Retirees & Other Poems


Tailend of summer

& rain has started.

This morning,

janitors trolley out

old books & bundles of paper

of a professor

kicked out like a mangy,

old dog.

His term has expired,

no need for him to stay put.

There will be no flowers

to send him off

into the land

of eternal sundown.
Noon, the school is half-deserted.

The smell of rain & thunder

in the sinister air

soaks the circle of foliage.

O To find some corner

where he could seek cover,

or drown under the leaves

of autumn!

But the cafe is on

a lockdown mode…

& he remembers Quasimodo


how quickly evening dawns.


She phones

about an aging poet

who was rushed

to the hospital.


He was no pugilist

but may have been punch-drunk

from late-night booze,

warding off

the sacral demons

of his craft.

He was infant terrible

of his time,

but who remembers

his line?

Drunken young poets

slobber about their own,

oblivious of the patient

who partly started it all.

O Are we all victims

of time’s cruel




He waits for

the 7’oclock class

to troop in.

The grass still smells of dew,

light green in the sun’s

soft glow.

O They will finally vanish

after May,

like melted ice-cream:

will they find their own

helter-skelter way

into the world?

Who shall survive

to seize the rainbow?

But the old professor

dozes off,

as if drowning in the chatter

of shopping malls —

O, he who hums in his head

discarded verities

& old timer’s virtue!


But reality, they say,

stares them in the face.

Nah, the classroom isn’t the world:

they know better

how to observe the rule

of the trade.

Campus is where emptiness lies

& shadows on the lawn

rise & fall

like gambler’s die.

Outside the window

birds, by the thousands,

drop to the ground.

The universe is telling us

something —

Where they ever warned

of the perils

on sight?


The old woman

is following up

her apo’s admission papers.

“She’s a good kid,”

she says.

“She has brushed up

on Alighieri,

& the classics”,

as if the world hinges

on the wisdom

of the old…

The seven circles of hell

still exist?

She seems to be saying?

O Is it time

to outgrow marvelous

Shakespearean sonnets?


Rather true, he admits,

you really cannot move on.

K & B are forever gone,

having melted into air,

& there is no balm

for the throbbing pain.

Memory is a permanent hole

in the mind,

a bloodless wound

that opens to the dark.

& To write it all down

will conquer the dread & fear

of daily existence?

O but the heart

shall quickly revolt

against substituted metaphors…


The mothers of desaparecidos

cannot tell you

what grief really is:

it is beyond language

& mathematical measure:

any telling is in pursuit

of nothing.

Signs of despair —

a tear, a silent prayer —

can only be half-heartedly told:

Everything is beyond

customary human hope:

link of hands can’t ever

lighten the cross.

This, alas, is the unsaid brutal truth.


O How to deliver

the living

from their own

irredeemable grief?

Sages say:

write about the story

& exorcise the devil

through the Word.

But ever silence falls


cannot life the soul

over the void.

What language then

to signify an absolute truth?

O None, none at all.

This pain

that is beyond art,

beyond poetry,

beyond prose!


Something malevolent —

& grotesquely calming —

in the breeze

that curls around the trees

outside Vargas

& muffles the chatter

of children

at noon

while he, like an orphan,

on an island

of a table, is marooned,

quietly sipping Americano,

pretending there is no terror

lurking in the foliage of shadows.

O What bad luck

to spend the day

in the coffee shop

while brats

on the promenade

make noise

about the future.


He was released

seven years later

from the QC jail,

after having been found


“for a crime he didn’t


It was “Christ”, he confessed,

who delivered him from the nightmare

of the legal quagmire…

Now he’s got a degree

to help out detainees:

Was it a miracle?

He wouldn’t dare

answer lest

metaphysic devour

his survivor’s logic.

Why him, of all people,

to have gone

through it all?

Was that the real message?


She has turned to God

after her son

was violently removed

from a restaurant

& hauled into van.

It has been years since

& she could only find solace

in the arms of mothers

whose sons/daughters

have also disappeared.

God is merciful, she intones,

but the devil in the details

reads into her words —

Why did it have

to happen, anyway?

She’s resolute,

sticking to her guns

that in the end

all the dots would be linked,

enlightening skeptics

why death & life

of all the loved ones

in the world

would level up

to divine logic.

Have faith,

she whispers into the microphone,

this is not yet time

for wisdom to unfold.

So the bereaved would keep

on lighting candles

in remembrance of a deed

most foul, most monstrous.


He was telling

his young friends

gathered around

the table

why at a certain age,

the body refuses

to heed the mind —

but they averted their eyes.

