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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.

Sunday, April 12, 2009




Los Indios Bravos. Poet Virginia Moreno, better known as the sister of Pitoy Moreno the haute couturier, built this bar and grill on Mabini St. Now long gone, it was the refuge of artists of all shapes and sizes (of ego, pretensions, eccentricities, biases, insanities, constipations, vituperations, loyalties, debts, pieties, ad nauseam).

It did not take long for the canto (street corner) boys to realize that that was not their lugar (hang out). This was the watering hole of celebrity-hound Nestor Torre, poets Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez, Erwin Castillo, Jolico Cuadra, Franklin Osorio, Jose Lacaba, Marra Lanot, Cesar Mella, and occasionally visiting Dumaguete City (Silliman U) writers: Cesar Aquino, Merlie Alunan, Myrna Pena-Reyes. For the love of God, these tagay-guys (read that gin guzzling) will never understand the crazy conversations of these subdued people who become noisy and nosey after the second bottle of pilsen. This was the space for the dwindling Ermita ilustrados or just the ilustrado-manque.

Then Philippine Social Security System chairman Adrian E. Cristobal, artist and a sneering patron of hungry and penniless writers (he would call them Oy, Camote, but he would buy them drinks and lunch or dinner anyway. He had, like Joaquin, weird terms of endearment.) They had a thing in common, though; they always maintained caballerismo toward all (yes, all) ladies. Both stood up chivalrously when introduced to women. Adrian, a clothes horse, always looked good in the latest men’s fashion. Joaquin , however, was partial to khaki pants and printed shirts (pre-war – WWII -- vintage).

Newsmen (Julie Yap Daza, Ruben Alabastro, Jose Burgos, Cesar Aguila, Rosauro Acosta come to mind) dropped by after their binges at the National Press Club, or the Manila Overseas Press Club, perhaps to find out who is running off with whose wife or husband or has come out of the closet; and maybe who is plotting a revolution or some such delusion.

Historian and nationalist Renato O. Constantino would sip his sherry there, and leave with undisguised contumely when he gets into jaw-tightening arguments with Joaquin on the historical legacies of Spanish or American colonizers. You owe the Spaniards the guisado, one would say. They corrupted the Filipino mind, the other would retort. The Yankee cuckolded us on the Bay when they stole our triumph over the Spaniards. Yes, the anti-Imperialist (Spanish or American) would agree. I’m gone, the other would say. Adrian Cristobal would play referee by offering to buy them drinks. Both refused.

The late Nick Joaquin was high priest there. He had his own table abutting the corner (two chairs, no more) where he could easily holler Cerveza!

One time or the other, he grilled me over an article I wrote in the Philippines Herald on how the American Armada led by Admiral Dewey denied the Philippine revolutionaries their victory over the Spanish colonizers by not allowing President Aguinaldo and his minions to enter Manila in triumph after the Americans helped destroy the Spanish fleet at the Manila Bay. Dewey feigned a mop-up operation. It was actually a take-over from the Spaniards who agreed to cede the Philippines for almost a million dollars to the Yankees (in the Treaty of Paris) who promptly became the new colonizers.

Damn Yankees, Joaquin roared; by golly, you took a left-turn from art criticism to historical revisionism! It was almost like a playful poke on the head.

The last time he thought he might slap me one at the back of my head was when I published Teresa Izon’s feature on him in my undergraduate student periodical (Journal of Arts and Sciences, UST, 60s). I asked Teresa, the daughter of the Philippine Free Press illustrator Esmeraldo Izon, to interview him for a feature article. She came back with an interview that no one would be given henceforth in the history of Philippine journalism. Teresa knew Nick personally through her father, the Philippines’ version of Norman Rockwell. We both treasured Joaquin’s The Woman Who Had Two Navels, a novel we studied in university.

Why almost a poke on the head? Teresa and I revealed his real name: Nicomedes.

