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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, July 1, 2011

HAMMOCK POEMS (A Selection from January to June 2011)

I, an old man/ a dull head among windy spaces....
---T.S. Eliot

(After A Letter of Affliction)

I, an old man,/ a dull head among windy spaces.
--- T. S. Eliot, Gerontion

It’s noisy with the sound of trucks leaving
the stripped quarry like some la femme du nuit
looking spent in a small circle of melted sheets
not unlike this barricade of trees fencing me in
when I should be out among the cormorants
molesting errant crayfish on the breakwater
boulders, clamping them with the vise grip
of beak before dumping them back into
a cocktail of blackened pools and fetid algae,
my vaunted daiquiri or limey brew on my
long vacation by the sea.

Now you write to ask if it was not too late
to take this one? Porquoi pas?

For hearts frozen with regrets and hollow
memories, it is finally too late, mon amour,
because this thaw among sandpipers and gulls
is also the noise of quarry trucks cracking
the hard-earned quietude that has come
as an ebbtide when the crushing gulfstream
has cut the sandbars and left the stripped
quarry to cover sand holes rending flaccid
haunches and dying loins. It is too late.


(After Letter to Levity*)

How could you have guessed that my voice is barely
“audible over the wind like a junco’s chitter?”
Funny how it’s really reduced to a little snowbird’s
titter, and I have not heard of that rara avis junk
since I used it as foil to lads and lasses jumping
Into dark waters wherever filth and penury mingle.

I cannot stop giggling now on my hammock by the bay,
although I cannot abide the gauche mongers staring
at me rolling off into a soft sand splat roaring silly
reading about Herr Khadaffi, condoms, sausages,
feasts on strawberry lotion, virgins, and decrepit me.
But it’s good you wrote me again. I need levity.

After my last harangue about my rended haunches
and dying loins on ebbtides and stripped quarry trucks
revving the bejesus out of my long vacation by the sea,
I need to travel around this blistered place and back
and bring with me lyrics of laughter and relics of joy
and orgiastic screaming on searing summer beaches.

But all I hear now over my hammock and hoary
body creaks are the ceaseless banshee of mourning
and dying in mudslides, drowning in mudfloods,
crushing skulls in errant temblors, whales beaching
themselves in sandbar graves, deaths in Tunisia,
Egypt, Libya, Iran, Bahrain, Lebanon, Myanmar.

And it is not even afternoon yet.
Trala-la. Haha! Trala-la!
And snowflakes crackle with dry leaves.
Trala-la . Haha! Trala-la!

P.S. (:-)) + (:-~) + (:-0)


 (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.



Where blends the cane leaves with mist and rain/ Blends the shadow and the movement/ Each defining courage from fear, fear from pain.—Bivouac, 1990 From “A Theory of Echoes.”

(For Beau at 44)

I call it my hammock hour: time for stillness
to descend with sundown, shadows grown long
among the cane leaves, and I hum your lullaby.

“You were a break of laughter firmly cut
on father’s chin before your birth, your life
was a smile in the mischief of cigars.
You have been born before in a shock of memory
when all mother could remember were nights
father was the agile dancer dancing dense
the deep dark duty that you were. O my son.”

I cherish the stillness that makes sounds crisp
even as I talk to the shadows on my porch walls:

“When did you come home? I must have dozed off.
Have I ever thanked you for naming your firstborn
after my father, and your second after me? Is it true?
Mother said not after me, really. After you. No matter.
I named you after me. And they shall have longer shadows.”

But the sounds and the shadows move as movements

move and disappear with the night. I, too, turn down
my hammock.



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.



Waking up on Fifth Line, when the ground fog
creeps on moonlit streets like a late lover lost
under slept-on sheets, surprises me as still
the best time to rise when mornings are really
midday scrambles to catch something: bus,
tram, train, time, traffic, trash bins trampled
over, reeking tramps, ad nauseam. I am still.

On a porch, where houses are still better off
with them, I sip my minted tea as serenely
as I could, miming the movements of my mind:
if I knew then what I know now, if I loved then
as fiercely as I could have, if I could turn time
around and give it a kick in its arrogant behind,
if I could shelve that rushing sunrise and not
waken to carpenter bees and highway buzzing…

However languid or rushed my mornings are,
does not matter now. Waking up still beats not
getting up or not waking up to another still day.
I am most still when I can feel my shoulders shrug.


(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 ingénue 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. 



On my hammock, on afternoons like this,
I have the whole sky for a taut canvas.

It is easy enough to paint a landscape
rolling on clouds that transform quickly.
That mass of cumulus moving toward
the hillocks of Nara is my father’s face.
I can see my Chloe in a furious pirouette
among those swirling cirrus. A ballerina.
Are clouds the sum of all our memories?
Do they shape the fears that we run from?
Or have I just run aground, no wind
on my sail, no seascapes nor harbours?
On afternoons like this, on my hammock,
I cull the pictures I have collected, a collage
of dispersing dwindling drawings on skies
that darken at sundown drowning them all.
What have I rushed for, hieing to a country
of old men? These are empty spaces of empty
hours, a dull ache that stands for a leftover life
marking rhythms of time on a swaying hammock.



The space cleared/is bigger than they were/ the maker of the snow angel/ once they get up from the ground.---From “Personal Space” by Hannah Stephenson, The Storialist, 06-14-11 *

I thought it was the other way around:
When one is no longer there, he will be
bigger than the space he occupied. I
cannot begin to gather the memories
grown rampant of those I have loved
and lost, they will fill my days to the brim. 

How can I run with my father through
those fields with a wayward kite? How
can I sing those goodbye songs in my
abuela’s tremulous voice? Will I keep
in tempo with grandfather’s steps when
I find myself walking up the winding
stairwells, my little palms in his hands? 

