55 Poems for November

1.

A.

They won’t leave you
alone.
This platoon of owls
perched inside
your heart.
They sit staring
as if in silent wisdom,
like sages
questioning your truths.
& you can’t help
thinking of the old, young
times.
Suddenly, you cry.

B.

Always,
the day begins
with the sun
slipping through
the window
but the breeze
cools it down
as if to announce
time for remembering
old virtues
& vices.
Did he perform
the filial rites?
Did he stride
across the room
as if they were
invisible?
Did he exist
only in his eyes?
Did he utter
the word
hearts desire?
O he lets the wind
snuff the candle light,
as if to hide
in darkness,
a criminal.

2.
A.

They will not
return, of course.
Their searchers
have always come back
empty handed.
But they have to be
killed, anyway:
They give
officials a bad press.
This campaign
doesn’t stop them
from getting
organized.
O what keeps
these people going?

B.

They will kill us.
At the stockade
I overhear them talk
about the hole
we’ve dug up.
Last night,
the two women
disappeared.
I am scared
shitless.
O what manner
of people are these
half-men, half-beasts
who devour
children,
the innocent?

C.

These days
they light candles
in remembrance.
The President
has forgotten,
but for their families
who have kept
the torch burning.
They want closure
to their nightmare
with the evidence
of bones.
O there is no end
to the gnashing of teeth,
the grieving.

D.

They offer flowers
everywhere –
land,
sea,
air
where their spirits
roam
unafraid.
Hopefully, a word
shall reach them
with our tears.

3.

A.

Always,
waiting kills.
Though
the wind blasts
the hell out of trees,
rains whip
the waters
into a mighty surge
to claim the living
for the sea’s
belly.
Yet once
the fatal mission
is done,
he is amazed
how he could have gutted
it out
as he nurses
his coffee
warmed by his hands,
a Buddha
deep in zen.
But a storm
rages in his heart
& he doesn’t’t know
its name.

B.

The usual wasteland
photography
makes for sudden art:
fallen trees,
uprooted roofs,
sudden lakes
& bodies fished out
of the drowning water.
He is whole
in the midst
of the tropical tempest
yet his mind
is in disarray –
phantasmagoria
inside his skull
like the ruins outside.
But observers
cannot believe
his narcissus plight.

4.

It is there
for all to see:
the north in ruins,
stragglers
picking up
detritus of their empty
lives.
Yet the Palace crows
how well
it has prepared
the survival kit
for lowly peons.
[Only to be abandoned
in the coming seasons.]
Eventually,
we peel off
the dry scab
of memory!
After all,
nothing deters
the living
from dreaming foolishly.
O this mode of dying
called living.

5.

In the heat
of the storm
up north
he drops by
a shop in Morato
for a haircut.
Too long
has he been
down in the dumps
& a make-over
is Rx recommended.
Outside
the streets
are muddy,
asphalt-black
& his heart
fixed on the anchorite
grimly staring
from the mirror.
O time spares
no one:
he is just a number
on the chart.

6.

A.

The hole-in-the-wall
shakes to the blare
of Pinoy rock
as househelps
with thick make-up
gyrate like African
tribesmen
that afternoon
when Isabela
is being ravaged by Juan.
The bacchanalia
thunders on
as if the world
is at wit’s end.
Finally
they pack up for home
where ill-tempered
masters rule
like native centurions.
A few seconds
of shabu-high,
long, long hours
of bondage
like dogs
on the estero ride.

B.

“Salamat po
sa tulong niyo
sa aming mga mahihirap,”
she mumbles
modestly
into the microphone –
& it makes
his blood boil
as if poverty
were a badge of honor.
But to be patted
on the head
like a pup
is never key
to entering
heaven’s door.

7.

After the storm,
they begin
to repair themselves.
But with hearts
wracked
by the wind
& salty water,
how can
they breathe,
survive?
Yet they move on.
What finger
points toward
what direction?
Nobody waits.
Not even time
that in fickle.
& murderous.

