Sob Stories for January

1.
Youssif

He whines like a kitten
as he is wheeled
into the operating room
to repair his ravaged face
wrought by the war
between American Marines
& Iraqi insurgents.
His mother can only
lean his forehead
against the door
as if gasping for breath.
She is virtually hurting
as the surgeons
turn up his flesh
& repair the damaged nerves
that will make him
smile again.
Sure, he’s doing better now,
assures the chief doctor…
But how long must she suffer
her child’s whimper
as he enters
the room of tubes & knives?
& his father who pounded
the dangerous streets
of Baghdad for help?
He stays outside the ward
praying like a fool.
Youssif’s voice
is a dagger
twisting in their hearts,
turning and turning like a corkscrew
in their minds…

2.
OFW

They swagger, laugh
exchange nervous giggles
at the sight of themselves
in freshly ironed clothes
& cheap shoes.
When finally
they’re cleared at customs
& handed back their passports,
the world seems
to suddenly spin:
inside the air-conditioned plane
the hum of jet engines
hushes them
like pre-schoolers,
their hearts shooting up
their throats,
stuck like chicken bones.
They awkwardly buckle up,
seeking comfort
in each other’s rural eyes:
O how they secretly mumble
a prayer
that they be all right:
they could be leaving,
after all,
they country of their birth
for the first
& last time.

3.
Manong Rogelio

The news was late
but nonetheless expected:
his manong,
the improvising jeep mechanic,
had died
in some godforsaken house
in Novaliches
where people of his kind
live, expire.
He’d be buried
in a pitiful hole
dug up at the Tala Leprosarium,
where a niece worked,
to save expenses
for his kids were workers
on contractual wage:
always a cheap rite
for the poor & nondescript.
He had fled to the city
to be with a fugitive child
who absconded with
her office’s money:
what could a father do otherwise?
He might as well have
lived in a prison house,
for they had to subsist
on virtual charity.
Would he have been better off
cooped up in a cell
in the penitentiary?

4.
Julien Gracq

He didn’t have any use
egowise
for the Goncourt Prize:
his privacy
was a rare gem
guarded from public eyes…
What strange alchemy
for a writer who pursued
the Word
that feeds off the world.
Through language
everyone intrudes –
no one is safe
from the flying missiles
of a dialogue!
His truths
were pigeons let out
of the cage:
But when he closed the door
after him,
he kept to himself
as if nothing really mattered at all.

5.
The Future

They dutifully sit
in rows of classroom seats,
taking down notes
as if the future
wouldn’t be possible
without
pedagogic wit…
O grossly they’re misinformed!
The horizon has ebbed away
a thousand miles offshore,
their time already squandered
by corporate patriarchs
who have parlayed the present
into hoards of cheap gold:
The polar ice
melts
for water to rise
& animals & children
to flee up the mountainside
as islands shrink to
thumb size.
The young shall inherit
dust in the wind
& the dying cries in the wild.

6.
Resolutions

The heavens never opened
to their prayers
of last year –
but they’re at it again,
feverishly uttering
their mortal pleas
for the celestial gift
to come their way –
a prodigal son
to see his way back home;
a sick child to be cured;
all hearts be lightened
of their unbearable load
but the silence of the cross
remains unfathomable,
stone-cold.
& they shall return
like blind seafarers
at the end of the year
still thankful of Yahweh
for making the ocean navigable –
& recount secretly
to the invisible angels
their same, old story.

7.
Work

Memory plays tricks
on everyone.
Even the name of the site
has escaped the Chair
where the Party was founded –
there in Dulacac, Pangasinan
that hasn’t changed a bit
since 1968,
where the first batch
trickled in like early Christmas
at the catacombs.
A number have since perished:
a look-out fell off a tree,
an original died in an encounter
another executed on campus,
the leader himself
has gone on exile,
haunted by state assassins…
But the work continues,
an automachine
running on its own.

8.
Escape

The Siberian tiger
had escaped from a pen
in San Francisco Zoo
mangling to death
one, injuring three others
who tarried around
in the compound.
They had it caged up
yet mercilessly shot it dead
when it made a dash
for freedom…
O how
lowly animals prove
the strange logic
humans countenance
as index
of superior erudition!

