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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, May 26, 2010

NEW POEMS; A SEASON'S FIRST HARVEST (JANUARY TO APRIL, 2010)

(Photo courtesy of Bobby Wong)



Last January 30, 2010, I collected the poems I had written in the latter part of 2009 and labelled the collection of new poems “New Poems: An Early Harvest”. I thought it was an archival strategy that would make it easy for me to track my output. I find that it is more than a strategy; it has, in fact, goaded me to write poems as often as I could clear the cobwebs between my ears. It is an efficient way of collecting the poems when publishers send feelers for “new work.” Hence, this new set of poems that marks Earth events and the intractable habit of creating benchmarks out of the grand spurs that keep the mind awake when all it wants now is to slumber.

EARTH POEMS AND OTHERS:
A SEASON’S FIRST HARVEST, NEW POEMS,
(JANUARY TO APRIL, 2010)

HAITI POEMS

1. ALIVE IN HAITI

PORT-AU-PRINCE --- French rescuers pulled a teenage girl...very dehydrated, with a broken left leg and moments from death...from the rubble of a home near the destroyed St. Gerard University on Wednesday (January 27). a stunning recovery 15 days after an earthquake devastated the city...Darlene Etienne, 17, was rushed to a field hospital...groaning through an oxygen mask with her eyes open in a lost stare. ---The Toronto Star, January 28, 2009, Catastrophe in Haiti.

DARLENE ETIENNE, 17

How will your story be told, Du-du cheri,
Without the Lazarus lore tacked on it,
Limbs now freed of crucifying rubble?
In the terrifying gloom of broken days
Or broken nights, whichever endless waking
Found a harbour from pain, wherever fear
Dragged you to a cliff where you could smell
The brine of the bay and hear the muffled
Urgency of a gecko's staccato counting time
Where time sits still between shadows seen
Through cracked spaces and ebbing groans,
Did you cry for a little more time, pray for
A little more light, sing childhood lullabies
Or whistle for the wind: Mon Dieu, a cri d'couer,
A lonely whisper echoing from walls fallen
In other rooms, other voices hushed in silent
Anger: O, St. Gerard, O, Mother of God,
Salve, salve, salve. Seigneur, Mon Dieu! Salve!

But you have become like your shattered country,
Darlene --- these wounds shall not hurt you,
Like La Belle Haiti endured the penury lashed deep
Upon the gnarled backs of peons singing creole
Songs in the wind-swept canefields verdant
With razor-edged leaves that hide their tears
From their carousing children who would one day
See a Haiti free, Le Isle de Hispaniola an isle
Shorn of the filthy gens d'armes, the rowdy Yanqui,
And Mon Dieu, from the ladrones of the Spanish
Galleon who harvested both garlic and gold,
Or traded peons young and old for pesetas to lick
The fetid hands of donnas, duennas, damas
Y caballeros sin caballos, sin verguenza, y
Todos barbaros de Francia, Espana, y America!
Basta ya, basta ya, las barbaridades!

The shackles of this temblor will not hurt you,
Darlene, but the garrottes of freedom will;
We know them now as dollars and cents, tourists
and tourism, just as your people paid back the Yanqui
Ransom that freed you from France, only to be yoked
By French-manqué Duvaliers, or defrocked friars
Like Aristide --- horsemen of your apocalypse
That straddles your country's hills and laves your
Haiti's beaches and shores. To be free is to be enslaved.

But was your lost stare a confused reckoning
Of new found puissance? These rubble shall not bury
You, cheri, for you will rise scarred but ramrod certain
That rancour nurtured well in your heart and soul
For this rapier from Reapers unknown will invigorate you.
Though ripped and routed and retreating into some hell,
Your people will learn to rule
A haven For Haitians, as Haiti is for Haitians,
And temblors be damned.

Mississauga, January 28, 2010


2. A DEATH IN HAITI

FABIANNE GEISMAR, 15

Shot dead for stealing mirrors.
---Headline, The Toronto Star, Catastrophe in Haiti, Jan 20, 2009, Pg. 19


While the temblor's carrion burn
in common graves unnamed,
you have a name to go by, and
will have confreres wail to mourn
your falling on brittle rubble,
mirror clutched as you would a rag doll
if you had a more innocent childhood,
if you even were a lass in pigtails
or braids or ribbons or princess veils,
and did not have to scrounge for food
or even think that a purloined mirror
is a prize too precious to die for.

