In Dependence

One century, one decade, three years

and one day ago, freedom was won

Freedom to not learn from past mistakes,

tending to the flaws of culture and society

Freedom to stay shackled and submissive

Different master, different chains, same servant

Freedom to be blind to the real affliction

with a shallow obsession of picking at the scabs

Freedom to watch out for only ourselves

Either too poor, just barely getting by,

or too rich to care about anyone else

Freedom to be disgruntled in poverty,

pointing fingers, victims of social injustice

thinking handouts as fitting reparation

Freedom to categorically deny the truth

that we too are to blame for our inaction

Freedom to abuse power, wealth, and rank

Personal gain in the guise of public service

Gold veins dug up from the limitations of law

Freedom to run from this wretched nation

and be productive citizens in another

Freedom to give up our nationality

to dream the dreams of foreign lands

Proclaiming pride in being of this country

while standing thousands of miles away

But did we not also win the freedom

to be better than this?

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The Guessing Game

Is it worth it?

Is this one of those whens that

ought to be answered by a resounding yes?

Should doubt not even exist?

Is it wise?

Will seeking confidence bring clarity?

Or will trust merely feed that which festers

unwanted but is begrudgingly nursed?

Are there accidents?

Is it just happenstance breathed life?

Or is it a behemoth built piece by piece

sustained by roots clinging to the past?

Is it clear?

Will voice be the key that cracks the code

freeing understanding from the tangled mass?

Or is perspective obscured by the color of slant?

Will it hurt?

Will the fear of failure make the task insurmountable?

Is it even worth weighing the odds?

Or is the possibility of success

a strong enough tooth to bite the bullet?

Is there hope?

Will this be the day that change is effected?

Is dialogue the catalyst that brings to bear accord?

Or is harmony the endeavor of one

amidst the crowd at status quo?

Return Ticket

Stepping out at sunrise to start the long commute

Overcast skies mirroring overcast mood

Pavement hands out complimentary trinkets

to downcast eyes and spirits just as gray

Fare paid for in little stabbing heartaches

affords a vacant seat but not the comfort

Boarding from the platform of a misunderstanding

to alight at the terminal of a promise to be broken

with only a pocketful of trust to catch a ride home

The Burden of Resolve

The most difficult of choices

is when the righteous thing to do

is not the right thing to do

The pride most difficult to swallow

is pride in your heritage

and pride in your work

It is very painful when your mind recognizes

that the right course of action is inaction

yet your heart, knowing better,

rages against the unstirring silence

But in the end, the heart gives way to the mind

The battle decided; honor conceding to wisdom

But victory is not cheaply obtained

The pain of rage restrained is unbearable

It burns from within the sinews of your flesh

clamoring for your limbs to release

its capacity for destruction

to sate its hunger for blood

It claws at your insides

wanting to break free through your voice

In squalls that pierce the most adamant confidence

In curses that flay layer upon layer until

the very core of being is exposed and vulnerable

And in insults laced with wit, so sharp

it rends dignity into shards

from which nothing can ever be rebuilt

And as you rein it in, it fights

Stubborn, relentless, unyielding

refusing to succumb to the fetters of control

But unlike any beast

it only does so in loyalty

It only does so to preserve

It only does so to protect

It only does so for you

And unlike any substance in the ether

it cuts you deepest when you are about to let go

Literature

Let us not try to make sense

of things that already, boringly, do

Instead let us discuss the curious

the odd, the gnarled, and the misshapen

Let us look at the architecture

that defies order and law

Where what goes up can stay up

thought built upon thought

Let us speak of structure much needed

yet discarded on the whims

of pretext, subtext, and context

Let us delve into the politics

of beginning, middle, and end

when causality does a headstand

effortlessly

Writing to Reach You

I’m not going to pretend that this post is not about my second poem being posted in litratula.com because it is.

First off, I’m very happy that Ms. P. is my partner in crime for this piece. It’s a great new way for us to collaborate on art. Two forms, no less! And in… tandem. (See what I did there?) I’m very grateful to her for giving me (and our young writers) opportunities to share our work and to hone our writing further.

Taning is actually a song. I just restructured it to look less like a song. I already have a rough recording of it, but I’m not going to share it just yet. I plan to redo the vocal tracks and tweak the mix come June.

I don’t really write poems often. I write songs. Yes, yes, I know you can argue semantics here, but you know what I mean. I honestly think I have a knack for it, though you’ll ultimately be the judge of that when I finish and release the songs. But despite that, and despite the fact that some of them coming from very dark places, I am proud of my songs because what endures isn’t the subjectivity of valuing or the causalities; it’s the words, the music, and the craft.

I am especially proud and fond of the songs I write in Filipino. That’s because I had to learn on my own how to do it without sounding inauthentic or like it’s a direct translation from English. Make no mistake, I am very fluent in Filipino. But the language of my th0ughts is not Filipino, it’s English. And apparently, the language of your thoughts is the default language of your songs, despite being perfectly fluent in another language.

I spent a year learning how to write songs in Filipino. My first attempts really sounded like they were parades of English words in Filipino costumes. So, what I did was I listened to a lot of Eraserheads, Teeth, Parokya ni Edgar, Mongols (Ely’s post E-Heads band before Pupil), Sandwich, and Rivermaya (Rico Blanco wasn’t an actor back then). I listened for what made the language of the lyrics sound natural. Some songs used a more formal Filipino, while some were more casual, sometimes even in Tag-lish, but they all worked. Not one of them a Filipino-themed masquerade of English words. I could never put my finger on it though, so I just kept writing and revising until I came up with songs that sounded natural. Even now, I won’t be able to specifically point out to you what makes a song in Filipino sound natural, but I’d like to believe I have achieved an intuitive understanding of it.