8.

Van Gogh
may have cut
his ears
in madman’s passion,
but his starry night
lighting up the sky
makes for the happiness
the state
of the world.
Morose poets
were happy once
but could only note
the mirthful moment
with mournful words:
this brief on joy
arcanely rooted
in sadness.

9.

Unlike God
he “measures life
in coffee cups”,
nursing the dark elixir
in his cold hands
as if to buy time.
Nothing must be
out of rhyme,
or it is accidental.
A secret wish
to be disconsonant?
Is he prepared
for any emergency
that will tip the heart?
His logic
is Cartesian cool,
until she smiles
from across the table
& he falls.
O Freud
has never been
so invincible.

10.

The mirror
betrays him every time.
Yet time it is
curled like a snake
inside his skull
that holds him
in thrall.
Elixirs
cannot stop
the beating of the drums.
Is love forever?
O this cocaine of a habit
that keeps him running
like a jogger
nailed where his two feet
lie.

11.

Is it him
staring back
like a dandy
from light-was had
space?
A mistake
in this angle of attack
of his eyes
trying to capture
the symbol
like a horse
in a stable,
ramming down the door.
He stolidly gazes
like a man drowning
in the river’s rush.
Robbed
by invisible thieves
of his imagined treasures.
How shall
he face the phantom
that sums up
all the zeroes
laying siege
on his watch?
No mirror
can say it all.

12.

She isn’t cut out
for easy conversation.
If she does
there is a secret snarl
in the curl of her tongue
as if a tiger
has been let loose
in the wild.
In the space
between the walls
of the labyrinth
who can be the Minotaur
& make combat real?
The cavern
echoes with rage
of neither beast nor angel.
How we dialogue
behind shuttered minds!

13.

Finally
the semester is done.
The doddering professor
empties the room
but queasy feelings
resurrect
false intimacies
& goodbyes.
The academe
is a way station
for hustling travellers.
They did some photo-op
but that’s Facebook
memento
that will be erased
once grades
are submitted.
Who rummages
memory’s trash bin
for photos
frayed at the edges?
Colors turn sepia,
then yellow.
A sentimental fool
to an asylum
he shall be committed.

14.

Is she the woman
walking toward CAL
equidistant
from the museum
where art
leaps out of the canvas?
He’s not sure.
Everyone vanishes
in the wink of an eye.
He can only hope
to survive
the daily tragedy
of witnessing time expire.
She too
will turn to dust
is a loser’s desire.

15.

So things
repeat themselves,
like an ocean wave,
a tear.
Is there something new
to reveal?
When they chance upon each other
like bikers colliding
in the pathway:
Where have you been
all these years…
A buzz on the cheek
but nothing
starts or ends
a prairie fire.
This total amnesia:
Hearts move on,
swiftly beyond despair.

16.

When he enters
the side café,
he is a ghost
floating on air:
kids are deep
into Harry Potter
& squalid teen affairs
like cigarette smoke
that slowly rises.
Who are these truants
gripped by ennui
at so early an age?
What century
is this?
But he has slobbered
like a drunkard
about the old, old scene
& he never
tires of it.
Absences
stay their presence
& he cannot squeeze
a tear
out of a heart of stone
that trembles
like leaf
on a bough.

17.

It’s embarrassing
to confess
he is terribly alone:
that will be
most unfair
to kinsmen & friends
come to give him
company.
But what is there
to share?
He has
to brutally shoo
them away
like strangers
lest intimacy
breed despair.
Protocol is all?
Not true
he seeks solitude:
he cannot
handle the truth.

18.

Is he in synch
with the times?
The avant-garde
poem
before him,
spread like a corpse
on surgical table,
puzzles him no end.
The strange typography
of ee cummings
& Vladimir Mayakovsky
is pure incoherence –
points of entry
are multiply yet one & the same,
O this sophistry
of academic palaver!
A clown
suspended in mid-air
& he is cautioned
about a magical scheme
he will unfold?
But if he falls?
He goes back
to square one
of something
dusty, old.

