50 Sketches for November

The Young Killers


When at 14
they were rationed by the Gestapo
a bullet each
to plant inside the heads
of the herded Jews
to be buried in a mass grave,
they never reckoned
they would have to wait
for nearly a century
to tell the tale
to a priest turned journalist-
and be done
with their unsettled consciences.
But could they sleep better
in their stinking hovels
& die finally at peace
with the world
that has swiftly drifted by?
never sets one free.


The Old Killer


On his way to Hiroshima
Paul Tibbets was anxious
on how he would finish
the mission
without the usual glitches.
But when his mother’s namesake,
Enola Gay, finally disgorged
the atom bomb
right on target,
killing some 80,000
men, women, & children of the city,
he was pleasurably relieved
like some fishbone
was finally pulled out of his throat.
“They needed someone
who wouldn’t flinch,”
& he knew how tough he could be.
He slept “clearly every night,”
He was an obedient & loyal soldier
quick to follow orders.
He was puzzled
why people wouldn’t let him be.


The Middle-aged Killer


The colonel,
upgraded to the rank of general,
wouldn’t be distracted
by critics
that he’s responsible
for his area’s numerous deaths.
He knows how things are:
communists terrorize
& deserve to be punished.
He’s only pursuing the mission
to run them to the ground.
They loot & kill:
their crocodile tears
wouldn’t sway him away
from his resolve.
He’d meet fire with fire.
If they disappear from sight,
they must have done
it out of fear.


The Aftermath


The children who burnt
in the womb,
the old men & women
who crawled to their holes
in the ground,
the generations that lived
the terror in the bones,
the marked seeds
in the loins
that spawned monsters
in the crib
the silent howling
in the graves
& the flash of doomsday
that blinded the sun.
The military logic
to search & destroy
in the name of America
he would carry to the grave.
But would he know
what his grandchildren would say
once told the story of his wartime deed?
Only a devil
could lie on the bed of fire
& sleep so calmly, so innocently.


Ka Trina


The news was as fresh
as the cereal mix
served at the breakfast table
but he wouldn’t touch
the sunrise meal:
Ka Trina, 18, died
in a skirmish
with a local warlord
on the chessboard
of a green countryside
turned bloody red.
She could have been
an IT agent
raking in moolah
but she heard the distant
call of workers and peasants…
like Che Guevara,
she probably knew
cowards only killed a woman.




When will the young
who are not attuned
to the workings of defeat
& the praxis of despair
ever put a stop
to the slaughter of the innocent
by a clutch of Molochs
who rule the castle
like elderly angels?
When God
finally desists
from playing with helpless
pawns of the universe?
& He tires
of the deviltry of mankind?
& the people solemnly refuse
the daily carnage?


After Alain Joxe


But this century
doesn’t have the word
to define itself:
the Imperium of what?
The little wars for whom?
The frozen peace for everyone?
Poets are a loss
for lexicons to recount:
they have only scrounged around
for petty signifiers
of their personal ailments
to prescribe the malady of the times.
Yet they keep on performing
their glass poems
hoping to stumble on the exact
code to pin down
the everyday chaos?
But they’ve long closed their eyes
& nothing but themselves
would shatter like crystals.


A Rapper’s Prayer


The Manalo brothers
are not exactly victors:
he couldn’t believe,
cooped up in his cubicle
at the Faculty Center,
where discourses fly
like invisible angels
then dance on a pinhead.
academics are quick
to debate their number,
the story of their surreal abuse:
“beaten severely,
bathed in their own urine,
whipped with a chain,
water poured into their mouths,
made to eat rotten food…”
just to acquire information
for tactical use?
If they do not confess
to what the operators
prefer to hear,
why continue with the procedure
when pain is sharp enough
to drive one to the wall?
At angelus,
the victim & executioner
make the sign of the cross.
O what country?
What century is this?