O, Fabianne, would you have seen
a flushed reflection of the fairest face
this wounded city has haplessly hidden
in unforgiving debris of shattered grace?
Or would you have recoiled from scars
on scars that faces become inured to
seen through cracks of shattered mirrors?

Mississauga, January 21, 2010


ZEIT SCHINDEN

It is a poet's constant dread. The poem will be stillborn. So one plays for time. Wait for the surprise that creation is. One recalls the decapitated Orpheus nailed on the lyre, singing still. There must be a song arrested in his throat. The poet plays for time, a zeit schinden. Sometimes, the poem dies in the waiting.

If playing for time is idleness regained,
a game of dunking Orpheus’ head
in a pot of boiling water would indeed
buy us the song screaming to drown
silences that are midwives to poems.
Did not the head nailed to the lyre
sing still of the beauty that was Greece?
What does it matter that limbs are shorn
from limbs in prurient violence?
A paean in darkened rooms is still pain
that seeks its balm in threnodies
muted now as dirges for the final quiver
of the song arrested in his throat,
a stillborn sigh that could have been
the dying gurgle of our descending
into a sandbox of absent games
and players gone and quietness fallen.

Mississauga, February 20, 2010


A BALLERINA ON THE WINDOW

(For my ballerinas: Chloe, Sydney, and Taylor)

“Adios, adios, abuelo. Te Amo. Je T’aime! Mahal Kita! Luv ya!”
---- Chloe speaking in tongues.

A glimmer of a sylph on the gossamer bay,
She pirouettes and is gone into her chrysalis
Not unlike the sylvan truants that waylay
The wary wanderer among the trees,

Or the papillon flitting from blossom to bramble,
Hidden but always there, some surprise grace,
A magical fairy light to dispel the creeping pall
Coiled on the winter ennui of fallen days ---

O, she dandles dearly with her ragged ragdoll,
Caressingly delicate in a wistful pas de deux
Of her shadow Fonteyn caught in a sudden fall
By a prancing Baryshnikov vaulting off the shadow.

Was that his pas de chat to snatch her from disaster?
Quickly now, urgently now, hold the hapless Dame
As would a cat curl on the legs of its Master,
Dream now of a demure pas de bourree of fame,

While dreams still enthrall, while the dancing
Is still your language of love, of boundless courage,
While the arguments of your young body moving
To the beats of passion are still the true language

Of the good, the honest, and the beautiful:
Until then, mon amour, these decrepit hands cannot
Stop the deluge of fear, of hurt, and of the frightful
That would drown us all, before our windows are shut.

Even now, as you wave from your window,
I know you will be brave.

Mississauga, February 9, 2010


A LULLABY

Rock-a-bye, baby, on the treetop,/ When the wind blows, the cradle will rock;/When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall/ And down will come baby, cradle, and all!
--- Lullaby


1.
Close your eyes and fairy lights will lead you
Away from the dark and gloom that scare you:

In your dreams, do you run through brackish snow?
Climb leafless trees or swing from a broken bough?

Where the river bends, do you gather rotting fish,
Glean carrion snagged in a summer’s fishing mesh?

Has the snowman’s head fallen off its melting body?
Its stick hands twisted like pretzels. Arrows really.

The carrot nose has become its stabbing tooth,
Where both eyes were, now Cyclops orb is left

On a conehead of dripping snow; a crushed face
Stares blankly at a mid-day sun whose lapping rays

Forebode another season for yet another reason
To accept that what lives is also ripe for destruction.

(O, my aching heart, it aches, it hurts,
It hurts badly, it hurts to the core.
Kindly spare me your gentle nurture,
For I dread death’s coming spectre.)*

2.

Close your eyes and let the wind rip through
Tears and cracks and cranny and broken doors, too.

Grip the tightened string on your wayward kite,
No wind could wreck nor snap it loose from flight.

You will ride the wind, my boy, and touch the sun,
Though frightful prayers plead that you must run

From the dreams that have become nightmares,
From the fallen kites; run from the fearsome snares.

Life is a trap, much like the burlap waiting downstream,
When you get there, you are enmeshed -- do not scream.

It is too late to scream. Close your eyes, shut them tight.
Life is not a waking dream. You have just begun to fight.

