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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.

Saturday, July 2, 2011



(For Philosopher Friends Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano and Prof. Alejo Villanueva. Jr.)


It is not a pretty sight. I pointed to the stained cobblestones.
What isn’t? My walking stick, constant companion now, asked.

Carcass strewn on the pavement, Stick! A birdling’s carrion,
one with an uningested wriggler between its broken beak,

stared back at me between eyes half-chucked out of sockets
that must have slid down its tiny breast when the wind came.

Story of our lives, I said. Stick perked up: What is? What is?
You know, just when we would have had a bellyful of chow,

we get cut down, even before coffee and doughnuts and love.
That’s it, Stick! I will not take this anymore. Endurance, nil,

Act of God, the full enchilada. It will always be uneven, Stick.
Violence on the birdwing, that is the daily axiom. Patience?

Love? Endure this carnage anyway you want, Stick. I quit.
Let me just behead these dandelions, and skies be damned.



There are smells, and there are scents. Which is it?
When the smell of heat thickens in the morning,
that would be your scent of toil, the smell of work.

That will not be smelled in Joplin when it wakes up
to the potpourri of cracked-open trunks, blown off
branches, debris dust, and wafted septic tank odours.

There will be the scent of fear that crumpled houses
have crumpled bodies that could no longer smell
this scent of anger cloyed into helpless disbelief.

How does fury smell when it descends on the fearful?
The funnels that have twisted flaccid limbs into braids
of half-extended embraces, empty arms flailing in air,

did they bring with them the redolence of apocalyptic
stench, or the stygian miasma of inexorable defilement
promised on the Day of Rapture, now a ruptured tale?

What scent do we assign the sweat and drivel dripping
from the agape and limp body of a mother’s barricade
to shelter her suckling infant, alive and puling at sunrise?

Will the smell of a sunlit palace of leaves at a greenhouse
that was spared provoke the promise of a better day?
The oriole’s song, is that the dread left by the scent of death?

Talk to me, Stick. I cannot understand the smell of knowing.



 Summer light, /thick as honey, pooling in squares at our feet:/ we ask to be touched, before being taken.---Luisa A. Igloria

Take a look at this strophe, Stick, and weep.
If that’s not a tease, I know it is poetry. How so?

Summer light in squares thick as honey catches
us aquiver with blends of what eyes can see

that tongues can lick, a mélange of what rooms
can become when—as palaces of leaves—they

transform into sylvan hideaways engulfing
all who are bewitched by redolent fragrance

come like warm palms caressing cold backs
that must be touched. Poems are made of these,

Stick, like a strange amalgam of brew salving
the hurt and the lonesome before they sleep.

I need that brew tonight, Stick, before I sleep.



The last time we bantered about smells or scents,
Stick, I gave up on scents, the smell of knowing.

Everything I have loved and lost come back to me
like haunting odours, like those scented mothballs

under clothes Father left that I could not, would not,
move from attic chests I am wont to open when lost

between worlds of the child who would pipe down
from fearsome anxieties and the man-child’s anger:

“I know you hear me, Father, when familiar scents
break out of drawers, and I am your little boy again:

I run through the hills in pursuit of the wayward
kites you shaped for me from those bamboo slats

cut from groves of shoots we would gather and boil,
and oh, how the aroma bridges our unwanted space,

your scent pulling me into arms I know I’ve missed,
into rhythms of lullabies on the mountain hammocks!

I cherish these as urgently as that boy who runs to you
at sundown for a quick toss in the air only fathers can do.”

I know and keep these memories as long as I could,
Stick. I know them, hoard them, mostly from their smell.



…what /do they know of warnings and misfortune?/ Leaf of the cherry, red heart, organ of fire: /…I name you as if I could thread your bones;/ I name you not knowing your mystery.---From “Night-leaf Tarot” by Luisa A. Igloria

That dream of some rain in the dead of night,
what do you make of it, Stick? I ask my errant
escort leaning on the porch wall at tea time.

“Huh? What rain? Who is in pain?” It blustered.
More riddles than secrets fly with the wind:
the mystique lurks in strewn cherry blossoms.

Like tea leaves in divining cups at the temple,
the petals now pell-mell on the pavement beg
for a name to pin her will-o’-the-wisp down.

Where, in what undiscovered country, would
she find the luring shadow of her vision?
Or is it a yearning these leaves could not see?

“A tea-leaf? Did you see the absconding thief?”
A roused Stick, rocked from wooden stupor,
growled. I swirled the tea leaves down the pot,

and poured a steaming spot into my empty cup,
straining to see through its roiled and rippled
surface if the redheart leaf bodes fortune or grief.



It’s the sparrow at break of dawn
that gets me started like a dry
rattle in my throat. Another day
in these darkened streets should
complete this test. How patient,
Stick, can I remain? Another day
and another dead body. Carrion
of wrath descending, we wail.

In Joplin*, survivors have learned
to lace their boots simply feeling
for the eyelets, like fearful men
who could only swear, before
they walk through another day
of groping for bodies who might
still stir. Quite like clumsy readers
of Braille, they won’t stop reading.



