Small Talk


They found him
standing by the door
of the abandoned house.
The owner must have
felt secure
with him tied to a post,
guarding his stuff.
& couldn’t imagine
how he would violently
tug at the leash
once the murky floodwaters
his collar.


He sits there
at his desk,
far from the chatter
of officemates,
as if he were
somewhere else.
He has nothing to say:
his house
was inundated by the flood,
prized car tumbling
like a toy boat
in the avalanche.
He’s perpetually dazed.
The past is nightmare,
the future blank.


How do you start over?
To begin from the beginning
is to work
on a clean slate:
But he’s old, retiring,
his heart scarified,
by sad histories
of ruins.
Can he still make
that first step,
like a child?


she felt inconsolably tired.
It took her a lifetime
to map out a journey.
She has no more lifetimes left.
The blueprint
has vanished in a wink.


Would he end up
sad & bitter
as predicted?
The stupid old man
finally realized
he had to give up
everything —
words, ambition,
leave everything to chance.
He’s free
drifting in the waters
on a block of ice.


When it’s over,
it is over —
He is finally told.
Why does he think
he could hope
for a better deal?
She’s gone. Like air.
He didn’t foresee
the daily humiliation
of marking the impossible.
He’s the perfect fool:
A poet
he thinks he is,
of course.


The women
dragged swiftly
by the current
were waving furiously
at him on the rooftop.
But he couldn’t move,
as if petrified,
to fish them out.
He could only watch
as they vanish
at the watery turnpike.
He could carry
a load
at the factory,
but couldn’t lift
the nightmare
on his mind.


“I lost a million
in the flood —
but it’s ok,
we’re still alive.”
He consoles himself,
assuring everyone
who cares to ask.
But he can’t believe
he’s saying all this
as though the future
were bright, possible.
(Love the second time
is a romancer’s
incurable gamble.)


The students chatter
about the recent flood
with flourish of giggles
& nonchalance:
Yes, the water was neck-deep,
soaked everything precious.
They did shed a tear
over a toy destroyed,
a shirt streaked with blood…
But their vibrant steps
measure how
they have quickly
set aside
talks of nerves’ failure.
For the day’s
school lesson,
juvenile spirits
still magnificently bloom.


The old shop-owners
were taciturn
while raking through
salvageable merchandise.
They would mumble
now & then —
Maybe we can resell this
Maybe the bank
will offer a moratorium?
Force majeure, anyway.
They stir the coffee
as if weighing time
heavy as air.


Her husband
is puzzled:
off & on
she whispers
something almost inaudible,
then turns hysterical
at imagined
rumble of flood waters
that stirs her mind.
She’s a nervous wreck,
prefering to sleep
outside the house.
A drizzle on the rooftop
sends her packing up.
He cannot leave her alone.
She’s a prisoner
of her fears in the room.
The nightmare
of the past days
still drill through
her head
like a secret plague.


No, they won’t return
to their house
as they try to fit
into the new site.
Old memories
of ruined loves
must be buried
for good.
But they would wake up
at unholy hours,
as if visited by ghosts.


Five or ten years hence…
Who shall remember what?
That chilly September
when hundreds died,
small fortunes declined?
They will steer clear
of stories about it;
if ever,
only the lightness of banter.
like love,
is a transition play.
Oft we hear
the common counsel,
Move on!,
as if it’s a popular tune.


What is there to do?
He stares at his palms
to look for signs.
None is forthcoming.
He stands up,
does his stretching
as if the marathon
has just begun.


Only sentimental slobs
look back
at the mess
left behind
by the twin storms:
Optimists bustle about
as though pursued by demons:
Reopen lost ground,
reset ambition…
In a country of repetition,
there is no end
to retellling
of grief & perdition
that predictably return,
like stragglers
of unfinished revolutions.


After the Event
the house staggers
with muffled cries,
survivors grope around
like blind mice.
O What madness
creeps in —
the trembling hands,
the buckling knees —
when everything settles in
& the phantom storm
again starts?
Everything is deathly still,
but always that
uneasy silence.


The overseas call
was anxious, disturbed:
She had seen
the ghastly episode on TV…
The answering voice
was motherly, calm.
Each managed
to stay cool
but with the distance
of thousands of miles,
who wrings
whose hands
at the end of the line?


The dead
are such in various states
of fear & disarray,
frozen in their tracks
as the avalanche of soil
& rocks
turned them into statues
by an invisible sculptor
come to pay homage
to the fury of nature
& the obscene wisdom
of dictators:
A mother shielding her child
from the landslide,
a rescuer
trapped under the rubble,
a swimmer
drowned in the flood…
It’s Mt. Vesuvius
all over again,
as if to prophesy —
in the country run by idiots,
death is no longer
a grand spectacle.


Finally, he concludes:
this is a country
of constant mourning:
days count the number
of dead & missing
who fill morgues
to the rafters
while cemeteries disgorge
corpses into the waters.
A shortage of coffins,
much like Benguet vegetables,
is the common staple
of radio-TV talks
where hosts turn
ad executives
& opinion editors.
Here lies the crux of chaos:
the cosa nostra heads
make like Canutes
ordering people
to stop clogging the airwaves,
after bumming around the world,
with their frantic calls.

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One Response to Small Talk

  1. Pingback: Poor Less Lonely People in the World « Kapirasong Kritika

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