9.
Final Tribute

A.

There were childhood chums
who found their fortunes
in different callings;
Comrades
who shared his stories
& underground secrets
of torture & imprisonment;
old folks
who bore the brunt
of collective despair
– & how it showed
on their gaunt faces!
Students
whose eyes lit up
at the mention of his name:
they all came
to throw flowers at his grave…
& looking back in sadness,
I walked down the dim corridor,
past the notes of his closed door
because no one
would be there anymore
that wouldn’t need
the laying of the predicate:
about the cruel times
of lost children & assassins,
the quirk of solitary lovers
& the unceasing grief,
& most,
the rising crimson on the horizon
we didn’t have
to talk about
because long had we secretly
digressed
the parabola of quicksilver history.

(Final Tribute)
B.

Leading the noon march
was an aging man
with a red flag
to bear witness
to the nature of the hearse.
He must have loved
the dead so deeply
to risk opprobrium
from his kind
whose roots
served the dictator dearly.
The motley crew
was a gathering of
bohemians & revolutionaries
whose silent resistance
still flowed in their veins,
but rechanneled
to accommodate life’s
exigencies:
a family to nurture,
conjunctural ideas to negotiate,
bodily diseases
that wracked their hopes & fears…
Yet at this signal hour,
they congregated
as if brought by a common passion
for this man
who lived in the shadows
but the devilish light
exposed his angelic state.

10.
Rogue

Christianity
drowns his heart
in a pool of guilt:
every act of kindness
is cause for fear
of having transgressed something –
every desire demands
some retribution;
every act of contrition
allows a savage
negotiation:
Having known the realm
of shadows
where no executioner rules
he now insists
he cares for no one
anymore,
even when passion
for her
chokes his throat
like a bone:
O he has never felt better since,
even when she called –
She who made
him suffer in ecstasy & pain
for always the summing up
would be zero, nothing –
the phone didn’t bother to ring
a message
that he had left town
for good.

11.
Bhutto

A.

Feminists
thought she didn’t pursue
the emancipation issue
far enough
& when she fell twice
on corruption charges,
they were disheartened,
almost wrathful,
for squandering time
for women
to cut clean
from tribal hierarchs.
When an assassin’s bullet
opened a hole in her
swan-like neck
for blood to gush out
& soak the cushion
of her armored van,
they were speechless…
Then the eerie wailing erupted:
she was after all
their own
& could have rectified
the past.
Benazir,
the aristocrat
masses look up to
for liberation,
24 hours later,
would be burried
in the family mauseleum
& the country
would burn
in the tempest
of equatorial sun.

B.

The reports
were conflictive:
a concussion,
a bullet in the neck,
shrapnel
from bomb blast…
One thing was sure:
the police had blocked
the autopsy,
to befuddle
the curious crowd
for a regime
that couldn’t wash
the blood off
its hands.
The grieving would take
offense:
burn cars,
ransack banks,
anything they
could vent their anger on
except to start
a real revolution
in the classic form.
O how they wished
that would occur
but they would
eventually negotiate
through elections
& forget, as if
the damn thing
didn’t happen at all.

12.
Astrology

They’re at it again:
envisioning the spin
of the world
in the alignment of planets,
with old, musty readings
of ancestral seers
who divided the future
into houses
of luck & misfortune.
But they reveal
what had repeatedly happened
thousands of years ago,
as if nothing in the
crystal ball
could change its course…
How long must
charlatans
play off our joys & fears?
The blind
lead the herded fools…
O it’s not the stars
but of the inhuman few
who make life
so difficult.

13.
The Primates

& they made noise
to drive bad spirits
away:
firecrackers & horns,
rat figurines & round fruits
to assure all
that misfortune
would stay off the door.
But in this age of cybernetics
& mathematical truths
why mimic
the savagery of the ancient
who sacrificed
women & children
to pry the lid off
chaos of the world?
O Nothing has changed at all
since primates
pranced & shrieked
at the volcanic thunder
that echoed in the shadows.