19.

A.

He’s on Padre Faura
to meet with
childhood chums –
will he be dismayed
at how regretfully
most have aged
beyond recognition?
Is this the disaster
that awaits lovers
at the finish line?
He predicates:
there will be
the subdued banter
as in all
dead occasions,
then doxa of silence
for the forgotten
& the departed
as if history of roots
repeats itself
like metronome.

B.

Don’t you know
28 guys have been
stricken off
the record?
They shushed her up.
It’s a bad omen.
The agendum
was to keep the men
from swigging gin,
as if they’re perennial
sophomores.
Too late indeed
to rekindle old desires.
Long they have died down,
like bubbles
from a drowning corsair.

C.

It is drizzling outside.
The survivors
disperse,
south or north
where bed lovers roost
in faith
or desolation.
There is no end
musing over
the old, old lives
but who can resolve
why & how
all ended up
on the road
vanishing in the woods?
Always,
the vicious merry-go-round
of tales
& ribald jokes.

20.

Old crimes
are like ghosts:
they return
like avenging angels
to announce
to the hood:
None is forgiven
for deed
most murderous.
The Maguindanao
Massacre
only warns
how skulls,
bleached white
in the tombs,
smirk at those
in calaboose.
They will see it coming,
An old fogey avers
but cautions never the denouement
applaud.
The graveyard
is forever cold.

21.

Has somebody
said it before?
Are things never new,
always old?
Do they re-occur
in mathematical fashion
as if wisdom
were writ large
in the cosmos?
O what miracle!
Philosophers
have like souls,
always drink
from jaded fount.
Truth repeats itself
word for word.
The world changes
but never moves.
So sayeth the Supreme Court,
where dunces
judge
in emperor’s robe.

22.

A.

Motorists
are pissed off.
Traffic is clogged
& pedestrians
point to the marchers
drawn from haciendas,
inching toward the Palace.
If only peasants
will crowd the empty streets
or parks
where proles congregate…
But don’t they bring
rice & sugar
to the table?

B.

They only want
their just share
of cacique land…
Brats
& hierarchs
have lived off it
in style:
shopping in Paris,
New York,
fucking around
with film studs
& taipans;
setting up power blocs
in Malacañang…
O life is always
scraping at the bottom.
Rare it is
to buy pan de sal
but in mansions
they have oversupply of croissants.

C.

Our urban brothers
who sweat it out
from sunrise to sundown
don’t give a damn.
They can’t see beyond
their noses close to the grindstone.
What is there to do?
The law is never
on our side!

D.

He cannot live
their small lives;
he cannot speak
their small voices…
yet something
tugs at his iron heart:
Can he embrace
the horde?
But O
how the fruits of their labor
are devoured
by children of landlords
who squander
their youth
in European boarding
schools.
Their own wait on tables,
scrub floors.
There is justice somewhere
but he is clueless
where it holds.

E.

The tale
is interminable:
cases
through the centuries
gone cold.
Must they pray
in church
that chauffeured hacienderos
see the logic
of revolt?
Will God heed
their call?
But they don’t know
the Kabbala
& His way
is inscrutable

F.

Generations
have been at it –
manning the forth
as if the plantation
were their own.
Is this brief, brief life
worth a few pesos?
Hotheads
scream at the top
of their voices:
O there is darkness
in the land –
every peasant
appears like an angel
with a flaming sword.

G.

The negotiating table
is a bridge
between two askew points.
How can
they share tea & sympathy?
O the distance
of the sea.
& if Jesus descends
to settle the issue,
how can brotherhood be
when Aramic
is the language of the occult?

H.

She is bound
to be stoned
according to an inflexible
Koran.
Her husband,
village elders in tow,
quotes God & the Law.
Should women
obey the beastly rule?
Miles apart,
the hacienda peon
& the Iranian woman
share the prison
stranglehold.

