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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.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


The Manger recalling the Nativity scene in Bethelem was the true symbol of Christmas that no Christmas tree (pine or prefab faux sapling)could replace. These poems recall a time when making it for the holy day was quite an often quietly revered enterprise for the faithful. Those days are gone. Although we have the year-round "belen" in our family room to remind us of the central theme of our faith, we see less of it even in the Christian churches of our congregations. Why?


 1. Her Noche Buena

Did you wake up for Noche Buena?*
Lit the balled candle on the belen?*
Do you still put those candles away
for another Pascua de los muertos?*

I can almost see you cranking open
the heavy lid of that narra trunk
at the foot of your bed where his
picture stands sentry while you sleep.

How long did it take you this time
to rearrange the animals around
the manger? Reposition, you’d say
but they’re always in the same place.

The lamb snuggles closest to the box
you stuff with dried grass for hay,
the ass farthest, the horse between.
Why? I would always ask while I,

insolent tot, handed you the wrong
fauna at a time. You would laugh
at how San Jose landed on your palm
when you asked for the donkey, an

angel when you yelled for a shepherd,
a magus when you barked for a burro,
and on and on until you’d pitch me
the hard-packed ball of saved candle

drips from father’s grave on the one
other fiesta you’d get up from sick bed
for---but Noche Buena is a rare treat:
you’d eat pan de sal, a whole banana.

2. Her Belen de Pascua

“Para mi fuerza, para mi belen de pascua,”*
you would sheepishly explain an appetite
we plead for each day you’d remember
father building the manger with you long
after he had the last laugh when, like me,
he would give the dingiest animal figure
instead of a king, a shepherd, or an angel,
and simply did not get up from a crumple
laughing at you when you threw him
back the make-believe cow dung, manure
for the grand project of a straw stable
that father said was wrong: it was a hole
in the city of Petra in that Bethlehem hill,
and there were no inns to take Him in.

You buried him with that Belen de Pascua,*
Mother, and could not quite remake one
you would delight describing to a devil’s
detail to polite and knowing neighbours,
who would drop by to gawk at your porch
where the only clay image in its right place
was the baby in the manger whose name
you kept on muttering was father’s name.
On nights like this, I scare myself, Mother,
with the spectre of the quiet distance.

---Albert B. Casuga

*Noche Buena, Christmas Eve; belen, Christmas manger; Pascua de los muertos, Feast of the Beloved Departed; Para me fuerza, para mi belen de Pascua, for my strength, to build my Christmas manger.

Photo by Bobby Wong Jr., Philippine Photo Artist

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