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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Friday, May 13, 2011



This is a culling of some poems written in response to poems written by Norfolk, Virginia poet Luisa A. Igloria which were posted in Pennsylvania poet Dave Bonta’s Via Negativa, a literary website that hosted this collaborative effort marking National Poetry Month.

The selection revolves around the many facets of love and loving, and the complex expression of this uniquely human sensibility. 

These response poems (prompted by Ms. Igloria’s Via Negativa posts) worked around expanding the contexts of the prompt poems. Necessarily, these responses were aesthetic experiences that in turn inspired (stimulated) the creation of stand-alone poems. As response poems, they are also the most eloquent appreciation of the prompt poems. 

An old tradition in poetry composition, these exercises recall George Browning/Elizabeth Barrett Browning tandems of poetic expression, Petrarch, Sappho, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson, and the Philippine poetic jousting tradition of the Tagalog Balagtasan and the Ilocano Bukanegan. et al. 

Still the most popularly read poems, love poems nevertheless are the most difficult poems to write. They run the risk of becoming maudlin and saccharine in the hands of poets who fail to use restraint in terms of their language and figures (of thought and language). 

Good love poems are creations of good poets. You be the judge of these.

(Please refer to individual postings in this blog for references on where to find the poem prompts. These poems are reposted in the order of the most recent to the latest in the Months of March, April, and May 2011.)


I don’t know that I have learned yet/ … to say Let it come—/…or what I address/ as I lift my face and say Not yet.---From “Landscapes, Sunlight and Bits of Clay, ” Via Negativa, 05-10-11

When the torch of desire burns clean
you would have learned all there is to learn:

To give, Datta. To feel and care, Dayadhvam.
To own and control, Damyata. Therefore,

To love beyond all loving because it is pure
like the mother suckles her infant. Give.

To know when caring will make things grow
like the raindrops nourish but will not sting.

To have and to hold even when that lashes
irreducible hurts to weary hearts that care.

It is for this that, naked, we halloo in the rain,
Let it come! Let all desires fill our dry vessels.

Then we wake to the warm caress of the Sun
for the day is always new, the flower lovely.

Is not the rose lovelier when its thorns sharpen?
Does not the potter’s knife need its razor edge

to pare the lips of the wine jar and smoothen
its mouth that lovers may drink to full desire?

Bare your body then to its wild abandon, salve
it with the cool spring water now welled

from the earth, and open your mouth to kiss
the sunlight, defy the anguish. Never say, not yet.

Let it come! Let the leaves fall on this Upanishad,
because the leap of faith is never to say Not yet.

—Albert B. Casuga


I want to gather the fragments of shadow /they’ve left on the green, the sad, sweet/ impermanence of their flickering. ---From “Marks” by Luisa A. Igloria, Via Negativa

On some mountain terraces I had whiled sunsets
away when young, gleaners stretch their brown
backs at the end of their day’s toil and burst into song:

I must gather them while green, must gather them.
I must gather them while ripening, must ripen them.
I must gather them on my back before sundown 

Shadows grow tall on the red rocks on my trek home
to join the roister of the hunt, to boil camotes in vats
and cauldrons of goatmeat for the day’s harvest feast.

That night I asked Mag-siya to be mother of my sons,
a long streak of light roamed the skies like a cowlick
on a boy’s forehead, and the night stars swallowed it.

Hayley’s comet was the augur for the war that ripped
through the huts and burnt stilted houses on the terraces
and dashed the dense dreams of delivering baskets

of fruit and rootcrop to my woman on the river washing
stains on the blanket that wrapped our newborn son,
he with the cowlick on his forehead and the howl 

of a hunter whose eye for the coypu rushing through
the terrace falls would have been unrivalled in the valley,
would have been the mark of all that was alive and loved.

O, how these shadows torture me now at sundown
when I hold on to trees, leaves, flowers, or roots to trace
that cowlick that burns bright still on my gnarled palms

and echoes still like a hunter’s hallo for the wild boars
culled for the harvest feasts. The shadows are long
in the valley. I have only my unsung songs of that mark.