23.

Pentagon
doesn’t want
the word leaked out:
more than 16,000 –
& counting –
civilian deaths
in Iraq
are classified.
& torturers
go scot-free
as investigators
wait behind desk,
shrugging off
a cover-up.
Obama insists
to tag whistleblowers
for espionage,
but they come out
of the woodwork
like mites
flushed out
by squirting blood.
Generals in Washington
intone:
to make an omelette,
break eggs.
Only the strong survive.

24.

A.

He used to sit
by the window.
It’s the sunlight
or the cool breeze
he loves.
Then
at the top of the stairs
to watch over us
like an imperial sentinel.
Now
he faces the door
to secure
Comings & goings?
Even his lips are sealed,
A Buddha inscrutable.
If only
he would share
the secrets of his silence.
He dropped by our backyard
like an orphan
& has stayed since.
O will he be pleased
with a vanilla cake
from Estrel’s
on his birthday?
Do we hear
Kayenne purr
his paws folded
under him
in meatloaf pose
as if in approval?

B.

Bugsy,
who arrived
without warning
at our gates
once upon a time,
lingered then left
for fairy land.
He too must have
a slice
in remembrance.

25.

Always
the daybreak nightmare
of a book half-opened,
work undone,
persons unmet
& appointments
never kept.
An inscape of burnt trees,
empty lakes,
dolphins sending signals
from mid-sen;
kitten marooned
on top of a tree
& dead souls in avalanche
as he wakes up
struggling for air.
If somebody leaves,
must there be word
to utter?
If she comes,
will there be a welcome mat?
Everything exists
but nothing matters?
O He is perpetually
in pursuit
of the unfinished.
Like balancing
on the edge of a knife.

26.

A.

It is as if
he talks about
Alighieri’s hell.
They haven’t got
the clue.
They stare down
at their shoes
whenever he segues
into Martial Law.
O how do you
connect the dots
of the Kempeitai’s
to the Metrocom’s
when legions
are collaborators.
Their elders
didn’t show the way.
Yesterday
is so far removed,
history is a narrative
of ghosts.

B.

WWII is more palpable.
The movies reel off
how Bataan fell
in Hollywood,
toothless grandfathers
reminisce
their medal hoard
& indescribable Japanese
torture.
The NPA’s are guardians
of the chamber of horror?
“Skyrose” is a story
of cross-eyed activists
inexplicably
conscripted by the Cause.
O History can be turned
on its head!
So sayeth their spider-parents
as they blindly weave.

C.

Should we die
for this country?
OFWs leave
in droves,
slipping through
custom.
Patriotism
is an old man’s tale
of delayed
Washington backpay.
Today’s generation
survives in style:
New York,
even Dubai
when expats
eat the pie in the sky.
Only Noy-noy
will stick it out
here in Manila
where his circle
of brats
serves him hand & foot,
fawning
He is the archetypal Boss.

27.

He’s an anti-imperialist
who wore a Pierre Cardin
leather jacket plus Che beret.
But Ilich Ramirez Sanchez,
aka Carlos
languishes in jail
in France
for killing a number,
including a “French Embassy
worker, his pregnant wife
& their unborn child,”
which puts to doubt
the kind of rebellion
he desired.
“I am a soldier. I am not
a martyr,”
he shrugs to justify
his nihilist anger,
the uncharted ways.
O what went wrong
in the ideological play?
Operation Kahos
in Mindanao
pushed the envelope farther:
gripped by paranoia,
comrades turned against comrades
in a kangaroo court
until put to a stop
by the politburo.
When the killing starts,
how does it stop?
If revolution is born
out of love,
why does it sound
so strangely monstrous?
O what lesson to be learned
to revive the Cause?

28.

