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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, December 17, 2010

ADDRESSING SOME FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES: AN UPANISHAD

Now and then, I get invited to deliver "while-you-guys-eat inspirational talks", and this one is the annual invitation from the Sampaguita Senior Citizens Club, a group of Filipino, Hispanic, Chinese, Caribbean, European retirees living in the "Living Waters Retirement Home", headed  by Filipino compatriot, Mrs. Efrena Chaves who is originally from Cagayan de Oro City in the Southern Philippines.

While I was board of education trustee for the Mississauga-Peel Region, I helped the seniors group obtain Federal funding for their projects that funded their activities for health, education, community relations, technological, recreational, cultural, and social amelioration. Losing the elections in 2006 after a three-term service, I still get invited to their parties. I have not been "speechifying" lately, but if "inspirational" is inspirational, I might as well include poetry to "regale" them with. The elderly, believe it or not, still appreciate the arts, even poetry.

It might as well be a "reading" night. After all, I have written some poems to "grow old by." I thought it would be a good idea to test them on the group who might appreciate the theme of "ageing" in style --- in solemnity, spirituality, and silence.

With "silence for our bed."


SAMPAGUITA SENIOR CITIZENS CLUB ADDRESS

December 18, 4 p.m.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my friends:

When your President , Efrena Chaves, invited me to deliver an “inspirational talk” during your Christmas Party, I readily accepted, and became anxious to be with you for so many selfish reasons, not the least of which is to participate in eating some of these delicacies that we rarely see cooked for us exiles from all parts of the earth.

“Inspirational talk” from me? I came here not to inspire you, but rather to be inspired. At this point in my life, now that I am 68, I gather inspiration from the consoling fact that there are still active and happy people even older than I am. Shame on me for feeling hopeless.

For, at this stage, I am prone to feel inconsolable that the day “to kick the bucket” may come one day soon. But what snaps me out of this appears to be the excitement of being able to prepare my “bucket list” – a set of things I have yet to do before I grow any older. Among these is my aspiration to be able to publish another collection of poems.

I gather inspiration from the senior citizens I read about and even meet, and I write poems or stories about them. I have written some lately – for this is my preoccupation now that I am retired, hopefully not in my dotage. I write about us, so I could better appreciate my “ageing process” in the perspective of art, something I have always devoted my life to, whether as a professor of literature and creative writing or as a writer manqué.

I celebrate our elder state because it is a stage where our affinity with the chair, and of course, sitting, is more pronounced than ever. Believe me, our act of sitting silently and solemnly in the shadows of our darkened rooms is still one of the best exemplars of how we prepare our lives to arrive at a final spiritual stage where our “Upanishad” --- a Hindu word from the Veda meaning “sitting near” – is really a preparation or a waiting, if you please, for our physical state to transform into a more spiritual state as “virginal” vessels to receive our final forms on this earth before we reclaim our paradise lost sitting near the Master’s feet.

For isn’t “retirement” the process of putting on new tires – not the earthly ones appended to our infernal oil and gas guzzlers (they get more expensive everyday) -- but the “re-tirement” of our chariots with winged wheels to take us to a paradise regained?

I submit that what you do now as a group reflects your shaping up towards this goal. Your dances, your songs, your games, your karaoke nights, your bingos, your feasts – all these are among the happy and finer things of a civilized existence that remain as solid examples to our community of how elders prepare themselves for the transition towards a more spiritual level of existence.

This is an inspiration to me. I thank you for providing me with this opportunity to be happy with you in the spirit of celebrating, as well, the birthday of a Teacher who gave of himself that we might find it easier to go back to our first and final world – our spiritual paradise with our God, whatever you and I might conceive Him to be.

In grateful recompense, allow me to regale you with some of my work that you may appreciate how I value the inspiration of our fellow seniors in some of these poems I have collected under the group of Poems to Grow Old By.

Because we are gathered to express Love and honour for the Emmanuel, here’s a love poem.


FEELING FANCY FREE: A LOVE POEM
There is nothing but trees for miles from where Allen and Margaret Berrington’s silver Chrysler Sebring was found on Wednesday afternoon. . . .A pair of dirtbikers found the Sebring, out of gas, and Margaret, 91, deceased, three kilometres down the road. . . .Mounties later found the body of Allen, 90, nearby, concealed by a small embankment. How they got there, and why, is a mystery. - - - Kevin Libin, National Post, Friday, June 4, 2010




Something about the spring sun slicing through
Shadows of maple and birches cuddling the road,
Their branches creaking like stretched backs do
When pulled erect from a burden of stoop, load
Of the years fallen off as derelict leaves gone
With the lashing wind, roiled into an uproar
Of rain and foliage --- something about the sun
Caught in her ruddy blush and now gossamer hair
Has sprung a sprightly pull on his flaccid arms
And he was going to enfold her again, trolling
Their road song again: O leggy Peggy in my arms,
O lovely Peggy in my arms! And hear her trilling
Again: Al of my dreams, I love you, honest I do;
Oh, what can I do, I love you so. I love you so.
But something about the spring sun on their faces
Was all he could recall, the sky, and empty spaces.

