21 September Poems

1.
Order of the Day

& the old fogey says —
they’re children
of stolen memory,
their elders
having robbed them
of sorrow of dictatorship
& desaperacidos.
Verily,
a way of survival
for the times:
remembering
is pain.
& letting go
of old murders & new
is the order of the day.
O the young must be spared
of blood on streets,
knock on doors
at midnight,
wailing of sudden orphans…
History
must be exorcised
lest the crimson land
blur their eyes.

2.

But this is arrant nonsense!
Who can paper over
crimes
that left in their wake
the jailed & dying?
But survivors
had sucked out
from memory
the gruesome deed
to spit out
the returning grief!
O Each to each,
for fear & loathing
had buried
their own writ…
As the stockmarket
on imperial assist
& oligarchic lackeys
shrieked like banshees
whenever numbers went up
on the board
— & camps tallied
the captured & decimated —
for the pleasure
of God-dictator
who sold off labor
like Malate whores.

3.

But the years
weren’t all that grim,
forbidding.
They still celebrated
weddings
in cathedrals & motels;
children grew up
with sunburned eyes;
secret dreams
in measured steps
reached the apogee
of fulfillment.
The dictator
couldn’t ban laughter,
even weeping.
Nor rule
how life should prosper
under the stars.
A wax figure
is never sign
of a decree magical.

4.

Just the same,
the oligarchs reigned:
they cavorted
on luxury yatches
while beggars
counted the days
that passed out
of their dirty hands
that couldn’t grip
what they fancifully
wanted to start…
To dream?
To act?
They were trapped
in warren of hutches
pot-bellied officals
bulldozed
to give way to spaces
for high-rise
architecture.
The lower denizens
breathed each other’s
toxic air;
sold blood & cheap sex
to ease
endless hunger.
O they who ate store scraps,
never watchful
of their diet.
Always you can push
the derelicts
closer to the edge!

5.

They wove in & out
of the clogged traffic,
into the police
stopping the nameless drivers
on their tracks
because
they dared impede
the passage of Benzes.
The multitude
could only step on the gas
once the motorcade
left in a swirl
of dust.
Thus, everyone had
turned into a nation
of servants
waiting for the master
at the gates.
They had learned
the art of penitential
prayer…
But did God
listen?
Only the cash register
played sweet music
to the crowd.

6.

When Edsa exploded
crusaders yelled to the heavens
as if the universe
functioned
like what the Scriptures said:
full of arcane surprises,
& nirvanic mirth
seemed endless.
Several mornings later,
drunken rogues
were back on the saddle.
& the yellow army
breathing with rosary
& speeches
was stunned
how much it missed.

7.

Miracles do occur?
Tell it to the marines
who,
under their own Spartan code,
won’t lift a finger.
O The derelicts
of time
must take charge
& steer the ship
toward the lighthouse shore.
But is this
pure fairy tale?
Are all forever
lingering at the door?
Millions have turned
to religion,
hostaged by
the spiritual
Stockholm syndrome.
O It’s not God’s will,
agnostics rue,
but the people’s.
But this is jaded
sloganeering!
The defeated chants
in electronic unison —
suffering is a cycle,
we’re pushed
to another level.

8.

He sits
at the foot of the stairs
for someone
or something
that promised the return.
Is it the summer wind
that ruffles the hair?
Is it the stormy monsoon
that rattles the door?
Yet he is sure as hell
something magical
may yet turn up
to change the rhythm
of his passion.
& he hopes to rise
as if she who has gone
will appear
to ease his heart’s
peregrination.
This is,
at best,
the resolution
of foolish narratives
that end up
like Harry Potter’s.

9.

He is suddenly
an old man now
whose aches & pains
define a waking.
The days are shorter,
the nights grimmer
& he doesn’t see
any door open
to let the sun in.
Will he forever
wait like a dog
chained in the dark,
barking at any sound
that threatens or cajoles?
He doesn’t know
how life started,
how it will end.
Desires, like roses,
wither on the bough
& every moment
is a truncated proposition
to make it
a welcome addition.

10.

& the lover
(the legend in his own mind)
slowly,
forgets the names
never the faces
of those who have
upped & left.
Will there be sorrow?
Will there be sadness?
But he is too old
to remember
what had even stoked
the fires of passion…
Everything passes
like water through
his fingers
& he can’t even sigh
without asking
why.

11.

& to think
old timers —
alarmed at the amnesia
of hip-hops —
would have to concoct
fashion gimmicks
to keep Nick Joaquin
alive.
It was only five years ago
when he wrote his last
on Intramuros
& beyond.
Pop Americana didn’t
escape his eyes,
over small beers
& tertulia.
But the young guards
are giddily stuck
to their Facebook & Playstation.
A word, a line,
a page
they swatted away
like pesky flies.
(O How will these
excruciating lines
end up?)

12.