She is on leave
from the boondock?
Tries to fit
into an academic office—
square peg
in a round hole?
How can she live
like this:
Routine is robotic,
knowledge
is surface, dead.
The rocky trail
& heavy foliage
lay siege
to her looking
as she goes about
pedagogic learning.
She’s on Aquino watch.
Shall she cross
the line again?

29.

Now & then
he pops up
at the townhouse door –
a boy grown into
a battle-scarred man
who weaves around
forest trails
like a wild boar.
He fell once
down a ravine
& hurt his back…
So much in youth
to sacrifice!
It’s tough,
he admits,
to appease
the victims of
party’s error,
but they’re courting time
to win back
the masses’ trust.
O how viciously
time flies!
But in the foliage
it does not expire
under the camouflage
of heavy rains
& blasting wind
to change the human
contour of the land!
Now, wiser
than his elders
about combat
& living with the underclass…

30.

A.

O the twin dissonant voices;
let tomorrow
take care of itself.
History zigs & zags,
straying away
from the orthodox path.
Que sera, sera.
Learn how to ride
the turbulent flow.
Blindly in the dark
they clasp their hands
to follow.

B.

The road travelled on
isn’t as winding, perilous –
it is grimly told.
For executioners who hide
behind carnival masks
will be in the light exposed.
Yes, Polpot isn’t Mary
& the dreaded future
isn’t heaven’s call:
this be the manifesto
of the unbowed
who persist to hope.

31.

R. had
Black Forest
from her Indonesian
friends.
Her family
Malabon noodles
for long life
signifying her absence
is not real…
O the fate of expats
who work
far from kith & kin:
SOP for decades
since the country
has been marked
Asia’s “basket case”.

32.

A.

Water, water
everywhere…
& the lashing wind
that chills the bones
won’t stop
the submerged
from surviving
the furious season.
“Been there,
done that,”
as if in Russian roulette—
his children,
with ease
of ignorant despondents,
saying it’s the natural cycle
of pestilence,
living in desperation,
& cunning,
like their animals
tied on higher ground
that keeps sinking,
stolidly watching
their kind, the dying…
This given
for the underclass
who shivers
on empty stomachs.
How long shall peasant
patience last?
Always different,
but always the same.

B.

When the river swells
the roof sinks to the floor—
O this seasonal lamentation
since the time of the world
began with Noah
who floated on water!
What nature of a beast
we can’t placate with our bodies?
The mountains can no longer
hold the onrushing current,
O the “evil that men do,”
as if it were a holy gift!
The anointed in Pasig,
dry in his lair
won’t heed our station—
he’s heavy with the chatter
about the desire for children
to romp in Palace playpen.

33.

So he idles
in the Museum café.
as if time can wait
& wisdom
comes with age:
the drowning waters,
the hot, hot sun,
the young women
who wither before
their time,
the men who grow old
in vanity & arrogance…
He sits
as if waiting
for something to come.
The coffee turns
cold & warm…
But he has run out
of old-fashioned wisdom
to imagine the future:
alas,
he is irretrievably lost.
& silence
is not even
a sagely cure.

34.

A.

He had been
in Myanmar prison
thrice already.
Now he is allowed
to perform only
before tourists—
the locals can’t figure out
an alien language
that secretly
pokes fun
at the generals.
Such decoy play
for a regime
grim & determined
to enforce their law
that locks up
satirists & comedians.
Did he vote
in the recent elections?
He declares:
I cast my vote
20 years ago.
Enough already.

B.

The Chinese
at the border
won’t lift a finger
to tip the balance
of power
in juntaland.
They are enamoured
with the generals
who keep at bay
hard-headed radicals.
Aren’t they only
monks
who move around
with begging bowls?

35.

A.

They crowd
the SM North’s theatre,
the Great Unwashed
who likes to catch
a glimpse
of the celluloid icons.
O How they relish
spectacles
& fantasy figures
of imagination!
But will they line up
for the Revolution’s
last full show?

B.

O cattle
fattened up
for slaughter!
You cut their throats
while they bellow
toward disaster.

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