Category Archives: Mga Tula / Poetry

Wondering Out Loud… and Dante, You May Never Read This

I don’t have a gadget that is mainly for reading ebooks. I use my laptop for most reading I do that isn’t off a printed page. I’ve been toying with the idea of re-releasing my first book on digital format, but my feet feel like they’re in a bucket of ice.

I’m still working on revising and translating the poems that originally came out in Beneath an Angry Star,plodding a little because of other stuff I need to work on. But it would be good to hear what friends or random readers might think. I know ebooks are nothing new anymore, but to me, when I read one, it feels less of a book somehow.

At the same time I can see the appeal in terms of ease, portability, and saving on paper. Are my words worth the lives of trees?

If you’ve ever read the first and only edition of this particular book, would you even bother to get hold of a revised, bilingual edition? Petty questions while other people struggle with matters far more troubling, like starting life after a super typhoon wiped out most of your family members.

Such is the immense tragedy of Dante Balura. New Bataan, Compostela Valley is close to newly discovered gold reserves. Some say it is the reckless mining that had caused unimaginable destruction from mudslides when super typhoon Pablo struck Mindanao.

Many years ago I wrote a poem after a flash flood claimed the lives of thousands of people in Ormoc, Leyte. That was in 1991 and I vaguely remember that intense logging on the mountains or hills in the area was blamed for the destructive waters that came rushing down to the town, dragging people to the sea.

Does writing about that terrible incident make any difference anywhere, to anyone? Dante, you may never read this.


Sa mga Bagay na Tulad Nito
Leyte, 1991

Yakap-yakap ang dagat
na ayaw namang magpayakap,
ganoon ang kanilang pagpanaw.

Maaaring iniinom na natin
ang kanilang mga luha,
pinampapaligo, pinanghuhugas
ng malamig na puwit ng bata.

Sa mga isdang ipinipirito kaya
maririnig ang kanilang mga palahaw?

Hindi ko na nais pang isipin
ang iba pang posibilidad.
Malupit ang aking imahinasyon
maging sa mga bagay na tulad nito.



On Matters Like This
Leyte, 1991

Embracing the sea
that will not be embraced,
that is how they departed.

It is possible that we are now
drinking their tears, washing
with it our bodies and the cold
bottoms of our children.

Is that them wailing
as the fish sizzles in the pan?

I no longer wish to think
of other possibilities.
My imagination is too cruel
even on matters like this.


UPDATE… According to a 1992 article from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism it was the clearing of land for sugar cane plantations that may have caused the flooding in Ormoc in November 1991.

How long before we find out who/what is to blame in New Bataan, Compostela Valley – and perhaps keep this tragedy from happening again?

Poems on Middle East Monitor

On 6 August 2012 I sent a set of poems to the online edition of the Middle East Monitor. I waited for a reply, then just forgot about it. Then recently, with Israeli forces bombarding the population of Gaza which has been under siege for many years, I remembered these poems. I checked the Middle East Monitor website and found all of them had been posted.

UPDATED 17 July 2013

The links have changed.






The poems are in Alien to Any Skin.  Early versions also appeared on Matangmanok.

From Switzerland

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In my early years of writing, I started to wonder when the next letter of acceptance or rejection might arrive. We had a dog, and often this creature would bark wildly at the postman – the arch enemy of dogs, apparently, followed by the newspaper man and the pandesal delivery boy. Those stories about a pet chewing one’s homework are only true if you had a dog like ours. This dog jumped for anything that got placed in the postbox or stuck between the topmost metal spikes of our gate. So I had to know when the postman arrived, usually around three in the afternoon. A chewed up letter is not easy to read, let alone retrieve.

These days I live on a semi-rural area where no postman comes around. We have to drive to a small shopping centre where they have postboxes. A bit of a trip, so I go once a week, usually on a Friday. Today, though, I felt something was calling me. I went, and sure enough there was something, posted all the way from… Switzerland?!?

I’d never received a parcel that had been posted from Switzerland. Odd, since as far as I know Modern Poetry in Translation is published in the UK. Here then, to share with friends and readers, my bit of excitement for the day!

“Operation Cast Lead” is not the Title of a Movie

“Operation Cast Lead” is not the Title of a Movie

After a night of gasping
at fireworks
I nurse the consequences
of champagne.

Somewhere else they are remembering
smoke that takes forever
to clear, the ringing in the ears,
the smell of burnt flesh
among personal belongings.

“Operation Cast Lead” on Wikipedia (as always, don’t place complete trust on one source, please)

Modern Poetry in Translation’s newest issue, Transitons, Launches on 20 November


We will launch our ‘Transitions’ issue at Lumen URC, 88 Tavistock Place, WC1H 9RS, on Tuesday 20th November 2012. Doors open at 6.30pm. Entrance £5 / £4. Proceeds from the evening go to Camden’s Cold Weather Shelter.  All welcome.


I have five poems in the issue! Yippeeeeeee!!!!

Am I a Puddle or a Pebble? Neither? (just a silly title haha)

I finished the initial translation of the first of three sections from my first book of poetry, Beneath an Angry Star (Anvil, Manila 1992). It comes as a surprise to me that most of the poems still work – at least based on my own attempt at “pretending-to-be-reading-someone-else’s-work” – and that, translated into or from English, something new starts to quiver as if coming to life. There are a few from the original Filipino that just flounder in translation because the subject matter itself demands a particular knowledge of (dated) local popular culture.
Although I do this work on the side, I do have my own deadline to meet. I need to complete this work so I can get on with writing new poetry, and perhaps get back to attempting essays and stories which, in my experience, take more time and effort.
After I finish translating and editing the text, I intend to find a publisher or, failing that, put it out as an ebook on my own.  I am declaring this to the world in case some good soul urges me to persevere, or even offers me a door. It does seem like a long and lonely road, otherwise.
A pebble that never gets thrown will never cause a ripple. hahahaha. A terrible inverse (or some other term perhaps?) of a poem by one of my heroes, Emmanuel Lacaba, called. . . ready for this? . . .