The war veteran
who lived through
the First World War
slept for a week
after the armistice…
The constant explosion
in his ears
while hunkered down
deep in his fox hole
made him swear
never to talk
about the global conflict
& found solace
in his chess games
every afternoon
with another survivor
who, too, wouldn’t
have any piece
of the story
recalling it.
It’s just as well,
for death & desecration
aren’t worth repeating —
but onlookers
love to reprise everything
in their own
Walter Mitty imagination,
& in deed.

13.

He says,
to remember
is to suffer;
joy is fleeting,
pain stays.
The listener
smiles weakly.
But to repeat
the history
of the grim event
if none forewarns?
He shrugs off
the “wisecrack,”
as if he has
masterfully concluded
the matter.
He is dead set:
he’ll no longer
go through again
the murderous experience.
Let things be,
he screams
in his mind
into her face —
as if he has
settled long ago
already
the inconsolable issue.
But what if
it happens again?
Her persistence
drives him crazy.

14.

He can’t escape it.
Even if evasion
is action, too.
The counter-thrust
rips through his heart,
& he bleeds
all over again.
He’s focused
on one sad fact:
unable always is he
to run from
the rampage
of tomorrows,
ever prey
to the weather of sorrow.
O Things happen
as they do
to him dug in
praying to ward off
the creeping shadow.
When one is alone,
after all,
he is already done for.
He can’t plan
to side step
& hit back.
Sadness,
tsk, tsk,
isn’t a virtue.

15.
The Operator
A.

It still amazes me
how I suckered
millions
for what they thought
were sovereign hopes.
Sure, it wasn’t easy
undoing the high-stake
odds,
but I was impeccably
smart
interpreting the Law.
Hot air
was resistance from below:
gunslingers were slow
to the draw.
I faked a forced move
& they all fell for it.
The masses
were putty in my hands;
a few crossed
the line
but they stood down.
My loyal troops
held guns to their heads
& that’s all
to seal the deal.
Should my foresight
be emulated?
Surely, success
is always academically
studied.

B.

Eventually,
all games must finish.
My body
failed to monitor
the pitiful tumor
& the tedious task
of keeping the masses
under foot.
But pretenders
still sprout
like ethereal mushrooms:
they fall
all over themselves,
trying to steady
the course,
hamming it up
as new liberators,
heavy with
talismanic spoor.
Ha-ha!
I may no longer be around,
stationed in a site
turned wax museum.
But I linger
like a ghost in the heart.
I call the shots
from the other side.
People love
to commit suicide.

C.

Do people ever learn?
They confuse the color
for regime change
in their Cinderella dreams:
O but they’re doomed
to echo the old slogans
of truth & justice,
but nothing really moves
in this country
of repetition.

16.

She’s honcho
of the department now,
but he had never
seen neither hide
nor hair of her
since she took over.
How are things, he quipped.
She said tersely,
my brother-in-law,
Father Cecilio Lucero,
was ambushed in Samar.
He was a human rights
advocate.
Her voice trailing off
as we quickly parted ways
in this chance encounter
between classes.
It is, of course,
old news…
But why does it always
wring his heart
that they’re still at it?
What has
really changed
through the years?
Lu Hsun
resonates in the mind:
we must save
the children!

19.
Footnotes

A.

Will it ever
happen again?
Will Edsa teem
with flowers & marines?
Will there be love
the second time around?
O Nothing
is always the same.
What has passed
can never regain
what today expires
as reprise of events.
Things are always
different.
So seeing you,
I discover
something novel, new
what was missed
in the first encounter.
But will it trigger
the ardor & passion
as in the beginning?
I view you now
a blast of light
but my heart
pumps wildly
as if skipping off
my imaginary.

B.

Yet, the crystal ball
augurs a course
of old disasters:
massacres will occur,
invisible blood will flow,
the fat lady will sing
like a tired troubadour,
peasants & workers
will nimbly play
the game of fools…
O How shall we brace
ourselves
for the onrushing future?

C.

With a smile
on his lips,
as if ignoring the banter
of fellow elders
come to snack
outside Katag,
he cautioned
the young mother & activist:
you must hear this
for posterity.
Onlookers were
congenially taken
by the boisterous order.
Yes, in his speech
before the staff
of Marcos think-tank
when he was conscripted,
he insisted:
he would sign the paper
that he would be constrained
to put to text…
Ex-dissidents
out for jobs
& self-proclaimed nationalists
out for a lifestyle
thereafter quarelled
among themselves.
Who should claim
the honor & the raise
for the latest Dictator’s speech.
& when he contested
Nick Joaquin’s history
& philosophy,
the icon’s loyalists
surreptitiously asked
his name be deleted
from the payroll
which he needed
for his wife’s medication
& children set for school.
He would forever
mark them out,
now high-end celebrities
& media critics
who might end up
as National Artists
with homongous payslips.
You must record
what you heard
this very day —
these are the hidden facts
of artful villains.
The group split
into the cusp of evening,
each sighing
at the pittance
they labor for
in their turtle silence.

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