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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.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Self-translation

01 May 2009


Here is the abstract of a paper entitled "Writing Germany in Exile - the Bilingual Author as Cultural Mediator: Klaus Mann, Stefan Heym, Rudolf Arnheim and Hannah Arendt" (2004) by Verena Jung:

"This paper examines the process of self-translation undertaken by German exile writers who translated their own works, written in English, the language of their host country, back into their mother tongue, German. It postulates that the necessary precondition for self-translation is not just bilinguality but also biculturality and that it is this bicultural status of the self-translators as cultural mediators and not their poetic licence that leads to the significant changes and restructurings that the self-translators make in their German version. The awareness of the heteroskopic nature of the translation, that is, differences in knowledge base between the readerships of the English original version and the German version with regard to the German intertext are the motivation for restructuring their original version. In this process, self-translators differ from other translators and cultural mediators only in their access to the pre-stage of composition, access to the intertext, the intention and the inner language that preceded the original English version. Thus the self-translators act as editors of their own text and take their decisions to expand or reduce an aspect of their text based on the familiarity of their readership with the German cultural environment or intertext that informs the text."

I'm too cheap to buy and read the full text of the article, but the abstract points to a good area of investigation for multilingual critics - self-translation. Jung mentions biculturality - now a familiar concept for readers of this blog - but one apparent conclusion of the paper (that self-translation can be reduced to privileged editing) seems dubious (at least, until I get to read the entire paper). I've tried to translate myself from Filipino to English and the other way around, and believe me, it's much harder than translating other people's works either way (which I get paid to do now and then). In fact, I was asked once to translate a full-length play that I had written in Filipino into English for a publication in Hawaii and I gave up. I did manage to translate another, shorter play, Kuwadro (in Filipino), into Portrait (in English), but the English text is not really the same as the Filipino text, as anyone that has read or seen the play in both languages will tell me for sure (no one has really seen both, since Philippine audiences watch only the Filipino version and foreign audiences watch only the English one).
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 4:26 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Self-translation works for me. Here's an example:

4. Barbershop/San Fernando, La Union

Kas’toy dagiti sarita a mangisubli
Iti bileg ken turay daytoy babai;
Sanikuana toy lubong, kunkunada pay,
Abak nat’ lalaki a patay-patay.
Kayatna a saw-en ngarud, gayyem,
Daytoy ti leksiyon nga inka adalen:
Saan nga gandat toy lalaki
Nga maala ti bulan tapno ni babai
In-na panawan ditoy daga a sileled-daang.
Masapul ngamin ni babai ni lalaki
Tapno daytoy Im-nas lumasbang*

*Translated from the Ilocano dialect.

(It is tales like this restore
To female principle its primacy;
Earth’s dominion not in store
As man’s insignia of ascendancy.
The homily, dear friend,
Is in the homespun teasing;
Surely it is neither man’s end
To gain the moon while leaving
Earth to his lass a-grieving
For she’s perfect only with man
Alive and living.)

The Ilocano poem above, part of the Apollo Poems: Reactions (a group of poems on the Apollo landing on the Moon -- See my A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems (UST Publishing, Manila, 2009), which I self-translated, may serve to illustrate the postulate that one must be "bicultural and bilingual" in both first and second languages to self-translate.

When I translated the poem (as an addition to the revised Apollo Poems), I found myself equipped with a "privileged" access to "the intertext, the intention and the inner language that preceded the Engish version."

True, my ability to edit the nuance, made the English version seem a "better" rendition of the original Ilocano poem. Is it probably because I am more accultured to the translating language now than my mother tongue (Ilocano)? Psycholinguists will cite "deculturation" as a possible reason for this. But can one's language of birth be erased from one's ken? I still and write in Ilocano as if I never left La Union province.

Self-translation, quite imperatively, is "influenced" by the cultural underpinings of the second language.

The more acculturised the translator is in the second language, the better the nuance of the translation. It aspires to be as close to the intention of the original as translation permits.

While the English translation tries to approximate the "sense of the humour" prevalent in barbershop-chatter (mainly the pontifications of the barber) found in the Ilocano poem, somehow the English version hews close to the "pontification" and hopefully succeeds in translating the opinionated barber's reaction to the man on the moon.

It is, indeed, "the homsespun teasing" to say that man conquered the moon not to gain ascendancy. No, he can't leave the lass behind because she is perfect and adorable only when he is around to render her thus.

Machismo understones of the barbershop chatter that says, it is talk like those about man landng on the moon that restores to female principle its ascendancy over the descendants of Adam. Besides, did not Adam succumb to the invitations of Eve to bite of the apple?

The English version would even suggest the lyrics, "Ask me for the moon, and if you really want the moon, I'll get it for you." Dean Martin's "Inamorata" comes to mind. My auditory imagination creates the nuance in the English version.

Bilinguality and biculturality in self-translation makes for better translations. This is decidedly an advantage for the multi-lingual author.-- ALBERT B. CASUGA

01 May, 2009 09:47

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


If every birth anniversary were a "summing up", how would I sum this life up so far? What criterion would I use?

I subscribe to one measure -- not by coffee cups -- but how I also disturb a moribund universe whenever I tap my fingers.

Did I make a difference? Did that pebble I cast in the pond create a ripple that would -- unimpeded -- find itself on myriad shores?

Mother said I was born in an almost empty hospital (when all the doctors and nurses were ordered to attend the Session Road parade honoring the late Nippon Emperor Hirohito in the Mountain Province city of Baguio in the northern Philippines). In defiance of that edict from the occupying Japanese military government, I lived. 1943 was a good year.

Have all the years been good thereafter? How often did I disturb the universe?
I borrow lines from poems I have written to spell this measure by:


Halfway, between this riverstone and many rocks after,
Nara shall have gone from our echoes-call.
We have wandered into a sunken mangrove and wonder:
Is it as silent there? Are there crabs there?

Ah, to be old and a mariner come upon that restful cove,
where the final weapon is a chair not love;
to be old is a gallant slouching on that chair –
some porch of the heart grown insensitive to care.

Nara must be the reverie of a changing season;
we never knew quite well how far we had traveled
before we ceased to chant our rising songs:

O we have blanched at the rustle of dried leaves
O we have quaked at the fullness of a street’s silence
O we have hushed at the coyness of echoing eves
O we have known the crag flower’s quintessence!

It is no longer Nara beyond this echo-call.
Where am I? Where are we?
If the morning never becomes an afternoon,
will it always be a waking into a moment of
disfigured song, a dawn of perpetual clocking?

I have earned my anger.
I have earned my madness.
I have earned my loneliness.
I have not knelt nor extinguished my brain.

I have positioned my chair where,
when I tap my fingers,
I also disturb the universe.

"Bonne Fete, Grand-pere! Cumpleanos feliz, abuelo! Happy Birthday, Lolo! Maligayang Bati, Lolo!" My polyglotted family chorused in a cacophony that made my day. When the littlest one wrapped his little arms around my legs, and mumbled "happi bedday, wowo," I knew I have learned to pray.

I pray for more moments of love and wisdom. I pray that all those I love will measure their lives according to how they, too, will disturb the universe whenever they tap their fingers.

Monday, April 27, 2009


OPHELIA A. DIMALANTA, poet, critic, playwright, professor, writing workshop director, writer-in-residence, and multi-awarded author, is my nominee for the Philippine National Artist Award. If she is not recognized at this point of her literary life, I shall continue nominating her until she wins a well-deserved title: National Artist.

An exile from the current literary scene of that country, however, I am afraid I will not qualify as a nominator. Neither would I have a voter’s card.

Will my being a life-long literary creature give me some credentials?

As a critic and a reader of Philippine literature for decades now, I believe Dr. Dimalanta should already have been proclaimed national artist. Not that she would need it. Of course, that would even be superfluous. A tautology.

Dr. Dimalanta is an important poet. An author of unassailable credentials, she is by definition an artist who would lend her reputation to that award.

But that would all be prattle if her art would not bear her out. The following poems illustrate the range of her style and content.


