The two poems here are my most recent productions, written when I was winding up my commitments as bureaucrat and testing again the much-missed pool of ink for living lines and resonant images. My concerns here are countrified and rural, more natural and airier, and unwilling to prove anything to the world out there of social media.
‘Continuing Love’ and ‘A Kink of Burning’ were written for Agnes Locsin, who turned them into dance. The former was featured in her tribute to her mother Carmen some four years before her death in 2011. It was a mini biography of Mrs. Locsin as told to me by Agnes. The latter had a stanza translated into Filipino and also featured in her latest work ‘Dahon: Ikalawang Galaw’ (‘Leaf: Second Movement’) early this year. The poems are therefore about death and life and art and woman and creation, and the energies of natural elements around us that will outlive our shining human moments — themes that continue to fascinate me since I first started to write as a boy with a broken heart.
Continuing Love Written for the Agnes Locsin dance A Love Story, in honour of Carmen D. Locsin 1. From thick vines hung from trees let go by hands, from rocks by the banks crammed with coiled springs for wet feet— it is all wings and arcs cleaving wild air into the cool waters of Mintal river. Loose planks bridge here to nowhere shakily. Towers of unseen worlds rise, built tale upon tall tale. From treetops where footraces ended, the earth is more than grass and clods of dirt—instead, a wide bilao of hills and mountains, rivers and houses and trees trees trees! The sky is more than a roof if you pry the branches apart. God lives also in the trees, and the leaves breathe with him. No other school teaches that. 2. Of all the fruits and flowers and fish and fowl that take life from the land and the waters and the air from Mintal to Calinan and beyond to Marilog, and even to Silay and Iloilo, none turns the day around quicker to its point of lightness and heat than the sweetness without husk or shoreline that is human love. Love the leap in the air without shadows over walls and trees and craters torn open by bombs. Love the stroke of midnight and fire announcing orchids ahead of bicycles and breasts. Love keeps the hands of dreams warm in all directions. Love the stillness that won’t stay still. Or slip away like a ship in the night. Love be still. 3. Caught in their own melodies of growth and yearnings, they move apart and out to come into their own— the living forms in the dance and the garden, and the children, marking time on a tightwire, eventually unheavened under all kinds of weather and sleep. Meanwhile, they are flung open to receive lessons pried out of the rock of astonishments and the words that pile up without end on the way to school and later, work. 4. The hues and slowburn of sweetness flush in one durian fruit; the sure sail and dip of eagle wingtip, deadly swoop, and rip and tug of beak; surge of fish and leap of cat; pull and push of root and treetop; burst of sap spiraling inside trees and leaves and shells; ebb and tiderush, rot of bones and stars— so too in the flex and swing, bend, stretch, twist to near cracking, slack and spring and intimations of the body pinned by pain and drip of death, or wet with anguished joy, lurk of hope, laughter shared and emptiness. Surface tensions bruised by beauty brief. Rippling. Tingle in the soul between measure and release. Here shall be space for spiriting forms of loss and love and longings into their human likeness and reach, to teach the body praise, prayer, possibility. Come, speak the speech of the body, and pass on the dance. 5. Harder on the heart is the going away than being gone. Being gone has walked through walls and changed the wine to water—and now the wall can break itself down to dust and spilled water dry up without smoke. Going away shrinks all windows and doors to the size of the unspoken. A life gathers into a face before us, and starts to close its eyes. In the dimming light we stand as on a jolt of tide-sucked sand, our balance shifted, our own face flush with the breath slipped out of the one becalmed. Then, the one thing left to do, the only tender thing to do, beyond the anger and consent, moving to its own secret music and not made smaller by pain, is to climb up God’s tree and nibble on her breath, or get the broom and sweep without thought or excitation the shadow rolled out on the hospital floor tile by square white tile. 6. God lives in trees and speaks the languages of winds, shadows, light, laughter. Always the birds bring in new seeds and the waves new water—as if they have not done that before, as if they had not always done that as before, as if they were not here in the beginning after all. New buds flower, dry up, and drop from their stems. Suddenly, a big shadow is upon us, and in a snap the truck moves on and light springs back on old familiars. Frisky little bodies plunge into the water and the waters receive them. The work of memories and affections is the work of water, earth, and fire. Were we where we were, or will we be where we’ll be? A hand takes us, and we take the hand. We feel the earth push back our feet, and we move on to feed the birds, or watch the goldfish breathe out ripples on the surface of the dug-out pond.
A Kink of Burning 1. Breath of wings. Sighing of lovers lost to the winds. Sigh of the wind then. Breath unspoken. About to speak. No mouth to word dead loves, only—listen! A premonition taking wing bigger than trees. Through spires of skylight —through treetops —through bird tongues swimming on wakened leaves. The dead cling to music and the rains come. Breath on ears tingling. Supernal. Breath of dead loves. 2. Water jets down bald mountains and wraps the fevered earth with thick muddy blankets. 3. Among the morning branches a kingfisher— Is it? Was it? On a leaf a butterfly Stunned by the wildest flowers Of faith and desire. Therefore: Feeling is all that remains at the back of the head when no one is looking. Weightless with lost names And the fish-breath of solitudes. 4. Forgetting, then, the last ablution. Prayers drift past the blooming lotuses Like ashes from some unsmothered fire Groping for various shapes of desire. A wild river flows up past trees still standing, past words that have given up on words. 5. A pair of long-parted lovers recovered to each other’s attentions, breathe a nakedness and a body to the moon in their minds. They find the fullness of longing shot through with holes, and its emptiness filling up the scooping hands. Shorn of old obligations and allegiance that invaded romance not just once, they lick each other’s thighs, nipples and breasts without the faithful words I love I love I love. Themselves unmoving like roots In each other’s arms, yet Moving past names and renamings Of old resentments and judgments, they cleave to each other without memory or hope, creating without god a sweetness inextinguishable and tender the way a feather of fire holds on to fire and takes wing, blazing with singing.