Time is yet to walk

the full length of the road

toward the finish line?

Now, now, now is all

that matters:

living well is only worth

its own proper measure.

They forthwith smiled,

the sun on the smooth faces

of their even, placid lives.

O if they were only warned

by Quasimodo

who had known it all along —

in the blink of an eye,

the moon eclipses the sun

“& suddenly, it’s evening.”


Too early

in the morning to talk

about fiction.

But it is demanded

of him

to say something

about the craft:

O he could only start,

as if it’s an old revelation —

reading takes time

[the second or third route

drags one deeper

into the ocean of words].


must attend the ritual —

let it linger

in the mind

like an encountered


is there something

of a deja vu

or an apparition

ultimately new?

Wine takes time

to sweeten on the tongue.

Truth doesn’t show up

quickly at the door

bearing gifts

like a miraculous angel:

O learn to wait

for the sudden visitor

who ambushes

like a robber.


He prefers her

as a short story:

a novel would only equal

a lifetime.

O she who prefers to stay

quickly exits through

the door.

A shortened narrative

to mark the trajectory

of the visit?

O such is life

in a country

of malevolent passion

& brief relation.


The epic

merely repeats events

of life & death:

every situation

remains the same

for a rat

in a revolving cage.

O The suspense isn’t killing —

the beginning & the end

meet like battered lovers,

trapped in smouldering air.

& they lived happily

ever after

as in the fable?

They cross their fingers,

hoping there is something

to salvage, repair.


The professor looks

at the pile of blue books

on his desk

that define the wasted summer

of their youth.

He lets his eye linger

on the scribbled papers,

then leaves his chair,

sighing as if in great discomfort.

He remembers the ancient city

of Alexandria

burning to the ground

all the wisdom

the Western world.

But did it totally stop

all subsequent philosophers

from constituting

the alchemy of truth?

Outside, savages

in majestic robes rule!



It’s no longer his room.

The synage has been pulled down,

the key changed.

A glimpse of the inside

shows a new coat of paint,

erasing graffiti

of resistance on the walls.

Inside the clean, well-lighted


postgraduates widely chatter

about gains in their career.

Someone comes out,

inquiring about the stranger.

O It’s been a long time,

no one knows him anymore!

He has retired years ago —

an ordinary mortal now

loitering like an unwanted dog

in the corridor…

Why does his heart

stop on a beat?

Why have all memories gone?

To the grave, to the grave!

Shriek the shadows

behind the stairs.


Hours past noon:

Prof. Q says

he’s forced, per university rule,

to retire by July.

He plans to work on his songs

& his US visa

to be with his daughter

dangerously flirting with obesity

in New York —

this while waiting for

a student interview

about his quarter-storm days

that still rankle

in his soul…

& did you know

about an old chap

whose wife had passed on?

O they were inseparable duo

on campus…

How does he cope

with being alone?

Tomorrow a blank wall?


in the settling dark,

do they see themselves

teetering over the edge,



She once knocked

on his door

to clarify something —

this woman who spoke

fluent Spanish

& sang arias operatic.

But she’s an English teach

& enamoured with literature.

An announcement

on the bulletin board

noted her passing

in America

where she stayed on

after retirement.

O Some people

suddenly vanish

only to return

in the obit page.

This is how life is?

You meet someone

for a second

on the cosmic stage

then lose her

for eternity.


Is this the day

he’s always longed for?

Yet in the backburner

of his mind

he sees a white, white page

on which he would write,

write, write

all the cool passion

of his days.

Something tells him though,

the infinite is so vast a desert

he can’t even walk to the edges.

Metaphoric skulls & bones

lie buried in the shifting sand

of memory

& he can’t even spot

the X where he’s bound to fall

like those unnamed voyagers

who failed to finish

their vainglorious endeavor.

O All dressed up

but nowhere to go?

Days grow longer every second,

like a knife twisting

in the guts.


While strong & avaricious

they have wisely

invested in their future,

the old man says.

Ph.D for tenure & position,

mutual funds

for security & comfort.

Dollar accounts, of course,

for bills when

bones creak

& flesh decays.

Being a fool, he shrugs it all —

this uncertified monk

who fails to note

the state only serves

its own servile buffoons…

Yet, secretly he has been


for God to exist

& note him in His merciful way.

O This rat whose cage

has been opened

but is hesitant to flee

into the wide-open space.