Monday jolts and she bogs down, a ragbag
Splayed off at tangents. Windows
To the outside and flecks of faces
Spring the morning clear at her
To set her into her old dimensions.
Piece by piece she puts on eight o'clock;
Pillows and bedcovers in a tumble pat
Her in place. The clearest cutglass
Of grapefruit juice teetering on a silver
Tray for breakfast-in-bed exigencies
(Both for effect and effectivity)
Is for a fact but fictive in the mind
Which holds the fleeing moment longer,
Stalls the stupor of the previous spree,
Images of her beautiful in blank spaces
Wandering truantlike in private regions
Of the night, wisps of clouds jammed
In one wicked corner of sleep. She hoards
Them like a child at play, triumphantly
Pieces them into a single total perspective:
Splayed off tatters of Sunday, a dark
Undiscipline of clouds settled right
Into this alarming set-up environing
Her Monday-world, jolted suddenly
Into the teeth of everyday people
And cluttering sounds of slapdash.

She exudes it now becomingly
As she glides and putters about
By turns, spreads it as a scent
Ambiguously enwombing her, her form
Dissolved in semi-tones, nameless jewel
Durably ensphered in mist, constantly reborn,
Solid, whole in ever renewing shades.

Montage is the title poem of her first collection which won her first prize in the Philippine Palanca Memorial Literary Award and the best poem in the Poet and Critic Award at the Iowa State University in the USA.

Montage was the “given” central image of a short story I wrote which was published in the student magazine, The Varsitarian – “Monday Morning in a Bus.”


Wakes conjure in an uncanny pall,
A kind of sepulchral air evoking
Tombstones turned trysting chambers
For romancing late lovers freed
From life’s containing vaults.
How she hates funerals,
This communal show
Of makeshift grief, as leaden
Feet shove mourners in, deader
Than the mourned dead,
The pale gloss of sympathy
Plastered on thicker than the
Expert’s swab of simulated smile
Upon her own bemused face.

Here she flits around hovering
Over all, once and for all,
Up and about to watch them
Finally mourn her, (miss her?)
For once and then,
Be done, begone!
She is there, and not there,
In the box and everywhere else,
On the wing, her stilled heart
Sprung into the rhythm
Of muted life, a sentence
As purging as real grief,
And as forbearing, and life-giving.


They say this is the last to go,
This inward craze, this needling
Ache that starts below, and just
As soon mounts to breast to soul
In a ghostly spiritual surge;
This passion that fires the frame
In mighty thrusts of faith.
Residual spasms and spurts
Have not yet dissipated even
After the last throes, recalling body
As passional, pastoral site
In that sanctifying time out of time,
That one blessed space at once
Uplifted and emancipated.

The last to go they say,
These stirrings in the blood,
Going, going full force
And peaking into theFinal come.

God how she hates funerals
Except her own, that is,
For how exquisitely life’s
Raging now attenuate
Into a warmer crave
That holds a universe.
The body shaken
Into prayer before it
Resurrects ecstatic
Into a longed for
Perfect calm.

Passional is the title poem of Dr. Dimalanta’s sixth poetry collection. Her juxtaposition of a funeral wake and rather “erotic” description of the energy that “is last to go” is striking. Death throes as passion throes are supreme conceits of life, love, and dying. Part II of the poem is certainly one of the best descriptions of how the final death is truly the death of passion, the rigour mortis of the final separation between body and spirit, the final release of a “final come.” The perfect calm and the supreme emancipation of passional release and death release – the poetic juxtaposition is startling and truly poetic.


whenever my voice flings arrows
your way at a fiery pace,
read, discover, there is that
something in me
that dies to go gentle.
for when i viciously tangle
with you trying to throw
you off course, inside, i am raring
to cover you, take you, become
all of me fire and water,
flowing, all soft and fluid.
when i try to lord it over, empowered,
it is because inside i am already
slave grovelling, ready to heed your bidding,
crawling waves lapping you up
sea shore hillocks sky
all the way up all drool and drivel,
and when i insolently seek out
pulpits to mount my gospel truths,
i am really one humped question mark
thrashing about for your steadying hand,
and when i try to light you up whole,
there is in fact a part of your flame hence
i would want extinguished
to die rekindled in me alone.
and when i am wind taking roots
in your solid ground, i am roots as well
ready to take flight upon your wings.
when i prance about proud in times square,
i am a child carousing in the greener fringes
of the heart's final roosting.
read this idiolect,
read well, decode, detect,
and love me when i seem to hate.

Read Me as a love poem thrives on the tension built around a love/hate syndrome which becomes the vigorous thrusting, grovelling, thrashing, flowing, crawling, drooling that culminates in the “heart’s final roosting.” This love poem is a superior to Jose Garcia Villa’s Poem 40 (Centipede Poem) as an erotic exercise.


Stalking hunger takes on varied
Shades and voices; worst is that
Of a child’s whimper in the dark,
An imprisoned cry, voiceless,
Struggling for release, for the open;
Three meals a day, a warming touch,
Sunspace, one’s personal corner
In the most chilling night.

Here they are, all twelve,
Deprivations in all shapes,
Gathered in His bosom,
His Presence, core of light,
As fragile limbs draw strength
And faith from that reaching out,
One magnificent Host in one
Glorious feasting, on a table
Specially laid out for children
And all, in their direst need,
Hungry in more than body,
For more than food, and soon,
Hunger takes on the glow
Of a glorious brightening…
Sunwarm, vibrant against
A backdrop of sheerest dark,
Beyond the deepest blues
And the somber browns
Beyond that hovering gloom,
A grand feasting here, on a table
Laid out for all… each child
A part in us, us children all,
Partaking now of life of love,
Around his radiant presence,
A bounteous feasting
Of faith and ever abiding hope.

The Last Supper does not usually get celebrated in poetry; not even Gerard Manley Hopkins tried. But here is a sublime but altogether real “feasting” for the children “gathered in His bosom”. Here is the Host of the supper that is “laid our for all…each child a part in us, us children all, partaking now of life and love…a bounteous feasting of faith and ever abiding hope.” The Last Supper is, indeed, to this Catholic poet, the First and Everlasting supper: a Eucharist of hope where delicately the poet uses the word “eucharist” without using it.


Ophelia A. Dimalanta was my creative writing professor in my graduate studies at the University of Santo Tomas, in Manila. In one of those classes, she took the podium, read Montage (to perhaps establish her credentials?), and I thought I would write my first submission based on this “performance.” It was written for O. A. Dimalanta:


(For O.A. Dimalanta)

Eros finds us eunuched and gaping
At hedony begging for Pentecost
Shower the bellydance with fire –
Fire it is makes metaphors frantic
For bedfellows who, stripping bare
The bone of speech, fulfill hollow
Fantasies where moans deliver silences
Deep as the frog’s arrested croak.
“Forgive my bright conceits, Ophelia.”
Conceits are cockfight’s lances
One’s instant mercies, if you may,
Delights rupturing voice-boxes -–
So, bleeding may yet intone unsaid
Music in threnodies clotted
On cockers’ fingers, ganglia garbling
The crow violated on the rooster’s throat.

I don’t remember now what on earth I was trying to say, but the creative writing teacher thought, “there was hardly a dull line.” She was being kind.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Poem 40

The, bright, Centipede,
Begins, his, stampede!
O, celestial, Engine, from,
What, celestial province!
His, spiritual, might,
Golding, the, night, --
His, spiritual, eyes,
Foretelling, my, Size;
His, spiritual, feel,
Stamping, in, heat,
The, radium, brain,
To, spiritual, imagination.

--JOSE GARCIA VILLA (1908-1997)
(From Poems 55)

This is a love poem. It hardens the image of physical love, and love-making. It is tantric.

But why a bright centipede on a stampede? Why a celestial engine? Why does it have spiritual might? Why does it “gold” the night? Are these metaphors the objective correlative?

Why does the centipede have spiritual eyes that foretell “my size?” Whose size? What size? Is Villa using a pun here as a figure of thought?

Does the centipede register a spiritual feel? What feel? What kind of feel is spiritual feel? How does it feel?

How does it stamp in heat a “radium” brain to spiritual imagination? Why does it stamp the luminous brain in heat? Why radium? Does it have anything to do with the image of radius (Latin) which is “a thicker and shorter bone in forearm on the same side as the thumb (Oxford Dictionary of Current English). What does this have to do with a “bone”?

Of what use are the commas? As a sensory-impressionistic device (the comma as an ideographic, orthographic medium), does it perhaps suggest the motion of sexual congress, the rhythm of coitus that has just commenced?

How does one reach the conclusion that this is a love (love-making) poem? Through the different levels of Analysis (viz., the abstraction of meaning from formal elements --articulated medium and distinguishable content), one arrives at “a provable meaning.”