—Albert B. Casuga

(After Landscape, with Salt and Rain at Dawn)

It is the sea eats limbs of love, so love, so life, may not
to its eternal wanting finish what it late started must
soon deny: a clown’s journey through a circle’s

shadow, the circle rending rapture, where, threatening,
the Shadow begins what beginnings should have done:
to fill the empty cups, the gaping tables, with lilies

of the marsh, and vases of the Sun. But the circle
and the shadow uniting are miracles come from the Sea,
its womb and lilies devouring. Perhaps you are right.

Desire’s pent-up longing is brighter still, stinging still,
and will never, ever go away, like the homing waves
that take us back, take all things back, to a beginning.

---Albert B. Casuga


RETURN MAIL (After Letter to Ardor)

 “I an old man,/A dull head among windy spaces./…I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it/ Since what is kept must be adulterated?/ I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:/ How should I use them for your closer contact?---T.S. Eliot, Gerontion

When I got your letter, it was past my hammock hour,
and mellow from the longings I had the night before:
you said we will grow old and the flares will flicker

but not our stubborn dream, reckless, an ignited habit
of holding on, a moribund troth of our semper fidelis
that needs must break through a dotard, decrepit passion

put to use only when desire overflows its bounden
confines--- unchecked memories of passion on the sand
underneath overhanging bluffs, trysts at wayside inns.

Perhaps, I will never really be able to take you back
to that belfry of the carillonneur where we hummed
our evening songs, brave songs, love songs. I am old.

Shall I trudge those seashores and skip over waves
with trouser bottoms rolled? Shall I steal those kisses
for an eternal ingĂ©nue and say: O, ‘twas accidental?

But like you, I still taste the brine on my tongue,
the dark seas still haunt my lonely hammock hours,
and your habit of rootedness is really a habit of shores

that must always roll the waves back to the sea
that takes back all the buried footprints, even love
heart sketches (ran through by arrows) you drew.

---Albert B. Casuga


Take me back: I tell you I have come too far/ from myself. A pebble drops into a well/ but I cannot hear its thunk to let me know/ it has come to rest… /And my heart/ after all remains a sieve— Come sorrow; come love;/ come mutable chord and struck descant of things.---Luisa A. Igloria, “Landscape with Carillon”, Via Negativa, 05-06-11

How far have you gone from all that you were,
little chipped stone from a hidden tributary,
little pebble that has yet to reach the bottom
of the well to hear its thunk and come to rest?

How far, indeed, that you must finally beg
to be taken home? Where, what place, what
troubled spaces have you been all these years?
Bitter years, you say almost in descant candor.

Take you home? But where do you belong?
If I knew, if I could follow that map long
faded in your doleful heart that has dogged
every fickle chord from every pied piper—

If I could find every pied-a-terre you’ve been
that I might collect the shattered life pieces
left of your gypsy heart so I could remould
them to our heart’s desire, I would. I will.

Take you home. Prop you up, start you up
once again from whence you came, where
your heart is not merely a sieve for sorrow
or pain, but where it is a fortress of care.

Trek back to the church belfry and be the deft
hands of the carillonneur you wished you were
when you were young, malleable, and oh, so free
to dream, to laugh, to thumb your little nose

at the carousing lads vaulting over rooftops
to call your name, to sing your name like
perching sparrows lined on some errant wires
at sunset warbling: sweet-sweet, sweet-sweet!

Take me back. Take me back. And we will retrace
those letters carved on some saplings grown tall
beyond our reach, and sing with carillon clangor
those old evening songs, brave songs, love songs.

We will outdo the bellchoir master on the belfry,
ring them all, sing them all, hum them all until
sundown overtakes us and we hold our tremulous
voices like stuttered promises of coming home.

—Albert B. Casuga


Hard to court abundance, /hard to keep it— . . .what surged/ like ripeness once, continues to show its face—/ shy homeless waif, knocking again on your door.---Luisa A. Igloria, From "Gypsy Heart", Via Negativa

When you gave up on dreams we gathered
like hoarded heartaches haplessly heaped

in darkened rooms we have long abandoned,
we stitched close a gaping wound of hurts

hurled helter skelter in a frenzy of fearsome
faithlessness we found were a fool’s scimitar.

O, corazon triste! O, corazon Gitana!
A sad, miserable heart is a gypsy heart!

