My photo
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, April 13, 2009


Most poems are difficult to write. Jejune poems masquerading as poetry take the form of mawkish gushes of badly articulated emotion. Those are easy to write.
Yoke conceits and oxymorons together, and one might end up with :"Those were pearls that were her eyes/and rainbow lips that hide the diamonds/that glisten when caverns of breath open in mirth/or dearth of which betray a dottage that lies/about life and dreams and age and almonds/strewn on rocking chairs that once were thrones of birth."

Try drawing a face with those attributes and weep. Not beauty there but one grotesque visage worthy of some Elizabethan fairy queen caught in laughter that transforms her to a decrepit hag who has lost her teeth like almonds scattered on her dying throne, a rocking chair. Arrghh!

Love poems are the most difficult to write. Romance in those sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning could easily become bathos in the hands of a tyro: "I love thee with the smiles, tears, of all my life/ but if God choose, I shall but love thee better after Death."

There are other love poems that speak of pain and longing, of regret and fear, of failure to sustain the happiness that one must give to loved ones, like children who are left to cry themselves to sleep, forever hoping their absentee parents would soon come home with the day's surprises and goodies to reward good little boys and girls. Night falls. Father has not come home. Mother has gone elsewhere in pursuit of her own dreams.

What an unadulteratedly happy reception I got the other day from my grandchild Chloe Dominique. As soon as she saw me walking toward her, she dropped her toys, abandoned her playmates on the cul de sac, and ran to me screaming: My 'Lolo! My 'Lolo!

That angelic smile, that innocent mirth, those joyful sounds unarrested in her throat! One must dig deep into the old languages of love to speak about this fullness of heart. Aieee, tesoro mio! Que linda, mi dulce angelita!

Almost seven decades ago, I was that running child, tearing at the wind with all my might, racing my cousins, barefeet and all, toward the old man with the walking cane. We espied our abuelo from a distance. The light-haired gentleman, walking tall toward us, had an ear-to-ear smile. We were going to dip our fingers and little hands into his trouser pockets for those coins he always prepared for this ritual. The fastest cousin would get the most. I was the littlest one. I would always be the last pair of hands that would hug his legs. The coins would be gone, the vultures having grabbed them all ahead of me. I would smile sheepishly while panting in that familiar asthmatic wheeze that I must have inherited from this grand old man. I would always try to stifle a sob. He would know.

Don Alejandro Flores Casuga, Superintendente del Mercado Municipal, homecoming abuelo with the silver coins in his pockets, would shush my incipient sob away, pick me up in his strong arms, as I did my running Chloe seven decades later, and took my little hand and guided it to dip into his vest pocket. At the end of the race, I always had the most pesetas. The last shall be first, is still Gospel truth for me in the twilight of my years.

When I lifted my Chloe up into the air, even her little Canadian friends chorused in glee: Lolo! Lolo! Their solicitous mother apologized. "I hope you don't mind them calling you Lolo, too! "

But what if the Father comes home late, and the children are waiting in their darkened rooms? Where would the day's endearments be? What about the promised candies, the goodies for a long wait? What if there is a late father, and a mother who was no longer there? Divorces be damned!

The love would still be there. It is a difficult poem to write for the father with "bag of music and a pack of metaphors." Here is that love poem that was truly difficult to write.

Something about Picking up Ragdolls

Ahora, como estas haciendo con mis nietas y nieto mientras su mujer desgraciada esta viviendo una vida loca? Aiee, santisima, hijo. Ven aqui. Regresas a San Fernando, para puedo ayudarte con sus ninas y unico hijo.
--Letter from Home

Something about picking up ragdolls and cans
graffitied on one’s conscience in silent rooms
built to peek slowly into coincides with the loss
of verb in one’s speech: no amity here between
this ministry and that menagerie.

Evening brings a pack of censure for the father
who, leaving, pledged the carnage of the baker’s
best and Andersen’s hoary hairy fairy tales,
arriving plods through debris of waiting --
(arm-less d-o-l-l-s, paperrrrripped dolls,
paper ships, paper planes, paper hats, paper…),
forgetting, now mournfully remembers:
“Candy stores are closed along the way home.”

Silent rooms are built to peek slowly into
because fathers have given up looking
into daughters’ eyes form tears, arguing
the relevance of waiting when all the piper has
is a paper bag of music and a pack of metaphors.
(“You know, only children recall the Deluge?”)
The evening sees the piper leading the (mass)
mice and piper (pauper) drowning.

Fathers plod through debris of waiting
and have learned in turn to pray.

(First published in the Sunday Times Magazine in 1970. A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems, 2009, UST Publishing)

No comments: