The Great Flood & Other Poems

1.
Delubyo
A.
They slept soundly
the night before.
A tropical depression
could just nick the island
& head northwest
en route
to China or Vietnam.
But the morning after,
water rose skyhigh
to submerge houses,
people scampered
to the rain-lashed rooftops.
Calls for rescue
clogged the airwaves
but the marooned
were advised
to say their prayers
because the rubber boats
were few to spare
at “100 to 1,000 dollars
per,”
they could have mounted
a magnificent fleet
for the fearful & defeated.
Money to burn
for dinner at Le Cirque,
but nary a cent
for the drowning, the dead.
Nature, as predicted,
exploded its equatorial bomb:
O why do loyal citizens,
leery of hotheads & communists,
gnash their teeth
& wail the poor & the rich
are savagely hit?
O This country
that prides itself
as encased in heart
of Christ
should show His temper
at the marketplace:
Time to line up
politicians on the wall
& unlearn the myth of piety,
never in the business
to stupidly endure.

B.

Will Manila end,
not by fire,
but by floodwater?
We’ve been floating
like debris in its ocean
since continents
shifted plates
& dinosaurs roamed
the earth.
& we drown
in cascades of dreamscape.
Water is good fortune,
say Chinese sages,
but excess of it
is murderous plague?
We’ve cut trees
off mountain slopes,
drilled the plains
for copper lode,
blocked the river routes,
sold native patrimony
to Yankees & Japs
who tear up the land
into toxic dumpsites.
O When will all
this catastrophe
of gods & men
ever end?
If the people’s health
& well-being
in collective measure,
never statistical progress
& mean profit,
make for humane creed.

C.

He was too jaded
to be moved
by the loathsome spectacle:
bodies stuck in deep mud,
refrigerator cradled
by electric wires,
cars piled on top
of each other
like dominoes gone wild,
old women
catatonically staring
at water-ravaged houses,
men confessing
helplessness to save
their children,
families screaming for help
as makeshift shelters
float swiftly by
in the torrent…
Death & destruction
are repeated hallucination
that is barely virtual:
but it’s not
act of a sullen God!
People & politicians
brought it upon themselves
in squandering their lives
by discarding rules
of planetary existence:
If only they didn’t play along
with Malacanang
to ignore the fatal signs.
They were rats
led madly by
the piper of Hamelin
to be drowned.
Prayers they desperately mounted,
but who hears
voices from the dead
& the damned?

D.

Time to come together
& be done
with backbiting
about whom
to line up on the wall
or praised as Savior:
the top dogs grin,
who ate off Parisian plates
in New York.
It’s all of us,
rulers & plebeians…
But did the masses share
their luxurious hotels
& business-class fares?
No, there must be
justice in all of this —
fingers must be pointed
at those who planned
national future
in double speak
& power-point figures.
The flood came
without Noah’s ark:
O why do we allow
hoodlums
to fix our herded lives?

E.

They cry a river
over the savagely drowned
& if miraculously found
give them decent burial.
But the lowly animals
who were helpless
to scoot up to higher ground,
they would ask
dump trucks
& pay scavengers
to pick them off
the muddy foliage & streets —
their gross stench
assaults the educated.
O The damned & afflicted
by the sudden sea,
aren’t they no more than
Neanderthals
who treasure animals
for food & ritual?
The civilized
they seek refuge
for themselves.
O Rare are the human masters
who cradle
dogs & cats, whatever
for their gift of comradeship.

F.

The family
is “sell-shocked”
to utter a word
while sifting through
the waterlogged:
broken vinyl records
that wept out his sadness;
TV sets & computers
that would explode
if plugged;
clothes soaked
in the brackish torrent;
books, passports,
torrens titles, photos
of a trade that
career-wise mattered…
He would walk
his fears from now on
since the Revo
was sucked down
the creek…
How many years
did he sweat it out
to build the nest
so he could on weekends
just read the paper,
nurse his gin
with the crazy gang
who has gone to ruin?
He felt spent
with all his time
like drops of blood
dripping from his veins.
Can he start
all over again?
He’s past his prime
& can’t summon
the blind inertia
to keep on rolling.
What has he done?
He cannot let the state
map out his future:
it doesn’t care.
It only waits
for his withholding tax
to splurge on
presidential jives.
He looks up at the sky
but no bird
flies by.
He is all by his lonesome,
but for the family
that achingly salvages
mementos of their lives.

G.

