The Powder Room & Other Poems

1.

She felt mutilated.
The guys at the bar
had passed her up
as if she was some flower
stuck on a wall.
But she’s a looker
in her own hermetic right.
If only
she were not given
to carnal desire…
In the mirror was a woman
eager to be touched.
Some days
she would be screwed
by brutish men
& she would scream
with human delight
for being given
a second chance.
To get fucked is all.
Who are these strange women
in the powder room
all in a tizzy
because they might miss
their lover’s bus?

2.

No, she won’t go
running after all those
damned guys.
She’s not an actor
in Hollywood’s
“Desperate Housewives.”
It was never,
& should be,
the rule.
Sure, the nights of summer
in a heat wave
can turn sickly cold
if she thinks sadly
of those who abandoned
her alleged allure,
the lot of women
who have been screwed out
gone fat
& left dry…
But she can hack it out
alone:
life is not meant
for men only.
She’s an amazon,
as all women should be:
Her island of sisters
poised against
barbarous invasion.

3.
A.

She protested
her innocence,
but only one
among the estranged comrades
came to her defense.
Now, in her memoir
she has singled out
those from whom
the masses can collect…
Despite the torture,
she has not copped out:
a woman
can be as Spartan
as Marx’s principle.

B.

She sets a bad example
for those who exult
the end of history
is where the market starts,
& capital in the hands
of corporate lords
be celebrated,
as in the early century
when Castillian navigators
took the South to its knees
in the name
of northern Emperors —
O to the victors
repose the spoils!
Therefore, she who defies
state agents & apostates
must be harshly cuffed
into the prison-house
for stoking the prairie fire
to devour straw patriots
& mutants.

4.

The mothers,
he spits,
should give up
the tortuous memory
of a daughter or son
lost to brigands
of the night…
The civil guards
won’t give them
a damn
for their incessant cries;
they have their own
human alibis.
Even murderers
as their death bed
wouldn’t confess
to crimes committed:
time has made
them forget
the foul misdeed!
If only
it were possible
to junk the grievous
event
from their daily musings,
like a stuffed toy
languishing in the closet.
But the world
only stares
at a dog
in a cage
in their season of
ambulatory ghosts.

5.

He almost woke up
crying
last night —
he faintly remembers.
Yet he doesn’t knew why.
It was too damned silly
to see his eyes
redden with tears:
tough dudes don’t smile,
much less dance, anyway.
But something
hovered behind him
like some ghost
& he couldn’t get it out:
a sentiment, a wish,
frisson of desire,
a face,
an event as when
he tarried with
young truants
at the stone table
under the trees
& he heard senseless
jive
that made all laugh.
This is it —
he has become
an unwelcomed guest,
like a bird
perched on a branch
& overlooking a crowd.
He must be quick
to fly away
once shooed
for being an intruding anchorite.

6.

They’re holding mass
for state soldiers
who were ambushed
in the hinterland.
A silent war
is going on,
& everyone is fair game
in the field.
As if the warriors
conscripted from the tribe
died with their boots on
in service of poor peasants.
But the sermon
reeked of the state
& he could only shake
his head
why lies must forever
accompany the troopers
to their graves.

7.

She’s writing
her own poetic voice
studded
with pronominal you
& I,
on cards that could be
shuffled
so her discourse
can exit or enter
at any given points.
But this is Kristeva’s
subject of enunciation,
where the author dies,
& the you
is anyone,
& the I
is not her,
like a fixed syllable in space.
Common illusion
obtains:
they’re not in conversation,
the subjects are
in pantomime
& figures in her textual
landscape
address each other
like prisoners
in concentration camp.

8.

The sun stirs
the heart’s passion
to fever-pitch:
but it is all the sadness
of summer
when everything perishes
at the advent of heat.
So she left without
a word,
the inconsolable truth
he can easily handle
but to resurface
when the earth
is in equinox…?
So he should suffer
the pain of remembrances,
unlike Proust
who cooly handled
the onset of ghosts…
Will he unroll
his pants
& walk the coast
where girls
tinkle with laughter
under the blue sky?
O He has turned
to stone,
his eyes blinded
by dust of time.

9.

The old poet,
with his long white hair
& scraggly face,
is toasted
by old companions
come to give homage
to his festschrift:
a summing up of sorts
or a final
dirty finger at society
that cultivates only
its own sordid coterie?
He has not wavered
from the cause,
they say,
& tonight he must be made
happily drunk
in the scheduled pub
so they can relive
old stories
of warriors in the mist.
The children
must be shaken to believe.

10.

When she shifted
the angle of her neck
towards the window,
evading his eyes,
he knew finally
his life
had changed immeasurably.
As when the earth
shifted on its axis
after the earthquake
in Chile
& the day shortened
by milliseconds.
So imperceptible
yet devastating when plates
clash…
& he worried how the planet
had tilted
without knowing
since the beginning
& how he loathed himself
for pompously being brilliant
at reading the weather
of her face.

11.
A.

She’s racking her brains
how she could stay on
in New York
& explore productively
the matrix of her art…
She’s keeping her fingers crossed
fate, this time,
would be so kind.
But everyone is driving
on the fast lane
& aliens from distant lands
keep coming in droves
like cosmopolitan refugees
of his iconic intentions.
Can she rough it out?
Can she run the full route
of her dream-work?
Questions pour in avalanche
like the snow that blankets
the outside city roads…

B.