14.
Posterity

Someone
is always missed
& missing
at the banquet table:
a silent
but tearless moment
would be offered
in the prayer room
of the mind
before carousing
into the long hours
of sad merriment:
a terrible portent
for those
who would suffer
the same consequence
of being absent.
Life must go on.
Is it bad luck
to dwell
on those who are no longer
around?

15.
Save the Beasts

A.

They lit piccolo
to scare
the demons of misfortune
off their doors,
little knowing
they themselves are
beasts
who make gentle animals
scamper from the sound
& fury
of gunpowder,
howl
& whimper
in little, dark corners
because civilized barbarians
are hunted
by ghosts
of their own imaginings.

B.

The kids
in exclusive villages
are having a great time
target shooting
with their soft air guns
helpless cats.
(Their parents
smile indulgently)
When they grow up
& turn experts
at handling magnums
& shoot civilians
from the lower side
of town,
their parents will smile again
indulgently:
They know it can’t be helped –
they belong
to the superior warrior race.

16.
A.
Amnesia

There is little left
of memory
drawn from last year,
& nothing almost of it
to carry him next:
What he did
the season’s past
never really matters:
tortured by time,
he is prey to forgetting
& committing again
what he has promised
to rectify
the start of the year.

B.
The Morning After

The morning after
the uneasy night
of revelry,
his body
is a ton of bricks
he has to lift up
the warm bed.
He opens the window
& is almost drowned
in the gust of early day
& toxic gas.
The year, like any other,
is already old
& forebodes
of planetary death
before it could be born.
Messages
have piled up,
all hoping
things would be ok,
except his nervous intimations
that friends & foes
are fair game
for destruction & slow decay.
Happiness
is a moment’s reprieve
from the grinding of the wheel
which runs over all.
But fool that he is,
a smiley on her text
pumps blood
into his pallied face.

C.
Hour

At zero hour,
the confetti
rains down
fireworks sizzle
in the night sky
to trigger
an automatic
raising of the blood –
it must be
the sentiments
of how the old
& all its pains
& joys
comingled
to become what
was it that defined
the year past:
everything & nothing
to remember
& forget
because the world
keeps on turning
even if you,
passion of my heart,
put it on hold!

D.
Proscription

At the roadside café
where they sentimentally met,
all struggled in
like stray dogs,
somewhat dazed
as if from jet lag,
but each bubbling
how events of past
few days
were funny, absurd,
incredible & sad,
like any story in history…
Nothing had really happened
that had not happened before
except the new list
of friends or foes,
passions discarded
& recovered,
everything that occurred
& couldn’t be forestalled.

E.
Blitz

He volunteers
without a sense of rancour
about women
who texted him so dearly
but having run off
with fancy dudes,
now shutting off their celfones
to devote their time
exclusively to their folly –
something he expects
without rancour
as most naturally ordinary
in the generation
of priorities & specie
when time
is most naturally loyal
to moment’s temporality.
as foretold,
in the repetition of human history
like a leaf that falls to the ground,
brown, then yellow,
eventually white vanishing in memory.

17.
Sob Story

A.

When as a child
he was ushered
into an anteroom
so huge in his young eyes
the masseuse
hoved into view
with a quaint smile:
the rich neighbor
was kind enough
to heal his broken bones
& laid him
on a hard narra bench –
& that was all
he could recall:
the pressure of her big hands
on his chest
& the nervous apologies
of his mother
who kept to her
side of the line.
But the enormous space
strangely comforted him
for they echoed
with silences of the dark.
Yes, he could spend
the whole afternoon
in that enormous sanctum
as if the games of children
outside the muddy ground
were things he could do without…
O But theirs
is a rabbit hutch.

B.

When the grandchild
lost her way
in the labyrinth of doors,
he was startled
how fair & beautiful
a mortal she was,
but somewhat out of place
in the district
of the working class.
Her smile lingered
like a star in the night sky,
almost a portentous curse…
She would one day
leave the ancestral house
for the distant city,
& how like a truant
he kicked the pebbles by the sea!
Madly, madly
he would see her
in every face encountered,
but time only happens once,
never twice
& his heart would turn spastic
at the happenstance:
the lack is forever like lust;
she is a never, the primordial
upper crust.

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