The Faces of Evil


He has seen it
from the ground
& from the air
& therefore can understand
the configuration
of the global
& the particular.
Thus, when the neighbor
wailed about the burglary
that made off with his computer set,
he easily deduced
a foreknown knowledge
neither new nor old-
there is the constant plundering
by the government:
thus, autocrats
& state savants
both share the common bestiary
of eyeing each other’s loot.
When the King steals & lies,
the rest is bound to follow suit.
The rebel does not ride
a white, white horse
for his body is drenched with blood
in the name of brotherhood.
O we can only forgive,
like Bertolt Brecht,
the barbarians
who led us all to new lease on life
& provisional sainthood.


Growing Up


When the young lieutenant
said that her father
was in good hands
& they had merely invited him
for routine questioning,
a sudden chill
crept down Geraldine’s spine;
they had picked him up
in a town outside Tacloban
while campaigning for a non-combatant…
He had been ambushed before
by motorcycle-riding twosome
whose guns, as if by God’s grace,
got jammed…
He’s always talked
about human rights & like stuff
but what’s wrong with that?
She keeps her fingers crossed,
but she’s not prayerful.
These things happen frequently
in Leyte
& she’s no longer the child
ignorant of the ways of men.
Here, the young grow up
so quickly, so sadly.


The Circle


Hands clasped together
their hearts beating as one,
they initiate the meeting
with a prayer of forgiving-
then the first word to be uttered
is peace
to affirm the gathering:
the memory
of flesh stuck in fragments
among the rubble,
the portrait of a missing son
on the table
the stories of children
hogtied & thrown into the van,
all manner of departure
so violently foretold
that everything’s rotten
in the house of lords-
they must come together
at the common table
to bury in circular mounds of chants
the cries that shook
their little worlds…
In this circle of survivors
the dead are resurrected
from the vault of sorrow,
& in the final exorcism
are led back to the light
for the lives must carry on
with recharged expectations.


The Widow


It’s as if her fingers
were cut off
& throbbed with
phantom blood-
but reality stares her
in the face:
he’s no longer here
though he gets in the way-
in the pictures,
the cigar-holder, the cushions,
the vacant chair
at the head table…
They always persist
the man is here,
staying more than the hours
spent together in their old lives.
Yes, she doesn’t know
what the day opens or closes
& the infernal silence
troubles her like a ghostly violin;
that the culprit would
be locked up in jail,
but he looks so saintly
in his uniform!
But she’ll wait
until the final answer
& she’ll know what to do
with his golf clubs & old shoes.




When his telltale heart
betrayed the killers
that gouged it out
of his passion’s dark
he was still deemed
a liar, liar
by her who heard its beating
from the imagined bier-
even if this time
he couldn’t lie, even despair.




speaking before the television crowd
drops terms of endearment
like democracy & extremism-
but all politicians
talk the talk
about love of country, the poor & so forth
but never this secret greed
to hold on to the post.
It’s an old scenario
of martial law
yet monarchist Hobbes
wouldn’t even be consoled:
“If the sovereign
cannot protect his subjects,
the latter can withdraw
their citizen support…”
The country that burns
is delivered
into a prairie fire
stoked by a wind of lies.
In Manila,
it’s the same old story
of the times
& the general
merely parrots
the same tired lines.




When the general
proclaimed Martial Law
in the name of democracy-
de rigueur among self-proclaimed
man of the people-
it’s logical enough
that he would order the arrest
of thousands of militants
from all classes
& haul them off like cattle
into police vans
to ensure the restoration
of his rule,
thus, in the name of saving a life,
he had to slaughter
a number of guys,
an order sacral
to him & his cohorts
because they’re deep
in the very act
of committing murder
& couldn’t call it as such.


Vain Loser


She won’t let it ride,
having been disconcerted
by the sullen voice
that filters from his aging heart.
Years from now,
how will she remember him
who loved her so dearly
as if she’s
the most beautiful woman in the world?
When she’s finally done
with a lover
she thought she truly & strangely
Will there be some afterthought
she’d made a fatal move?
One always wakes up
on the wrong side of the bed.


The Jilted Lover


“But you are still a lucky guy,”
the patriarch smiles
at the ex-paramour
of her who fell like a ton of bricks
on the other guy.
She cared for you for sometime,
& even if she dropped you,
she shared your moments
& felt her body inside yours.
You were blind; you didn’t
know her too well.
But who does?
she’s focused on her own pleasure.
& if she tires of you-
so she did-
like anybody else,
that’s the Solomonic rule.
Soon enough, you’ll meet
one passion & another & another
until eventually
you’ll learn to lose the promise
of forever.


