Centennial

1.
Is it the little guy
he hears in his mind
as he goes down
the stairs?
He used to rouse him up
as he caught his eyes
while turning on his side.
But Kayenne has passed on
this savage summer
& how his heart
skips a beat
as he unlocks the door
to suck in the morning air.
His mind is empty
at dawn
blind to the news
about Jose Rizal’s
obligatory centennial…
He never made money
off him
like most ersatz historians
who insist to have covered
all the bases,
the Third Eye that sums up
the infinite of his texts.
He can only dwell so sadly
on the little guys,
Kayenne & Bugsy,
family cats
who never claimed to be legendary.
Their world was family
never the public
that is given to
movie stars & icons.
But –
K & B were most intimate,
real;
JR & other heroic figures
were distant, imaginary.

2.
Yes, JR
never crossed his mind:
damned too academic
for his texts
to resurrect an alien presence
of 150 years ago
& extol the implications
of his existence,
as if he were a saint:
how JR gallivanted
in European cities,
wrote letters to kin
for his money
& his alleged allegiance
to the motherland
& Spain.
He was cocksure
the peasants,
ignorant countrymen
weren’t ready for Indio governance –
& there’s the rub.
Generations later
would credit him
for sparking the prairie fire?
C’mon, a drunkard slobbers.
Stupid we are
to hype heroes
& praise their virtues
rather than their Janus
side
that smacks of betrayal.
O how JR vonlunteered
for military service
under Spain
to suppress the Cubans…
He abandoned us
at the bereaven hours.

3.
& we hear stories
drawn up by idolators
behind academic chairs…
There’s so much to uncover,
they chorus like lemmings,
for he’s a cosmic gift
to the nation.
& he remembers
the unknown Katipunero
who never read Noli
& other erudite testimonies,
daring however the bullets
to pierce their amulets
& be done
with friar inquisition.
No one knows
where he is buried
while JR’s busts
mushroom in town plazas
& museums.

4.
He wakes up –
his eyes emptied
of invisible tears.
He cannot grieve over JR
& his global sorrows,
his romances aborted
by distance & circumstances.
What dark secret
does this imply?
What anguish & ennui
does he carry?
The observer from the wings
is not into hagiography,
couldn’t give a damn
about JR’s vertebrae
on display at Fort Santiago
to show where the bullets
entered & exited,
like the cherished bones
of the miraculous in Rome…
Is there profundity
in Banahaw mountain
where pilgrims
congregate
to confirm his godhead?
What madness of adulation
is this?
Would Rizal have laughed
at the sacred rites
of the impious in his name?

5.
Surely, were JR alive,
would he find
his festscript
rather pompous, scandalous?
He’s a cadaver
laid out on the table,
opened up by sages
like a unique insect –
the letters destroyed & missing,
the novels imitated
by barren writers,
the endless anecdotes
of his childhood,
his colorful travelogues
to the ends of the continent –
as if to reveal him
like a frozen specimen,
all the dots linked together,
turning his soul inside out
& become the matrix
of the Philippine studies
He & he alone
should matter?
Would he have sneered
at the prospect
& rued Bagumbayan instead
for spawning so many
evil lies & deeds?
He regretted killing Elias:
could he have recharted
his twin narratives?

6.
The fool says he could be
JR;
after all;
yes, had covered places,
broken bread with strangers,
screwed around with women
who had vanished in cities’ interstices…
But he’s a shadow,
an actor who could only
pantomime JR’s essence:
Could he be learned, heroic?
He never knew the guy
like the back of his hand:
his sense of history
is circumscribed
by his own circumstance, limits.
To mimic JR,
partake of his feast
would only elicit general sneer.
But post-modernism,
they say,
is pure surface –
& so armed with such axiomatic
he goes around the world
proclaiming
himself the hyperparadigm
the archipelago needs
to enable the nation
to save itself,
rise above the global mess JR himself
witnessed & left behind,
as if contaminated
by the same maddening disease.