Analysis requires that the reader abstract meaning from the empirical base of artistic significance—the articulated medium and content combined in the form. In the formal approach to appreciation, it is always the first step. In fact, T.S. Eliot mentions it as one of the chief tools of the critic (whose critical occupation is moored in analyzed material. –T.S. Eliot, “Criticism” Selected Prose, pg. 19 Faber & Faber, London, 1963. Peregrine Book, John Hayward, ed.)

The preceding requires that the poem as an objective result must preferably be confronted as a physical structure capable of suggesting meaning from its visual appearance. The sensory-impressionistic level in analysis, therefore, is the appreciator’s concession to the oft-neglected premiss that the work of art is itself an independent entity with a structure defining (physically) its “being.” It is a formal appearance. Just as the physical appearance of a man can exude all types of impressions about his character, so can the poem which appears on the page (assuming that the artist has shaped his structure to functionally concretize the experience of reality he is creating).

Villa wrote erotic poetry. He was good at it. Very few poets can write love poems, and those that do can teach the student a thing or two about the human being’s most urgent biological function as a province of art.

The last time I saw the late Villa was at the Tagaytay Vista Lodge, in the Philippines, during a respite from the International Writers Conference organized by the late Adrian E. Cristobal as a project of the Presidential Special Services Centre. He showed me a brass ring. It was embossed with two words: On the side that he shows to the polite world is inscribed LOVE, and on the opposite side, when he twirls it around his finger, is the word F- - -.

Then he said: “My prowess.” Nick Joaquin, overhearing our conversation, guffawed. “Your Abstinence, spare this man’s innocence.” I said: “The ring is functional.” Then I went to show them how to mount a carabao. The beast was part of the Lodge’s ambient décor. My picture, mounting the beast, with Villa and Joaquin gawking with envy at my provinciano prowess was later published by the defunct Women’s Journal by its editor Teresita Rodriguez. The city boys trumped. Recherché du temps perdu.

This helped me understand his poems on love, his comma poems, and even period poems that sought to limn love in all its shapes, forms, motions, and energies that recall the spiritual functions of this human prowess.

When Villa said, “In my desire to be Nude/ I clothed myself in Fire”, was he merely proclaiming his sexuality, his being comfortable in his skin, or was he talking also about this “spiritual imagination reached by the bright centipede now tumescent in its power of golding the night.” And all is well with the emperor in his new clothes. (The Villa poem of this title is a blank page.) In more distant, more circumspect times, one does not talk about sex or coitus flagrante. In his time, Villa outside of the Philippines where he was expelled from school for writing erotic poems (“I shall kiss the coconuts/ they are nipples of a woman!”), decreed that sex is truth, everything else can be questioned, but sex is truth. In his desire to be truthful, he clothed himself in fire.

Down under, one would say: Good on ye, mate! In his old country today, Villa’s poem would excite the canto yelp: Hala bira!

In the daring words of National Artist Bien Lumbera in one of those Silliman University Writers Workshops (one I attended in the 70s) when, as a panellist, he was discussing how sex is treated in Philippine literature, “What the hell is wrong with using the word f- - - when describing the act?”

Après Villa and Lumbera, Philippine Literature in English would never be the same again.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


EDITH L. TIEMPO, poet and teacher, turned 90 yesterday, April 22. Honoured by her country as one of its National Artists, she continues to devote her life to the Literary Arts -- looking after the development of writers through her internationally acclaimed Silliman University Writer’s Workshop in Dumaguete City, in the southern Philippines.

If the yardstick of a useful artistic life is the crop of writers she has nurtured throughout the island republic, she has lived a sterling life, indeed. I was one of those she selected to go through her Workshop in the 70’s. To this day, being awarded a fellowship at that writers workshop remains to be a recognition of talent and artistic achievement.

Edith Tiempo leaves an indelible stamp of excellence on the SUWW. To her, a hearty toast: Viva, Maestra!

One Tiempo poem I treasure is her What Distance Gives (from her Tracks of Babylon)


When you reach for me in that obscure
World where like ashes of the air
Your eyes and hands and voice batter
With a stark and ghostly urgency
The transparent doors of my closed lids,
I struggle to confine the precarious grace,
The force, the impulse of this fantasy;
Yes, I grieve. But in its sure
Wise way it is this grief that bids
The ghost to go.
This is the reality we stand to lose:
That the push of muscle strength
Is also the dear enfolding brute embrace
Of reason shocking all our length,
The loss is gain for the will to choose
The distance-given right to know.

In my Aesthetics of Literature (1972), I cited Edith Tiempo’s use of figures (of thought, speech, and language) in the course of discussing what makes a figure appropriate, necessary, and effective.

“A figure is appropriate when it earns the meaning by making it assume an exact, concrete, and clear picture. It suits the idea in that its use does not steal away attention from the meaning. For example: “Like ashes in the eyes, the memory of the one being addressed intrudes: the eyes, sensing, become doors forced open by the memory, by the ashes.”

A student’s affection and gratitude are further expressed in this last part of Houses Are Better Off Without Porches Here, a group of poems I dedicated to Edith Tiempo, National Artist. The poem is included in my A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems (2009, UST Publishing House, Manila):

For Edith Tiempo, Teacher, National Artist

I guess it is "a distance-given right to know” as Edith Tiempo described it once in a poem. How is she? “Edith now lives on a ridge about half an hour from the city…the house is long, low, and airy – a single bedroom, a kitchen, and a huge space in the center for parties and conferences. The wall overlooking the sea is all glass…” -- E-mail from Lakambini Sitoy

Poet on the Ridge, hermana Maestra, pray for me,
as I would you, that the dusk catches us still swearing
by the rhyme, perishing on the rhyme, convulsing
on the sudden quiver that comes on a stealth
when rhyme and rhythm become the sound of the sea,
the pulsing river, cupping you in time for that
peremptory dive off your perch into that devouring sea,
betting life, love, and limb, surfacing again
to challenge Him with your nakedness,
(because you were always gentle and pure),
basking under Lo-oc’s sky, waves laving now brittle
haunches and God your sole voyeur.


In our native Ilocano, Maestra: Naragsak nga siyam nga pulo nga tawen yo! Agbiag kayo! Agbiag kayo ditoy puso ken dardarepdep mi! Saan nga mapukaw iti panagdayaw ken panagayat mi.

(Photo by Ian Casocot)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


The Sixth Day

…and fill the earth and subdue it.

Scamper of rain softens the break
of thunder bringing quiver to the groin
that all along has known him from the quake
as fire in the bowels of the earth
as lime in the residue of water
churning days of wrath into a gravid day of birth:
and he was good:
Good for the rain, the touch of grass,
the lap of breaking water salving eyes come
from the night into the hurt of light,
for their good was indeed their knowing
what they know (a touch of grass, a deja vu)
a rousing into a gentle shock of knowing
what he knew:
and the Earth was good.

