GROUND ZERO

1.
You can’t wrap your mind
around it,
the older man drawls,
of the totaled Eastern Visayas.
If you take a bath,
you can’t wash
the stench off your mind,
this interminable nightmare.
As if the living willfully
abandoned their loved ones
under the rubble,
corrugated iron sheets,
to fester in the sun
while scavenging for
food & water.
The leaders were in disarray,
fending for themselves
in a dog-eat-dog affair.
This conflagration
that covered a third
of the planet
so viewed from space
by a passing astronaut…
What words would explain it?
Ease the pain of the wounded
& dying?
O None!
A continental junkshop?
An archipelago of morgues?
O None has been invented
since the time of Socrates
who didn’t witness
the modern tragedy
since the Atlantis…

2.
A.
She’s cradling a child
swaddled in thick blanket
to slow down
the suffocating decay
before it can be slipped
into a burial site
that is nowhere in sight.
It has started to stink
like a rotten durian fruit –
but she doesn’t mind –
It’s her child, anyway
as she vacantly stares
at the people walking like zombies
around her.
Dazed & uncomprehending
as if she were in
some backwoods theatre
watching the end of the universe.

B.
The guy was clutching
a Sto. Niño statuette
as he led a platoon of men
scampering for cover
in a flooded hotel.
O Will he keep the faith?
Never dare ask
about the punitive storm?
An old woman in her ‘90s,
a niece narrates,
would curse at the figurine
once her eyes settled on it –
O this savage transformation
of a once devotee…
Her iron belief
has turned rusty?
O it’s the line of corpses
studding the countryside
on her way to the airport
as she fled her own nightmare
that morphed her
into an apostate!
What would the Grand Inquisition
answer if she asked the question?

3.
Yes, the young man says,
seemingly catatonic
as he smiled into the camera’s
eye,
his wife had died
in the turbulence,
along with his children
who had drowned.
He had not buried them yet –
he is all alone now
with some food & water
he could carry his grief
today,
but tomorrow
he might slash his wrists,
to stop the daily nightmare.

4.
The parachute journalist
has been booed
by local bloggers
for shooting from the hips:
he had marveled
at so much poverty,
plus the reports
of corruption attendant
to government –
& now the unwelcome stress
that uncovered everything
foul & murderous
kept hidden by liegemen
from the “King”
whose “conscience
he had pricked”…
The catastrophe was global –
anyone who would be less diplomatic
must be stricken off the list?
O the country is a monumental mess,
a decaying corpus, no less,
throughout colonial centuries…

5.
The Palace wizards
didn’t foresee
the magnitude
of the deluge:
Now, they have to move
with the people
straining on the leash
to revolt!
But Haiyan was a preview
of Hong Kong snafu
that exposed the king
for letting his liegemen
call the shots
at the park!
Now, in the Leyte hinterland
he must repair
his fractured visage
& scuttle the unbelievers
in the battered place.

6.
O It’s Saigon
redux
when American troopers
scooted out of Vietnam
like a pack of rodents
chased by Vietcong combatants.
The passengers at Tacloban
tarmac
would jostle & jump the line
to squeeze themselves
into the maw of C-130
Hercules
that will expatriate from
their beloved hometown
to gamble their lives
in a city of mean streets:
all hell would break loose
as they crowded the transport…
A brutish existence,
like what Rousseau prescribed
about the modern times?

7.
He took a leave of absence
from the office
to seek out his family in Leyte.
A country boy
who made good in Manila,
but whose heart stayed put
in the barrio abode:
When he returns
will he be empty handed?
Everyone waits with bated breath:
if the truth is askewed, fatal
or God inflicts his implacable
wrath?
His return route was blocked;
only later would he learn
his family is safe, ok –
he reports inwardly to himself
mumbling a prayer
of relief
like a penitent…

8.
She had to abandon
the launching of her book –
a docu on the music industry
which was her passion,
her mind’s choreography,
for December.
She instead had postponed it
for February,
seemingly improper in these
perilous times
when hearts are grieving
& death has multiplied like flies.
Her mother is foremost
in her mind,
alone in Tacloban…
Must she abandon her art
for the tumult of the moment
that extends to infinity?
Writing can always wait,
her personal issues
cannot be shuttled to the edge.

9.
The storm tore into
the heart of the city
like a bullet:
window glasses shattering,
concrete walls toppling down,
tower of water roaring over
the living…
When will laughter
resound in the country, then?
& flowers bloom
in early mornings?
The memory of crumbled houses
the dead under the rubble,
the hungry loitering around like zombies,
women who got raped
& houses wantonly looted –
all will be shuttled back
in the mind of blank
blazing light
that won’t remember the infamy,
that all must move on inexorably
past death’s valley.

10.
The TV creator thrills
to the cinema verite,
of poor people
turned zombies,
begging menacingly for food
& water –
like in the film local directors
churn out for Cannes
to celebrate pornographic poverty
that is exotic
& seeks universal charity:
survivors loitering in the streets,
the dead rotting under the sun,
the children playing in dark streets,
thousands riotously crowd to flee…
Putting the European audiences
in a frenzy
to chuckle at such perversity…
The images
feast the eyes
that won’t close,
like some deranged prostitute.

11.
They are leaving
in droves…
like stragglers
from a war zone:
descending on the airport
shirtless & barefooted,
& scurrying pell mell
into the C-139 transports.
Will they come back?
The leaving that does not
allow ceremonial goodbyes,
as if a soul torn apart
can be patched up, repaired.
The past is past,
a novel way of life
beckons in the dark horizon.
As the planes lifted,
they must have seen
through the window
the detritus of history,
like Benjamin’s angel,
as it fled into nowhere…
Children shall have aged
before their time;
the old would wish
they should have died,
embarrassed for leaving behind
loved ones
six-feet under ground.

12.
A graveyard shift
where he must minister
to living corpses
keen to claim for themselves
a language of the living
that won’t be their own.
As in the time of conquistadores
he was a virtual friar
ordained to save the fallen soul
for Jesus Christ to enclose.
O How long must be the road
to perdition?
An outcast from the Crystal Palace,
he couldn’t suffer
the tyranny of false gods.
He’s here dug deep in the heartland,
weathering the horrible silences
of the grateful dead
& the invisible storm of the finial minute.

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