The Forbidden


She left in a huff
the roadside cafe
of his mind
when he uttered
the forbidden word
no more than
what a lovesick fool would
usually chatter.
O It’s the halloween
trick or treat
everyday of his life-
& he’s always left
holding an empty bag.
That’s the key, however,
to the literary
where everything cruel & undone
is passed off
as natural.


A Mode of Loving


Nothing is forever.
Everything blazes
like the multicolored patterns
of the kaleidoscope.
No one is beholden
to the singular truth.
& she, who was the apple
of his eye,
would take off with another guy
who quickened her beatific smile
& she’d be no traitor to the cause
of lovers who seize the moment
then go their separate ways.


The Fickle Promise


& she, who swore
to stand by his side
come hell or high water,
was never that woman
he deemed her to be.
As the globe turned
so did her words
& no one could monitor
the truancy of her oath
for the sheen expanse of finitude
would fail to assault
the consistency of her truth.


Unknown Bunny


Whoever claims
he knows her well
is a pedantic liar
bound to register
his own history
of deceit, dreams, beauty…
O never this particular object
who lived & perished
completely unknown
even by her branching
kin or lovers.
There is only the forked trail
of her presence
in the sheet, the boudoir,
the children’s cabinet
of junk encountered by
her roving eyes
to keep a certain permanence
of a casual tryst
like the cryptic message
in the cave-
Kilroy was here
(but was she really?)
None would really script
the petty trivia
on her seconds, her minutes
as she made her passage
in the unimaginable infinite.


The Unfinished


Anything that isn’t consummated
like a cup of coffee half-drunk,
a sheet of coupon bond
sticking out of a printer like a tongue,
a baseball cap dangling from the ceiling
makes life so difficult
to define-
which is exactly
why everyone presumes
that none knows
the real score.
We’re fools
balancing on a tripwire
& the quick passage
isn’t even worth
a psychic massage.




Why is it so damn futile
to sip coffee alone
& pretend a certain air of melancholy
has carried him here
where passerby smile
in tedious ceremony of sociality?
O How he wished
he were somewhere in a another planet
where people are visible as air
& sadness is a dirty word.




As per the order
of common wisdom
& logic of procedures
he had decided
to stick it out
with the woman of his heart:
But when she left for good
still he thought
of the original covenant
to long for her only
beyond all rational desires:
women come & women go
but they’re figures of apparition
that melt with rain & sun.
The real resides in only one
who goes beyond all meaning
of sadness & joy.
In the disorder of things,
when persistence is mistaken for love,
he cannot realize
this strange affection
is certified insanity
but for the communal decree
that makes him out a gentleman
for adhering to the rules of the tribe.


Shy Lover


The shy lover knows
something always holds him back
whenever the future of her
looks him squarely in the eyes.
Also, he isn’t a seer
who divines signs
but down deep inside, as songs go,
he feels there’s nothing more
to expect, nor desire
that crystal ball
could flare up for incandescent joy.
Too late indeed the lover
of her
who blips on his radar screen.
Fate, like his heartbeat,
has played tricks on her
& he cannot dare complain.
Like a dog,
tail between its legs,
he scampers out
of the imagined scene,
bushwhacked from behind.
Even tears
would be occasion
for knowing sneer & vulgar laughter.
Any sucker
who claims
love can be a one-way street
is fit for hanging.


November First


Until they become
molecules of air
we breathe like nothing,
only can we realize
how badly loves are done for
& we weep
too late
for the grieving.


The Fugitive


He thought
leaving would be just right
to keep his sanity intact.
With only his clothes
on his back
& cigarettes in his pocket,
he walked out of the house
& onto the jeepney stop.
Until eventually
he reached the end of the world:
here at the forest
heavy with the silence of years
he made his bed of foliage
to forget the women of his youth,
the stupid jobs,
the city where cats
were mercilessly crushed on the road
& lovers tore each other apart.
Did he finally see
the blueprint of his dreams
that never mattered to most?
Nights, it is said
outsiders would hear the muted howl
of a dog
that seemed to bay at the moon.
O Leaving never solved anything
but he no longer could turn back
he could only cross the river once.