That was also my last feature article at the Herald. My editor, Nestor Mata, lone survivor of the plane crash killing the late lamented President Ramon Magsaysay, thought I must be running out of artistic juices. So, never mind. The defunct Herald was partially owned by American nationals allied with the Sorianos and McMickings, owners.

For someone who favoured the Spanish language over the American, Joaquin mastered a lot of Thomasite idioms and Yankee colloquy. He growled and hectored me on that Fil-Am war. Did you know that the Philippine Revolutionary Government’s Secretary of War was done in by Filipinos themselves?

He wrote a definitive story on the Philippine-American war at the Philippines Free Press after that. When I read it, I decided to write an episode of that war on the betrayal of General Antonio Luna, who would himself be assassinated by the hotheads of General Emilio Aguinaldo. Tribal rivalries, political intrigues, political opportunism – 1900 stuff, but all too contemporary in the politics of this island republic. Joaquin said: Culture of small things.

Joaquin published separately one of the poems (Deathwish Kept: June 5, 1899, The Philippines Free Press) interlaced into what I would later collect under the title In a Sparrow’s Time. (Still Points, 1972, revised in In a Sparrow’s Time, 1990, Canada, and under the same title in my poetry collection A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems, 2009, UST Publishing).

As for Los Indios Bravos, my final sober attachment to that salon of artists was an oil painting I contributed to a three-man exhibit at De La Salle University (poet Cirilo F. Bautista, Albert B. Casuga, and Ricardo de Ungria, our student who wrote poetry and executed bright paintings a la Pollock. He is now Commissioner of Arts at the Cultural Centre, I am told. Of him, I remain to be truly proud. When I heard about the death of his son some time ago, I wept not knowing how I would have taken it if my only son, Albert Beau, had taken his own life inadvertently like Ricky’s boy.

In honour of Los Indios Bravos, Joaquin attributed in his Culture and History, (Anvil Publishing, 1988) the victories of the Philippine Revolutions against the Spanish and American colonizers to these Indios Bravos, the ilustrados like Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, and soldiers Alejandrino, Tinio, Gregorio del Pilar, Simeon Villa (father of poet Jose Garcia Villa), and Artemio Ricarte.

Also in honour of Los Indios Bravos, the heroes and the place, my oil painting was preserved in an exquisite frame by former De La Salle and art patron Prof. Nilda Servando Rotor, who paid me a princely sum to P100 when I quoted her the friendly price of P75. It was also the only painting I ever sold. The rest are probably in relative’s closets or places where they did not have to explain what the grotesqueries were all about. (Serendipitously, I find myself now an adjunct to the University of Toronto where Nilda finished her graduate studies years ago before his De La Salle sojourn.)

The painting was of an empty Los Indios Bravos (intimated by my sketch supra), much like the description of Hugo’s Les Miserable’s Salon de la Revolucion, “empty tables, empty chairs.”

Los Indios Bravos was a part of my brave new world. It is gone now. An apt epigraph to this ought to be: “I an old man, / a dull head among windy spaces.” (Gerontion, T.S. Eliot)

In a Sparrow’s Time

Poems on the Death of
General Antonio Luna y Novicio, Soldier

He is that fallen lance that lies as hurled.
-- Robert Frost

(In 1897, General Antonio Luna was exiled to Madrid. He had just denounced the Katipunan and some of his friends like José Rizal, Alejandrino, et al, out of anger. His Spanish captors told him – during the reign of terror that followed the discovery of the KKK – that he was betrayed by his compatriots. A year later, after studying military science in exile, he went back to the Philippines to volunteer his services to the Revolution against the Americans. He was subsequently appointed Director of War. His obsession for creating an effective and disciplined army and his desire to make up for his disavowal of the KKK, brought him untold frustration and, consequently, his death. On June 5, 1899, that fateful day of his assassination, Luna rode toward Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, responding to summons purportedly coming from President Emilio Aguinaldo. He was accompanied by Col. Paco Roman, Maj. Simeon Villa, and some 25 cavalrymen. Upon coming across a broken bridge on his way, the impatient General left his retinue behind and kept his date.)


