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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, October 3, 2011



(For Julian Ashley+, October 2, 1984-January 30, 1885)

It is the Sea eats limb so life (so love)/ may not to its eternal wanting finish/ what it late started must soon deny:/ a clown’s journey through a circle’s shadow. . .

Another fishing season would have gone
by sundown, but I have stopped counting
and stopped fishing, too; think of all the bass
that got away and the crayfish dried brittle
on rocks laved clean of seaweed and brine,
ebb tide marking rhythm and time when
breaking waves drown the homeward hallos
of fishermen pulling empty nets and ruined
mesh dragged off by catamarans whose relics
now jag brackish breakwater rocks when
low tide retrieves stray shells wrapped in flotsam.

It is my hammock hour. Come swing yourself
on this final refuge. Don’t take too long, hijo.
We have groupers to grill, oysters to chuck!

Echoes of your shrill shrieks and laughter startle
me still when I cock my ear to catch them
filling rooms and spaces that I would have shared
with you if you had only given me the chance
to teach you how to fish. But you left without
saying goodbye. At sundown, though,
on my hammock hour, I still hum your lullaby.

October 2, 2010, Mississauga

On October 2, Julian Ashley Casuga-Dela Rosa, my first grandchild, would have been 26, but he succumbed to sudden infant death syndrome four months after his birth.

I wrote an earlier poem marking his passing, "For the Grandson Who Did Not Choose to Stay", which I reprint together with the new poem above in his durable memory. O, how we could have gone away fishing, had he stayed longer. Con amor duradero, hijo mio.


(For Mikey)

Mikey bested his cousins in the game of balancing on the lily pads (mock pontoons) while crossing the pool without falling into the water before he gets to the last pontoon. This ancient mariner, bedazzled by his grandchildren’s confidence and derring-do, failed to even get past the first pontoon despite their egging him on: Come on, ‘lolo! You can do it! Just do it! --- Writer's Notebook on a Family Break at Great Wolf Lodge, Niagara

He leap-frogged lithely
with tentative grace
from one drifting lily pad
to the other, an uncertain

smile creased on his elfin
face: quite like relishing
the exquisite danger
of leaping from one life
moment to another
shorn of anxiety or fear
a fall could end it all.

Would the pontoons hold
while he teeters on them
grasping for absent branches?

His final leap was also
this old heart’s leap of faith
that this lad’s leap-frogging
will end in a crash of pool
where ripples are his balm
and sinking is his baptism
of fire in a game called living
where bridges crumble
with the tottering pontoons.

Mississauga, September 15, 2010


There is a scampering of grace/In the dry woods/ And a pulse upon some soliloquy: / It is the rain come as a lace/ Smooth and forbidding upon the cup/ Of the dead and dying weather!--- “Fugue in Narra’s Rain”, Narra Poems and Others, 1968

Something about running naked in the rain
recalls some lost decades withered now in
a fading trail hallooing with surprised laughter
tickled out of our backs by sudden pellets of rain.

The river! The river! Chanted my little lass

Skipping to the tempo of scampering rain:
Let’s swim there, abuelo! Let’s dance in the river!
Brown and slithering over scraped-clean rocks,
the river meanders sans snails, eels, or crayfish,

Now emptied of carp, catfish, small-mouth bass.

O, how we could have raucously scared the wren
with catcalls while mounting a wading caribou,
but those were noises of our lost years when
naked lads swam with dung and water buffalo.

We can’t swim here, hija mia, City Hall says clean
rivers are for clean table fish. We do have our rain.

August 22, 2010, Mississauga


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

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.)*

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.)*

* 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

Mississauga, March 3, 2010


(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



At sundown, on my hammock hour, I hum a lullaby.
And I become the magus among the cattails chanting:

O give me a home bursting with laughter and song,
O give me a nook to hide and hold quicksilver dreams.

In their crannies, I shall wrap them with sunflowers;
In icy snow chambers, I shall save slivers of sunlight
To keep them warm. I shall be the rabbit popped out
Of the magus’ cone hat; I shall jump and disappear

Into their hideaway taking the darkness with me.
In their lairs and treehouses, I shall bring dry flint
And candlesticks and all things bright and crackling;
I shall be with my wee ones and darkness be damned.

Mississauga, 1-20-11


(For Louis Martin Lalonde, nieto jovencito)

He stood on a box when he eagerly squealed
“ ‘Lolo! Come, help me build a castle! Come!”

Not the usual sulky, sullen, silence slicing
through the interloper who has come to retrieve
his doting abuela. His jaunty leap toppled
the box of Lego blocks spilling helter-skelter
amid clucking cuidado-warnings from her
who wondered what kindled the stripling elf
into this challenge that bewildered him who
seemed to dodder with the lilt of entreaties
rushing out like a burst of rainwater dammed
on a creek, now freed of flotsam and debris,
now on a lower key: Please, ‘lolo? Please?

Gingerly, the hapless dotard plugged holes
with stubby poles, while the littlest builder
yelled design demands shrieking with glee
that soon enough he will grow a castle out
of his dreams, tall on the rug by the fireplace,
and he shall have his throne, and cars galore.
Like all grandfathers before him or after,
he chuckled a praise for the boy suddenly
turned to a builder-man: Good work, hijo mio!

Under his breath, he also lisped a wistful
plea to the walls around him or whoever
could hear an old man’s prayer:
Please, let him build them strong, and not
destroy; and for my nieto jovencito, to never
forget that there are grander castles in the air.
Please, let him grow like the creek,
when freed of silt will turn to clearest blue.
O, let him flow like the river and find his sea.