History 101


Here lies everyone
whose total history
of his everyday life
no one would ever fathom,
even himself
who did his own living
because memory
is an arabesque of fragments
that burn like embers
in the hearth of the other?
Only his generation
would treasure specks of
remembrances of him,
& everything thereafter
would be lies
rarely uncontested
but by those sympathetic souls
who’d claim,
this is the subject, this is him
who performed ha-ha!
certain acts of roguery
& endearment.
But remembering stops with them.
His everyday history
is a layer of earth
that sifts in the template
existing & forgetting.




Two old maids
at the neighborhood bakery
have retired-
the first is busy
with her backyard pigs;
the other reports occasionally
to savor perhaps
days empty of the visual
mercantile crap.
Soon, you’ll hear of them
in some tabloid obit.
if their nieces
would insist
to pay them back
for the bounty of the store
they have inherited.
You wonder
if their life’s hell itself,
when vanishing
into a muggy evening,
is perfect citizenship.
Did they ever rage
at the dull, Hobbesian state
of everyday affair?
Did they know
any liberative alternatives
outside the church on Sunday?
It would have been
out of the ordinary
& therefore universally just
if the two prunes
grabbed a gun
& shot down
some politician
for the tokenness of their lives.
But many an observer
wouldn’t, see the same connection
between personal malaise
& pompous Presidential valets.


Loner One


Aling Tindeng
lived by her lonesome
in a shack
on Elbo Street,
tending to her small store
of bananas & liquor
for bums
who idled awry the hours
when the moon took over the sky.
An orphan
she caught with his hands
in the cookie jar
she had locked up
at the municipal jail,
who lost thereafter
his innocence in Palawan Penal
for the truant act
she wouldn’t forgive.
She subsequently died
years later,
never ruing
how her sense of justice
never served anyone
but her anger
at her own desolate sadness
because the townspeople never cared
for anyone
but themselves.


Loner Two


Aling Kuroy,
small & bent,
would fry banana fritters
for merienda
every three o’clock
on the dot.
She barely could walk
or see
but struggled on
to earn her daily keep.
She died just the same
& no relatives
to her burial attended.
Thus in this manner;
she had lived her life
on earth
like a stone
people walked on
as if in the infinitude
of the cosmos
she was just any particle of atom.
She never went to church-
that could be her signal statement
that all prayers
were meant to save no one
and signify nothing.


Last Poem


There is no end in sight
for the writing
of last poem
after last poems.
Even if the sullen poet
has promised to end the senseless
twisting of the heart
like a handkerchief wrung dry,
the world doggedly spins
& flashes kaleidoscopic
pictures of desire-
no end to the turning
of the carousel
that dazzles the child
with horses after horses
circling in & circling out.
The first word
is always the last
ad infinitum.
Hardly a break in the production line
because time keeps
grinding on
& if he suddenly stops,
he has to die
& he won’t be able to really
write down the very last poem
in his series of last poems.


Gray November


The candle at the garage
flickers at the tongue of air
that licks at it endlessly.
It could be the dead
announcing their claim
to a presence
barely felt
because children,
once on their own,
never really come back home.
It’s all ceremony
to pick the flowers for the grave.
The departed left a trail of guilt
but they never did matter,
& so would the bereaved
surely suffer
as their own spawns
open the doors
to board the planes to nowhere.
Tit for tat:
that’s the draconian rule
of generations.
We’re all left
embracing ourselves at the airport
like goats foraging
for grass
in a desolate junkyard.




& if we read
the common book of prayer,
is it for show?
The dead won’t hear
of our silly requests
nor the petty misfortunes
time has wrought upon our heads.
They in their lifetime
suffered as much…
Compassion for the living?
They aren’t bound to give a damn.
The bereaved don’t care
about each other-
why should spirits dare
repair things out of order?
& so thus forewarned
that prayers barely heal
the gaping wounds of memory
we must still insist
to pray
like gamblers
who throw the dice
to survive another casino day.
God, after all, must prevail.




