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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.

Friday, March 20, 2009


For the Grandson Who Did
Not Choose to Stay

(In memory of Julian Ashley)

How I wish you had given me the chance to teach
you how to fish. But you left without saying goodbye.

Or it could have been the way lilies go –
we cannot tell them from filth flowing
with the flower towed to die in an open sea
itself immolating; we would not even know
(ever) why its heart gobbles up what in the
beginning it gave.

It is the Sea eats limb so life (so love)
may not to its eternal wanting finish
what it late started must soon deny:
a clown’s journey through a circle’s shadow,
the circle rending rapture where, threatening,
the Shadow begins what beginnings
should have done: to fill the empty cups,
the gaping tables, with lilies of the marsh
and vases of the Sun.

But the circle and the shadow uniting
are miracles come from the Sea
its womb (and lilies) devouring.

Returning to the Root

(For my grandchildren Diana Patricia, Daniel Anthony, Matthew Francis, Taylor Lauren, Megan Sarah, Michael Albert, Sydney Alexis, and Chloé Dominique, Louis Martin)

This returning to the root is called quietness.
-- Lao Tzu

There is a manner of returning to the root
that explains the virtue of a hole,
its quietness the petering circle:
The canon of the cipher indicts us all.

And you, rocking yourself to an eddy,
drown the death wish: O that grief
on sons’ faces could tell you all.
“Will courage be visited upon my children?”

It is this cut that whittles the tree down,
not of consumption but of fright
that bereaving is one’s splintering
of children’s bones. Death is our betrayal.

They are sons gaping as grandfathers die
shapes the gloom of the breaking circle.
They who knew the frenzy of the bloodcry
must never return to find sons become spittle.


These poems were recycled from earlier versions. Some of the words were changed (like changing diapers of infants one dotes on), but I leave the researcher to find out what they were or how they looked like when published shortly after I had written them. (I don't wait long before I get the magazines to print them -- no drawers for me. One day of waiting on the desk would be about right. Just enough time to buy the stamp.) They paid good money for poems then. Years later, having sobered up, I tinker with them, re-write them, nurse them.

In my recently published A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems, where these poems were included as part of the selection, I wrote this acknowledgement preamble:

"These poems are finished poems. That means I am done tinkering with them, rewriting them, mothering them (sounds more apropos), or looking after them. They have finally achieved a plenitude that I would no longer fuss about, confident that they could be on their own. I also think about them as living beings preparing to move out of the house, but not out of my life. I like these poems now."

I told my publisher that the poems in the collection will no longer "embarrass" me, even if labelled drek later by cantankerous, self-congratulating critics. One cannot give what one does not have, anyway. Operatio sequitur esse. Ex opere operatio.

Besides, these happen to be prize-winning poems, too. Some other folks liked them enough to award them cash and kind. (By the way, I always surrendered the cash to my wife to whom all the books I have ever written were dedicated. Honest; not a jug of beer from the pennies. I digress.)

These couple I publish here today are poems about death and dying, about one's attempt to say one's goodbyes to loved ones, and let them go. It is a valiant effort -- they never leave because you treasure them, the tears come back over remembrances because one cherishes them.

For the Grandson Who Did Not Choose to Stay was my valedictory to Julian Ashley, my first grandchild, who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (four months) more than two wintry decades ago. The day before he died, I was tickling him, and he laughed like laughter was this earth's staple. At the emergency ward, when I wrapped him in my arms, bidding him love and never, never goodbye, even the doctors and the nurses wept.

The poem, by the way, was earlier written for a university classmate and a journalist friend from United Press International days (now an expat Australian novelist) who just lost his wife in childbirth. I hope Lily, god bless her soul, would forgive me for recycling the poem published to mark her demise (in the old Philippine Sunday Times Magazine) to mark yet another death so that that lad's death will mean he will live forever.

In my Canadian exile, I re-wrote the poem, submitted it to a poetry writing contest, and it won me my second poetry first prize in the region's Library System Writing Contests. (I am sure two lovely souls for whom the poem was writen and re-written had the final say.)

Returning to the Root was my "valediction forbidding mourning" addressed to my late father, Francisco Flores Casuga, 1921-1975. The last time I saw him alive, he must have been annoyed to see me crying beside his hospital bed, drunk and blubbering. I was in Manila when he died three weeks later, some 300 miles away from the northern Philippine town of San Fernando, La Union. Hence, my last two lines: "They who knew the frenzy of the bloodcry/ must never return to find sons become spittle." With that to punish my lachrymose misdemeanor, I know he forgave my presumptive "advanced" grief. O, my father.

When poet/literary editor Jose F. Lacaba published the poem in The Asia-Philippines Leader, it had already won the grand prize of the national Philippine Parnaso Poetry contest where I received a handsomely sculpted bronze trophy executed by Edwin Castrillo, now a world-renowed Filipino sculptor. The cash prize, coveted by the contestants, was grand at that time. I surrendered it to my wife. After all, she paid for my father's burial. The trophy? I hope my mother kept it when I left for Canada in a hurry.

The nine grandchildren for whom I re-wrote the "recycled" version published here, must remember the admonition of that fourth stanza's last line: "Will courage be visited upon my children?" When it's my turn to "return to the root", that should be my epitaph.

In so many ways, I try to be brave.

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