(O, my aching heart, it aches, it hurts,
It hurts badly, it hurts to the core.
Kindly spare me your gentle nurture,
For I dread death’s coming spectre.)*

Mississauga, March 3, 2010

_____________

* Annnay, pusok, annay, annay,
Nasaem, naut-ut la unay.
Itdem kaniak ta pannaranay
Ta kaasiak a maidasay.

--- Duay-ya: Dungdungwen Kanto
(A Lullaby of Love), Ilocano Lullaby Refrain


A CRUISE FARE: THE VIEUX MADAME, 84

She held on to the shorter side of her skirt,
a Creole form of rainbow radiance raw on rays,
and took the proffered hand with a shy smile.

Her descent is uneventful save for all the eyes
riveted on her, the sole fare from an island shore
where fishermen glean enmeshed smelt
on day-long-heaved nets hitched to catamarans
docking light with empty baskets from a sea
that is now without fish or even fishermen.

To banter from ferry passengers tendered
ashore from cruising ocean liners, she mutters:
En Français, s’il vous plait. Non parle Anglais.

The boatswain gently cautions her to mind
the gangplank shuffle: Regardez ca!
On parle de vous, Madame.
Amused, she responds : Pourquoi pas ?
En fin, a quatre-vingts, gens remarquez!

They saw her looking away into that vast sea,
a half-smile cancelling a frown on her face,
quite like wishing away an unwanted memory.

Parlez-moi de votre voyage, mon cher,
the proffered hand asks past the gangplank.
En Anglais, mon ami: Et ees a long journée,
she says, pointing her cane rapier-like
to some lost horizon. Un voyage solitaire.

She laughs weakly, whispering:
Alors, Monsieur, a la prochaine. Bon chance!
She pulls her wind-blown skirt down and giggles.

Mississauga, April 10, 2010


UMBERTO AND EDO DE BRAZIL

It rained at the Grand Anse beach in Grenada.
--- Writer’s Notebook on the Cruise

Hurriedly, furtively putting on her top piece,
she looked triumphantly nubile coming out
of the make-do change nook of towels held
by her Umberto to hide her from sparse beach
traffic gaze --- gauche stares from a hawker
of fun would have been de rigueur in Rio
when they were young, but she must now
twist and turn to cover a sag-here a bag-there:

El triumfo de vejez! Nuestra juventud perdida!
Aiee, que lastima! Aiee, hermosura perdida!

She would have wept, but the Viejo beside her,
is once again her swain, coaxing her: Venga!
is all she needed to rush into the lapping waves.
Venga! Queridisima mia! A lass again, halloing
again at the water’s bite: Come, Umberto! Come!

But the mountain cloud bringing the first rain
after a searing summer has overtaken her glee:
Lluvia! Lluvia! She cried, bewailing the sudden
leeward burst. Bolting out of the roiled sea,
no longer Venus-like, she scampered --- her
caballero in tow --- to the thatched shed,
pell-mell shelter from an abrupt summer rain.

Was it the surprise of a wayward downpour
stopped her from her frolic in the sea?
Or was it the intruding pall ruined her mark
of the sun, gone from the sky, gone from the sea?
Lluvia! Lluvia! She warned anyone who cared
to listen --- the beach frolic rolled unabated.

Under the windblown shelter, she asked him:
Por que? Dime, amor mio, por que hace llover
cuando estamos contento con poquito alegre?
Con poquito de luz del sol? Con tiempo poquito?

He shrugged as he shook the water off his ears.
Put your clothes on, Edo. The rain won’t stop,
might have been what he wanted to say when
she asked: Why must it rain when all we need
Is a little sunshine? In such a short short while?


Mississauga, Ontario, April 13, 2010

(During the first week of April, diluvial floods have wrecked communities in Rio, Brazil, where Umberto and Edo must have gone back to after the cruise. The killer floods and landslides were caused by torrential rains.

Edo’s Lluvia! Lluvia! warning is worth heeding.

In the Philippines, a recent situs for killer floods, (now ironically widespread drought throughout the archipelago) schoolchildren have been taught to chant the English ditty once again: “Rain rain, go away! Come again another day. Little children want to play.” You know, just in case Yahweh understands English only.