Beware this desolate heart, when it is hard
to find and hard to keep: when it surges, as

it must defiantly burst into a pulsing geyser
of desire, it will not spare the idle, hardened

heart. Surging like the ripeness it once was,
it continues to show its face—a scrawny waif,

shy and homeless, incessantly knocking,
insistently rapping at your bolted door.

You leave it ajar, and it creeps in like the fog
that chilled your heart once, it lingers, it chokes

your still smarting heart with a frisson
of a joie d’couer. You take him in for the night

and in the coldness of a morning after, phantom
that it was, leaps out of your window, and leaves.

—Albert B. Casuga


Indecisive figure on the sidewalk,/ head tilted one way, body tilted the other: bird/ listening for the coming of rain the same way/ I feel the tug,…warning of weather/even as the sun pours through and through.---Luisa A. Igloria

When the final call was made
for you to board the last plane
to places unknown, unexplained,
I remained at the gate hoping
you would look back, smile, too,
and come running back for the
kerchief you left on the bench.
You would need it to blow your
nose and maybe dry your eyes.

But you wrote me years later
that I did not even look at your
direction, my head tilted away,
or I could have seen your pleading
arms gripping those of my tittering
children, wildly agog by a maiden
journey on a real plane–so much
grander than the paper ones I
made them when the last story
was simply not enough to lull them
to a slumber that I am sure would
find them flying through clouds and
the searing sun, and the sparrows,
and the cherubims that guarded
them jealously like you must have,
before the final cut that came,
and cut cleanly. I did not want to say
goodbye. I looked at the airport
clock. I wanted desperately to say
Come back, come home. Come home!

You were no longer looking, the line
was moving, and I could no longer see
anyone of you through my tears.
Airports are frightening that way.

—Albert B. Casuga


If it had rained right then/I might have gone out under the trees to be/like the lover and his lover, awash in that murmur/passing like a single flower between them.---Luisa A. Igloria

Beware what you see beyond sheer Roman shades
pulled halfway down. The rain shower you saw
yourself drenched in scurrying toward the trees
for shelter from the sudden downpour? It did not,
could not dampen the heat that sullen afternoon
in the coffeeshop. But the murmur awash between
those lovers passing like a single flower between
them linger. And I, too, find myself under this tree
shorn still of its leaves but budding (a late spring).

I stayed under that tree, looking in, hoping you
had rushed out and found me there, waiting
with a coat and a misplaced parasol, to catch
you in a thunderstorm that would simply rend
those petals. But I would keep you prim-dry
while you laughed out a soulful surprise: Fancy
seeing us laughing in the rain, hallooing, too,
like lads and lasses running defiantly through
the rain, and not scared to steal a kiss or two.

Two greying heads under a sheer parasol
laughing but afraid the torrent will not stop.
It was good then, when we did not fear the rain.

—Albert B. Casuga


If I begged you to stay,/if I begged you to take me away? What then?/But I don’t.---From "Tremolo" by Luisa A. Igloria

It is the dance not the dancer that we enjoy,
don’t we? Take this tremolo that we sing
under our breaths— Shall we run off?
Will you take me away? Beg me. Beg me.

But you won’t. Never did. Or will. Will you?
There would be no need for that now—
time has run out on us. The music ends
when lights also fade in our tired salon.

Still, the faltering notes of what we want
to say but can’t—or won’t---becomes
the stuttering messages lost with the wind
and are faint echoes in an empty salon.

If we can stop the flight of these desires,
Would we hold on to them and not be scared?

—Albert B. Casuga


The call for the final act jolts us
like the frisson of a rising trill
from an ephemera, perhaps a dream,
that you have, indeed, returned.
But the passing of clear, lake green
tea between us is an intermission
that is just that—a passing moment.
So little time. Like a quick tremor
on my throat. And your fingers must
yet again release my unwilling hands
from its fevered clasp, its grip under
this empty table. O, how fast thought
careens into a dying dream.

—Albert B. Casuga


Was this the end of the grappling then?
Tremulous nubbins on trembling branches
do not make for fair jousting grounds,
neither does the lashing wind make it.

But what if it was not the frolic of a day?
What if it was a mating romp atop the poplar?
Then woe to the one left behind on the tree.
The fall of the other was a risk well-met.