I can almost feel the tremor on its breast,
the young robin that has just landed
on the branch with its beak open. Was it
an interrupted repast it has fallen from?

Acts of god, our magistrates call it, have
a way of cutting things off from their rhythm:
witness the quick change that has brought
this warm air, and the quicker repulsion

that begs for winter back. Did the robin
fall off from its nest somehow when it parted
its beak for the day’s first meal? The wind
plays tricks, too, commingling with heat.

Blown off by wayward winds, its flapping
is futile against the violence on its wings.
That dead cherry tree will not be a refuge
from the rampage of funnels, would it?

Think about it, Stick, why would weather
changes be any wilder in our morning
porches, when a wrecked valley nearby
has still some of its rooftops spinning

in the air, and hands flailing for absent
anchors in floods swirling like giant
toilet flushes sucking lives into limbo?
Just asking, Stick. Changes are questions.



There is no primrose path to paradise, Stick.
No, not sunshine yellow in mid-morning heat.

I am specially drawn to the bramble trail
of an endless desert. There is challenge there.

But look, the primrose stigma casts claw-shaped
shadows. Beware the simple; peril lurks there.

When the sun climbs, these claws disappear,
not unlike the oasis of a desert mirage. It’s not there.

Shall I walk then through this garden of primroses?
Nothing stirs here except the glare of buttercups.

Little wonder then that primrose paths are yellow:
Easy, smooth, untrammeled. Much travelled, too?

It is the coward’s way, Stick. No pain, no gain.
Huh? Why groan then? Why call our trek a real pain?

Shut up, Stick. Follow the primrose path of sunshine.
Huh? Why? Who said a ball of Jell-o is coloured yellow?



That there is a cicada killer, Stick.
A Gaddafi doppelganger, eh wot?

Before tea, this would be insolence
from my peripatetic avian expert,
and I haven’t had my gargled swig
to take that from my errant friend.

Sipped your Earl Grey yet? Lipton?
Take Camomile tea. No, Darjeeling
is more like it for this Intel I’ve got:
The Libyan marmoset eats cicadas
to break his fast. He needs that to
cleanse his bowels before the kill
at Tripoli, before he feasts on limbs
of marmot to march to the city’s edge.

What does it matter that rhythmic
chirping sounds would cease here
when she steers the bright craft
of her body toward the sun refracting
sunlight while she feasts on gossamer
wings flapping for a coup d’grace
to stifle the sundown song, to end it all,
much like mothers plead for murder
a la mode before the battle howitzers
crush their chanting lads and lasses,
eaten like the silenced cicadas by wild
men blowing their sons’ brains in Libya.

Shut up, Stick. Where is the Intel here?
A case of preempting Muammar himself,
retorted my now irascible companion,
before he continues his global cicada kill.

Après Gaddafi, milord, the silence of the lamb.



Little difference between these scenarios, eh, Stick?
The Post writes about a gory machete-hacking down
the road. A ménage a trois ends in beheading a lover.

All depends on who or what or why one is a “lover”
and get decapitated in a quite quiet neighbourhood
where news of mating felines and hounddogs shock.

The catbird chasing another while its tweetums
perches nonchalantly on a dead branch is de rigueur,
like a cut from a film noir where lust gets lustre

when mayhem climaxes in an undeserved carnage
and reportage labels it a jealous rage of a cuckold.
Why can’t they just get along? Enough love to go around.

But it’s cold outside. One cannot surrender the warmth
of one’s bed to another and still be the same tomorrow.
Ah, an axiom here: to every catbird belongs a catbird.

Shut up, Stick. The silence of pursuit here is riveting.



That humming sound from a small creature amazes me, Stick.
Huh? Ham? Hum, humming? It’s that show-off revving off
on his re-tooled Vespa bike, I’m sure. What’s for breakfast?

My peripatetic guide to the absent world of the sleep-deprived
goes off-tangent as soon as I pick it up from the porch floor
where it fell with nary a clunk to disturb its wooden universe.

It would have been an open-throttle hum but for the flutter
behind the lilac bush, and a choked call like that wheezing
bike careening then suddenly fuel-clogged over cobbled strada.

Ah, the Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone! Or, is it Roman Holiday?
The Stick turns into a revived cineaste, and defines the scene
as if these flirting hummingbirds were a Mr. Grant /Miss Hepburn

tandem, and I demure: was it not Mr. Beatty and Miss Wood
caroming around oblivious of the splendour on the grass or even
the glory in the flower? But I am no movie maven, after all.

Is it the bird’s Romeo revving it up like a toy mower chewing
tall weeds, and its inamorata, unimpressed, humming away
from the lilac bush like a Juliet singing: wherefore art thou?

No, milord, it is the East, and the sun is rising. Wake up,
sip your tea and leave these silly humming creatures be.

Stick, bewildered by my sudden grasping of its neck, groused.

Defending my sullied memory, I mumbled: Shut up, Stick!