He doesn’t want
to turn on the TV
& hear the bad news
anymore:
the continuing body count,
the wretched tear
& repressed anger,
survivors
who at the camera
automatically smile.
He’s had his share
of daily tragedy,
plugging his ears
to unhear
even the signs of positivity:
friendly hands
of strangers
as though kith & kin,
the derring-do
of the intrepid,
the little heroic deeds
that almost strain belief.
He’s tired of it all,
the pestilential cries
God & men inflicted.
But he can’t
shut off his mind,
a machine
always running on empty.
He’ll madly toss
throughout the night.

H.

He cracks:
that idiot,
zonked out by drugs,
is better off.
He smiles blankly
at all passersby.
He has been at it,
like a fairy child,
shielded from
the idiocy & wisdom
of the tribe.
Of course, he can’t
hook up
with any tart:
He lacks desire,
sex is just organic,
mechanical.
A stone
with blood & bones
like any human
with a soul.
But he hardly exists,
exempted
from personal
& natural crises.

I.

They were,
as in classic movies,
shivering in the rain,
menacingly hungry,
eyes closed to tears
as if to semaphore
O for kindness of strangers.
The doors of a Paco school
were flung open
for the pitiful mob.
Days later,
when sun filtered
through the clouds
water had subsided,
they made for makeshift
houses
to guard against looters
at the riverside.
The school principal
could only shake
her head
as she inspected
the classroom
where the helpless
evacuees were billeted:
cabinets had been
ransacked of books & charts,
chain upended
& thrown across the floor,
the smell of bodies
festered like spoiled meat
as if to argue:
we’re the disinherited.
You can all forgive.

J.

There was no clearing
in the ocean of mud;
the chopper decided
to drop the goods
down the raucuous crowd:
Rodriguez, Rizal
is not Darfur,
Myanmar
but people rushed
like rampaging bulls
for “bottled water
boiled eggs & packets
of instant noodles”
to ease their day.
Their bodies,
caked with sledge
& gooey mud,
looked like cannibals
hunted down
in ages past.
O The hordes are back!

K.

It was a disaster
waiting to happen.
Decades back
the green architect
had a plan:
but the state
looked the other way,
shelving the blue print
to forestall nightmare.
Business tycoons
wouldn’t hear of it,
politicans wouldn’t give
a damn…
Therefore, the dead & damned
must float like debris
into Malacanang.
O It was the handiwork
of mice & men,
who couldn’t see beyond
the clink of gold coins.
O How money
derailed common sense
& wisdom!

L.

One has to be
on dry, high ground —
writing table
in lighted room
above the raging water,
beyond the reach of wind
& secret prayers —
to record like camera
the obscene season.
He’s chained himself
like a prisoner
to the swivel chair.
But there is no other
message
to cryptically tell:
the masses
are grievously suffering,
but if the rich & poor
trace the same old paths
God’s fury will return
with its customary mayhem.
There’s nothing really new
to be written.

M.

He has been peddling
“religious icons,
rosaries,
sampaguita garlands,”
serving as barker
at jeepney stops
for side income.
The church items
must signify
trading in God,
the promised salvation,
faith & love heavenward.
But his wife
& five kids perished
in the flood,
sending him to wail
“I wish I had died
with them.”
Is the virtual acolyte
being tested?
Isn’t poverty enough?
Remember
the agony of Job.
But for what purpose,
end?
He wrings his hands,
unable to understand.

N.

Kids do the rounds
of the neighborhood,
knocking on doors,
pressing on buzzers,
pleading into faces
with their sullen mien:
But he can’t trust
their spiel,
they would be selling
second-hand items
for a bargain,
then sniff rugby
in the yard.
O These times
challenge the bourgeois
heart
for the begotten
of the underclass:
this is vulgar Marx,
reactionary hogwash.
In a flash,
they’ll bare their fangs,
run off with your bag.
Rodents
making like humans?
O how the flood
has unleashed
vicious savages
& tender-hearted folks.
(A crocodile
in the dark
was out for a swim.
But the terrified
will hunt it,
though harmless, innocent.)

2.
A.
Post “Golden Age”

The place
where I once lay almost
dying
is nowhere in sight.
Here now
stands a high-rise
where the rich & famous
cavort over Mediterranean wine
on what was one
burial ground
for anonymous skulls;
where once wild cries
punctured the cavernous sky,
concert bands & toy dogs
ululate & howl.
Has the regime succeeded
in erasing all traces
of conflagration?
I alone remember
this X, this painful site:
witnesses are dead
or dispersed over the land
secretly scheming
like avenging angels
or wailing
like lost orphans.
O A fresh wound in the psyche
that doesn’t let itself dry,
hurting only
when I laugh.

