Letter to Toni, Class Reunion, Recidivist

1.

Letter to Toni

Poet A. E. Stallings thinks “of so many poets who wrote, in spite of a lack of readership, letters to a world that never wrote to them.”

This may be one of them.

I remember you, who would drop a line or two on occasions (actually, a memorabilia of books, & shirt & postcards) through the hiatus of years: at first, as a junior wanting to surmount the intricacies of poetry, short story; then, as an econ scholar at National University in Australia pissed at some male chauvinist & racist who would lift from your stuff; finally as a prospective wife at Watson, ACT down under.

& I couldn’t help being self-nominatedly prophetic that I did expect such grace, like anticipating the trump card in another player’s hand. Even when you failed to touch base in that traumatic season your Sir Nic was lying comatose in a hospital bed, never to wake up against all hope & see you marching down the aisle.

Yes, I had reckoned your silence was, like most women before you, sweetly predictable – you were dizzily in love. & our world at the other side of the river didn’t seem to matter at all.

Yes, Sir Nic, who would crack how lovely you were in your last visit & if he could only marry you, his voice trailing off into a quick laughter & mock despair: but he would have been happy for you, hoping that you had chosen well. & intelligently so, though the heart falters now & then.

Yes, there are a million things to remember. A gift of words is sorely needed for such an enterprise into a domain of past enchantment.

Soon, you will vanish – heaven forbid – from our lives (just like Nic who left us without formally bidding goodbye) despite ourselves & all the prayers that time & distance are not that cold, merciless.

But a grim diasporic fate always awaits us in this age, who are leaves tossed about by the tempestuous wind of history – & time.

Your wedding invitation, which speaks well of your lightness, irreverence, humor & rare loyalty, is iconic of what you have been for us: a greenhorn who turned friend who turned central figure in our memory, pivot in the axis of forgetting & remembering.

2.

Class Reunion

A.

She was alone
waiting
at SM Starbucks,
early bird
among the lovable buzzards
who gathered
to see a widow
off to homey US.
She was
of course the vintage T
at the merienda party,
cracking jokes
at her own expense
for her tedious loyalty
to a military colonel
of a husband
who suffered a massive
stroke
twelve years ago
& counting;
& had been bedridden
since,
with her,
the ever dutiful lover,
as the persevering caregiver
who herself
had just recovered
from cervical cancer.
Such cojones!
& she would even marvel
why some women
would marry off
as if in haste
when their spouses
had not yet
given up the ghost…
She never could
fathom modernist
fashion & relations,
even herself
who scorches & awes
with her fiery
devotion…
& she who has never
picked up on her radar
suicidal poets & Sartre
teaches us
to rage against
the shadow of the light.

B.

& single-mindedly
the pensioners
hotfooted it
to a bingo party
on a free access card,
compliment of R.,
a Chinese classmate
who has turned
into pure Chinoiserie
in year 2008.
They must gigglingly
seek the comfort
of the humid night
at gaming tables
& confront early morning
like coffee
freshly brewed.
No way
the gang won’t party:
life is brief,
a candle
that must burn
to the very end
of its flickering wick.

C.

Of course,
they laughed at how
their recent
digital shots
made them look
so greasy, so fat
unlike in their
faded graduation
photos of the ’60s
that reminded them
how impossible
it was then
to see their future
of widening girth
& slabs of flesh
like unfurled sails
under their arms,
shadows of the dumpy
toothless mothers
they must have
dreaded in their prime.
But humor
cures all disconsolation
of letting go –
& never was there
a bunch of merrier crones
who wouldn’t give
a hoot
even if young studs
wouldn’t give them
a second look.
Okay, okay,
that still hurts,
but they tend
to brush it off
like some pestiferous fly:
they wouldn’t care
anymore,
nor brood that
something was
irrevocably lost.
C’est la vie!

D.