O in this country

without mercy

for stubborn old men

& pious punks,

he is simply way off

the path

of street-smart merchants…


The scholar-critic,

upon retirement,

retreated to his farm

in Bulacan,

domestic hands

& an adopted child in tow.

Was it probably

the country in him

that forced him into splendid exile?

As a child

he loved cicadas sing

at night

& the gentle breeze

that wrapped him

like a mother’s arms

affirming comfort & love…

He had had a stroke

years before

& limped about the threshold

with a cane.

But he didn’t imagine

he could run so fast

after poachers

ransacked his habitat.

It was reported,

he had to be rushed

to a provincial hospital

when his heart faltered again,

& did him in.

Yes, the rural scene

could be deviously blissful,

but evil lurks everywhere,

& always the poor

cast a moist eye

on small landowners

as if it were a crime.

Nothing has been heard of since

the fatal interlude

& friends in academe

are at a loss

about the fate

of the beloved orphan

who, rumors have it,

was kicked out

by relatives of the deceased

for lack of legal claim

to the land.


He’s nearing that timeline

when the world

turns upside down.

But he’s quick to the draw

& bought a farm

he could repair to

when out of job.

With tenants to oversee,

he’s assured

of independent income:

Is this the way

things should turn out

for retirees

who stare at a blank wall

in the bureaucracy?

In the market of commodity


he thinks of his safety


Only he can take care of himself…

But why bewail the lack of human conversation

from the old bureaucratic tribe?

What the hell!

It’s a new life altogether,

one stage on which to face

squarely the risk,

the fall of die…

Where can he, after all,

turn to?

Each to his own refuge

in the weather of storms, gales.


He’s a rumored lothario —

sauttlebutt has it —

eager to get into women’s pants…

who won’t, however,

cast him a glance, alas!,

as he parks his car

& heads for the coffee shop

to banter with

ersatz acquaintance.

Has he ever learned his lesson?

Should he stop ogling


sipping Starbucks chocolatte,

giggling over their secret studs:

they don’t see him, anyway,

all dressed up

like the ghost of an aging paramore

traipsing in the steamy air.

Is he Kilroy himself

his handwriting

on crumbling walls

nobody will ever read?

A forgotten hero

of the lost war,

a spirit nobody misses

in the age of rock & jazz.


It was a number-coding day

as he had to rush

to the university

in a cab:

he was asked to explain —

Pronto! — an issue

his former staff

must clear up…

Can they re-sked it for next day?

No! Was the resounding


from the factotums he had hired

when they were still

wet behind the ears:

Now they’re calling the shots,

impatient to hear him out

as if he had committed

an impeachable crime.

He had recently retired,

& consequently vulnerable to power,

was even denied a class

he could expertly guide.

Where is justice here?

He must have mused

when generations after him

would never even dare

look back

at his impeccable record.

Alas, this is not a country for old men,

but for young, trigger-happy guns.


He’s got a head

of jet-black hair

only a few years back,

& a moustache to boast

that made him up

like an imperial don,

but it’s a crown

of silver now…

How explain

this fast, hermit-like aging?

O When his dear wife

met a fatal accident

his world crumbled,

his voice lowered

to a raspy whisper —

this athlete of the mind

who had slowed down to a crawl.

But of late

he has recovered his spirit,

found a calling

to move out of mourning:

he’s mentoring greenhorns

of the legal profession,

the dialectical joust

renewing a passion.

Has he finally

moved on

toward personal restitution?

No one retires, after all:

always there’s something fortituitious

at the turn of the road.


At the cafe,

he secretly watched kids

at the sideward table:

frisky & listless

like kittens

as they recycled stories

of adventures & mishaps

as if these were novel, new.

He was drained

by the explosion of energy,

but all the narratives

he had heard before,

known a long, long time ago.

Was his time ever like this?

He should not be therefore


Did he have some boisterous


to idle away afternoons

with exultant camaraderie?

But what is there to do

when things repeat themselves,

like the days of wrath

& the nights of rain?

Must he cup his ears

& close his eyes —

it’s the same old scene

from the same point of view?


The keyword is Emeritus.

O How she has worked for it

to be appended to her name

in this part of the woods.

Almost as if the Machine

is down on its knees,

nodding she’s no rebel, adversary.

Has her monologue

found its spectral roots?

But the children never understood

the theorem of words

she has told.

Has she successfully sold

herself to a crowd

who never cared a hoot?

What manner of sainthood

is this?

In a country of silence

& blind applause,

is she a victor

in the back-alley scuffle

among nameless ghosts?

O The keyword is Emeritus.


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