But why go through all that trouble? Why even write in Filipino when it was much easier to write in English?

I’m proud to be Filipino. But that wasn’t why I pushed myself to learn to write songs in Filipino. In college, I took a course in contemporary Filipino literature. The class read short stories and poems by Filipino authors. And if my memory serves me right, none of the pieces we read were in Filipino. English was the main, if not the sole, medium. I no longer remember the pieces we read, nor how we analyzed and critiqued the works. But what I will never forget in that class was when our professor told us about the importance of writing in the vernacular. I am not completely certain if what he meant accurately matches how I understood what he said, but it stayed with me.

When you write, who you write for is just as important as what you write about. You have to make sure that your work reaches your audience in every aspect. And if my audience is the Filipino people, then it follows that I write in the vernacular. Because writing exclusively or mostly in any other language, even English, will alienate me from my audience. I’ll probably be reaching 10% at best, which, statistically, is a dismal failure. That’s why I took the time to learn how to write songs in Filipino; the Filipino is who I’m writing to reach.

Let Me Get Some Action From The Brass Section

Little Boy Blue, come toot your own horn

Just this once please, hold judgment or scorn

Because what I thought were just nothings I write

Have now become featured in somebody’s site

So people please see it and say what you think

I’d be more than happy to provide you the link

Baby steps, baby steps, a wise girl once said

But please do report if the supplied link is dead

Modulus

You wake up one day

To the state of things

Permanent, periodic

Discord that’s harmonic

That there is no hope

To have room for change

No growth, only process

Flash point, half life, reset

By contrast defined

Reasons for being

Subject to a system

that’s usque ad mortem

Still there are no regrets and no reproach

Just limits of functions that we approach

A Bus Ride to Yesterday on My Way to Tomorrow

I can no longer remember the last time I took a bus back to my home town by myself. I mean, I take that trip at least once a year, during Christmas and/or summer. But it’s different when you have your son and/or daughter on your lap, sleeping or looking at vehicles zooming on the highway. It’s different when your wife is resting her head on your shoulders, catching a snooze or two. It’s different when you take the trip as a family.

But yesterday, I took the bus back home by myself. The ride reminded me of my days as a student when I would go home on weekends. Just by myself, thinking and watching the world through a tinted glass pane. I watched the scenery just as intently as I did then. I saw again the white egrets that spend their summers in the floodplains of Candaba, wading in the rice fields and ponds. I saw the solar systems; service stations with their satellite restaurants. Behemoths of revenue that grew from sacrificed farmland, devouring money from the all-too-willing victims who drive around in their so-called piece of mind. For the first time in many years, I saw Mt. Arayat. Not as  the permanent fixture in the background, but as the sleeping volcano that Maria Sinukuan calls home.

There was one marked improvement with this last trip worth noting. When I was a student, I would play my chosen soundtrack for my trips in my head. It was quite difficult to think about this and that and maintain the playback of the soundtrack. It became next to impossible when the bus had pop radio playing. Thanks to the leaps and bounds that technology had taken over the years, I was able to actually play music. Not only was I able to think about this and that and more, the music also shut out the noise that passed for pop. I watched the fields as Billy Corgan sang By Starlight. I looked at the city of San Fernando from above its lone flyover, thinking back to when it was just a town and I was just a child, as Thom York sang Fake Plastic Trees.

I’m not sure, but maybe it was the reason for coming home that made me think about all those things. My sister called the night before, telling me to come home. The eldest and only sister of my father, my aunt practically raised my siblings and I just as much as our parents did. She had been ill for many years, but her condition had deteriorated in the recent days. It was just a matter of time. And so we were all called home. To visit her, to talk to her, for what may very well be the last time.

It’s difficult when you don’t share the same belief system as your family. I sat at the foot of the bed as my mother and our long-time neighbor prayed for my aunt. I waited, holding my aunt’s hand. To say that she had seen better days was an understatement of epic proportions. I wanted to talk to her alone, but everybody was there. I did not have the time to wait and be alone with her, and neither did I feel comfortable to ask them to leave. In the end, my fear of not being able to tell her what I meant to say became greater than any fear of saying it in the presence of others. So I did. I bent close to her ear and whispered her name. I said my thanks for the many books and the gambling lessons. I also told her that when Didi comes to take her, that she will like her. That they will get along just fine walking to the sunless lands. My sisters all cried.

But I was not sad. Like I said, I did not share my family’s beliefs. I celebrate life. Death is merely the culmination of life. It is what defines life by way of negation. And as far as I am concerned, my aunt’s life is one to truly celebrate. And on my way back to Quezon City that night, I figured out just how to do that.

Ella

Your old books are all but gone

Just like your memories

Faded words on pages torn

By time and the ravaging of termites

But it was not for naught

They served their purpose

They have given their gifts

Their stories live in me

Just as part of your story is in mine

Your plastic playing cards are lost

Just like the light in your eyes

The color faded and worn

No longer vivid in hue

Falling apart at the fringes

But it was not in vain

I can count without numbers

I hardly flinch when stakes are high

I know how to play my hand

Just as I know the color of your eyes

Your house is old and broken

Just like your body

It will not stand for much longer

Life that resides there will soon depart

But it was not wasted

It cared and nurtured

It stood strong in times of need

Home will always be with me

Just as you will live on forever

Words fade from paper

Faces from cards

Strength from beams

But not you from me

Farewell

Thank you

I’m sorry