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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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


De Osteo

Sancho Bacalzo’s bone San Antonios have holes in the head.
--Delia Coronel, ICM

Pallor on the bone of Bacalzo
Becomes an afternoon heat like this –
The frenzy in the ashen marrow,
The prayer in the hour’s tease:

Ah, Sancho, femur-born Sancho,
Calyx of a star or tendon of fish –
Do you look at me as I do you
With half an ache or half a wish?

The dark in the hollow of a bone
Traces the shape of undone circles;
O, you die in the marrow of tone,
Wake into the fright of rituals.

San Antonio de Osteo, moan
Of a carcass or carrion of miracles,
I alone must clean your bone,
I know the softness of follicles.


"Whazizz all about, hombre? Nagsusulat ka pa ba?" The late Philipines Free Press literary editor Nick Joaquin roared when I submitted this poem for publication in the 70s.

"Something I wrote at the Silliman Writer's Workshop."

"Do you also write there?" he asked impatiently.

No writing normally takes place in this two-week workshop in Dumaguete City, southern Philippines. Between the seminars and the binges after dark, what writing can take place? Writhing, maybe.

To the second question ("Are you still writing?"), one would fearfully respond: "Yes, I try."

"Gimme...cheque sa susunod na lingo." (...Get the cheque next week.) He knew one needed the pittance. He would not shell any coin out for the starving writers. He had respect for their gumption. He would buy one a bottle of San Miguel pale pilsen at Los Indios Bravos, though.

But back to the poem. I wrote this during the workshop after a visit with Sister Delia Coronel at her Cebu City lair. Showing us some rarities at her convent's museum, she pointed to some sculpted images of saints, among them those of San Antonio (St. Anthony, patron saint for lost souls). They were made out of bones. Human bones. Animal bones. Did not ask what type of bones out of reverence for the spritely, giggly nun, a "distant aunt", I was reminded by her.

They were sculpted by one Sancho Balcalzo. Felt creepy, so I stopped listening. Never found out who Sancho was.

My recollection in tranquility showed a diminutive woman in a well-starched habit, caressing the bone San Antonios as she gave us the lecture on those rare santos.

See where poems come from? See how they shape up? This one had a macabre kind of humour, and a strange, inhibited, erotic turn. For the celibate, like a hole in the head.

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