Two Poems in Kritika Kultura

Kritika Kultura, roughly translated as Critique and Culture, is a journal on language and cultural studies published by the Ateneo de Manila University. The recent anthology, edited by Mark Anthony Cayanan, Conchitina Cruz, and Adam David, focused mainly on the question of the "new" in the context of the Philippine literary scene. In the About the Issue section, they write that what the issue "intends to accomplish is to represent the kind of writing that is rarely published, the kind that is not often legitimized by mainstream publications."

The wonderfully lucid introduction is found here and it talks about, among many other things, the definition of "new," at least for this Anthology. The entire journal can be read here.

Below are two poems of mine that got in the journal.

Taking the Train

Stay in line. Enter when there is space to occupy.

Sometimes the wait is long but at least we're dry.

Only x number of people at a time where x is a function of human girth.

Concerning seats: when available, take.

Everything left behind turns small.

The train going the opposite direction always travels twice as fast.

Attend to yourself. Admire in silence. Stare when bothered. Withdraw upon stare-back.

"Give way to elders, women and children."

"Beware of thieves."

Not everyone leaves when doors open. The better ones make room.

Never deny anyone journey.

We are here. We wish to be someplace else.

The next station waits. The train does not.


[Move away from me said the flame so I jumped right in.]

Move away from me said the flame so I jumped right in.
Instead of legs now I have ashes.

At the far end of the corridor: coffee machine
and woman wearing an orange shirt with a wide

neckline that clung to her shoulders and a skirt
that did not flatter her legs. She asked me if I wanted a cup

and that was all I needed to know of love.
Two boys, twelve years into our marriage later

I learned to admit I was wrong. One strange night,
while making love, instead of her name I called her nightingale

and as she flew away I screamed "How dare you leave me,
how dare you hurt the most beautiful man in the world!"

Riddle of Nowhere

This is a short collection of lyric riddles that I made together with illustrator Apol Sta. Maria.

Below are three pages from the book:

"Agham Road, 1999" in Crowns and Oranges

Finally, the anthology of poems by young Filipino poets is now out. It's edited by Ken Ishikawa and National Artist Cirilo Bautista.

I have four poems in the book and one of them is "Agham Road, 1999" which is an old poem written back in 2003. It pretty much sums up my High School arrogance. 

Agham Road, 1999

The best of us were brave on Mondays. The others came after
The morning bell. We were seven boys in black pants. We hated
Each other behind our backs. Swelling with pimples and principles,
We believed in one rule: authority should stand on one leg,
Should serve with the other. If it did not, we sought ways to cripple it.
And when we failed, we swallowed our misgivings, bitter as beer,
And were most honest when drunk.

August was the month of chess. We moved and destroyed kingdoms
With one hand thinking life
                                            will never be this simple. Orion
Was happenstance compared to our fortune but we never felt
We owed the world anything. We reserved our tears
For the women of our lives.

"The Last Time"

Another poem of mine got published in High Chair. This poem is part of a series I've been working on for a few years now.

The Last Time

The last time she mentioned my name it was to tell me
She will be back in a few years. On TV, Bro. Freddie,
42, televangelist, sells his religion built on the idea
That since everything is towards a return,

All is surrender. With this I go to bed. For the next day
And days after that, will be the encounter with tall shadows,
Brown tips of dry grass, occassional drizzle, and the smell
Of moist earth and they will tell me I cannot continue,

I cannot continue, I only force myself to do so.
By August, I will take Misery up on her invitation,
Come to her party dressed in designer submission, hoping
To be noticed, and walk through the halls, checking out

Her collection of obscure painters. I will take my time
With one piece, the one that has a train waiting in a station,
With two men in one car, backs to each other, and a lady,
Barefoot, reading a book in the  next car. I will pretend

To understand. I will nod and whisper to myself: it's sad.
I will extend my welcome and enter the room of mirrors
Recovered from a ship that sank ages ago, and imagine
What it would have been like, being in that vessel,

Slowly yielding to the sea, further deepening its blue,
And in the middle of my sinking reflection, I will pity
The mirrors and pity my own name, pity their duty
To maintain their polish while bearing too much of myself.

