was a weekend painter
of huge flowers
& ballerinas hiding the faces
at the barre;
& she’d stash away
her brushes & Grumbacher
in the closets
whenever her kids
come home from school.
But with a suppressed cry
in her choking voice,
she showed him once
a dark canvass
of a non-figurative work:
her obituary
that she would have liked
to grace her plot of earth
in a cemetery.
But her wish wouldn’t be granted:
her husband went ahead first
when he suffered
a massive stroke—
probably all his patients
over his reclusive death drive
must have finally run out—
leaving her for good.
She had been orphaned before
& so the nosedive
into the abyss
would hold her awe.
She has a new companion—
another loner—
but it’s all touch & go.

Nick Atienza’s “PaanoPo Kaya”: A Translation

How Will It Be

When you die?
Answer: More or less:
They’ll put you in a coffin.
Hold a vigil.
There will be tears. Laughter.
Praises. Insults,
There will be coffee. Bread.
Gambling on the side. Donations on glass.
Poems & Songs. (Maybe)
A number will say
it’s God’s will.

You will be buried. (Hopefully,
under the earth.)
Flowers will wither.
They will forget you.

Looking Back


The son never managed
a formal goodbye.
His father expired
before he could make it back
to the hospital.
They said he called for his mother
in his delirious moments.
He never complained about the pain:
he always kept everything to himself.
Looking back, the son could only marvel
at his guts that saw him through
life: poverty in childhood
his children couldn’t imagine
& the moderate comfort
that led him to his end.
His death was a gift:
Everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

After the burial, the mourners dispersed.


His mother’s funeral cortege
was short.
A sprinkling of old employees
& relatives
followed the bier to the cemetery.
A rich acquaintance
of her youth
sent P50:
her children wanted to send it back.
But the elders wanted
to let it pass:
his mother never wished ill
on anyone.

O the poor live & die unnoticed .
The world
doesn’t have a soft spot
in its heart
for the downtrodden.
It’s always been a biblical lie.

Ave Atque Vale
(for Lala)

She left for
London the other day
& texted her close friends
about it.
He just heard it from the grapevine.
There was nothing between them anyway
some memory of papers & tea.
Why should he feel low then?
He couldn’t explain to himself
why supper had suddenly
turned bland
& he couldn’t sleep
even if he was damn weary.


He always knew
she would leave:
Why is it so difficult
to see the Future on the sly?
There’s always sadness
when you open the Third Eye.

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