The rain becomes a bloody plot. --- ABC)


CRUISE FARES 3: HOLOCAUST IN MY MIND

Yobo of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

“In ascending steep climbs, the Himalayan Sherpas hold each other on the shoulder in a single file; you know, it somehow energizes them.” – Yobo while climbing the Georgetown Fort in Grenada


“Sich falsche Hoffnungen machen,” he muttered absently,
looking for an excuse to be on top of a hill housing a dungeon.

Remnants of a lookout point, the Fort stands now for an illusion:
safe from the marauders, safe from the ogres of conquest,
here remains a craven rock of futile defence from the claws
of Empires that came to save settlers from voodoo and disease
in the name of God and country, hope for the hoffnungsvoll,
a new world where the old is a detritus of violence and greed.

“I am a castaway child of the Holocaust, and I remember:
no dungeons or chambers shall cut us down wherever we go,
our best revenge is to thrive at any time in any clime in any place
where we find ourselves derided, denied, and defeated;
it is only the hoffnunglos, who must inherit the wind,
my people will always build the lighthouse on the knoll.
Like the Sherpas on the Everest, we hold each other‘s back
ascending, we lend each other strength until the very end.”

Muttering, Yobo of Sarnia, man of means, absently
looked down the cliff and claimed: “Ich auch eigen der Welt unter.
No one will take it away from me. Ever. Pardon my Deutsch,
Monsieur,
but habits die hard and tongues get twisted."

Mississauga, April 16, 2010


CRUISE FARES 3: HOLOCAUST IN MY MIND (A QUICK REVISION AND AFTERTHOUGHT)

Yobo of Sarnia

“In ascending steep climbs, the Himalayan Sherpas hold each other on the shoulder in a single file; you know, it somehow energizes them.” – Yobo, while climbing the Georgetown Fort in Grenada


“Sich falsche Hoffnungen machen,”
he muttered absently,
looking for an excuse to be on top
of a hill housing a dungeon.

Remnants of a lookout point,
the Fort stands now for an illusion:
safe from the marauders,
safe from the ogres of conquest,
here remains a craven rock
of futile defence from the claws
of Empires that came to save settlers
from voodoo and disease
in the name of God and country,
hope for the hoffnungsvoll,
a new world where the old
is a detritus of violence and greed.

“I am a castaway child
of the Holocaust, and I remember:
no dungeons or chambers
shall cut us down wherever we go;
our best revenge is to thrive
at any time in any clime in any place
where we find ourselves
derided, denied, and defeated;
it is only the hoffnunglos
who must inherit the wind;
my people will always build
the lighthouse on the knoll;
like the Sherpas on the Everest,
we hold each other‘s back
ascending, we lend each other
strength until the very end.”

Muttering, Yobo of Sarnia, man of means,
absently looked down the cliff and claimed:
“Ich auch eigen der Welt unter.
No one will take it away from me. Ever.
Pardon my Deutsch, Monsieur,
but habits die hard and tongues get twisted."


(Rewritten from its first version Cruise Fares 3: Holocaust in my Mind, the version above cuts the lines shorter to objectify the rhythm of the ascent on Fort George which remains on a cliff overlooking the capital city of Grenada in the Caribbean. It should suggest the breathing of the climbers as they strain to reach the top of the hill. Is this a better version?)



IF: AN EARTH DAY POEM

It’s when I’m weary of considerations,/And life is too much like a pathless wood.../I’d like to get away from earth a while/And then come back to it and begin over.../...Earth’s the right place for love:/I don’t know where it’s likely to go better. --- Robert Frost, Birches


1.

If you marvelled at the dance of the Northern Lights
Counterpointing the smouldering plumes of ashen smoke
Billowing out of an Eyjafjallajokull cradled by melting glacier,

Or quietly scanned the opal horizons of Banda Aceh swathed
In a glorious sunset chiaroscuro before the waves claimed
Atolls and infants back into the rip tide roar of that tsunami;

If you were ambushed by an unforgiving temblor that rocked
Haiti out of its romping in reggae regaled beaches turned
Into common graveyards of carrion crushed under rubble;

If you have walked through cherry-blossom-strewn streets
And smiled at strangers’ hallooing: How about this spring?
Before rampaging twister funnels crushed hearths and homes;

If you have strolled and danced ragtime beat on Orleans’
Roadhouses rocking rampant with rap and razzmatazz
Before Katrina’s wrath wreaked hell’s hurricane havoc;

If you braved the stygian stink of Ilog Pasig and sang songs
While harvesting floating tulips, debris, or stray crayfish
For some foregone repast before it turned into River Styx;

If you have lived through these and now blow fanfare
For Earth’s being the right place for love or maybe care,
You might yet begin to accept that mother’s lullabies were
Also her gnashing of teeth when you wailed through nights
When slumber would have allowed her love not tantrums
Of infants grown now and “quartered in the hands of war”:


2.

