From my first collection, Dreamweavers, to the new work in two forthcoming collections, It is time to come home and Fishes of light / Peces de luz (with Cuban poet Alex Fleites), I continue to be fascinated by the tension between finding a way of saying what needs to be said, and finding spaces in the work where silence must be kept. Crafting a poem is, for me, exploring a musical configuration. And my main instrument is the human voice (or the voices I hear), and its (their) capacity for aural inflections and finely calibrated tones to render the textures of a complex human experience.
After I re-learned my mother tongue Cebuano, the possibilities and range of voices (per-sonae) expanded, enriched by and rooted in two different cultural/literary traditions. As a bilingual poet in the Philippines, I take pride in being able to drink from two wellsprings. In my university training in English, I found deep resonances in poems that explored a point, argued for or against it, and yet kept completely open to astonishment. Thus, I loved the discipline of the sonnets of Shakespeare and Donne, the vision of Blake, Whitman and Dickinson. In the Cebuano literary tradition, I revelled in the ‘Bisdak’ (Bisayang Daku) wit of the riddles and ditties, the melisma of the sonanoy of Fernando Buyser, and the ironic humor in the poems of Tem Adlawan, Pantaleon Auman, Rene Amper, Adonis Dorado, Myke Obenieta and Cora Almerino, among others.
As a translator of poetry from English into Cebuano, and lately from Spanish to English or Cebuano, I have deepened my respect for the intrinsic untranslatability of a poem’s musical body. Its substance can only be reshaped in another language, and hopefully, if the translation is any good, it can evoke the power of its sensibility (which is the musical core of the poem’s mind). This is how I read and was influenced early on in my writing by the sensibility of the Chinese T’ang and Japanese Heian poets translated into English.
A poem’s heart cares for and attends to its own mind and strives to sing the old stories in the face of pressures wrought in the world/s we live in, at this particular time, in this specific place. What W.B. Yeats said in ‘The Second Coming’, that ‘things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,’ predicted a postmodern problem that I now experience, on a daily basis, in the Philippines. The poems I write (when I can steal time from the daily urgencies of making a living) are spaces for making momentary sense of the senselessness I have to live with and endure. They are tentative processes towards imagining some answers, or even more questions, in what is an evolving and continually changing and transient inner environment.
Sagada Stills IN A F L O A T I N G WORLD If with words If with images I You could catch on photographic film on silk paper a likeness of You of Me in Sagada I would have You would have to sit a thousand years with master of austere Light Measure Masferré Shikibu to learn the process of rendering of staining Silence Sound
For Maria Kodama’s Other Borges 'For the person that you will be, whom perhaps I might not understand.' - Jorge Luis Borges, Inscripción I. Her labyrinth A fortnight after you died, I sang your black bones back to shape. In the silence I trusted the dark from whence you came. Now, you are a figure conjured up with light on this page, mere trick of shadows. Who are you, Poet? Whose god can breathe you back to flesh? II. Orpheus Falls Who has not heard the Poet’s lament for one descended into dream’s dark stairs? Who has not heard the gods’ admonition, given with knowing smile— Do not look back— last trick to play on the body’s lighted book of memory? Every single instance, the lover fails, falls, quick to usher the sought-after back to the surface of time. He sings to her, “Ascend with me!”— yet in a moment’s breathlessness, hers, he looks back and she’s undone, charred bones and ash. III. Dream of the Waterclock 'All those things were made perfectly clear so that our hands could meet.' -Jorge Luis Borges, Las Causas This is the symphony’s last movement dripping in the old waterclock. For each drop of water—in the manner of the blind poet—I offer you seven dreams: 1) hush of bamboo leaves before the onslaught of storm winds; 2) scent of a golden pollen’s flight after a wild bee danced the yellow roses; 3) first sheaf of rice from the first season’s harvest after the last typhoon; 4) fishing boats on the beach, dawn silvering the catch in the nets; 5) threshold of sunset through which my thoughts traverse to the morning side of the world; 6) last drop of black ink from the calligrapher’s brush on silk, on which is completed the release of the beloved from death; 7) two hands folded, fingertips lightly touching my forehead in timeless greeting, as if you’re here with me. Palpable, real.
Birds of Paradise after Women with birds of paradise, by Anita Magsaysay-Ho, oil on canvas, 1982 Their eyes are black slits against Gold of their burnished skin this side of morning. They do not shatter silence with chatter of the marketplace. Only their hands speak of the task, gathering the day’s burden of beauty: birds of paradise singing in tongues, wings spread over and between their heads, a feast of burning angels. The youngest among them bends down deepest into herself, wrapping the green stems in a second skin against breaking. The night before, she had watched the sea while the gravid moon rose red as her belly. She tore off her white bandana and broke into the waters, her black seagrass hair dis- entangling, waves hissing low ‘let be, let go!’