From where I sit, Stick, I can see how God
presides over the fate of mice and men.

Look at those gnats dancing on the head
of a cabbage: now that’s what feasting is.

Suck and fly, suck and fly! Swarm around
the little garden, bite and fly, bite and fly.

Isn’t this the ritual of all struggle? Take
all you can while you can. Grasp if you can.

It won’t be long nor will this last forever:
the spectre of a reaper lurks in the deep shade,

its wings lit by shards of sunlight. There it is.
The Crow descends on the cabbage patch.

It sizes up the swarm of gnats, and quickly
opens its beak to let them fly into a throat

that earlier cackled an invitation: Come!
Abandon all hope you who enter here. Come.

Much like the chapel bells ringing for the
flock to gather for the Rapture, milord.

Shut up, Stick, I see where your point is going.



It is a Ground Zero thing, Stick; no one talks about it now
except the minute men, make that capitals: M & M.

No, not those candies, silly. But never mind. That blast
could have been heard around the world if it were there.

Wall (Money) Street, the United (Debating) Nations,
Greenwich Village, Chinatown, the Nooyawktimes,

the Clinton Bronx, ad misericordiam. What would
America be minus them? But, pray, not Hollywood!

Oh, we “will bear any burden, oppose any foe…”*
It’s why we have footprints on the moon, the Internet,

Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! and Lord, the CIA.
What would this planet be without these amber waves

of grain? This land of the brave, this home of the free?
I say, Stick, that’s one too many blasts from two miles

away. Praise Yahweh! But that must be the quarry boys
down there, blasting the minerals out, fossil for our Fords,

and gold. Elsewhere, my errant friend, when downstream
natives in the Philippines hear a blast one too many, they

will hasten with their basins to sieve the golden morsels
downriver, as they did in Ye Old Yukon north of the border.

And in old Benguet, in the boondocks of the Flip’s Mountain
Provinces, in the Itogon mines. Saturday nights in the grills

of Baguio City, that pinetree haven of my youth and undying
affection: all suborned by the American presence. Bullions.

Sinatra asked once in that song: What is America for me?
An M&M neighbour (shhh…) said: Dang! A land of the free!

Beware the wrath of the little citizen in Plummer’s Hollow:
he says: never again; his Hispanic brother: Nunca jamas!

Never again will American blood be shed in American soil!
Stick, aroused from stupor asked: Where then, milord?

Where? I gulped down my cup of cold tea—Nestea?—and
spat it out. Shut up, Stick, geopolitics on this porch is risky.



A quid pro quo, if there is one, Stick.
One act of kindness has its other side
on the same coin: that spider would
come down the drain and mangle
some parts, but for this ushering.
Foraging, the woodchuck is startled out
of its thicket and barrels through but
also releases the grass from its burden
of rain and it springs up to sunshine
and softens the craggy valley with
green blades cutting through earth.

Huh? What squid? What pro?
Shut up, Stick. It’s the circle of life.



We even have rain dances, Stick, to pray for rain.
But we still have our little deserts despite that.

The Hopi have it, the Navajo, the Igolots. The lot.
Mayans, Aztecs, and all the prayers they have got.

In the old country, tots still sing that song while
they halloo in the rain, bathing naked in the rain.

“I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain.
I’m happy in the rain, just happy in the rain…”

Why can’t I recall those Gene Kelly lyrics? Dang!
Oh, to feel that downpour on my face again!

In Ranchipur, they un-learned rain-prayers.
Monsoon scares even the farmers and fishermen.

Grade schoolers have even learned another ditty:
“Rain, Rain, go away, come again another day.”

Schoolhouses float in floods brought by monsoon
rains from Indonesia to China. Now Australia.

It’s summer at last, but does it have to be humid?
Poor chap over there has a dour face. He gazes

at his garden, at the portion given to all that moss,
looks back at stunted buds on his rotting trellises.

Like a sad farmer who has lost a crop. Like a sad
father who needed the money to send a kid to school.

“Into each life, some rain must fall…a rolling stone
gathers no moss,” my roused errant friend snapped.

Tracing a searing Gobi in that man’s countenance,
I grabbed its scruff and mumbled: Shut up, Stick!


…then the dead cherry beside the porch fills with birds.*


“They also serve who stand and wait.”
Remember that line? Was it Milton, Stick?  

Huh? Where’s the waiter? Who’s serving?  

Look at that dead cherry tree. Who would
think the birds would prefer to perch there?  

With this gust, no leaves will slap them! 

Small consolation, but you might be right.
With perfect foliage, the tree sways faster.  

A wind punch is not as hard on a dead branch. 

Oh, what I’d forgive for the sight of a tree
With these birds for leaves! But when the
Wind breaks the tree, won’t they simply fly? 

It’s the first time you said I’m right, milord. 

You’re a dead branch yourself, dear Stick.
Look how I lean on you, each step I take. 


---Albert B. Casuga

*Stick, my errant companion, my peripatetic friend, my Sancho Panza, my dead branch cane and clearing stick.

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