How else explain the wrath of days descending
Not into quietness but pain? Has she not kept her anger
In check for all the tantrums of the Ages: Thermopylae,
Masada, Ilium, Pompeii? Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Nagasaki?
Stalin’s pogroms? The death chambers and Holocaust trains?
Polpot’s killing fields in Kampuchea? Rwanda’s genocide?
Before it lured tourist trekkers, the verboten Walls of China?
The Berlin Wall? The Gaza Wall? Fences of n.i.m.b.y.
Neighbours: India and Pakistan, Iran and Iraq, splintered
Korea, the Irelands shorn of the emerald isles, the fractured
United Kingdom where the sun has finally set on its Empire,
The still haemorrhaging American southern states crippled
And still unyoked from black history but seething now
From the African-American’s irascible entitlement ---
With Obama on the rise, they will overcome someday. Soon.


3.

Has it gone any better? Love on this piece of terra infirma?
The man crucified on Golgotha preached love,
And he got killed.
Free the enslaved black man, he cried in Gettysburg,
And he got killed.
The loincloth-clad man asked for non-violent resistance,
And he got killed.
Another Gandhi later, the distaff side, asked for peace,
And she got killed.
The man got his people to the moon, and said:
Ask not what your country can do for you;
Ask what you can do for your country.
And he got killed.
I have a dream. He said that equality of races will ring true,
And he got killed.
Exiled and returning to forge a conscience for his people,
He said the “Filipino is worth dying for”.
And he got killed.


4.

That’s when mother shushed you back to sleep,
An impatient rhythm clipping away what should have been
A gently lulling melody from the Song of Ages:
Rock-a-bye, baby on the treetop; when the wind blows,
The cradle will rock. When the bough breaks, the cradle
Will fall; and down will come baby, cradle, and all.
The bough breaks, and you scream. Too late for that.
This is not a dream. The freefall is mother’s little slip
When she could no longer hold you still, somnolence
Finally taking over, and your cri d’couer, a scream,
For help, for caress, for all the love gone from an empty room.
The cradle falls, she can’t pick it up. Exhausted and utterly
Spent, she mutters in her sleep: Spare the rod, spoil the child.


5.

“An earthquake is expected on the fault lines between Israel
And Palestine”, the breaking news announces another temblor.
Nazareth shrines will be closed to pilgrims. And Jerusalem?
Closed. Gaza? Construction abandoned. Problems solved.
Like the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo drove the Ugly American
From the Philippine’s Clark Air Base where the legions
Of armed rebels, limp politicos, and clap-infected whores
Could not.


6.

Tomorrow, then, the Ring of Fire.


Mississauga, April 26, 2010


SCREAM: A MAGUINDANAO DIRGE*

She lost her rubber slippers in the mud when
Crackling mayhem scuttled their march to town
Ripping through their roaring revelry riding
East of the searing sun: Ibagsak si Ampatuan!
Alive and raucous in their raspy throats, the raw
Mantra of venceremos quickly turned to wailing:

“She was on her way to the village school,
Carrying a new pair of shoes from her mother,
Rosa, who is an OFW in the States! Pobresita,
Eleanor, she needed clean shoes for the prom;
And, O, she laughed about our ragtag band
Marching to a funeral tune, its sole anthem beat.”

She will not find Simeon where she has gone,
Cut down, head cracked, and curled like a limp
Rag doll that could have been whipped away
Even from the tightest hold of a pining swain
Anxious and waiting in the now unlit schoolyard
Marking their first embrace in a lost last dance.

--- ALBERT B. CASUGA
Mississauga, April 29, 2010

* This poem is in collaborative response to the invitation to express rage over the Maguindanao Massacre, that took place in the Southern Philippines in November 2009. It is part of a collection of over a hundred poems collected online under the working title An Anthology of Rage.