He knew the shape of clouds, the edict of weather
sharp on loins where loins sharpen some urgency
design pristine Undesign of mutual consummation
by consumption – often his way of knowing
what Art or undoing bids the flowers do when beasts
don’t eat them: they, consuming the earth,
the earth submitting, he conjuring the doubt
that turns trees from green to grey.
If man was created to have dominion over the Earth, then he can do whatever he wants to do with this planet. First inconvenient truth.
But he was precisely stripped of this privilege when he lost Paradise. He lost it by default, though, because he was pre-empted by his companion, Eve, who quickly bit of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Hence, the Fall of Man. Second inconvenient truth.
But with the Crucifixion and subsequent Resurrection of the Son of Man, the Redeemer called Christ, brought back man's ascendancy in this Paradise regained. Third inconvenient truth.
The Earth was good. Man knew that. Good for what? For his discovery and use to complete this journey from Genesis to the end of his exploration -- which is "to go on exploring, until he comes back to his beginning, and know it only for the first time (paraphrasing T. S. Eliot in Little Gidding). In his beginning is his end; in his end, his Beginning. Fourth inconvenient truth.
As a homo viator, has he not indeed gone on with his journey? In this journey, has he not created his path to his destination? He has chipped on the stones to create his caves that became, at some time or the other, grand repositories of his ancient primordial art in the Caves of Lascaux. He has also carved the sides of mountains for his dams, and burnt the rainforests to make way for viaducts and the like to feed his energy-generating turbines, engines, machines, and even the wind mills that no modern Quixote could slay. Fifth inconvenient truth.
He has sown seeds so he could reap the grains for his table. He has planted, and discovered he could also make a lot of money from poppies to marijuana, from the joints to the cocaine, and ruin even the youngest and the brightest. Sixth inconvenient truth.
His hunt for the boar as feast for the banquet has turned him into a carnivore. His salmon hunt has escalated to whale hunts, to seal hunts, to harvesting of sealife through trawlers that leave the ocean bottoms lifeless and the reefs unrestored. He has pursued the fossil fuels from prairies to oceans. He has contaminated the waterways with dumped waste from giant sealiners. He has poisoned the sea's habitats with oil slicks. Seventh inconvenient truth.
He has cut a hole through the ozone layers, hence making deserts of greenlands. Oh, but of course, he has also resuscitated the sands of Las Vegas with airconditioned casinos and grand hotels. It sustained the flesh industry and the spurious hope of the roulettes in Nevada and wherever we find the modern Sodom and Gomorrah. Eighth inconvenient truth.
Global warming has put more water into the oceans. Floods, tsunamis, perfect sea storms have become common place. If the Philippine Archipelago has about 7,000 islands, how many still remain after the oceans keep on reclaiming the lands? The Artic tundra will soon be under the currents. Ninth inconvenient truth.
Man has reshaped world sharing of the bounty into geopolitical powersharing. Or no sharing at all. He has created boundaries of nationalism (jingoism), totalitarianism (socialism), terrorism (in name of Jihad or the Allah who is Good. He has waged wars from the time of David and Goliath, to Masada, to the Hundred Years War, to the wars to restore the majesty of the Church, to Dunkirk, Dachau, and Auchwitz, to Hiroshima, to Viet Nam, to Iraq, and who knows, China or Iran? Tenth inconvenient truth. Ad nauseam.
And man shall have dominion over the Earth. If he must "fill the earth and subdue it," polygamy must be in style. If he must subdue the forces and energies of the planet, he must likewise be able to replicate the hydrogen bombs that could obliterate the whole planet ten times over.
Inconvenient truths have been obscured somewhat in the name of God and country. Suicide bombings are preceded by outcries of "Allah is Good", and the Vatican appears helpless in reigning in molesters among its clerics, or even a Bishop who becomes President of his country only to be charged by hapless parishioners who were in their teens with siring recondite children while holy and stiff in his holy habit or habits. The Commandments have been breached so that not only strange Gods are before humanity, but also the false gods of money, power, and oil.
Is it time for Noah's Ark II? Will man also say: Apres moi, Le Deluge?
The Sixth Day was a good day, and after that the Creator rested. Our inconvenient truth now is that it is no longer His watch, but ours.
That's why I wrote this poem.

Monday, April 20, 2009


When University of Santo Tomas Publishing Director John Wigley suggested that I add more poems to A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems so my 2009 selection won't look like a "manual", I thanked him for his remark that being "one of the big names in Philipine poetry (I know, I also teach Literature)", I should really come out with a bigger volume. I said I will send him some that "would no longer embarrass me". One of those was an "early poem", which turns out to be a "love poem" (those which I avowedly said in this blog are "difficult" to write.). It looks like I wrote more of them than I thought I could or would shudder about if attributed back to me.

This "early poem" is early, all right. It goes back to Adam and Eve.

The Final Temptation

…and from his rib sprung Eve to ease his loneliness.
--Sunday school tale.

Adam names grass whatever they may be,
but does he feel their caress on the navel gently
pressed where pressed they ought not
on afternoons like this? This afternoon is hot.
Blue skies have virtues all their own seen through leaves.
O, blue skies, what new birds bring you? What eves
bring you when evenings are soft wind on my cheek?
Twitter of unnamed birds, tremor of eel in some creek?
If I only knew what Adam is abroad about all day,
I would not ask you, black boughs, which way
To Adam, O which way? Afternoons darken
Like this and soon it will rain.
He will have new tales tonight. I know that;
But that tale about the Tree, I will get him tell me again.

At Sunday school (I attended a Lutheran Church's outreach mission where an aunt taught), Adam and Eve was our first lesson. Eve seemed to have been blamed for their expulsion from Paradise (hence, Paradise Lost), because she bit of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

In hindsight, now that Sunday School is a century away from where I am now "protected from dottage", I agree with the Feminist Movement and the women-libbers that the female of the species is truly the spunky one.

The First Temptation is truly the Final Temptation. Man will never be the same again. She was not a rib; she was the Creator's finer creation. Wherever she makes her move, Paradise is always regained!

Sunday school should have emphasized that had it not been for Eve, we would not have the Information Age paradigm: Knowledge is Power.

So, where does the expression "carnal knowledge" come from?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

WRITER'S NOTEBOOK 4: A Portfolio of Sketches

Don Pablo Picasso

Street Scene below
the Frontenac

Mme. Isabel on the
train back to Toronto

The lady was
crying. Baldy

Le Ile de Notre

Montreal Orpheus:
El Guitarista

Gorda waiting for bus.

Men wondering why
blackbirds were dying
in the City Square.

These sketches were part of the Notebook for a Vacation in Montreal, Quebec, 1985.
When one cannot write, one draws. Or Paint. Fingerpaint. The writer's block thrives on sloth and inactivity. Better still, get to the bistros and exercise your arm muscles by lifting those mugs of beer and glasses of wine. Cheers! Salud! Salut! Kampai!
Turn down an empty cup.


A Writer's Notebook is a booby trap. This works both ways: one could find an embarrassing entry to ruin your day or days to come; another could be a an edifying, soul-lifting discovery of an old poem, never been published, pristine, unedited, un-molested by human hands and anxiety.

I found another love poem from my Notebook of a Vacation. This was not difficult to write. Its ligne donne "the river runs its course" came to me during a lazy cruise down the River Lachine in Quebec. Using the image of river-sea, tributary-destination as an emotional correlative, I wrote the poem quickly as soon as my wife and I got back to our hotel suite. I like its original form; the revisions you see here are cosmetic in that they are minuscule.


It is the river as mother to the sea
Entraps us into this womblike feeling of ease;
It is the river draws us to this discovery
Of need, our quiet helplessness.
We are the river ran its course
Into an engulfment of restless sea.
How far have we gone from our rivered Nara?
Or how long have we gone astray?
Does the river current come full circle
From the breaking waves of sea?
Do we meet each other, dreamlike,
In the endless stream of the world’s Lachines?
When do we come back as rivulets
In some hidden rock spring?
The river runs full circle, and we discover
We have not even halfway met.
When will my currents break into your rocks,
You distant sea, you entrapment of need
And engulfment of ease?
When will the sea create the river?
When will the river create the sea?
Where they meet in the trickle of a little garden,
Who laves the riverstones?
Who laps the greening shores?
The river’s rush is also our question.

From the Notebook of a Vacation, 1985
I hope I will no longer revise this poem. I like its flow. Its rhythm and sound system objectify the river current and the restlessness of a turbulent sea.
Beware the entries that have suffered a helter-skelter of criss-crossing lines to hide the embarrassing boners.


At the Union Station, Toronto

From a Notebook of a Vacation, August 1985, Montreal

Apparitions of these faces in the crowd,
Petals on a wet, black bough.
--Ezra Pound, Station in the Metro

Something about a journey requires
goodbyes to mean “Come home!”
The train ride runs only up to where
the heart seeks its last station: Come Home.
Tentative, the curt handwaves will also plead:
this distance-given right to know
must also mean, “you will always be welcome
to a portion of our lives – not all of it,
But a good part of it – so, come home.”
“Come home” are the eyes’ manner
of saying goodbye, the mouthed sounds
not half as eloquent; the quiver on the throat
is also an arrested cry – “come home.”
Going away is truly an endless returning.
You waved me away to begin life’s cycle
of leaving and returning, really love’s ritual.
You are my home, my children, my lover.
And yet, away from you, I always feel
this ache, this grip of fear:
Could I also plead goodbye to you one day,
But also mean, “Come home”?
This is one of those love poems that I found difficult to write. I would never want to go through that feeling again of having to say goodbye and not knowing how I would come back. Some time or the other, I would rather have said: Bring them home. But Come Home is a cry from one's heart; always the "lonely hunter."

Whispers at the Palais du Artes

Conversation with Don Pablo Ruiz Picásso

Su arte es el arte del mundo
Arte del sangre y de génio unico.
Senor Don Pablo, porque se preocupar
Con los ojos de las mujeres?

“Los, ojos, amigo, no pueden méntira.
Los ojos son las puertas del amor
Y las preguntas de infinidad.
Porque pregunta usted sobre la verdad?
La verdad es la sustancia de todos artes
Y de todos nuestros amores. La verdad
Es el arte de un niño. Estoy un niño, amigo
Y finalmente, con su permiso,
hacerse un niño viejo, un niño otra vez.
Si, un niño nuevo!”