The motley group
of artists
from global North & South
is asked to hold
an exhibit
to make a splash
in New York.
[But Europeans shrug
it is Berlin
where art throbs.]
“Milk the opportunity,”
counseled the well-meaning
director
& she intends to do so,
her head swimming
with images of pain
on the chilly snow.

12.
A.

The Ibu
warned her gently
to go slow:
she must not exact
so high a standard
as to flunk
high-paying blokes…
But she has been reared
in familial tradition
that half-way measures
only turn out
fool’s gold.
It has been that way
since knowledge
was declared
commodified treasure…
A lesson learned,
like a snake
that stared her in the face
so late in the game?

B.

But she’ll tough it out
with the future scoundrels
of the world:
she has gone through it
before.
There is more humanity here
in Jakarta
she muses,
where the natives
don’t camouflage their limits.
In Sing,
where her bosses fake it
they know the language
like the palm of their hand,
miming the English accent
with the smug superiority
of cock-eyed subalterns.

13.

They’re being edged out
into the back pages.
Slowly, they’re turning
invisible.
If only for their families
who trail their bus
from camp
to court
they will have become
faceless desaparecidos.
The nights
have been restless
& jail-humid;
always a guard
with an eerie smile
like Hannibal Lectern
will cuff
& escort them to the room
& be peppered
with the same questions
over & over again —
then & now hinting
of slack
for cooperation.
What else can they
confess?
How long must they
stand their ground?
Their truth
has become a monotone:
the state has gagged
them tight like dogs.
If only they could heal
themselves of fear & trembling
as they did on their patients….

14.

It just couldn’t be
happening everyday.
The news,
before he reads it
at the breakfast table,
is several days’ old
already,
probably happened
years ago
like
recidivist ghost:
repeat of what was once
mind-boggling scenario,
that wouldn’t raise
an eyebrow…
yet it’s Lazarus
come back from the vault
to speak & argue
how things have been
through the years.
The world seems
to have changed,
but the earth’s rotation
has been terribly
the same.
How to go on living
like this —
braving pain
that ceases
yet secretly sustained…
& her face
that rears
in the front mirror
as he drives in circles
like MRT
that travels
the full route
& ends where it begins…

15.

To push on,
then ambushed
by the rain…
& Drenched to the bone,
seeking refuge
under a roof
to sigh at the dry comfort.
But is this all?
Every morning
he brushes away
the cobwebs on his head,
reaches for the day’s
papers
like a habit of cocaine:
how things are
& will be in the future
like his horoscope.
A million times
he’s done it,
& it amazes him no end
why he’s trapped
in a corner
like a vermin.

16.

There he goes again.
Hasn’t he said it before?
He’s no longer surprised
words come out
like stale conversation
with friends
cranked up
like a gramophone.
The sky,
the air,
the figures cavorting
in his mental scape
he takes note of
as always being steady
& the same,
like the hot nights’
uneasy silence
that push him to sleep,
wake him up at cock’s crow
to begin from the beginning.
He fantasizes
for something different
to confront, even dream.
But nothing whispers nothing,
so there he goes again.
Has the revolution come?
Have the charlatans
come & gone?
He is shushed up
by a world that won’t volunteer
an answer.
Even if the streets
thunder with marchers.

17.

The Islamic theologian
is cocksure
Allah has plans for him,
& will protect him
from holified assassins…
But if He does otherwise,
he won’t question
the Divine like a lamb.
Sheik Dr. Tahir Ul-Qadric
has called for a fatwa
on Muslim extremists,
who violate savagely
the Holy Koran.
Vulgarly misinterpreted
as though God
has flashed the terrible sign
of justified suicides & killings.
The professor
is gambling on the power
of words
& the virtue thereof.
Justice for the innocent;
peace for mankind:
after all,
sainted warriors still
thrill to the sight of blood,
especially his
who stands in the pathway
of the mob.

18.

Summer ends.
Though it has not yet
begun.
The heat of March persists
& brown leaves
keep falling,
layering the ground
with waves of sad farewell.
At the Vargas Museum cafe
sipping his American coffee,
he sees in a distance
the faceless ones
who will break out
of their rooms
& empty prattle
for video games
& pubs
as the campus silence
drowns slowly
the old semester’s din.
But is there anything
that grips his heart
like the cheap sentiment
of being left alone
in the dark?
O They come & go,
they come & go,
vanishing
at the airports & train stations.
& Memory is a junkyard,
all that matters
is the swinging door.

19.

[He must stop dreaming
there will be better times
ahead…]
Familiar friends
have leaped into the abyss
& only a few
among the living
salute the history of his being.
Now & then
jolly punks join him
at the coffee table
& try to induce
some juvenile merriment.
[O But he is thankful
for such small blessings.]
They will eventually disappear
into the sullen evening
& he’ll be left alone again
into circular remembering.
Of course,
young voices jovially warn
to turn him inside out
& be done with his
fin de siecle grieving —
O they who march raucuously
with sunny optimism.

20.

The guy stares
at the puny lotto playslip
in his hand
after Pacman on TV
won via a unanimous decision
at Dallas.
The Ghanaian
had a guaranteed purse
& decided simply to survive
for the prize money
he, the bettor,
couldn’t make in several
lifetimes.
The champ, of course,
will live it up,
thinking being a billionaire
entitles him
to rule as a congressman
in a country
where officials suck up
to ignorant big shots.
After the pay-per-view setto
in a cheap pub,
he flags a jeepney
for home,
having been fooled again
by priests
that God loves
the workingmen.

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