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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.

Monday, May 16, 2011



Are we writing poems which are arrogant exercises in navel gazing? Are they relevant? How far removed are they in the celebration of the culture of man, his social environment, and the complex interplay of his evolution as a social being and as an individual?

Should poetry---nay, literature---be socially conscious? This last question should be moot at this point. There is no such thing as unengaged literature. The litterature engage that protest poetry has distinguished itself through its use in social uprisings, revolutions manque, should be enough to qualify it as a genre.

Literature is not written in a vacuum. Literature as a human invention is meaningful only in a context of assigned significance. It is the artist who uses his entire environment who will offer a richer look at human nature. Human nature, like it or not, will always be the abiding subject of literary men who remain involved in explaining man to himself.

The following selection of poems, I am not embarrassed to admit, are "socially conscious" in our effort to link "poetic prompts"---  descriptions of natural phenomena (birds, snow, wind, rains, and the like) as material for Morning Porch, Pennsylvania poet Dave Bonta's Zen-like meditations, which stimulated these poems as responses---beyond the narrow confines of soliciting metaphysical significance from the "little things" around which make our immediate habitat.

Are they "protest poems"? Call it what you like. They are "involved" literature. Are they in the tradition of literature that provides catharsis? Perhaps these questions may not be the main focus of this culling. The poems should be left not only to mean but "be". Ontologically, they can only mean if and when they achieve the distinction of being poetry.


Washlines strung on gnarled lean-to posts
Hide hovels with garments shrunk in the wash:
Dhaka’s label shirts for Hilfiger’s shelves
Are ready for the children’s harvest—after
Last night’s rain, dust and mites and muck
Should have been rinsed off to get them
Ready for the cackling cutters in slumyards
Who would bundle “made in China” shirts
While cracking whips on narrow backs
Or wraith-like limbs wherever lashes find them.

After last night’s rain, the snow fits each
Dip and hummock more tightly, as would mud
In gaping mouths of children buried in slides
Of Brazilian earth, or tapered coastlines
Washed into rampaging rivers reclaiming
Riparian rights over garbage landfills
In Sri Lanka, Benguet, Samar, Pakistan,
Australia’s Queensland, Chile, Copenhagen,
Manila, New York, name them, they are
In today’s AP, Reuters, CNN, Ankara disaster
News. Nostradamus, Nostradamus.

The creaking of doves’ wings after last
Night’s rain is hibernation sound heard
Round the world. At season’s turn, whirrs
Of flapping wings might yet bring an avian
Rainfall—of dead and dying birds plummeting
To earth not unlike smirking kamikaze pilots
Immolating themselves for the Rising Sun;
The cracking of wings after last night’s
Rain might yet be the mystery of the perishing
Sandpiper burrowing into tar pits or
Mallards choking on Gulf Oil cum BP cocktail, or
Kookaburras muzzled on the old gum tree.

Ah, rain and snow and creaking dove wings:
After last night’s rain, they are a bloody plot.

Mississauga, 1-19-11


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: Earth Poems, Asia Writes Featured Poem, A. B. Casuga, June 2010

Five or six juncos at a time flutter down
to drink from the dark water of the yet
unfrozen stream covered by their lilac perches.

Elsewhere in the shantytowns of Haiti,
children jump into murky canals---
what’s left of them unburied by debris---
swim with the flotsam and carrion of dogs
and carcasses of swine felled by temblor.

Their raucous laughter and irreverent
hallooing mock UN relief workers mixing
purifiers, quinine, chlorine, into tanks filled
with dark water to supply the infirmary
nearest the canals with drinking vats
for the sick and dying, cleaning liquid
for strewn sputum, faeces, excreta galore,
and at end of day dark water for the
naked boys and prancing girls to swim in
with the floating carrion and lilies of the marsh.

The trill of snowbirds fluttering down
to drink from the dark water covered
by their lilac perches are dirges elsewhere
in the dark water canals of a wounded Earth.

