October Pathos

An Urgent Matter

When Gelacio Guillermo gave me a print-out of the blog of a certain Eugene Gloria, whom he said was a much awarded Fil-Am poet in Chicago (a “virtuoso,” an admirer wrote), I was puzzled & amused by the left-handed spiel of the guy who would “not apologize for the poem [“To Gelacio Guillermo in Iowa City”], but only for misspelling your name.” He reasons out “poetry,” after all, “is not journalism nor is it meant to be taken as memoir or biography,” being “clearly a work of fiction.”

In the fashion of a formalist aesthete that reminds one of a smug Villa reclining on the couch on a Free Press cover in the ’60s, he offers mockingly peace: “As a poet (and I hope you can empathize since you are a poet yourself) my allegiance is only to the poem.”

(If Gelacio does not play along, it’s his own look-out.)

Gloria however admits Gelacio is the persona in the poem he playfully “fictionalized” as having renounced the revolution, even pursuing his fantasy (historization as his own creative permutation, much like God would invent the cosmos according to his whim) that the guy “joined the CPP-NPA forces in the guerilla fronts,” when in fact, according to Guillermo, the “idea did not yet exist, there was enough movement work to keep me in Manila, at the same time trying to help my family survive the most difficult years of martial law.”

But Gloria wouldn’t hear of that, preferring his historical invention culled from “snippets of stories I pried together from friends at UP – not about you exactly but based on the other poets who traveled to Iowa or at the prestigious Bellagio Residency in Italy.”

(In brief, his allegiance is to himself, not to factualized history.)

Gelacio had become both his idol & bete noir, an iconic index of all writers who have had cosmopolitan exposure/connection but who eventually tired of singing commitment blues, betrayed the revolution, which Guillermo protested “as nothing more preposterous, although for some former revolutionaries who did/do renounce, their betrayal can be rewarding.”

Gloria must be running around with a writerly hood given to pursuit of radical chic & grants that would spark their prodigious explosion in the American market.

Gloria had probably in mind his fellow workshoppers who would spike their texts with ethnic Filipino exoticism & filiation that would allow minority discourse researchers to put them under their radar, so to speak.

Is this the imperative of Fil-Am writing? Making use of tribal ethos & valorizing the drift toward the counterrevolutionary? Identification & skin color are not enough for one to speak on behalf of a country that simply serves as reference point.

Gelacio a virtual apostate?

Gloria wouldn’t apologize for his infantile gaffe. He thinks he’s self-sufficient, in the name of art, with a capital A.

He doesn’t get it.

October in Manila

“October in Manila” is a most celebratory line by Nick Joaquin, which also underwrites his essay on “La Naval” that gained him acclamation from religious, middleclass readers of literature. The lauding of the miracle, done in a hispanically ornate flourish of Joaquin in English, would also be symptomatic of his approach to history, for he implied that the Dutch defeat had saved the archipelago from another colonizer – somewhat suppressing the thematics that Spanish colonization was a blessed one. Some cynics would however quip that it would have been a fate better than the slave’s anxiety: Manila would have been spared the monsoon flood, given the Dutch expertise in dike engineering. (Ha-ha.)

It is not bizarre nor surprising that Joaquin as historian would find Bonifacio a hot-headed rascal who failed miserably to unite the Katipunan factions (he was arrogant, couldn’t hack the ilustrado lieutenants of Aguinaldo who stacked the odds in his Cavitismo favor, anyway).

His ideological blind spot would surely affect his reading – despite his colorful narration of what he deemed as having expired in the meeting, his ideologemes nevertheless got it in the way.

Simply, he was an ilustrado peeping through the hole on the wall of history.

(October, alas, is a repetition, like a song that triggers old sentiments & old philosophies.

The second-time around, after all, is always the nth time, like this text which repeats itself, as if for the first time.)

Aka Houdini

his father
was too damn slow,
as if taken willy-nilly
by family blood,
to teach him
the tricks of the trade –
the magical secrets
that make roses
bloom in his hands,
eggs appear
behind his ears,
pigeons fly out
of his big hands
& colorful scarves
knot up
an infinite rope
to haul down the sky.
When he finally
without word or warning
executed his famous
Houdini act,
he was most enthralled
yet terribly lost
for whenever he floundered
like fish on the rocks
he’d reel him in,
a lion with his cub.
Yet when she
sauntered beyond the hills
limned by orange sunlight,
abracadabra & voila!
would turn
glass splinters
in his mouth.


(For her, who never existed)

Pete Daroy,
scholar & historian
was wont to miss
informal appointments
with coterie of friends –
he’s a day earlier
or several hours late
but nobody
would dare complain,
even talk
about the weather…
He was, they argue,
like that
& would always be
Now he understands
the ways of older men:
they must be preoccupied
not with today
but tomorrow,
watching their bodies
like somebody else’s,
truly marveling
like a lover before
a stone Aphrodite
how it could stand
the season’s brutal weather.
When he looked
into her eyes
he’d be gazing at
all of her recent summers
& the distance of years…
They would eventually
the encounter at the woods,
then diverging
like sullen strangers.
All the raging & passion
die in October
when leaves fall
& tears break out
like sudden rain in May.


He was frowning
when he sneaked
a glance at the mentor
gazing at his blind side:
was it strange pain
sizzling down his spine
like nerve pinched
by laser eyes?
The prof had remarked
something about something
he never quite grasped,
something in reference to him
who was slow to wave
because awkwardly
or by design
anonymous in the crowd.
Now, it finally dawned
how confident he was then
when disease had not yet
ravaged his blood –
O it took an old man
seeing him
what he once was,
brooding over his youth
going down the drain,
so vulnerably helpless
against time & the elements.
At their time,
passion is an accidental
for nowhere is she
in sight,

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One Response to October Pathos

  1. Pingback: on the “fiction” of the “fil-am”

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