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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, January 4, 2013



(For Mother+ on Christmases Past and Yet to Come)

1. Her Noche Buena

Did you wake up for Noche Buena?*
Lit the balled candle on the belen?*

Do you still put those candles away
for another Pascua de los muertos?*

I can almost see you cranking open
the heavy lid of that narra trunk

at the foot of your bed where his
picture stands sentry while you sleep.

How long did it take you this time
to rearrange the animals around

the manger? Reposition, you’d say
but they’re always in the same place.

The lamb snuggles closest to the box
you stuff with dried grass for hay,

the ass farthest, the horse between.
Why? I would always ask while I,

insolent tot, handed you the wrong
fauna at a time. You would laugh

at how San Jose landed on your palm
when you asked for the donkey, an

angel when you yelled for a shepherd,
a magus when you barked for a burro,

and on and on until you’d pitch me
the hard-packed ball of saved candle

drips from father’s grave on the one
other fiesta you’d get up from sick bed

for---but Noche Buena is a rare treat:
you’d eat pan de sal, a whole banana.

2. Her Belen de Pascua

“Para mi fuerza, para mi belen de pascua,”*
you would sheepishly explain an appetite

we plead for each day you’d remember
father building the manger with you long

after he had the last laugh when, like me,
he would give the dingiest animal figure

instead of a king, a shepherd, or an angel,
and simply did not get up from a crumple

laughing at you when you threw him
back the make-believe cow dung, manure

for the grand project of a straw stable
that father said was wrong: it was a hole

in the city of Petra in that Bethlehem hill,
and there were no inns to take Him in.

You buried him with that Belen de Pascua,*
Mother, and could not quite remake one

you would delight describing to a devil’s
detail to polite and knowing neighbours,

who would drop by to gawk at your porch
where the only clay image in its right place

was the baby in the manger whose name
you kept on muttering was father’s name.

On nights like this, I scare myself, Mother,
with the spectre of the quiet distance.

3. Her Pascua de Alma On The Hill

Would you and Father have enjoyed this site,
atop a hill overlooking the sea, a pantheon

of verdant grass, bushes, and arboles de fuego?
I can still see the Belen you last built with him.

The infant on the crib of hay looked old,
mottled with the splotches of years and use

much like the darkened bronze plate marking
your final niche where  you and your lover,

my father and friend, must still be arguing
between guffaws of fun, of which magus must

bring the jug of gin, which angel the trumpet
startling the shepherds, which donkey brays

and which Joseph looks askance at a son,
a king with no dominion, gurgling little noises,

that would have been silent screams of infants
quartered in pieces known henceforth as innocents

who must continue to perish until He comes again
to gather all the hurting children into his House.

O, Mother, I hurt still from this quiet distance,
where there are no longer any Belen de Pascua.



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


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