B.

The soldiers
without name tags
but masked
hauled him off
to a safe house
where, of course,
despite the President’s assurance,
he would never
be safe & sound.
They waterboarded him
as in Vietnam,
to squeal on his friends
suspected to be
commies, militants.
They turned his body
into an ashtray,
the while taunting —
Never was he tough
as he screamed like a child.
Yet, he survived it all,
but marvelling how.
God, he presumed
must have averted his Eyes,
then plucked him out
of the ziggurat.
O How long has it been?

C.

The camp,
newly painted
& smug in the glow
of sunlight,
has been relocated,
hidden from public eyes,
as if an invisible sign
has been posted
on a spot to assure
passersby:
We stand by
to protect you from harm.
But the wind
stirs the bucolic silence:
As if foretelling
they’re at it again:
Madame Fuhrer
is alive & kicking.

3.

The words
were epigrammatic,
brutal,
as if the forbidden
has shot out of the dark
& into the light:
I was gangraped.
The soldiers were vicious —
as if they have always been
to women & unarmed men —
& no amount
of heroic lore & image-building
could change the order
of things.
The regime enforced obedience ,
even if reason & freedom
were traded off in the backroom.
Was it a just war?
Was it fair
for a payback to Revolution?
Nothing could shift
the paradigm
that orden y progreso
must reign
if the innocent
are violated…
& murder
is a holy sacrament.

4.

It is happening again —
the battle-scarred
ex-detainee
keeps mumbling to himself.
He sweats feverishly
in an air-conditioned room.
But he’s not strapped to a chair,
free this time
to walk out of his nightmare.
Yet he stays put,
almost frozen,
like a nail.
It’s happening again,
the air heavy with
grim rememberings.
Too, the children
keep tossing in bed:
they cannot calm down
to sleep
alongside his fearful imaginings.

5.
A.

The guy says
he’s done with women.
He can’t believe his ears.
He has heard it before —
a thousand times anyway —
while he watches him stir
the breakfast coffee
at the cafe
as sultry gamines
stare out of laminated pages
of a magazine.
Yes, he’s done with women.
He repeats himself
to convince the wind.
They’re pests,
left him struggling in mid-air
as if he were a vermin.
(O But was it a crime
when he’s so damned insignificant?)
He was prey,
he admits,
to cavalier dreaming,
mistaking the furies
for the vestal virgins.
Now he knows
how sirens trap
stupid sailors
marooned on upturned boats,
who succumb
to their own love’s metaphors.

B.

1.
Looking past him
& into the deep horizon,
she’s oblivious
of him hovering in the wings.
Her future blazes forth
like a lover incandescent.

2.
To stop the clock
he cannot command
the word arcane:
O he who gazes
from the other side
of the track.

3.
O Love is neither
foul nor fair.
The furies sing
in the mind’s labyrinth,
their eyes closed
throats slashed open.

4.
Truth is Cleopatra’s serpent
on love’s breast.
Voices turn louder, intensify
as it strikes to bereaven.

C.

Are you done
with love poems, too?
A fellow drinker baits him.
In the whirr of passion
the head swims,
& you can never be lucid
if only the heart whines.
But he looks spent
with the friendly ribbing
& turns the glass
upside down
as if to move:
Am signing off.
Am already drunk.
O Love is never
a happy carnival ride.
She who once
made his heart leap
is a heavy stone now
that pulls him down.
Who hasn’t, after all,
changed his mind?
Romance novels
never told Everyman
love’s faces
are comically drawn.
Ha-ha!
Was he ever in love?
Aks the warriors of old:
they would only shrug.
There’s time to speak,
time to finally shut up.

6.

He’s old.
Almost a doddering fool.
& the TV host
keeps glancing at the clock
because words
of affliction
under martial rule
were too slow
to fall off his mouth.
Yet, hasn’t he been
through the years
orating before wide-eyed kids
about the old, cruel
regime?
Why was it so difficult
to trace the route back —
monitoring the neighborhood
for strange appearances,
budgetting the measly budget,
disciplining bohemian hearts
who suddenly were swept
into a revolutionary creed? —
When men
were dumped in cogon fields
& women vomitted blood
as their speech…
Do they still haunt him
like dogs of nightmare?
He’s old.
Almost a doddering fool.
Vicious images
still linger
like monsters
in his sleep.

7.