Will I tell those tales of enchanted
elves and flirting fairies as animatedly
as grandmother Teodora, and hold
my own grandchildren in thrall? How
large a space must I have to grow with
them while I keep this quiet watch over
the rhythm of days as we bravely wait? 

I will not be able to fill these spaces you
have carved yourselves when you were
here---they overwhelm me with grandeur.
How will I cope with the largeness of your
presence now that you have gone from us?  

Like the lad who threw himself on the snow
to create his winged likeness, I find my
snow angel larger than I am achingly small
engulfed by lingering memories of your
abiding love and immeasurable greatness.


Sit. Feast on your life.
---From “Love After Love”, Derek Walcott

Although this invitation will prolong our wait
in the cold antechambers that we surround
ourselves with, we will cautiously accept it.  

Why not? Sitting here, staring at a kaleidoscope
of the many faces we have constructed to meet
other faces, I celebrate a love affair with myself.  

Who else will do that for me? There were lovers,
and there were lovers, but they held on to their
own chisels to pare and scrape their own image  

of what they could have and hold not unlike
a wild-eyed Pygmalion sculpting flesh onto his one
desire, a Galatea of his rawest wants and dreams.  

I will sit and wait for the feast of all feasts
to be served on my table, my head on a platter,
my heart seasoning a bowl of hope, a soupçon  

of little mercies that lovers often do: a salving
of hurts, a troth of endless fealty, a promise
that the image on the mirror is finally, only mine. 



“We have known them all already,
known them all”. Thus, we measure lives,
abandoned hopes, laments, even sighs.
We have heard them all already,
the prayers that remain unanswered
behind bolted doors, darkened rooms.
This anguish over being here and not
here is all too familiar, but like innocent
children, we still look toward times
when we eagerly open holiday boxes
and find surprises no longer there,
but manage to smile anyway, bottle up

a “No thank you,” and move on to other
boxes, only to find feigned familiar
joy that those are still the wanted toys.
Like uncertain weather marked in the sky,
we move on, unchartered, with the flux,
like all things plotted begin then end.



That humans need time, and the senses/with which to paddle through it/and navigate, and to get lost in the water’s/response as we push and kick.---From“Making Sense” by Hannah Stephenson, The Storialist.

It was a Rational Psychology 101 lecture,
and half of us were half asleep. De rigueur 

Half of what I now recall about nothing
is that there is nothing in the mind  

that does not first exist in the senses.
Common sense. Except that it is uncommon. 

Is it not special to find that goose pimples
are but the tell-tale signs of being touched?  

That time, you caressed my face when you saw
those letters I cut into that hapless branch.  

You did not need to say anything: your heart
did as it skipped a beat, my head on your chest.  

“Con amor duradero*,” completed the carving.
Your mute kiss said: forever. I said: always.  

Would our eyes have seen that same eternity
if they were all that we had to have and to hold?  

On sundowns like this, on my hammock hour,
I look back to those lost years, bleary eyed.  

My mind was right. Nothing lives forever.
Are our lives all a lump of dearly felt lies then?  

What we felt then die, and are strewn like limp
clocks in a Dali landscape, despite memories?  

Yet, during these precious hammock hours,
I’d rather have seen, felt, caressed, and kissed  

Every undulant shadow before me, danced
that light fandango with them, talked to them  

even if they did not hear me nor care to hold
me, until I fall asleep muttering still: Forever. 


What sound is made/when something slips away and the hand closes/and opens on nothing but cool air in its wake? /…That’s/the heart missing what it wants to hold fast.---From “Aubade” by Luisa A. Igloria, Via Negativa, 06-27-11

She got curious about palmistry once:
I wagered she could not read my palms.
How much time will I have? Life line.
How much time do we have? Heart line.
How long will I hold on to my mind?  

All of the lines end inside my open palm,
they have no story to tell. She dropped
my limp hand on her lap and said: You
are right, I could not read it. Could not?
Would not? Palm readers often clam up. 

They would rather keep the dark where
they belong: inside bottomless darkness.
At sundown, on my hammock hour, I
look at my palms again, peer at them
against the waning glow. Did she know?  

I open and close them wondering
what sound they would make if they
could, and quickly learn that old fingers
crackle then release weakly into open
palms, like a flower, or a needy heart:  

I close them tightly now upon my chest
and pray that I could hold on fast
to even these leftover remembrances
now slipping through my flaccid fingers
like sand, like love when I was not looking.


From the beginning, years/have been love letters/to things that disappear/and remain. --- From “Two Thousand and….” by Hannah Stephenson, The Storialist, o6-28-11  

Once upon a time: is a slumber line if any,
unlike lullabies that now use the F word.* 

Once upon a time: was a trigger to fantasy
about frogs and princes, fairies and trolls. 

“Once upon a time” has yet to be edited
out of Hemingway, Faulkner, and Bellows. 

Once upon a time: that, too, has come back
to all our versions of the incarnated Word.  

Once upon a time the world was simpler
than we know. That was once upon a time. 

But our milestones were once upon a time
marks of how far we have rolled millstones  

farther away from what once upon a time
were the jumping cliffs of self-immolation. 

We will move on, but leave our footprints
where we were happy once upon a time.

---Albert B. Casuga

*Have you come across American actor Samuel Jackson’s reading of “Go the F*** to Sleep! “? Google it. It has broken You Tube hit records. In our time.


(These poems are for my Forebears, making sure someone will meet me in the great hunting grounds when the time is ripe.
Ayat ken panagyaman ti kayatko nga ipadarepdep kadakayo, madaydayao nga Apok.)

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