With Rameses II

Bon jour, Monsieur Rameses,
And I presume, Mademoiselle Isis?
How lovely are these ashes.
The notes I kept about Picasso's exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal came in handy when I wrote a series of art articles for a Mississauga News Arts and Living supplement called SMILE in the 80s. I edited the supplement which had a brief life of four issues. A bedroom community had little need for it. Today, almost 40 years later, this community has a Living Arts Centre that has to beg and borrow to sustain it.
From this notebook, I also found some sketches of sights and scenes in Montreal and Acapulco where I spent two successive vacations to "win my wife back". At Acapulco, we stayed in a honeymoon suite overlooking the Quirinale where local divers would dive the "jump of death" into the swirling waves below from a cliff about 34 storeys above.
Writers' notebooks are booby traps.

From a Notebook of a Vacation, August 1985, Montreal

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: "A Flea" by Anne Tardos

16 April 2009
"A Flea" by Anne Tardos

On her website (as of today), Anne Tardos presents seven poems, all of which except for one are in English. Reading the English poems, one can easily grasp her sensibility (an exquisite one). The exception in terms of language is "A Flea," a poem made up of lines in various languages. I have to admit that I do not know most of the languages used and, therefore, can enjoy only the music of the lines when I read them as spelled (hopefully, some of the languages do not behave like French, where spelling and pronunciation are not exactly identical twins!). In the manner of New Critics focusing only on a line instead of tackling a whole work, let me write a little bit about the following stanza:

When we exit a room we make room
Walking distance après-vous resistance

The first line is straightforward: by leaving a room, we cause space to be created inside the room, since we vacate the space that we used to occupy. The second line takes us a few minutes later, when some distance (walking distance) away from the room, resistance (a French word here, not an English word) appears in the room, because the space created both expands and contracts, not knowing what to do because we are no longer there. Of course, there is an allusion to "apres moi, le deluge," or more precisely, this is a commentary on that well-known quote (which, btw, is itself poetically ambiguous, since people still wonder if it was King Louis XV or his lover Madame de Pompadour who said it first). The sense (we don't know if our leaving makes any difference or not) complements the sound (internal rhyme, both aural and visual), since the clash between aural rhyme (room / room) and visual rhyme (distance / French resistance which has a different sound) mirrors the indecision of those we left behind. Truly, apres nous, le deluge. (Let's not forget that the poem is entitled "A Flea," with an undertone of the same sound flee, as in flee the scene.)
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 5:34 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Anne Tadros seems to be speaking in tongues. Of course, rational psychology has come up with evidence that the linguisic center of the brain is indeed capable of multiple language skills. Hence, the polyglot. Will this lead to a "global brain"? The brain has always had this capability -- it is what extends man's grasp beyond his reach. It may make for a cosmopolitan citizen of the world.

A multilingual poem will take a long time in gaining currency, nevertheless. I cannot appreciate even the sound system claimed to be its main asset. It is creating a babel of sounds and truncated expressions that in the end will fail to communicate. Of what use is language then, if its medium fails to communicate?

Better to master the traditional use of language and the energies of poetry and the various forms of literature first, before forcing a melange of interlaced languages to form communication lines that are probably not there in the first place.

Of course, nomadic people are forced by necessity to learn the language of the places they immigrate to. Tadros is no exception.

This is not to debunk the legitimate experimentation inherent in word formation. So far, however, only miming has succeeded in making a universal language of body movement. If the body can do it (something we share with the rest of the animal kingdom), can linguistic/verbal/glottal faculties do the same? Too time consuming for a mode of communication, don't you think? One can do better than lose precious life time on it. How useful is the effort on yoking several languages together in an ostensive effort to convey more truth and palpably configure reality as "reality"?

Ultimately, how effective is multilingualism in the realms of phenomenology and epistemology?

By the way, I can always tell that the fellow I meet in the street is a Filipino when he smiles and raises his eyebrows, or when he points to something or someone with his lips (pointing to someone with your index is not polite, remember?) Abuelo is doing the Filipino again!, my grandchildren would chorus when they espy on me doing these during family gatherings.

I am happy with that capability. -- ALBERT B. CASUGA

16 April, 2009 21:01

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Where were you when Man landed on the Moon?

I was on a midnight train going home to my family in San Fernando, La Union, after a week of frustrating academic work in the Manila school where I taught Literature. The beast of a train rattling on tracks built during the Japanese Occupation (40s) kept me awake and wild-eyed. It did not help that I could smell my beer breath when I sighed worrying about the day's excitement.

Will the moon landing by the American astronauts intensify the Cold War? was an urgent question for humanity. But I had another question in mind: Will this moon landing mean the demise of romance and mystery attached to the moon?
Will the rocky and barren surface of the moon vitiate forever its magic which has been celebrated in poetry and songs for centuries? Will the moon remain as the principal image of serenades? Of love?

As the train hurtled through the darkness punctuated by the scarce lamp-post lights lining the tracks, I could hear Sinatra croon to the Rachmaninoff melody:

Full moon and empty arms,
The moon is there
For us to share,
But where are you?
Dawn peeked through the Ilocos Sierras in the east, and I absently growled:
It is the East, and Juliet is the Sun,
Arise fair Sun, and kill the envious moon!
I must have rudely roused the passenger next to me, he staggered to another seat and threw me a dagger-look. This did not stop me from thinking that the Bard's Romeo and Juliet and the moon live on in the broadway and movie hit, The West Side Story's lyrics:
O moon, burn bright
And make this endless day
Endless night -- Tonight!
What will happen to moonlight serenades like that sang by actor Edmund Purdum in the movie "The Student Prince"?
Overhead the moon is beaming,
White as blossoms on the bough.
Nothing is heard but the song of a bird,
Filling all the air with dreams...
Could this beauty last forever,
I would ask for nothing more.
Believe me!
And the Blue Moon that every crooner from Crosby to Philippine balladeer Bert Nievera sang to make the ladies swoon? How blue will it be now that the spacemen have seen red rocks instead of azul?
Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone,
Without a dream in my heart,
Without a love of my own!
How would every lovelorn swain sing now about the Moon bringing back a summer love?
Though the night is dark and drear',
It seems, I see the Autumn Moon above,
And I pray one day, it will come,
And bring back my Summer love!
Those songs and poems with a lot of moons in the hundreds of Philippine languages and dialects, will they bespeak the love lost and regained? Will they be less effective as serenades for the inamorata on the window sill?
The standard Ilocano song has the moon as its central image as an objective correlative of the pursued loved one:
O naraniag nga bulan,
Un-unnoyko indengam!*
(O, bright moon,
Listen to my plea!)
And Moonriver? Will it still be wider than a mile? And the song of the pampas, Argentina's "moonlight and music and orchids and wine/ I am going stay down Argentina way!"?
But great though the American achievement must be, life will go on. How is the world reacting? I resolved to finish what I started in my empty classroom. Write a poem to remember a dying by.
What is the fuss all about?
Reactions: Apollo on the Moon

21 July 1969 A.D. (4:18 a.m., Manila). Man on the Moon !
-- A diary entry.

1. The Wife

Coffee boils the morning’s surprise away,
the children in bed. There is a new
neighbour outside gawking into some sky.
No new blueness here but talks true
to yesterday’s predictions. Today the earth,
tomorrow the moon. The eggs fry so slowly.
Do they mean it all, this morning’s mirth?
They will be late for school. Clocks gravely
Gravely rule even the grace of toast and tea.
“Tea, Sir? Tea, Madame?” O, the telephone.

(I miss you, sweetheart. I miss you. Really?
Are you coming home this weekend?
The moon?. Rocks? O yes, rocks. Tone?
No, no, darling. I’m sorry. An errand
This time of the morning? The Boss? But
The children. O, no classes? I forgot.
You’re not coming for the weekend? But…
All right, darling. Bye. Take care.)


I did not ask him: If I asked for the moon,
Would he have taken it for me? UGH!
After the rocks, and many rocks after…
How gravely, gravely clocks measure
Even the solace left from tea and sympathy.
Where did I put the cheese?

2. Nexus – Eden

Was it rock brought you back from Eden, Cain?
(The moon is a rock; rocks are purplish.)
Your rock is purplish, son. See you Abel, your brother?
(Whites are aboard the Apollo. – For Negroes only.)