He has made a pile
for metastasizing
exploits in the underground cells.
But that was years ago
when people took gently
to his kind.
But does kindness last?
Does history travel
a straight line?
He’s still at it,
reprising his pain & fears
to elicit tears
from a country desperate
for heroes,
where an excess of knaves
makes possible
the rule of thugs.
In due time,
he’ll be just one of them…
O He never expected
torture can be invested
for the future,
things will turn all right
when once upon a time
he lay dying,
like Faulkner.
Thrown like a rag
into a dumpsite…
O He may yet enter
halls of Congress,
as if riding a white horse
into Paradise.

8.

There’s a woman
who kept rearing
like a white shadow
in his mind.
Where has she gone?
In the labyrinth
of the city
that steered him blind,
he’s bound to lose
her
who once dazzled
his febrile eyes.
Like a rat
in a revolving cage,
he keeps running in circles,
spurred on
by calamitous desire.
What could be a worse
misfortune?
In dark alleys,
hungry vagrants
dumbly pass the night.
But she surely won’t
be lying among those thieves.
She’s a survivalist.
She’s gone past him,
playing with her
new toy & instrument.

9.

There he is again,
mumbling to himself,
this will be the last
with his class
of adolescents
out to man the future
apparat.
Will they live
the stupid status quo
all over again?
Where will pantomime stop,
& truth & justice
be actualized signs?
He has had no share
of academic absolutes…
There must be a period
placed at the end of falsehood!
O how he feigns
a heart attack,
his hands feel
like tearing up
the papers & books
that will start
another lie…
When all leave the room
& out into the sunlight,
will their little learning
mercifully survive?
O, like their elders ,
they will accommodate evil
to survive in style.

10.
A.

How do you
erase memory?
If only it were a disk
one can push a button
& let things
precious or trivial
blank out
like pages
burning into ash.
But always
something lies dormant
in the fire
to smoulder back
in the mind.
Return with a vengeance.
Nothing rots forever
in the dark.
Scavengers there are
to turn the hidden
inside out.

B.

How can generations
perish
deserted of remembrances?
Always,
there are orphans
to rake out relics
from the fire:
an old shirt,
faded photographs,
letters
to jumpstart
the journey
to the holocaust
& salvage threads
to weave
the tapestry
of forbidden history.

C.

Never lose hope,
the mother
counsels herself
to outwit grief.
She has walked
thousands of miles
for a desaperacido
whom masked men
had hauled off
into a van.
O She knew it would
be doubly tough
but has steeled herself
for the logical facts.
If only the ripples
of words
would eddy toward
the criminal mob.
Does she know
what history is?
How it happens
as the world
summersaults?
Her faith is enough
never to lose hope.

11.
Those Young Poets
A.

Those young poets,
the old buzzard sneers,
are drunk with words,
as if showing off
to the world visible
their treasure hoard
of signifying stones.
But only a few
should suffice
to deal with the mystery
of love & life.
& if Word is excess
of emotion,
no need indeed
to regale the unwitting
with unnecessary tears
for spiritual beheading.
Pain & sadness
are beyond signs.
Sure, choices you can
count on your fingers,
but you can cut
the line
to a word,
a maximum of two,
for what could be
essentially true.
But no!
Those young poets
would rather dazzle
with their carnival
of mourning,
& we, who have gone
down the full route,
would even drop out
of the scene
& into a wilderness of silence
where everything begins.

B.

He is fatally wrong.
Or rather off the mark.
It’s not technique
nor prolixity
that damns the young —
the hothouse breed
that dazzles the literati;
they only take pains
to nurse their wounded hearts.
They don’t inhale
the violent air
that whirls around
fallen bodies of protesters
hit by motorcycle men
out to stop
the jail strike.
Nor throw a line
for farmers slain
over contested land.
They wail instead
over a darkness
that metaphysically mystifies.
Yes, it isn’t
the anomie of their craft
that veers them off
the path —
It’s their eyes
they willfully shut down
when parapolice
raid the workers’ camp.
O How they adore
themselves
in their sullen art!

C.

The young poet bristles,
as if he were charged
with a majestic crime.
But poetry, he argues,
is language
“pushed to its limit”
to walk the edge
of what is essential.
It doesn’t have
to be about peasants
or workers
or any rough hand.
We speak for all
who cannot understand
what the crux
of sadness is…
If we rage against
the disenchanting,
it strikes deep
at what afflicts anyone.
Figures in the landscape
are false, even anonymous.
So saying,
he hies off
to a clutch of confreres
across the street,
gracing the affair
where literature
makes possible
grief without tears.
In chatter over cocktails,
they let loose
chirping voices
to overwhelm miasma
of accusing fingers.