1. Confession before a Broken Bridge

It is my grief pursues a habit of death,
The weight of a mountain rides me down.
But blood must be avenged – if blood it is
Would still the violence knotted in my gut.
If men should die at all, they must be pure:
The crag that breaks for them will be.
But these rocks, this grass, this brackish cove,
They shall not take me. I shall not even die.
Earth vomits the gall of its memories.
I am a memory bitter to the bite.
Forgive me.

2. The Exile

It was cold out there, Pepe, hermano querido.
Madrid, Barcelona, Catalan, Manila –
How could they ever be any different?
My anguish knew no country but death.
Your fall at sparrow’s time was as much as mine,
The bullet from my gun.
It is our passion devours us. Ourselves our war.

The Revolution was a bastard son, Rizal.
Denying it, I found myself becoming one.
Was it this fury we dreaded most?
Or was it the son we refused to father?
When born, we disdained to patronize?
Was it because it had the mother’s features?
Revolutions are by paps of ignorance mothered.

3. Luna Shall Overcome

His vile temper felled him.
--Diego Esquivel

No, Senor Presidente. It is not in our habit
To be spat upon while offering our haunches
For rending and outrage! Faith must end
Beyond the whore’s bed and cuckolding on the Bay!
If Dewey had fooled us once, let us,
I demand of this Assembly, be the wrath of God
And cut the Yanqui balls asunder!

What? Are they still yapping at Malolos?
Caloocan has fallen! Calumpit imperiled!
Send for Janolino to shore La Loma up!
Torres-Bugallon is dead. What?
Pedrong Kastila is sore in bed?
What sort of harlot had he?

It is your kind, Tomás Mascárdo,
Deserves to be caponed!
The Macabebes have sold out to the Yanqui,
And here you are sucking nipples
For your breakfast!

Paralysis. It must be this plagues our war.
Like castrated chicken, the Cabinet asks
For Yanqui armistice! Has Mabini gone limp, too,
In his head? We should never surrender
Our birthright to die free and unafraid!

Remember this, Buencamino! I could have
Crushed your manhood bit by ugly bit
For begging my troops turn to maricones!
What? And leave them lap the Yanqui stool?
O, you small, weak men better born as rats!
Tell Schurmann, tell Mabini –
Luna shall overcome!

4. Deathwish Kept: June 5, 1899

There was one, Diego Esquivel, who witnessed the carnage.
-- Julio Villamor

Some afternoon dread becomes this heat
That singes the Convento where he fell.
On this branch should his rended arms be at,
On that flagstone should his plucked eyes tell
How blindly stared the blinded rage,
How soundlessly shut the windows there.
Was it some passion play on a barren stage?
Was it some cruel theatre of its audience bare?

Here, touch the crack slithers on this tree.
Your fingers should trace a slosh of brain,
Cold drip of sap now blood on cold machete.
The afternoon’s dread is an afternoon’s pain
Dulled the laughter caught in the horseman’s throat.
Was it vengeance sated, or was it Deathwish kept?
Was it fallen man cried helplessly: Assassins!

Or was it slayers fell where slain had spat:

5. The Habit of Mountains: A Dirge

“It was his grief pursued the habit of mountains:
It moved the world with quietness. Quietness moved them.
No dearer madness there is than which he died for:
A will to perish in time and manner he chose.
It could not have been any kinder than this falling,
A manner of bargaining one’s way
Into a choice between a kind of dying and feeling dead –
No option for us who learn, too early perhaps,
That death prorogues a dream of fancy
Or a prayer of willing our pain stay
The ramrod poised to rend out days descending
Foglike upon us decreeing silence for our bed.”


(Gemino H. Abad published the Still Points version of these poems. He includes a well-researched Notes on the Poems, pp. 527 etseq. in his A Habit of Shores: Filipino Poetry and Verse in English from 60's to the 90's.)

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