"Once More, the Minister"

The photo above is the cover of the 4th issue of High Chair. Three of my poems are found in that issue.

Once More, the Minister

This time opportunity comes a streak of light, thin and almost always
Prepared to fade, shining on less things visible, more things imagined,
And things we once had but have forgotten and now up for recovery.
This is made obvious, today, by the enormous dry season canopy
Of rows and rows of old trees, allowing only a few, through daggers
Of sunlight, the fortune to glow: the graceful gathering of dust,
Slow talk on justice, and long undisturbed stares to a misdemeanor-
Riddled past. In this position, reach is only the venerable response
To the endless lengths of recollection. How we try and how we fail
And how we never really learn: reaching, bound by what we can remember,
Recovering what we cannot, as they slowly lose light, drown,
And be on with the dark.

Once More, the Minister

It seems the real triumph of our age has been our ongoing movement
Away from harm -- its many sources more than its pain; from dark alleys --
More than the demise. Nature has been quick to compensate, now
Sends the wind to deliver its judgement. We now die without
Moving from our beds. The only remaining torture: our hearts
And our quiet ways of remembering. These we will always endure.
Notice, in an evening ripened by cold weather, when the clouds
Have moved elsewhere, and the sky, baring all of its ammunition,
Dazzling and infinite, has shot us down with unbearable longing,
Those of us with distance between our many loves
Cannot do anything as delicate as bend.

Once More, the Minister

Outside, the flies hover lonely in their sleep,
And cogon grass grows and bows, and then grows some more
To bow some more, and the air feels like it's January
And maybe it is. It has always been this way:
Between the moment heard and the moment recognized as song,
We always have some sad distance to go. It appears then the uncertain,
The fog-thought void always between us and the palpable lush
Should be looked upon as if we had no fear of fault, as if
We had a whole country to pier our regrets,
As if in the constant practice of this gaze,
We lose all expectation for song.

"Louis Armstrong" in Father Poems

Back in 2004, Krip Yuson and Gemino Abad had a call for entries for a poetry book project. The book, entitled Father Poems, is a collection of, well, poems on fathers. I had one at that time so I sent it and was fortunately included in the book.

Here's a brief description of the book from the Anvil Publishing website:

"Here are 85 poems on their fathers (and their father's fathers) by 40 sons and 20 daughters, all contemporary Filipino poets in English. It may well be an aspect of the psyche's imagination that sons slay and daughters lure their fathers, but the truth on the ground of everyday living may also be as deep and irrefragable."

Below is my contribution to the collection:

Louis Armstrong

The object of my high school affection
was a young Angel Aquino with hips
of a slow pendulum and legs that lasted for hours.
She had left for the states years ago and I wondered
how much puberty had changed her as I wrote her an email,
carefully choosing words
as I would buy flowers, examining the syntax
of every petal and the scent of every sentence

until enter: Father.
He said I was delaying the download
of his Louis Armstrong MP3s and was quick
to hit the X button, forever flushing
my hand-picked bouquet down the worldwide toilet.
It was then that I saw Louis Armstrong

simply as an ugly man.
It was useless to complain. Two nights ago
I told him I don't believe the Americans
landed on the moon. He couldn't believe I was serious,
the moon rocks were indisputable. I told him the flag
was waving but he insisted on the moon rocks
with a tone final as a family name.

It's never a real chess game with fathers.
You're always given the black side,
forever out to equalize, and the pawns
are heavy with manners. In this game,
Father owns the board that allows him
to stop the game whenever he feels like it

like scratching a hairy ass, drinking rum-coke
or downloading the raspy voice of an ugly, ugly man.

It's a scary thought being a father.
To be indifferent of written roses
blooming in your own home. I look at myself
and see how much I've inherited:
crooked nose, proud posture, a graveyard
of toes. I am becoming what I've been trying
to avoid and nothing is scarier

than the inevitable. I resign to the living room,
my poetry giving way
to a higher art called age,
finding solace in an ugly man
who can still say it's a wonderful world.