The fall at thirty feet is not unlike writing 30,
to a story troubling for a beginning and end.
Whence came the fall? At story’s sorry start?
Or was it the fitting end to one not yet begun?

—Albert B. Casuga


…often there is no word/ for such intermissions./ …A homing— the way you cup/ the back of my head in your hand…---Luisa A. Igloria, from "Interior Landscape, with a Frenzy of Wings", Via Negativa

There is no word for such intermissions.
A rendezvous at some theatre wing,

a random counting of all the lost days
when you travelled to parts unknown,

a quick embrace, prolonged gazes heavy
with unspoken desire. O, I know this

was a homing—the way you cupped
the back of my head in your hand—

you are back, but you have not returned,
so, love, while the curtains are down

tilt my face toward the crack of light,
find my hungry mouth, fill my

arms before the final act opens, or even
before they send in an old, tired clown.

—Albert B. Casuga


And I have only my hungry heart, my/ wobbly heart: I cart it everywhere I go.---Luisa A. Igloria, From, “Not Yet There”, Via Negativa


It is when things are exactly
where they ought to be, that
you begin to wonder where
you might have lost yourself
or found yourself needing
all these quicksilver thoughts
of longing, of desire pulsing
through your hungry heart,
your wobbly heart, and you
wander among the debris
of past lives, old loves, fallen
dreams in crumbled houses,
carting your throbbing heart
through every dark chasm
posted with forbidding signs:
“no hearts accepted here”,
and bravely, you walk away,
still carting your defiant heart
through uncharted streets of
lost loves and wanton desire.


Now, you find yourself lulled
in a spring garden as a flower
stripped of its honey colours,
a mere tendril, a bud worn
as some valediction, and still
you dream and chase the
will-o’-the-wisp, and cart your
heart, your wobbly heart,
to parts unknown where signs
forbid the chastened lover.

—Albert B. Casuga


Malleable heart, mouth open to the sky and rain,/my discipline is to learn your one singing note—/to fish it out of the depths of a fountain like a penny/someone tossed there long ago, or like the sun/in hiding.---“Singing Bowl”, Luisa A. Igloria

Is it your one singing note that I am deaf to,
one you have always kept unsung, unheard?

How deep must I plunge into the whirlpool
that your malleable heart has hidden, unmarked

uncharted, like uncollected coins grown old
in a broken fountain, tokens of desire or whimsy?

Dare I fish it out, this one uncollected penny,
from what depths it has reached in that well?

When you tossed it away, it was best forgotten
like some wilted petals in a convent’s breviary.

I have coveted that one note, I have haunted
the barnacled wayside fountain, brackish now,

where you must have thrown it like a shrug
one winter over your cold uncovered shoulder.

In spring thaw, I could see it again, leaden
and rusty as the sun hidden by some penumbra,

and I must collect it now, make it sparkle
once again, rub it on my sleeve, and wrap it

until I could wheedle from its sheen that
one note you have always kept unsung, unheard.

---Albert B. Casuga


I love those times/ when the body has not completely left/ what embraced it last.---Luisa A. Igloria, “Dear season of hesitant but clearing light,” Via Negativa


By sunrise, the strain on the highland flute
has reached a decrescendo ending a sky dance:
the moon fades, the sun rises, a tale told
often enough it has spawned its own legend:
they are lovers who must in the morning part
as a besotted night must leave its rising day
like one whose body cannot completely leave
what embraced it last. Like love lost and found.


What magic these celestial wonders have
over the awestruck and fevered lovers
vanishes like the lambent moonglow at sunrise,
when the moon glimmers into its dying pallor,
its lingering light languidly laving the river
stream that ends around the dreamer’s bend.
A ravenous sun eats all that evening splendour
sworn to by all hearts that have loved and lost.

--–Albert B. Casuga


1. Game One

“Quick, guess where the pebble is,
and if you do, you will be happy!”

What if this were the only wager
in a game of chance of opening
and closing a cup over a rolling
pebble, not unlike the hide-’n-seek
the sun plays now with clouds
darting hither and thither with
winds blowing from all directions?
Will you take it? Will I dare?

What have we got to lose,
one way or another? I hold
your hand and you squeeze mine,
a signal to choose the arrant hiding cup,
and voila: I miss it. Happiness, too?

