STREET NOISE

1.
Ahdel Soueif,
Egyptian writer,
“demands that a writer
leave her quiet study
and take the pulse
of life outside…”
O the beautiful noise
on the street
that grates in the ears
& makes life so unpleasant
for one
who wants to close the door,
shutter the window
in a room of one’s own
where one falls asleep
to the crash of waves
of an imagined ocean
& dream of dreaming
to survive it all –
the cacophony of voices
of brief mortality.
But this isn’t easy –
blood pouring on the pavement
& bombs falling
on children of Aleppo
where violence in the sky
wakes the neighborhood up…
The old cowering
in the basement
& the children
playing in the brief sunlight
but who won’t grow old
& tell their vivid stories…
Yes, the writer
should hear their voices
from the grave,
never one’s own,
like a whisper
closeted
as if in a cabinet.

2.
They are slaughtering
elephants for their ivory tusks
in Uganda –
from the air where helicopters
launch sniper fire:
millions for the haul
to be sold worldwide.
Ric O’Barry,
who used to train dolphins,
pleads that Filipinos
“stop watching shows
that feature marine creatures.”
It is damned torture
for them to learn tricks
to amuse spectators…
For what?
When will the travesty
ever end?
Who put men to have
dominion over them?
When the last elephant is gone,
the last dolphin
disappears from the hot ocean,
what then?
Soon,
people will turn to each other,
devouring their children
like cannibals?

3.
This generation
fattened on milk tea
& anime,
is amazed
at the tales of suffering
of the Marcos years.
Would they have survived
if they were born
at the time?
Of course, of course.
They would block out
any grim & forlorn imagination –
O gross, wretched
not in synch
with their upbringing…
Eventually, they troop out
of the hall
& forget what they have
unfortunately heard
as crude warnings –
It is not real for them,
it is old people speaking
about their times…
O they will endure life
differently,
their god-sent fortune in style.
Angelus is just
a monochromatic moment,
never a fixture in their lives.

4.
Can one predict
the future?
It’s cyberworld out there –
hi-tech would ease them,
without tears,
into the future:
Emperors
have shaved their beards,
retracted their fangs.
Safe, safe! The flags semaphore
to no-one in particular.
Magical realist tour
of the psyche?
A postmodernist scene?
Hitler is just a fringe lunatic
come to scare
the children in the playpen.
Always, the night light
is on;
Mother will barge into the room
once they scream
at the illusionary terror.

5.
Finally,
the word is out:
he can’t forget her
how much he tries
to dismiss
her interminable absence.
His irony
a cover-up:
eyes watering
at any chance encounter
with something
about something
that makes him remember,
dumping him like
a bag of garbage
down memory lane…
Is it God’s will?
Who really cares?
The heart is a small map
of a crossword puzzle.
No need to go mad
like a drunken fool.
After all,
it’s just love
that blows hot & cold.

6.
A community of memory-tellers
of people to swap stories
& rekindle the flames
of history?
But violence ever swells
in the blood
& is ever free to be drawn out
in combat!
In towns & cities
survivors
are wary of opening up
towards strangers
adamantine with blood!
Even those
who have ceased mourning
to move on
beyond personal infancy!
O the last stragglers
may be stoned out of the tribe
if he is so much
as open wounds
of the secretive crowd.
Pay a high premium
of trust
that the young generation
may carry on?
Revive pain
for the memory
that keeps on waning?
Modernity fragments, paralyzes;
people retreat
to their hidden enclaves!
Everyday
the heart is “covered
with scars.”

7.
Two-penny activists
are coming out of the woodwork,
as it were,
to bear witness
to the Marcos reign.
As they hold court,
who are the shadows
watching stonily in the wings?
Their lips are sealed,
a half-smile forming
at the edges…
O the storytellers
at center stage,
basking in the spotlight
before the hungry crowd,
have grown fat,
flourished in the state apparatus,
making speeches
about the sordid part…
Was it really terrible
those days?
The greenhorns wonder aloud.
How to rekindle
the flames of resistance
after seeing the witnesses at hand?
Alas, “there will always
be witnesses.”
Gregorio de Jesus,
Bonifacio’s widow,
knew it all along
centuries ago…

8.
September 21
40 years ago.
The radio went dead,
eerie silence blanketed the air.
His heart raced to a different rhythm
as truckloads of soldiers,
recruited from
the boondocks,
set up perimeter defense
around the city.
O How he thought
of his children
& what their future would be.
But time swiftly passed
slow & quick like a centipede
in the nanosecond
of the infinite:
& here he is, sipping
tea at a café
“measuring his life”
in porcelain cups.
Nada, nada, nada
ring like bells in his mind:
The same old arid landscape
where on occasion
the barbed-wire fence
is shuffled back
whenever demonstrators
mass around Malacanang.
It is as if
September 21
were glued onto the calendar
& he could only
cuss
like the foolish emperor
on the shoreline.

9.
A voice behind him
viewing the gallery shots
of the martial regime
softly piped –
How was it then?
He was slow to reply,
as if stupefied
by the immensity
of the task.
Fascist?
Oppressive?
Words that wouldn’t sum up
the calm & tempest
of the iron-fist rule…
Vague, abstract
that wouldn’t explain
how cruel was cruel,
treasonous was treasonous.
O the terror
in terms of reference
of tortured souls…
He could only stammer:
You could be picked up
anytime of day or night,
or disappear completely
without trace
Safe houses dotted the city
like invisible sentinels
unlike the studes
at the lobby
who lazily stroll in their walkabout,
never looking over their shoulders…
But the henchmen
are still around,
alive & kicking
in the 15-minute Warhol fame –
Ancient celebrities
who wait out
their front acts!
O Did she get it?
The young woman nodded,
as if she wasn’t born yesterday…

10.
A.
In his hands
are wads of receipts
& certificates
his father “hid
every time he sold copra.”
If only the son could
cash them,
it would be a small fortune.
His father “died several years ago,”
bequeathing a legacy of hope –
much like Bishop Fumadico,
who appealed
to the Supreme Court,
“With God on our side…”
But does He ever listen?
(Sayeth the believers:
Miracles do happen.)

B.
Kim Komenich,
Pulitzer prize winner
for the Edsa coverage,
isn’t at all amazed
that “the ordinary people”
in his photos of 1986
“are still living
in the same farms & slum areas”
26 years ago.
No, he isn’t shocked at all –
a common truism
for well-travelled professionals
that in the tropics
the “more things change,
the more they remain the same.”

C.
As if
strident voices
echo in his ears
as he reads
the early morning papers.
Must he listen?
O stocktaking is a prescribed
regimen
for old men
to mentally exercise
a remembering mode
to keep them off Alzheimer’s.
How would he hear
a rich senator
brush aside
a neophyte:
“he isn’t answerable
to anybody…”
40 years & counting
& he’s still
being the old dictator’s point man.

11.
He is neither fierce
nor mean spirited,
but why does his circle of friends
refuse to touch him
with a ten-foot pole?
His woman however defends
this quest for solitude…
O does he expect
too much of the world
& wouldn’t ever truck
with relative discord?
Isolating himself
from human affairs,
like a fragile boy
in the glass bubble?
O How he makes intimates feel
they are at fault –
& they are fighting back
to impress upon him
the cruel sadness of his disposition.
Is he beyond salvation?
O He’s a little boy blue
wary of growing up
in a world gone old.

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