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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Narra Poems and Others

Houses Are Better Off
Without Porches Here

For Edith Tiempo, Teacher, National Artist

I, an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.
-- T.S. Eliot, Gerontion

I guess it is "a distance-given right to know”
as Edith Tiempo described it once in a poem. How is she?
“Edith now lives on a ridge about half an hour
from the city…the house is long, low, and airy –
a single bedroom, a kitchen, and a huge space in the center
for parties and conferences. The wall overlooking the sea is all glass…”-- E-mail from Lakambini Sitoy

Nara, 2002: The Winterset
Houses are better off without porches here.
On some porch, wherever aching bodies find them,
one is compelled to sit back in sudden beauty
and judge the scuttle of feet as tired or un-tired
depending on how faces wear them, tear them.
Look at humanity trapped on some dead end!

Halfway, between this river stone and many rocks after,
Nara shall have gone from our echoes-call.
We have wandered into a sunken mangrove and wonder:
Is it as silent there? Are there crabs there?
What quiet mood is pinching bloodless our spleens?
This is another pool – navel upon the earth.
Always, always,we cannot be grown men here.

Ah, to be old and a mariner come upon that restful cove,
where the final weapon is a chair not love;
to be old, cher ami, is a gallant slouching on that chair –
some porch of the heart grown insensitive to care.
To have lived and known how long a pipe lasts
through the wasteful dreariness of tremendous dusks
is to have bled with the maligned house lizards
falling one by quivering one. (Must I lay down my cards?)

Come sit by me, and watch humanity rot by.
Come chatter with me about some decent lie.

Ah, Nara must be the reverie of a changing season;
we never knew quite well how far we had traveled
before we ceased to chant our rising songs:

O we have blanched at the rustle of dried leaves
O we have quaked at the fullness of a street’s silence
O we have hushed at the coyness of echoing eves
O we have known the crag flower’s quintessence!

It is no longer Nara beyond this echo-call.
Where am I? Where are we?
If the morning never becomes an afternoon,
will it always be a waking into a moment of
disfigured song, a dawn of perpetual clocking?

I have earned my anger.
Because I have earned my madness to be left in peace,
I leave all humanity to you, Poet perched on the ridge.
Tell them the dreams we frightfully often miss
when children romp in the green little hills.
Tell them the love in every father’s grey eyes
long after sons and lovers have stiffened dead,
wreck of bills, from dusty wine, taut vice,
gnarled women’s thighs.

I have earned my loneliness.
(Have you?)

I have not knelt nor extinguished my brain.
(Would you?)

I have positioned my chair where, when I tap my fingers,
I also disturb the universe.

Poet on the Ridge, hermana Maestra, pray for me,
as I would you, that the dusk catches us still swearing
by the rhyme, perishing on the rhyme, convulsing
on the sudden quiver that comes on a stealth
when rhyme and rhythm become the sound of the sea,
the pulsing river, cupping you in time for that
peremptory dive off your perch into that devouring sea,
betting life, love, and limb, surfacing again
to challenge Him with your nakedness,
(because you were always gentle and pure),
basking under Lo-oc’s sky, waves laving now brittle
haunches and God your sole voyeur.


Houses are Better Off Without Porches Here is a "reincarnation" of several poems. It's first version appeared in the literary pages of The Varsitarian, the student magazine of the University of Santo Tomas (formerly Royal and Pontifical University of Saint Thomas). Then literary editor, Arnold Azurin, caught me loitering in the corridors of that venerable Dominican institution where I was taking up some graduate courses. He said he "needed a poem" in the V, do I have one ready? I fished out a manuscript of a poem I had "dedicated" to Cirilo F. Bautista, who was then teaching at the Baguio City (a mountain resort city carved out of the mountains in the North) University of St. Louis (run the Belgian CICMs). I was intrigued by his new book of poems, The Cave and Other Poems where he called himself a "Citizen of Darkness". In the poem's epigraph, I wrote: "To CFB--A Citizen of Darkness".

Azurin, sensing a "scoop" featuring an alumnus poet published frequently in the metropolitan magazines and one in the process of preparing a first collection of poems, ran off with this first incarnation -- and dedicated to boot to a Palanca-awardee who was then being considered one of the bright stars of the 60s Philippine literary world. Cirilo. Who beat me to a first collection.