Mississauga, Ont. 03-03-11


Real stories tonight, she says, not/made-up. Like what I did, summers when /I was her age: ---From “Real” by Luisa A. Igloria 

(For Chloe and Louis)

1. Then

Something about a canopy of stars
and the darkness among the pines
must turn them into giggling elves
traipsing among the lantern flies.
Bugs with lit tailpipes, he calls them.
She stifles a guffaw, shushes him:
you will wake the hungry bear up.
Would you want to wake up inside
his swirling stomach? He whispers
under the tangled sheet: tell me more
stories, real ones this time. About
how you and abuela stopped a bus
while crossing the street, and she
gave the yelling driver her fat finger.

2. Now

Here we are, imp of a brother grown
beyond those yarns. Will you tell
your own boy---raucously laughing
all by himself in his dimly lit tent---
the same grandmother stories?
“Once upon a time,” will not do it,
they grow quickly beyond that.
Why not lull him instead with one
of grandfather’s hammock songs?
“When you talk to these trees,
they will always answer you: Close
your eyes tightly, we will sing to you.”
Here we are, imp of a sister, plotting
lullabies by campfire, when sons beg:  
Will you tell us real grandma stories?



(For Louis)

I run my hands over the rough, dry clay,/loving best those surfaces whose cracked /veins might lead divining rods to all/the parched suburbs of the heart.---From “Dowsing” by Luisa A. Igloria, Via Negativa, 07-21-11.

Almost like a puppy, I muttered. Something
about his rushing to be wrapped with the flannel
in my hands, his quivering wag, and what looked
like a pirouette to catch his tail, invites me to rub
his narrow back: I feel cold, abuelo, he shivers.

Would the man in Eden have protested coyly?
From the clay he was fashioned, I imagine
he would have undergone some gentle dousing
for the moulder to have pronounced: he is good.
From the rough, dry clay, he rose in splendour.

As did this wisp of a boy rising from the water,
hallooing: Look, abuelo, I can dive, I can swim!
He wiggled his salva vida floating to the edge,
his face toward the bright blue sky: I am good!
As all grandfathers before or after, I said: You are!

Oh, you are, my boy. And while I wipe you dry
after this dousing frolic, I run my hands over
your body, cleaning it of any tinge of dry clay,
loathe to think that if I were shaping you
from the mud East of Eden, I’d want you pure.

Unalloyed, a cherubic imp of a teaser, a laughter
tickled out of a dream, a pure delight, and clean.



(For Matthew, On His Football Debut)

Was it a random number, or did you choose to call
attention to grandmother’s sixty eighth birthday?

She peered through her camera but could not see
you nor make you out among these gnashing giants

who could have been the drooling babies not so long
ago. She lets out a gasp of delighted surprise

when she espies you on the zoom. How do you
zoom in on his face? She asks; I plead ignorance

with a dinosaur’s shrug. From afar, she still sees
that little boy who could not even throw a ball.

Omigod, look at him barrel through that lad blocking
his run! He would hurt the boy or get himself broken!

I could not help but look for that’s what I came to
watch his football debut for: Who will dare bump him?

My little boy, all bulked up, war-primed, brute strong,
could throw that pigskin to Lord knows where, oh yes,

pitch the first blocking body, too. Bloody idiot, he
would snap, but if he were within hearing distance, she

would upbraid him: Matthew Francis, your language!
She watches him through her tear-stained lenses,

sighs, and stifles a cry: My little boy is a big man now.
At sixty-eight, myself, I felt suddenly old and weak.


At 14, Matthew Francis Casuga, third eldest grandchild, was an instant choice by a drooling coach when he applied for his high school’ s football team. A little while ago, he was just our little boy who would weep at the sight of a fly on his arm.

(b. September 16, 2011, 10th Grandchild, a Perfect 10!)

Mild, merciful, a small orange:
you would have to tell those
who would ask what your name
means like all tags could mean
anything from noone to someone
but pray, not anonymous. Never.

For from this day forward, love,
when the sun is a lambent light,
when the rain is a gentle spray,
when the wind is a soft caress,
when all that is harsh is salved,
we shall call them all clement.

And we will remember you,
Marie Clementine, like the mild
dawn that greeted you when you
slipped quickly out of her womb,
mercifully sparing your mother
the pain that birth is twinned with.

Did your laughing père not call you
a little citrus fruit, a tiny orange
wailing your little heart out when
you quivered into our tired world?
O, Marie Clementine! O clement,
O loving, O sweet mother of God.

When angelus descends at dusk,
You become a prayer, too, Marie.



So long at work,/and teetering from one impossible/task to another. I count and recount/an abacus of spilled grain, water flowing/from a sieve: o gather me now in.---From “Orison” by Luisa A. Igloria, Via Negativa, 07-24-11

Sundown was always gleeful for us growing up
around abuela. It was always time to gather
the clucking hens into bamboo nests tied
on low manzanita* trees, low enough for us
to scoop the scrambling little birds beelined
behind squawking mothers into their perch.

The chore done, the handsome lady lilts
our boisterous squadron into a sudden
calm: Anyone for rice cakes after prayers?
The magical word was “cake,” not murmured
promises for a reign of peace as it is in heaven.

On my hammock hour, I replay sundown
tableaus like these radiant remembrances,
(while recollections remain tranquil and clear),
and gather my own noisy bird scoopers, all,
all of them gone now into their own little worlds.

“Anyone for real stories on when I was young?
Some songs sung as I scooped frantic chicken?
Anyone for tea biscuits after sundown prayers?”
O, for those shadowy things to jump up alive
again from these empty walls. O for those songs
to chime in again to lull me, and gather me in.



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