In puddles and rivers
Pebbles hit bull’s-eyes
Before targets are drawn.

The Thief of Ideas

Translation has become a good way for me to cross between two types of consciousness – as one way of saying it. My Filipino roots and other influences come together when I write, but more so when I translate. Translation has become more than a bridge. It is now like a village with no gates or guards, the borders are always expanding if there are any at all: many ideas come together.

Translation has made me aware that what may seem easy to say in one language becomes a task in another. And often I find there are other ways of crossing the rushing waters – one can even leap. Of course sometimes one lands in a not so graceful way. There are always second, third attempts, or as many as it takes. Sometimes one has to choose another part of the river to cross, or find another river altogether. Hmmm mixing metaphors here now. haha.

Enough of that. I was getting more and more upset with the way a Senator from the Philippines has dragged the word “translation,” and, to my mind, is justifying the stealing of ideas.

This article will shed some light: PLAGIARISM COMPLAINTS VS SOTTO.

Here is an odd poem in two versions and two languages.



Each time his mouth opens, his dummy
falls to the ground. He wails
and protests. It is necessary
to speak to him in simple sentences.

Point out his errors and his heart
breaks like a cookie in a hand
in a jar. It won’t be long before
he trips on his own clumsy feet.

Don’t let him see you
laugh. He bites
like a dog.


version 2

Each time his mouth opens, his dummy
falls to the ground. His cries
sound like yelping hyenas. It is difficult
to reach him even with simple sentences.

Point out his errors and his heart
crumbles like a cookie in a grip.
It won’t be long before he trips
himself as if he had three legs.

Don’t let him see you
laugh. He gnashes
before he bites. Luckily
his teeth are falling out.



Tuwing bubuka ang kanyang bunganga, nalalaglag
ang kanyang dummy sa lupa. Umaatungal
at nagpoprotesta siya. Mahalagang kausapin
siyang gamit ang pinakasimpleng pangungusap.

Kung tukuyin mo ang kanyang pagkakamali
mabibiyak ang kanyang puso tulad ng biskwit
sa kamay sa loob ng garapon. Hindi magtatagal
bago siya matisod ng sariling mabubuway na paa.

Huwag hayaang makita ka niyang
tumatawa. Nangangagat siya
na parang aso.


version 2

Tuwing bubuka ang kanyang bunganga, nahuhulog
sa lupa ang kanyang dummy. Tunog hyena
ang kanyang palahaw. Kahit gumamit ng simpleng
pangungusap, mahirap pa rin siyang maabot.

Tukuyin ang kanyang mga pagkakamali
at madudurog ang kanyang puso, animo biskwit
sa kuyom na kamay. Hindi magtatagal bago patirin
niya ang sarili na tila may tatlong paa.

Huwag hayaang makita ka niyang
tumatawa. Magngingitngit siya
bago mangagat. Mabuti na lang
palagas na ang kanyang mga ngipin.


Molossus 1 Features Two Poems in Translation

David Shook’s Molossus 1 came out this November and two of my poems appear there in translation. “Akong Panginoon” is from my first book, Beneath an Angry Star (Anvil, Manila 1992) and “Si Taft Sa Kalabaw” is in Baha-bahagdang Karupukan.

I intend to release a revised bilingual edition of my first book, so I am busy translating quite a number of poems. I have a slightly longer blog entry in Filipino regarding this HERE.

Molossus means quite a few things. Quick Wikipedia visit gave these images:

Molossus is also a type of metrical foot (in poetry) and a few other meanings. So there. A new word to know (or not know). :)

I’m Being Petty, but it makes me happy! (TRANSITIONS Table of Contents)


I laugh at the drop of a hat. Or a hat staying on someone’s head when it should’ve been blown away by the wind. Or just a hat with or without a cat. Or the absence of a hat that used to make me laugh – well, a sad laugh then.
So this makes me ecstatic – seeing my name in the table of contents of Modern Poetry in Translation‘s latest issue, the last one to be edited by David and Helen Constantine, and the first one with incoming editor Sasha Dugdale.
I grabbed this image off the MPT website, so sorry for the low resolution. If you are able to buy a copy of the issue, please do. If you work for or are in touch with libraries – in the Philippines or wherever in the world – please request the staff to subscribe to MODERN POETRY IN TRANSLATION. It is an amazing publication. A bridge of words, ideas and worlds across time.
This is probably not my last post regarding Transitions. Wait til I get my copy from the post! :)

It’s Like the First Time Again

I’m stopping myself from rambling … just wanted to post this bit of news for now until my excitement settles down (less likely to say something stupid haha).

That amazing project started by Ted Hughes in the 60s is still going strong – Modern Poetry in Translation – and they are launching a new issue soon. I’m in it!!!!

‘Transitions’, is jointly edited by David and Helen Constantine and the poet and translator Sasha Dugdale, who will succeed them as Editor from 2013.


Thank you, David and Helen, for letting me in. Welcome to Sasha! Can’t wait to see the issue.


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