He had always wanted
to be a woman,
have the body of one,
fervently desired by men.
But people swore it
unwise, evil, lewd
a flouting of the cosmic laws
& he must make do
with what he’d been gifted
from the beginning in the womb.
But he knew with madding certainty
the community of eunuchs
would welcome her
into the bosom of sisterhood
as if she must challenge the void,
she’s different
& everything that signifies
a different pleasure & definition.
Yes, she could only fear
the creeping old age
when men would avoid
her like a plague
& she would live
all by her lonesome
on the dark side of the street.
How she wished
God indeed were merciful
& would balance being & self
according to the golden rule.


Animal Paradiso


He must be one
already with the earth,
& the wind that circles
over his grave
whispers to our ears
some solitary howls
of muted pain
sudden was the manner of
his leaving.
He must be snoozing around
playfully in animal heaven
where human indifference
is reserved for children.
(As once a kitten,
he strayed into the house
& blessed it with
his presence.)
The human world
is bereft of soul:
this four-footed creatures
only knew too well.


Nutty Professor


Sam Shuster,
dermatologist at
University of East Anglia,
offers medical proof
for Karl Marx’s dialectics
of class struggle:
he suffered from a “chronic
skin disease
that reduced his self-esteem,”
thus underlining his “self-loathing
& alienation” in his writings.
So the crazy guy
at the Writing Center
believes the academic voodoo
& reasons out his creative intransigence
is a foreboding
of asthmatic attacks
& worse a clear case of dandruff
enabling him
to view the decimal roots
of Gogol’s Russian Depths.
The aesthetically tragic
is actually the other side,
he intones,
of the outrageously comic.


Once upon a Future


The door is now wide open
for the beloved athlete
has worn out
the welcome mat.
Words have been fired
like loose guns
that sparked a rumble
on Coliseum side.
They know they have to put a stop
to this way of seeing things
both ways.
He has done his duty
& so have they
with their soulful idolatry,
But love isn’t forever.
& Time has fickle memory:
Years from now,
when hands have turned to stone,
the city of angels
will have lost sight
& remembrance of Kobe Bryant.


Poetry Reading


In a well-lighted room
jampacked by well-groomed ladies
& perfumed hiphops
of tribal saloons,
they read their poems-
archangels of the modern muse-
about the heart’s uncertainties
& crystal warriors who’ve
taken back the night-
their voices silky
like hands smoothing
the rough edges
of others’ air-conditioned malaise.
But do they hear-
while they close their eyes
in soporific trance-
the bellow of dinosaurs
in military fatigue
at the gates?
In the muffled din of tertulia,
do they catch the distant cries
of children hogtied
& pummeled with rifles
in the van?
Their poems flicker
like candles in the wind
outside the turbulent hall.




They bought chocolate mousse,
noodles for long life
& phone in hand
informed their kid in Singapore
they’re toasting her day.
She went out to the Hariraya
festival on an Indian invite
to keep away the blues
of celebrating her birth
in a distant country
for the land of her kinfolks
could only offer
pittance for the desperate poor.
She whose mother
would be rattled by a teenyweeny
mosquito bite on her arms,
is thousands of miles away
fending for herself
& hopping across strange continents-
no longer the toddler
who must be held
lest she falls down the stairs.
Would they recognize themselves-
the parents & the child-
in the mirror?
Like cats sniffing each other’s nose
then be gripped by time’s terror
that gives cold comfort.


The Photographer


He knew he’d waste
a lot of footage
for that specific moment-
like say the way his face
would be framed by the
flickering light from the matchstick
cupped by his hands-
of despair & nonchalance,
the masks he puts on
whenever he drops by Oz
where the air is languorous
with the silly talk
of the young out to change the world.
Yes, a chance encounter
bought him a bottle of C2
anti-oxidant she laughed,
& he was thankful for the gesture
that exploded like an atom bomb
in his mind
because in a world of accidental pleasure,
it broke his heart.
The photographer would keep on
shooting for this moment,
but images without & images within
are always like his heart out of sync.