Mississauga, 1-21-


It is the retrieval of the limp bodies now piled
six-deep from the quarry’s downhill rampage
that assails even the prayerful dirges sounding
more like a pounding charivari, clangour of
spades against rock clashing with diggers’ calls

for gargling gasps of the dying and shushing
threats to yelping dogs and barking policemen
to plead for silence, a doleful quietude of hope
for hands to cut through the rubble, for faces
really, spitting clay and fighting through debris,

but the strangeness of a startling quarry truck
reverse beeper gone bad does the quelling work
instead like stifling a waking-up snore through
the trill of an alarm clock that’s advertised as
able to rouse even the dead; then stone silence

breaks through but instantly ruptured by the trill
of sparrows lining the pell-mell polewires;
the thud of the quarry truck’s spade startles
a duelling pair that tumbles through torn thicket,
the trilling sounds continue while a weary sun

sets signalling the perching hour of sparrows
absently chirping a cacophony of evening songs
as they have done before and yet to do
though hillsides crumble, or heavens weep,
or quarry truck reverse beepers beep crazily, too.

Mississauga, 1-26-11


We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.---T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Little Gidding

Sunrise on a highway ridge baffles us.
This could be sundown elsewhere by the bay
in Poro Point, a merging of origins, east or west,
a cycle of living and dying on the reef,
a coming and going on the harbour of fishing boats
and war machines, a pot of stirred calm and tempest
really, where remembering and forgetting are sides
of the same coin---memories made, buried, raised,
extinguished or lived again in a string of moments
that defines the journey of a man as symbol
of a moving object, wandering back and forth,
from nothing to something, something to nothing,
a Brahman-Atman, Alpha-Omega, being-non-being,
body-mind and soul all in one simple brownbag
of wonder and questions. Quite like that silly
white-tailed squirrel wandering, wondering
where it last buried a nut or a memory of one,
as its quaint prompter of an imitation of life,
a movement here, a movement there, all
really meaning a stillness of finding where
the end is one’s beginning and also his end,
a circle at last where the hole defines
life’s next of kin. One arrives home to ask:
Is anybody home?

Mississauga, Ont., 02-15-11


(For the Fallen Freedom Fighters of People Power in Manila, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Iraq and elsewhere.)

Even these gray skies are not spared
the mayhem plotted by the mighty:
somewhere among the prickly branches
dangles the mangled carrion of a junco
who must have tried to fly higher
than it should and caught the eye
of the sharp-shinned hawk now wiping
its after-breakfast beak atop the bald
maple tree as a gray breast feather
floats down and lands on snow.

Icarus will not --cannot--fly to the sun.

There will be hordes of sparrows
perched sentry-like on those branches
before their trembling twigs break
into a camouflage of leaves and flowers.
That gnarled maple will loom gray with
twittering kins of that quartered prey
and there will be a cacophony of calls
before perching sundown songs are sung.
Not quite a reveille at sunrise, a screech
of a battlecry echoes in the wakened hills:

Icarus, Icarus, do not fly to the sun!

The predator has arrived for the hunt:
glides into the maple top rather regally
while the sparrows swarm for the kill
before the sharp-shinned hawk alights.
A stained black breast feather floats
amid the strangest banshee of triumph.

Icarus rises, screams, then plummets.

Mississauga, 02-27-11


Of what make, what calibre are you, hewer of wood?
Which well do you fetch water from, carrier of water?
Do measures count you at all as the universe turns?

Hewer: I chopped wood to build catapults for Mt. Rushmore;
Eiffel would be a fantasy without these fingers, mon ami.
Grand blarney all that: just think of your country cottage.

Carrier: Who would bring hard water pails for Chernobyl?
Would Las Vegas glitter without my Hoover Dam water?
Nah, all balderdash that: you’d stink without bath water.

So, pin the medals on us, for all we care. Wood and water—
that’s all you need whatever chill winter frost would bring,
or thirst and sunburn infernal summer would pitch your way.

We are a couple for the ages, hewer and carrier, H&C, Inc.
We do build homes, but look how without our wiles (services)
this earth would still be a canopy under a tent of stars.

Rivers and oceans would still be playgrounds of sharks
and goldfish, mountains would still be Bunyan’s frontiers
where the oak is an oak not timber or log for a brothel cabin.

Puny and downtrodden or spat upon? Hewer and Carrier,
when coupled, though, turns brew to bittter, water to waste,
fish to faeces. O, leave us to stay little, where our tongues

would not wag about Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, or Fukushima
but do what tongues do, lick the sweet in the honey, moisten
the welt on the wee one’s forehead bruise, say: luv ya, honey.

—Albert B. Casuga

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