(“We hope to spread the message from the
Sea of Tranquility…We shall try to work for
Peace and tranquility for all mankind.”)

Am I my brother’s keeper?

3. Manila Broadcast/Vatican/Time Magazine

The moon is a vast Rock punctured by craters.
(Tu es Petrus!)
The littlest rock is about two feet and a half.
(Upon this Rock, Peter, I shall build my Church.)
All about us are rocks; it looks like a dead planet.
(God is dead.)
Dread is the Rock here come so soon
Hushing the throaty crow -- from rock to Rock
A full circle here.

4. Barbershop/San Fernando, La Union

Kas’toy dagiti sarita a mangisubli
Iti bileg ken turay daytoy babai;
Sanikuana toy lubong, kunkunada pay,
Abak nat’ lalaki a patay-patay.
Kayatna a saw-en ngarud, gayyem,
Daytoy ti leksiyon nga inka adalen:
Saan nga gandat toy lalaki
Nga maala ti bulan tapno ni babai
In-na panawan ditoy daga a sileled-daang.
Masapul ngamin ni babai ni lalaki
Tapno daytoy Im-nas lumasbang*

*Translated from the Ilocano dialect.

(It is tales like this restore
To female principle its primacy;
Earth’s dominion not in store
As man’s insignia of ascendancy.
The homily, dear friend,
Is in the homespun teasing;
Surely it is neither man’s end
To gain the moon while leaving
Earth to his lass a-grieving
For she’s perfect only with man
Alive and living.)

(This was one of the Early Poems included in A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems which first appeared in Still Points (Selected Poems), 1972.
Are love songs and poems still enamoured with the Moon as Central Image? Poet Francisco R. Albano is a faithful believer. Yes, we must still swear by the moon. He has written his own reactions which you might want to check out in his blog:
The moon is there for us to share.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Most poems are difficult to write. Jejune poems masquerading as poetry take the form of mawkish gushes of badly articulated emotion. Those are easy to write.
Yoke conceits and oxymorons together, and one might end up with :"Those were pearls that were her eyes/and rainbow lips that hide the diamonds/that glisten when caverns of breath open in mirth/or dearth of which betray a dottage that lies/about life and dreams and age and almonds/strewn on rocking chairs that once were thrones of birth."

Try drawing a face with those attributes and weep. Not beauty there but one grotesque visage worthy of some Elizabethan fairy queen caught in laughter that transforms her to a decrepit hag who has lost her teeth like almonds scattered on her dying throne, a rocking chair. Arrghh!

Love poems are the most difficult to write. Romance in those sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning could easily become bathos in the hands of a tyro: "I love thee with the smiles, tears, of all my life/ but if God choose, I shall but love thee better after Death."

There are other love poems that speak of pain and longing, of regret and fear, of failure to sustain the happiness that one must give to loved ones, like children who are left to cry themselves to sleep, forever hoping their absentee parents would soon come home with the day's surprises and goodies to reward good little boys and girls. Night falls. Father has not come home. Mother has gone elsewhere in pursuit of her own dreams.

What an unadulteratedly happy reception I got the other day from my grandchild Chloe Dominique. As soon as she saw me walking toward her, she dropped her toys, abandoned her playmates on the cul de sac, and ran to me screaming: My 'Lolo! My 'Lolo!

That angelic smile, that innocent mirth, those joyful sounds unarrested in her throat! One must dig deep into the old languages of love to speak about this fullness of heart. Aieee, tesoro mio! Que linda, mi dulce angelita!

Almost seven decades ago, I was that running child, tearing at the wind with all my might, racing my cousins, barefeet and all, toward the old man with the walking cane. We espied our abuelo from a distance. The light-haired gentleman, walking tall toward us, had an ear-to-ear smile. We were going to dip our fingers and little hands into his trouser pockets for those coins he always prepared for this ritual. The fastest cousin would get the most. I was the littlest one. I would always be the last pair of hands that would hug his legs. The coins would be gone, the vultures having grabbed them all ahead of me. I would smile sheepishly while panting in that familiar asthmatic wheeze that I must have inherited from this grand old man. I would always try to stifle a sob. He would know.

Don Alejandro Flores Casuga, Superintendente del Mercado Municipal, homecoming abuelo with the silver coins in his pockets, would shush my incipient sob away, pick me up in his strong arms, as I did my running Chloe seven decades later, and took my little hand and guided it to dip into his vest pocket. At the end of the race, I always had the most pesetas. The last shall be first, is still Gospel truth for me in the twilight of my years.

When I lifted my Chloe up into the air, even her little Canadian friends chorused in glee: Lolo! Lolo! Their solicitous mother apologized. "I hope you don't mind them calling you Lolo, too! "

But what if the Father comes home late, and the children are waiting in their darkened rooms? Where would the day's endearments be? What about the promised candies, the goodies for a long wait? What if there is a late father, and a mother who was no longer there? Divorces be damned!

The love would still be there. It is a difficult poem to write for the father with "bag of music and a pack of metaphors." Here is that love poem that was truly difficult to write.

Something about Picking up Ragdolls

Ahora, como estas haciendo con mis nietas y nieto mientras su mujer desgraciada esta viviendo una vida loca? Aiee, santisima, hijo. Ven aqui. Regresas a San Fernando, para puedo ayudarte con sus ninas y unico hijo.
--Letter from Home

Something about picking up ragdolls and cans
graffitied on one’s conscience in silent rooms
built to peek slowly into coincides with the loss
of verb in one’s speech: no amity here between
this ministry and that menagerie.

Evening brings a pack of censure for the father
who, leaving, pledged the carnage of the baker’s
best and Andersen’s hoary hairy fairy tales,
arriving plods through debris of waiting --
(arm-less d-o-l-l-s, paperrrrripped dolls,
paper ships, paper planes, paper hats, paper…),
forgetting, now mournfully remembers:
“Candy stores are closed along the way home.”

Silent rooms are built to peek slowly into
because fathers have given up looking
into daughters’ eyes form tears, arguing
the relevance of waiting when all the piper has
is a paper bag of music and a pack of metaphors.
(“You know, only children recall the Deluge?”)
The evening sees the piper leading the (mass)
mice and piper (pauper) drowning.

Fathers plod through debris of waiting
and have learned in turn to pray.

(First published in the Sunday Times Magazine in 1970. A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems, 2009, UST Publishing)

Sunday, April 12, 2009




Los Indios Bravos. Poet Virginia Moreno, better known as the sister of Pitoy Moreno the haute couturier, built this bar and grill on Mabini St. Now long gone, it was the refuge of artists of all shapes and sizes (of ego, pretensions, eccentricities, biases, insanities, constipations, vituperations, loyalties, debts, pieties, ad nauseam).

It did not take long for the canto (street corner) boys to realize that that was not their lugar (hang out). This was the watering hole of celebrity-hound Nestor Torre, poets Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez, Erwin Castillo, Jolico Cuadra, Franklin Osorio, Jose Lacaba, Marra Lanot, Cesar Mella, and occasionally visiting Dumaguete City (Silliman U) writers: Cesar Aquino, Merlie Alunan, Myrna Pena-Reyes. For the love of God, these tagay-guys (read that gin guzzling) will never understand the crazy conversations of these subdued people who become noisy and nosey after the second bottle of pilsen. This was the space for the dwindling Ermita ilustrados or just the ilustrado-manque.

Then Philippine Social Security System chairman Adrian E. Cristobal, artist and a sneering patron of hungry and penniless writers (he would call them Oy, Camote, but he would buy them drinks and lunch or dinner anyway. He had, like Joaquin, weird terms of endearment.) They had a thing in common, though; they always maintained caballerismo toward all (yes, all) ladies. Both stood up chivalrously when introduced to women. Adrian, a clothes horse, always looked good in the latest men’s fashion. Joaquin , however, was partial to khaki pants and printed shirts (pre-war – WWII -- vintage).

Newsmen (Julie Yap Daza, Ruben Alabastro, Jose Burgos, Cesar Aguila, Rosauro Acosta come to mind) dropped by after their binges at the National Press Club, or the Manila Overseas Press Club, perhaps to find out who is running off with whose wife or husband or has come out of the closet; and maybe who is plotting a revolution or some such delusion.