His parents doted on him
professing he was precocious, original.
He could sum up “in a single bound”
coming up with solutions
that cut through the morass
of the human heart.
He was logical,
& puzzled by the convoluted rationale
of people
who averred this or that
because weren’t acts
so damn easy to fathom
& masks could be pried off
existential condition?
He was, they sneered,
an opinionated brat,
but he’d stand his ground
that X’s & Y’s of passionate affairs
could be reduced to quantifiable integers.
But in his old age
he would secretly confess
to no one in particular,
like a drunk slobbering in the park,
that he’s through with being precise
& decisively brilliant:
he just couldn’t keep up
with the ambiguous clarity of life
more so with good & evil
devilishly intertwined.
He was quick to judgment then
like any young man
of his green, green time-
But speed was an illusion
if the hearts,
heavy with premonition of error & disaster,
steered clear of dialogic powwow.


The Psychic


It’s not a failure
of reason, he says
while puffing on his pipe
like Sherlock Holmes,
when the police
employ psychics
to help them solve a crime.
Logic is a big system
yet to be absolutely formulated:
the infrastructure
of putting two & two together
is itself a mode of resolving things
according to the technology of the mind…
In the time of Galileo
who would figure out
Leibnitz calculus?
So saying, he asserts
that religious fervor
is a mockery of the divine
for cosmic energy
that attends the living
leaves traces of itself
in the opened eyes.


Front Page


Manette would skip classes
because there was no money to spare.
All she had wanted,
in a diary tucked under her pillow,
was “a bike,. a bag,
& jobs for her father
who’s in & out of work
& mother
who barely earns from a noodle factory
& laundrywash.”
She had wished a TV network
would read her requests…
Christmas “was getting near.”
But there was this nylon rope
& her dreams didn’t seem to matter.
Life would hardly change, if at all.
At 11, she was too young
to think of death…
The Palace said however
it was an isolated case
& the government wasn’t worried:
this wouldn’t be an epidemic.
It never crossed her mind
to write to the Cardinal:
after all, divine intervention
is hard to come by.
The church finally blessed
her departure
without failing to admonish however
the laity
she’s less a model
of faith & hope.


Breaking News: One


The cargo truck driver
insisted the light had flashed
so he stepped on the gas
to cross to the other side
crashing into the Hi-Ace Grandia
of the former solon
whose controversial view
is heavy with wit
that twitted pompous state legalese.
Yes, it should never have happened
to a nicer guy
but all logical explanation
is on hold
& wouldn’t answer why
mortals’ equation falls short
of prophetic precision.
There’s always something suspicious
when an accident
involves people who justly contravene
state extrapolations
& extrajudicial executions.
How would philosophy cope
with the passing of his comrade
in a nest
that suddenly turned desolately empty?
Always the future’s specificities
no discourse could foresee.


Breaking News: Two


He’s stable
his doctors assure
those who wait outside the ward.
But he’s not aware
dear Dulce-
loyal companion
through the widening circles
of inferno-
has passed on.
What’s there to do?
clinically quick to declare
bodily ague-
will they break the news
to one struggling to survive
blood clots in the head
& fractured ribs?
O Family & friends
are burdened by the truth
on life’s onus of verities.
He’s tough, they say,
but how long could he put on
that equipoise of a face
for her who wasn’t miraculously spared?
She who is his soulful crutch?
Yes, Quasimodo
could only lament
the ray of an orange sun
that pierces lovers
before it finally bursts
into evening.




What’s a man’s worth
on the world’s stage:
a flop or a box-office hit?
He could be a bum
espousing issues
that boggle parochial minds?
Or a principled player
in the chess game of wiles
that prescribes however
obedience & singular style?
How do you weigh him
on the scale of justice
if history is never blindfolded?
Count the number of the wretched
he has snatched from Death’s grip
or the foes he has made
in pursuit of priestly whip?
If the character lists
to whichever side
he must be cut to size:
angel or mordant parasite?
O his lover fakes orgasm,
or the real deal of a stud?
Shall we like the virgins
wait for Christ
to affirm salvation
when judgment
is hopelessly earth-bound?
When do we say
he’s alright
he never wandered out of sight?
Or was he purely a cad
who sought pleasure
in money, klieg lights & personal crap?
But he whose human kindness
slices through the verbiage
& personal stuff
is the heroic fool who beats the rule.

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