She has kept
her figure
even after five kids,
who look like her sisters,
they claim.
This,
they never confess
to anyway,
is for sheer discipline
& living clean,
well –
O unlike their
fellow matrons
in provincial lairs
whom he failed
to recognize
as if they all
descended from hell:
But, he knows
the wherefores of aging –
they have lived
sorrowful,
impoverished lives
(which they didn’t
know anyway
as sorrowful,
impoverished)
& the class divide
has never been so real,
so defined.

E.

Seated at the small
round table,
among old mates
bantering about things
he had never dreamt
did really happen –
that guy
was secretly married
at such an age?
S. uttered profanities
under his breath
the girls mistook
for “May I have the dance?”
S., who had the hots
for her to this day,
though toothless,
still couldn’t pry his eyes
off her bod? –
& in the midst
of tiresome mirth,
in a crowd of
exhausted shoppers,
she texted him
as if smilingly,
& inquiring “How has he been?”
Who was suddenly
at a loss for words
like a lizard stunned…
It was she
from the future
who pinned him down
to the past
that blasts
desires.

F.

There will never be
an end to stories
of small-town idlers
in this forsaken history:
most have lived & died
like their names were
etched in stones of obscurity…
Petty stragglers
of a petty-bourgeois life,
petty criminals
or petty saints
who fleet on the stage
& expire.
None has ever flirted
with the ism that signifies
the blue, blue hills,
the forbidden.
Virtually all have
flourished in city junkyards
to become mafioso bosses
like presidential guards.
Indeed, the school
has turned out kids
according to the national script
of being fodder for the ruling
bums.
O Never was there
an apparatus
that proved quite astutely
that the bitter pill
of bondage
could be slipped down
the throats of the masses
with spoonful of electoral sugar
& Horatio’s Alger yarn.

G.

The class doctor
exudes class
but tries to hide it
by being one of the guys:
widowed
& surviving an illness,
she carries
her girlish laughter
like the embrace of fresh air –
surely, distinct
from the classic bete noir
now a judge at city hall…
She’s big deal,
not for her born intelligence
but old-boys connection
that pushed her up
the bureaucratic ladder.
But she would leave
childhood friends
for a dance
with DIs
& a new circle
of influence peddlers:
O never a time to spare
for old chums
who would drop in
unannounced…
Even if shortlisted
by her secretary
privy to her mood,
insouciance…
Once, in elementary days
she splattered her shit
all over her seat
& the foul smell
must have lingered
deep in her mind
all her life to exact revenge
on those tots
who innocently guffawed…
Now, in her senior years,
the humiliation
still burns,
has scarified:
she will forever avoid
the wild bunch like a plague:
O she firmly believes
her august credentials –
but on campus
once upon a time
she never was a force
in classroom dialogue
sinking in a corner
to duck questions
like bullets
whizzing by her side.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
The jive is hotly
circulated
in a small town
where she has
suddenly
turned small fry.

H.

When the party’s over
& she hurries home
on board a taxicab,
she opens the gate
& finally the heavy door
that rustily whines
like her waiting cat
that jumps off the chair,
purring at her return,
she must have mused
with a catch in her throat
that, like everything else,
fun, terminable & light,
wears off like the sun
& she must go back
to her drawing board:
attend to him on the sick bed,
who sleeps the sleep
of the just & the damned.
O To be young & in love!
But it only happens once
& she is not one to question
the mystery of fate & heart…
She takes off her dress
& eases into the folds
of her body’s zone,
a strange glint in her eyes,
this long-distance swimmer
in the river of time.

3.
Recidivist

They smirk when he says –
jaws clenching to stress
a pointless point,
hand cupping his chin
while waiting for the tea to cool off –
he’s no skirt-chaser
they bandy about behind his back.
But they knowingly smile,
as if at someone
who has been caught
dipping his fingers
in the cookie jar.
He, after all,
is a recidivist
who artfully covers up his lies…
& silence, like Christ’s,
isn’t worth its weight in gold.
But how can he?
He & he alone is privy
to this dreamlike passion
for her,
who takes on infinite masks,
in a crowd –
ever the elusive Real
that congeals like
love’s spectre
in his Icarus eyes.

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