Historian and nationalist Renato O. Constantino would sip his sherry there, and leave with undisguised contumely when he gets into jaw-tightening arguments with Joaquin on the historical legacies of Spanish or American colonizers. You owe the Spaniards the guisado, one would say. They corrupted the Filipino mind, the other would retort. The Yankee cuckolded us on the Bay when they stole our triumph over the Spaniards. Yes, the anti-Imperialist (Spanish or American) would agree. I’m gone, the other would say. Adrian Cristobal would play referee by offering to buy them drinks. Both refused.

The late Nick Joaquin was high priest there. He had his own table abutting the corner (two chairs, no more) where he could easily holler Cerveza!

One time or the other, he grilled me over an article I wrote in the Philippines Herald on how the American Armada led by Admiral Dewey denied the Philippine revolutionaries their victory over the Spanish colonizers by not allowing President Aguinaldo and his minions to enter Manila in triumph after the Americans helped destroy the Spanish fleet at the Manila Bay. Dewey feigned a mop-up operation. It was actually a take-over from the Spaniards who agreed to cede the Philippines for almost a million dollars to the Yankees (in the Treaty of Paris) who promptly became the new colonizers.

Damn Yankees, Joaquin roared; by golly, you took a left-turn from art criticism to historical revisionism! It was almost like a playful poke on the head.

The last time he thought he might slap me one at the back of my head was when I published Teresa Izon’s feature on him in my undergraduate student periodical (Journal of Arts and Sciences, UST, 60s). I asked Teresa, the daughter of the Philippine Free Press illustrator Esmeraldo Izon, to interview him for a feature article. She came back with an interview that no one would be given henceforth in the history of Philippine journalism. Teresa knew Nick personally through her father, the Philippines’ version of Norman Rockwell. We both treasured Joaquin’s The Woman Who Had Two Navels, a novel we studied in university.

Why almost a poke on the head? Teresa and I revealed his real name: Nicomedes.

That was also my last feature article at the Herald. My editor, Nestor Mata, lone survivor of the plane crash killing the late lamented President Ramon Magsaysay, thought I must be running out of artistic juices. So, never mind. The defunct Herald was partially owned by American nationals allied with the Sorianos and McMickings, owners.

For someone who favoured the Spanish language over the American, Joaquin mastered a lot of Thomasite idioms and Yankee colloquy. He growled and hectored me on that Fil-Am war. Did you know that the Philippine Revolutionary Government’s Secretary of War was done in by Filipinos themselves?

He wrote a definitive story on the Philippine-American war at the Philippines Free Press after that. When I read it, I decided to write an episode of that war on the betrayal of General Antonio Luna, who would himself be assassinated by the hotheads of General Emilio Aguinaldo. Tribal rivalries, political intrigues, political opportunism – 1900 stuff, but all too contemporary in the politics of this island republic. Joaquin said: Culture of small things.

Joaquin published separately one of the poems (Deathwish Kept: June 5, 1899, The Philippines Free Press) interlaced into what I would later collect under the title In a Sparrow’s Time. (Still Points, 1972, revised in In a Sparrow’s Time, 1990, Canada, and under the same title in my poetry collection A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems, 2009, UST Publishing).

As for Los Indios Bravos, my final sober attachment to that salon of artists was an oil painting I contributed to a three-man exhibit at De La Salle University (poet Cirilo F. Bautista, Albert B. Casuga, and Ricardo de Ungria, our student who wrote poetry and executed bright paintings a la Pollock. He is now Commissioner of Arts at the Cultural Centre, I am told. Of him, I remain to be truly proud. When I heard about the death of his son some time ago, I wept not knowing how I would have taken it if my only son, Albert Beau, had taken his own life inadvertently like Ricky’s boy.

In honour of Los Indios Bravos, Joaquin attributed in his Culture and History, (Anvil Publishing, 1988) the victories of the Philippine Revolutions against the Spanish and American colonizers to these Indios Bravos, the ilustrados like Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, and soldiers Alejandrino, Tinio, Gregorio del Pilar, Simeon Villa (father of poet Jose Garcia Villa), and Artemio Ricarte.

Also in honour of Los Indios Bravos, the heroes and the place, my oil painting was preserved in an exquisite frame by former De La Salle and art patron Prof. Nilda Servando Rotor, who paid me a princely sum to P100 when I quoted her the friendly price of P75. It was also the only painting I ever sold. The rest are probably in relative’s closets or places where they did not have to explain what the grotesqueries were all about. (Serendipitously, I find myself now an adjunct to the University of Toronto where Nilda finished her graduate studies years ago before his De La Salle sojourn.)

The painting was of an empty Los Indios Bravos (intimated by my sketch supra), much like the description of Hugo’s Les Miserable’s Salon de la Revolucion, “empty tables, empty chairs.”

Los Indios Bravos was a part of my brave new world. It is gone now. An apt epigraph to this ought to be: “I an old man, / a dull head among windy spaces.” (Gerontion, T.S. Eliot)

In a Sparrow’s Time

Poems on the Death of
General Antonio Luna y Novicio, Soldier

He is that fallen lance that lies as hurled.
-- Robert Frost

(In 1897, General Antonio Luna was exiled to Madrid. He had just denounced the Katipunan and some of his friends like José Rizal, Alejandrino, et al, out of anger. His Spanish captors told him – during the reign of terror that followed the discovery of the KKK – that he was betrayed by his compatriots. A year later, after studying military science in exile, he went back to the Philippines to volunteer his services to the Revolution against the Americans. He was subsequently appointed Director of War. His obsession for creating an effective and disciplined army and his desire to make up for his disavowal of the KKK, brought him untold frustration and, consequently, his death. On June 5, 1899, that fateful day of his assassination, Luna rode toward Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, responding to summons purportedly coming from President Emilio Aguinaldo. He was accompanied by Col. Paco Roman, Maj. Simeon Villa, and some 25 cavalrymen. Upon coming across a broken bridge on his way, the impatient General left his retinue behind and kept his date.)


1. Confession before a Broken Bridge

It is my grief pursues a habit of death,
The weight of a mountain rides me down.
But blood must be avenged – if blood it is
Would still the violence knotted in my gut.
If men should die at all, they must be pure:
The crag that breaks for them will be.
But these rocks, this grass, this brackish cove,
They shall not take me. I shall not even die.
Earth vomits the gall of its memories.
I am a memory bitter to the bite.
Forgive me.

2. The Exile

It was cold out there, Pepe, hermano querido.
Madrid, Barcelona, Catalan, Manila –
How could they ever be any different?
My anguish knew no country but death.
Your fall at sparrow’s time was as much as mine,
The bullet from my gun.
It is our passion devours us. Ourselves our war.

The Revolution was a bastard son, Rizal.
Denying it, I found myself becoming one.
Was it this fury we dreaded most?
Or was it the son we refused to father?
When born, we disdained to patronize?
Was it because it had the mother’s features?
Revolutions are by paps of ignorance mothered.

3. Luna Shall Overcome

His vile temper felled him.
--Diego Esquivel

No, Senor Presidente. It is not in our habit
To be spat upon while offering our haunches
For rending and outrage! Faith must end
Beyond the whore’s bed and cuckolding on the Bay!
If Dewey had fooled us once, let us,
I demand of this Assembly, be the wrath of God
And cut the Yanqui balls asunder!

What? Are they still yapping at Malolos?
Caloocan has fallen! Calumpit imperiled!
Send for Janolino to shore La Loma up!
Torres-Bugallon is dead. What?
Pedrong Kastila is sore in bed?
What sort of harlot had he?

It is your kind, Tomás Mascárdo,
Deserves to be caponed!
The Macabebes have sold out to the Yanqui,
And here you are sucking nipples
For your breakfast!

Paralysis. It must be this plagues our war.
Like castrated chicken, the Cabinet asks
For Yanqui armistice! Has Mabini gone limp, too,
In his head? We should never surrender
Our birthright to die free and unafraid!

Remember this, Buencamino! I could have
Crushed your manhood bit by ugly bit
For begging my troops turn to maricones!
What? And leave them lap the Yanqui stool?
O, you small, weak men better born as rats!
Tell Schurmann, tell Mabini –
Luna shall overcome!

4. Deathwish Kept: June 5, 1899

There was one, Diego Esquivel, who witnessed the carnage.
-- Julio Villamor

Some afternoon dread becomes this heat
That singes the Convento where he fell.
On this branch should his rended arms be at,
On that flagstone should his plucked eyes tell
How blindly stared the blinded rage,
How soundlessly shut the windows there.
Was it some passion play on a barren stage?
Was it some cruel theatre of its audience bare?