12.
Credo

A.

So he finetunes
his wayward emotion:
love these days —
or any day of this age —
comes cheap.
As if to spite
a remembered one.
Goods & bodies
are thrown away
in mercantile
& carnal enterprise.
Permanence,
as in old romance,
is a cruel joke
on lovers
who claim passion
is eternal.
Parents sell their kids,
sons & daughters
tun away parents,
wives & husbands cheat
in one-night stands,
as if the world
has been swept away
in the avalanche
of beasts & angels.
Is everyone half-human?
Who swears by
the infinitude
of trust & love?
Only the first moment counts.
Indifference eventually
drowns, like rain,
the sizzling warmth.
& when freezing cold
creeps in,
will they look at each other
darkly stunned?

B.

But the world
is in constant war
for territory & possession.
Geography & people
seek refuge
behind shifting lines.
Loyalty turns betrayal,
good turns evil,
the globe forever framed
in their dimension
between fascists
& militants.
How can love flourish
in these murderous times?

C.

There must be a way out
of the global fix
but victims
since capital called the shots
forever perish.
Lovers & warriors
must design a world
& keep it open,
as the iron curtain falls
on those who secure
the reign of reason.
Is true love possible?
Can the bull of freedom
be held by the horn?
Always, the future
must reinvent itself
in the hearts of the people.

13.
Breaking News

Margareth Moth,
CNN cameraman,
once asked
why must women
adopt their husband’s name?
She opted
to change hers
after an airplane
she would jump from
in her sporting youth.
She had been
covering the wars
in the Balkans
where anyone can be shot —
even a neutral observer –
because all are presumed
combatants
of either side.
A bullet shattered her jaw,
but she was soon
up & about
covering the conflicted zone.
She, who refused
to ride a rig
drawn by a horse
because it would
burden the lowly
animal,
has recently
entered a hospice
for the terminally ill…
Of course, she is afraid
of death,
like anyone else,
but does not fear it:
after all
“I’ve got everything
out of life.”

14.
A.
Sub Rosa

They lined up
the mangled bodies
like slaughtered animals
at the abattoir
in front of the municipal hall:
to affirm a victory,
show futility
of a struggle
& stop the “reign of terror.”
By, of course,
their own brand of terror.
This ritual is endless.
As if authorities
have lost their heads
why, in finishing a plan,
another plan
must be executed in place.
A variation on a theme
that means the same.
O So damned elementary,
yet the frontmen
have to see through
the circular logic
of a serpent swallowing its tail.
They’re focused,
like a gun sight,
on body count
& the cherished statistics
for whoever
writes the edict.

B.

Sometimes he chuckles
to himself:
he has outlived old comrades,
even abandoned dear ones
who probably have left him
for dead…
Yes, he has managed to pilfer
news
his daughter is now a nurse,
eldest son is off to Dubai,
his youngest has joined the militants…
But he can’t indulge himself
to nurse that tinge
of sadness.
He has been at it,
walking a different path,
since the start.
He hasn’t known any other life:
of times he cracks
if he can still adjust
to the city of neon lights.
He has learned to navigate
under the stars,
read in the luminosity
of fireflies.
To move & endure is all?
Like Einstein’s biker
to stop is to lose balance,
then fall.

15.
Recurrence
A.

Yuri Fidelgoldsh,
Gulag survivor,
is listless —
he has noted
pro-Stalin graffiti
in subways
& felt
chill climb up
his spine.
Persistent when young
he would burn
nights
discussing philosophy
& poetry
with comrades
until they got to Siberia.
The rest is history
twisted into tabula rasa
for children to read
in books & media
how Stalin
defeated the Nazis
& saved Mother Russia.
But what of millions
of intellectuals
& writers
exiled to labor camps?
O Nietzsche’s recurrence
in realpolitik
turns obscene
in the Superman
who is Dictator
gently smiling with his moustache.
A KGB agent
is now president
& Mensheviks are on the saddle
again.

B.

Mohammed al-Hanashi,
31, Yemeni,
“held at Guantanamo Bay
without charge
for seven years”
died in his cell,
allegedly of “suicide.”
But his jail
is monitored by video
& a guard
to prevent such
in any psychiatric ward…
He was designated
representative of detainees,
“who have been tortured,
or abused by whom.”
The US military
investigated itself
& came out with
the verdict:
“he was asphyxiated.”
Technically
he was a desaparecido
under American custody.
Questions are asked,
but no one replies
to Commander Brook de Walt
has not been heard from,
since Naomi Wolf, reporter,
“asked for further information.”

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