Azurin, a fellow Ilocano from the Ilocos Region in the northern Philippines, had the long poem published in the Varsitarian's Literary Section that month in 1964. I read the poem in a Comparative Education class of Josephne Bass Serrano and promptly put the graduate class to sleep. Why listen to the poetic mannerisms of T.S. Eliot when you could read the poet/banker in one of the two copies of his Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot. But, of course, they were always out (the lit instructor had one copy out and other is missing). I suspect Dr. Serrano meant to rest a tad more than offer me my 15 seconds of fame.

When the Benedictine's San Beda College published Narra Poems and Others in 1968, Houses... was the penultimate poem in the 46-page volume. It sounded and looked like one of those T.S. Eliot (a university literary God) poems, I found it embarrassing . I rewrote the Varsitarian version but could not shake the Eliot marks. Curious bibliophiles interested in these grotequeries could write a paper on these progressive changes like tracing the growth of a cancerous cell.
(In his Habit of Shores, Gemino H. Abad made it part of his scholarship to include footnotes tracing the origin or shift of lines from one published poem to another ostensibly to show that my poetry transforms as often as I re-write them or recycle them into other forms depending on how often I would submit them for publication to as many media as are ignorant of the poems' progeny.)

Flash forward to my exile in Canada: I came out with In a Sparrow's Time in 1990, included re-written versions of poems from Narra Poems and Still Points (1972), and Houses Are Better Off without Porches Here reappeared as a leaner, cleaner poem on the last two pages of the 50-page "selection" of my poems from magazines, journals, books, and anthologies. It was calculated as a "mop up" operation -- shear the poems off of their "influences". It is time to stand by one's voice.

In 1998, I rewrote Houses to integrate sections of Waking Away from Narra, one of the core poems of Narra Quartet published earlier in Narra Poems. The "reincarnated, recycled, now reused" poem still with the same title was my entry in that year's Mississauga Library Systems Writing Contests. I won the poetry prize, and read the version to an audience who probably did not expect a Japanese/Chinese/Korean-looking Filipino read it dramatically in the English accent that the poem lent itself to. My teaching public speaking and speech came in handy. My Richard Burton impression of an "old man among windy spaces" reciting and singing some of the lines, surprised even my children who still cringe when they hear me speak better ("mas-English") than that BBC talking-head who emits sounds from a mouth-seemingly full of marbles. But I tell them, the poem does not lend itself to dramatic reading in Filipino English. What's surprising for an Asian to speak like the English? Or why can't Canadians speak like their ancestors, the English? (I guess they don't want to embarrass the Quebeckers who speak French like they hated it.)

My only regret is that I could not read it as well as Dylan Thomas would have with his deep baritone. But because it is supposed to be a poem of an "old man", the cadences of T. S. Eliot reading his poems could have been apropos. Resolving to "cure" myself of that addiction, I read the poem as soulfully, as gleefully earnest in my quivering voice-of-dotage.

In 2001, I won the poetry prize one more time, read the winning poem in Canadian English. I was not a hit.

(Speaking of poetry reading, I thought Filipino poet Krip Yuson, and the late Rolando Tinio read their English poems dramatically. I recall reading a Jose Garcia Villa love poem once at Letran
College -- the one with the commas after every word . Before long my audience was snickering, because I knew I was imparting what Doveglion wanted to auditorily impress his audience with -- the sounds of love-making were thus, and the cadences were as quick as the commas piling one upon the other. Blushing college boys and girls. Naughty Villa.)

I included Houses once again in my 2009 A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems published by the UST Publishing House. Feeling like a cosmetic surgeon, I reshaped the poem to integrate a sixth section addressed to the Poet on the Ridge. A slightly-retouched version was published earlier by Lakambini Sitoy former literary editor of the Sunday Times Magazine when Edith Tiempo won the National Artist Award.

The saga of Houses may still not end with this version that I said I was happy with. The process of creation presupposses the poet's anxiety to create a poem that could stand on its own. Poems "that have finally achieved a plenitude that I would no longer fuss about," I quote myself in A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems' Acknowledgement page.

Just as the process of "Creation" continues unabated in this universe, the process of writing and recycling a poem is a manner of restating the creator's prerogative. God is not done with us yet.
In fact, between poet and the Creator, "god is our sole voyeur."

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