And these few precious days, I'll spend with you....these golden days, I'll spend with you. ---September Song


FIVE POEMS TO GROW OLD BY: WHERE
THE FINAL WEAPON IS A CHAIR NOT LOVE

Ah, to be old and a mariner come upon that restful cove,/ Where the final weapon is a chair not love;/ To be old, cher ami, is a gallant slouching on that chair/ Some porch of the heart grown insensitive to care ------ “Houses are Better Off Without Porches Here”, From A Theory of Echoes (Selected Poems)




WINDOW GAZERS

Sitting on her Florentine chair
Atop the red-tiled stairs, the sirocco
Breeze playing with her ivory hair,
She awaits her turn to say hello:
A caudillo-like half-raised wave
And a schoolmarm’s smile on her
Waxen face, a smirk at times to save
Her some chagrin falling off a chair
While she wags childlike to say:
Blow a kiss to your window-waving
Girl, say au revoir for now, and pray
That as they grow, won’t stop loving,
And they do grow and go away,
And you’d be left sitting on a chair
Wondering why they have flown
Like swallows, and hope would care
To come back and perch at sundown.


CUP ON THE BENCH


“Favorite spot,” Nguyen Cao Tran pointed
To the bench on Lincoln Green before
He waved me bonjour the Montreal way.

“Favorite spot for wife and me…drink
Tim Horton Coffee from across,” he winked,
Now unafraid his accent might betray

A Viet Minh rasp from Saigon days,
A shrapnel buried on his nape: “Still smoke
Camel sticks from GI Joe friend in Frisco.”

He looked away when I remembered to ask
About Nguyen Bao. “Isn’t she walking
With you this morning? It’s spring, mon vieux!

He mumbled: “She gone…far away now,”
And shuffled away, his knapsack slung
Like a rifle crooked on his flaccid hand.

A single cup of Roll-up-the-Rim teetered
On the bench the next day while I waited.
No cups on the ground, the bench was naked.



LUCY DOES NOT LIVE HERE ANYMORE



Caminare. Fare una passeggiata.
Eh, come stai? She shot back looking askance.
Perched birdlike on her stroller, she inched
Her way to the middle of the cul de sac ---
Where I tarried, a wide wave our ritual,
I called out, Come va, Nonna?

Her andador tilted off the cobbled strada,
She stared blankly, but smiled nonetheless
In the courtly manner she never failed to show
To neighbours and strangers alike.

Her sallow skin becomes her regal face,
I thought, but the same face furrowed,
Her eyebrows arched impatiently then;
She demanded: Are you the police?
Or are you my son with a Florida tan
Hiding as usual from me? I called them
From 2441 because I could not find
My house, nor my keys. Was just walking,
Was just enjoying the sun for once.
Crazy Calabria weather. Rain. Sun. Wind.
Sun. Snow. Cold. Hot. Aiee... who are you?

“2441 is your house, Nonna. And you have
A daughter who will be here tomorrow.
And this is Mississauga. I am Alberto
With the nipotes Chloe and Louie at 2330.”

Aieee...dolce angelo! My angels.
How are they? E come va, amore mio?
Caminare. Fare una passeggiata.
O, com `e bello, O sole bello!
But you will help me find my home,
Won’t you? Won’t you? Amore?
A lilt on her voice, she flirted rather coyly.





EL NIDO DESOLADO

(Para mi Madre)





Los pajaritos están dejando su nido;
el invierno de su vida ha venido
tan muy temprano!

Mira! Mira! Madre mía.

Tan fuerte ahora, sus pájaros
están volando a puertas desconocidas;
están volando tan lejos para que
nunca jamás devolver y quedar en la casa
de corazón triste, ahora casa abandonada,
nida desolada, madre mía.

O mi madre querida!


OMNI SOLI SEMPER*

“I just wish your Father would come and take me soon. I am tired,” Mother said and closed her eyes. --- From a Visit to Poro Point, Writer’s Notebook, 2009






The flannel blanket was an armour:
it shielded me through nights I needed you
to defend me against the onslaught of day
when I had to rise to know
that the children were all in bed last night
dreaming their dreams or fleeing nightmares
where flailing they fall from precipices
and you were no longer there to catch them
nor were they there to fall in your arms.

Even the sunrise assails me.

I beg for sunsets now and nights to hide me
from the rush of day when finally I ache to see
them home and you beside me asking
how I made it through my day.

When will you come to take me home?

The flannels have shrunk and, threadbare,
They could no longer keep the intruding light away.
----------
*All alone, always



Like the troubadour who has earned his meal at the table, I will sit down now, hoping someday I may again find myself among you, reading poems about today and some of my impressions of you and I growing yet older not only in aches and pains, but also, and more importantly in wisdom, love, and spirituality.

My family and I wish you a Happy Christmas.

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