Here, touch the crack slithers on this tree.
Your fingers should trace a slosh of brain,
Cold drip of sap now blood on cold machete.
The afternoon’s dread is an afternoon’s pain
Dulled the laughter caught in the horseman’s throat.
Was it vengeance sated, or was it Deathwish kept?
Was it fallen man cried helplessly: Assassins!

Or was it slayers fell where slain had spat:

5. The Habit of Mountains: A Dirge

“It was his grief pursued the habit of mountains:
It moved the world with quietness. Quietness moved them.
No dearer madness there is than which he died for:
A will to perish in time and manner he chose.
It could not have been any kinder than this falling,
A manner of bargaining one’s way
Into a choice between a kind of dying and feeling dead –
No option for us who learn, too early perhaps,
That death prorogues a dream of fancy
Or a prayer of willing our pain stay
The ramrod poised to rend out days descending
Foglike upon us decreeing silence for our bed.”


(Gemino H. Abad published the Still Points version of these poems. He includes a well-researched Notes on the Poems, pp. 527 etseq. in his A Habit of Shores: Filipino Poetry and Verse in English from 60's to the 90's.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Somewhere in the Philippine Sierras.

That's how I would have slugged a story on a poet, academic, cleric, and friend who took to the hills when Martial Law was declared in the 70s in this island republic. Jason Montana has gone to the hills.

This illustrado has taken the cudgels for the massmen, the great unwashed, the lumpen proletariat. No surprise for us who saw him truncheoned by a rabid constabulary while peacefully demonstrating with a group of his students. "No! No!" One of his students yelled at the baton-wielding rogue in Jason's defence. "He is a priest!"

", hah? Press, hah? Walang press-press dito!" The murderous look on the constable's face belied his intentions to perhaps kill every mediaman around. His phonemes obviously precluded the presence of the religious in the streets. Priest! Press! Close. He must have come from the Visayan region or elsewhere where the long E sound (in priest) could easily metamorphose into the short E sound (in press). Either way, the Church and the Press be damned. This is Martial Law!

I would have scooped the AP, AFP, Reuters, et al , and United Press International (Manila) would have had the exclusive on some of the first patriots who planned to wage a Maoist revolution to start from the hills: the Sierras in the north, Mt. Mayon in the central region of Legaspi, Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales to the south, and Mt. Arayat in Pampanga, a stone's throw from the seat of Government in Manila. But UPI days were much, much earlier -- that was in another life, when I was a UPI graveyard shift desker and a Hemingway-manque.

The TV talking head announcing the declaration of Martial Law was a university classmate and friend to boot, then the Press Secretary of the martial law president. Before that, he was with the Agence France Presse. Ironic. On the opposite worlds of politics and revolution, I felt conflicted. The dramatic dilemma was palpably stark! I would have scooped either way.

I know Jason Montana differently. He knew the Filipino people would one day overcome. In the hills, he remained resolutely a freedom fighter. Even the death of a beloved (in a Pangasinan encounter) did not change that.

The People's Revolution came and went. Land Reform was neither here nor there. Nothing much has changed. Coming down from the hills during one of those military amnesties, Jason Montana remained unchastened. Has the people's revolution failed? Was it a fluke after all?

In one of these Sierra Madre poems, Montana sounds defeated, but unbowed. The fight for Justice in the name of God's most vulnerable children, the poor, the wounded, and the neglected masses, is a protracted war.

(February 12, 1992)


Deep in the Sierra Madre de Laguna
One misses the spread of sunlight
Over lake and field and village.
The heart remembers green expanse
Of friendships of the common folk.
But the camaraderie of the NPA camp
Overwhelms. Each comrade radiates
Warmth of home. The Red Fighters
Are brother, sister, friend in the great
Service. How they lighten the burdens
Of the protracted people’s struggle!
Rain falls. It is mere slight discomfiture
Fine-tunes balance of body and mind.
Pang of hunger is food for the spirit
In mountain fastnesses.


The stars are out over the Laguna Sierra.
I envy the tree-tops close to heaven. But
Just a little. I settle for flickering fireflies
Near to hand, for foxfire spread royally
All over the forest floor, and hearthlight
Of the peasant folk, their huts aglow
With quiet forceful hope in the night
Of the protracted people’s war.

A Little Symphony for Sue


A counsel to remember
Like a star caught among branches:
A human organization is the Party,
All woman, all man, all creation.
But in it and through it
One may find her humanness
And open up to a wide field
Of service to the people in a
Glorious historical revolution.
I have no proof of this
But this poem.


When the Party of the revolution
Reached the Sierra Madre,
Comrade Sue followed,
And she was sworn in.
The stars swung above her,
The fireflies danced around,
And comrades ringed her with
Mabuhay! and the Internationale.
Would that she be always
As tall as aspirations for freedom.
Would that she be always
Deeply rooted among the people
Like this mountain range
Of a grand revolution.


Because the Party oath-taking
Ceremony is a historic event
We conjured a grand celebration:
Formal wear for gentlemen and ladies,
A thousand guests and champagne –
But when the time came it was
Just ourselves, a small collective
With clear minds and real guns.
The bread we broke was ourselves,
Our music and poetry. No drink
But a generous takori of tea.
We claimed our mountain
With the red flag, an M-16
And a vase of purple flowers.
The campfire burned steadily
Like the heart of the revolution.
In the revolution was Comrade Sue
Newly sworn in as a Party member.
She warmed our hearts. Ours was
Probably a strange light in the forest.
Only the generator sounded drunk.


The poet lies in bed
Composing a symphony for Sue
Into the Party newly welcomed.
He is lost in some forest
Of no-mind-mind until
Everything slowly disappears,
All but


The people’s soldier is doubly alert.
Always. The forest stands guard with him.
The jazz of trees, concert of bird and beetle,
Rush of wind through leaves of mind
And a hundred warterflows composed
Welcome him as comrade in arms and music.
In the pattern of people’s war they connect.
Footfall of the enemy is clearly heard,
His shadow is unmistakable dissonance of silence.
At nightwatch the people’s soldier follows
The Way of Zen and Tao undefined.
He knows the terrain of revolution where
The Sierra is Madre.


When at a crucial turn
The resumed revolution
Failed to rise to higher
Who would lead
Stopped to take stock.
We reviewed ten years
Of struggle
To discover we were astray
From the long road
To victory.
Who would lead
Followed insurrectionism as
A false messiah,
And military adventurism as
Avenging bullet in ricochet.
In our folly we mistook
Falling turrets for the
Keep of State.
Short and shallow were
The people’s phalanxes
Yet we dared assault
The enemy’s inner gates.
Black as sin is
The tragic flaw: mass base
And alliance networks
Sacrificed in a fatal gambit
In a desert field of
Line, beliefs and choices.
Seduced by illusion,
Who would lead
Would force the sun
To rise from darkness
Before its time.

The years are winds
Heavy on grass.
The grass owns and consumes
The passing pain.
Now we travel out of
A dark night
Of collective soul,
And behold anew the earth
As keystone to the sky.
We are back on course
And the road is
Protracted people’s war.
The holding vision beckons
And the people are regained.
Mountains and saddles
Of truth and error,
Ravines of ambiguities
Are discerned. We open
To new affirmations
In a time for heroes
Shorn of hubris.
Who would lead
Appropriate decorum
Of mind, heart and sense
Before the many lives lost/
Maimed in the civil war.
In camps of Red fighters,
In freedom of forest deeps,
Mindsets explode and
Life-force is released.
Spillways of proletarian
Consciousness and care
Open to revitalize the land
And shoots of future.
Enough of anger,
Self-pity and regrets
Over missed opportunities
To advance
The line of march!
The task is to strike
Deep roots among the masses
To muster strength like of
Conquering daylights.
Balance is all,
In armed struggle and
Mass movement;
The united Front
In calculated control
Like the Sierra Madre
Poised above the Pacific,
Blue tango.

Jason Montana has come down from the hills. Did he succeed in untying the Gordian knot while up there among the clouds and the cracks and crags of the moutain bastions? Have the mountains offered him solace for unspeakable grief over kith and kin he has lost or found (his heart, I know, is a lonely hunter).

One thing is certain. He is truly of man of his God. Poetry, people, passion, and prayer. He is all that the last time I saw him buying books from a National Bookstore in Las Pinas City South Common Mall. Offered cerveza over lunch at the mall, he asked for tea. Just like the ritual around the campfires.

Hermano, he said, write me. Do not stop writing. Just write. Hence, this blog. He disappeared among the teeming mall people -- his beloved children of God.