7.
So they speculate:
what if JR were to rise
like Lazarus
& revisit edenic PH?
O He would have regretted
his belief
the masses needed to be educated:
everyone waves like flags
their academic degrees,
but cattle they still stay
shepherded by lecherous priests.
The landscape overflows
with his fictional
saints & villains…
& he would have wondered
aloud:
Did he ever leave?
Did he really die?
Revolution is dumped
in the garbage bin
everything moves, of course,
like a top crazily spinning.

8.
So there they are:
sages bearing fancy titles,
tracing their discourse
to him, the alpha-numeric,
of everything that dominates
Philippine Studies.
O He never strayed beyond
the reformist limit
of European progressives,
steering clear, unlike Burgos,
of Marx, the socialists.
These learned fools,
full of gestures & chatter,
have gone overboard,
JR would have mused,
immediately taking leave
as scholars
mount the podium
to display
their intellectual gymnastic.

9.
Did he remember
his women
as he walked toward
the firing line?
He could have –
for a nanosecond
when he glimpsed
the breaking dawn.
Did his heart
give a start?
Was there una furtiva Lagrima?
The country is too abstract;
loving it is embracing
the ghost of a moving wind,
as if Ultima Adios
were astute PR
for posterity.
Certainly, the 25 volumes
of unread scribblings
make for a lifetime load,
but Ambeth Ocampo,
JR’s Sancho Panza,
confesses,
“We only know what he
wanted us to know.”
Filmic Hitchcock
teasing us to unravel
his classic method
of hiding behind the camera,
briefly walking on the scene
to define his signature,
his enigma.
Bonifacio, Burgos, del Pilar,
Mabini, Jacinto,
et cetera.
could only punctuate
with a question mark
the last sentence
of their last paragraph.

10.
O How they read JR
for their own
mercantile interest!
They must ruminate
on his scholarship –
his beliefs & acts,
his fears & trembling
in a life made precious
by the manner of his death.
Like Christ, they say,
& in the similitude
invest on him
the imagined bravura
that however spurned
the desires & madness
of rising insurgents.
Did he set the prairie
on fire?
His fellow illustrados
misread the cue
& trucked with imperialists
to usher in
another mode of bondage.
They still hold court,
catapulted by sentiments
& the ballot.
JR trashed the Revolution,
broke the hearts
of disciples
waiting in cafes & boondocks.
Is it all Black & White?
Is there a Gray Area
where one can sift
the victim from his crime?
Despite his profundity,
Heidegger played sweet music
with the Nazis.

11.
So the charming myths
we live by:
as a child,
boy JR lost a slipper
in the river current;
henceforth, he threw the other one
for somebody to pick them up
& be better off with his pair:
his family in Calamba mansion
could afford a replacement, anyway.
In Batangas recently,
a 10-year-old boy,
walking home from school
via a spillway,
drowned trying to retrieve
the precious rubber slippers
that slipped into the raging water.
Did he fear scolding
from his parents?
O How the poor hold on
to earthly possession:
are they selfish & stupidly reckless?
But it’s all they have, anyway!
O tall tales
to lull us to sleep,
advisory to discern,
be illustrado heroic.

12.
Uncle calls up
now & then
from California
to enquire about
things in Manila.
But he’s at a loss –
he doesn’t know what
to say
to the old man:
he has lost contact
with his siblings.
He asks why
he has failed
to keep in touch:
it’s a small town anyway.
But everyone,
he answers,
is dispersed like flotsam.
The old couple
is fine though,
he informs:
Auntie is convalescing
from a stroke,
the children have flown
the coop,
& they cozy up
to each other
in a huge house
built with his own hands:
the nights are long,
the barometer goes down
to freezing point,
they miss
the beautiful chatter
of their grandchildren…
There is so much space
that echoes with its
own deafening silence.
It’s Father’s Day
tomorrow,
he notes,
but he hesitates to greet him
lest the tiger of sadness
sleeping in his room
wake up & roar.

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