Happy is as happy does: you are
with me to roll the dice. Would I care
willy-nilly where happiness lies?
Under the cup where the pebble
has custody of nothing, least of all
my joie de vivre — you, my love,
who will be my ransom should I
lose this game of chance?

2. Game Two (After a Letter to Fortune)

“Quick now, guess now: high winds
rearrange the clouds, having learned
too about this game of chance.
Which one is hiding the sun? Which?
Mind the wager: if you fail this test,
should you pin the tail on the wrong
side of the donkey, or choose poorly,
you will keep on guessing all your life
whether or not you can be happy.”

Happy is as happy does: you are
with me to roll the dice. Would I care
willy-nilly where happiness lies?
With you, my love, neither wind nor
cloud will hide the sun. You are my sun.
Should I choose madly, choose badly,
what of it? I never said I’d stop playing.

—Albert B. Casuga


Dear heart, at the wood’s edge, the blue-/ headed viroe repeats its only line. It isn’t true/ it has nothing to say— just as it isn’t true/ that sameness will not want to make us/ look again.---Luisa A. Igloria, "Letter to Sameness and Variation", Via Negativa, 04-16-11*

I am back, but I have nothing new to say,
nor anything that I can offer save myself.
Unchanged, undefined, unshackled, free.

There is no other way you would have me.
Would you rather I had lost my insouciance?
Would you have me speak only one language,

that of fear, and would not risk this loss again?
Sing only your song? Part my hair another way?
At the edge of the woods, I have mastered wiles.

You’d think I had changed and now just a shadow
of a broken man come home to lick old wounds
that were left unsalved, cankered when I lost you.

I am the same, and this sameness will make you
want to look again even if the thousand faces
that you behold are those from a shattered mirror.

—Albert B. Casuga


Fancy hearing from you after some time.
I have gone back to that wayside inn more
times than I would care to remember:
and, like you, I would wonder how a day
would be like without you calling out before
you leave: A la prochaine! And sweeter!
Never goodbye. Never Au revoir. Nunca.

But next time, it will be the tryst of trysts.
We will quaff our wine from overflowing cups,
we will laugh at reflections of our faces
in the ponds we throw wishing pebbles in;
we will wish for the hours to last longer,
for the glances to linger. We will stay longer.

We will wish we had met when there was
still time, and we were much younger,
and braver, and mad with a world that did
not need to have memories of a wayside inn.

—Albert B. Casuga


Each detour is also a question:
Should I stay, leave, or just decay?
Too many daggers can only pierce
so much or so deep they crumple
before they reach a coup de grace.
I have but one heart to wound,
it is all I have, all I can give or will.

No more.

But call this a punch-bag syndrome,
and I come back like coming back
has run out of style. I come home
for more rending, more hurts like
these were the only way I could steel
a trembling and fearful heart that
it might beat with a more puissant throb
and pump life to what has gone moribund.

Because this longing has parched my tongue,
I come back to drink of the salving water
that once pulsed out of our home’s wellspring.
I can only be brave then to lie down
with you beneath this ceiling of stars.

---Albert B. Casuga

RETURN MAIL: (After "Letter to Green")

Verde, que te quiero verde.
—Federico Garcia Lorca

It must have been in Andalucia
(or was it Bilbao?) when I got
your last note raving about blue
skies, verdant bluffs, laurel bushes
turning to green fire under trees
singe by fierce sun rays cutting
through a fandango of branches
swaying with winds roiling the sea
beneath the cliffs where you swore
we will be when you come this way
I wore my green panuelo then;
and running your fingers
through the stray hair mottling it,
were you not recondite, mi amor,
when you said: Yo te quiero, Verde?
Or coy, perchance, when the green
you were declaring ardour for
was not the shawl on my shoulders
nor my short lime-sequined vestido
but my eagerly trembling haunches,
wondering how green the grass
would remain under our bodies
while we stared at the cerulean magic
of the patch of sky seen through leaves
of the tree trunk where you carved:
Verde, yo te quiero, Verde.
A covenant made when you last said
you will be back to engrave my name.
I can only see pale shadows there now,
and on the murky ground a patch of snow.

—Albert B. Casuga
Mississauga, Ont. 03-01-11

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