Category Archives: Mga Tula / Poetry

Awit Amats – 1 of 14 Love Poems from Baha-bahagdang Karupukan and Alien to Any Skin

awit amats buwan

Awit Amats

Lasing na lasing ngayon sa labis-labis
na kalungkutan ang langit.
Kay pula ng kanyang iisang mata,
dugo lamang ang nakikita.

Walang talim ng bituin
na hindi tumarak at nanatili
sa madilim na kaibuturan
nitong langit.

Ang mga batang nagbalak
magtaguan, pinakaripas pauwi
nitong pasuray-suray na titig
ng buwan.

Kaming mga binigo lamang
ang may lakas-loob
harapin ang katinuang
tinabunan ng hapdi,

Bigkasing pag-ibig
at pag-ibig pa rin
ang nakalalango, nakababaliw,
ang tanging magpapalaya

Sa mga paniking
nakabitin, nagpapabigat
sa mga sanga ng damdamin.

Patawarin ang mga lasing.


This poem appears in Baha-bahagdang Karupukan which was shortlisted for the National Book Award in the Philippines.

This is the first poem in my “14 Love Poems” set for matangmanok readers. :)

The following translation was written with the help of poet Jefferson Carter who has a new book out, Get Serious. Thanks, Jefe!

Drunken Song

The sky is reeling drunk.
Its lone red eye sees
nothing but blood.

The stars held back
not a single dagger,
they plunged their blades
into the sky’s dark heart.

The children who wanted
to play hide and seek
were sent running home
by the swaying gaze of the moon.

Only those of us doomed
have the courage
to seek sanity
amid suffering,

to declare that love
and love alone
can intoxicate like this,
make you lose your senses,

the only thing that will free
the bats that weigh heavy
on the branches of feelings.

Forgive them, drunks.


14 Love Poems – an introduction


For 14 days I will be posting love poems from my two books published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Baha-bahagdang Karupukan and Alien to Any Skin. Call it a promotional gimmick, a teaser of sorts, to find new readers. Yes, that’s mainly what it is. But it’s also a declaration that despite all the evils, all the wars, all the human rights violations that take place in various parts of the world, it is love that sees us all through. Not anger. Not hatred.


Get on the ride. But be warned. This can get muddy.

Oh, and if you are in Manila, my books should be easy enough to find in various bookstores. Mary Martin Booksellers and Kabayan Central also stock them online. I have a few copies of Alien to Any Skin left with me in Cape Town.

After I complete posting all 14 poems – and if I manage to translate them with some help from readers and friends, that would be a total of 28! – I intend to make them available as a free sample ebook/pdf. If you are interested in receiving that, please subscribe to this blog and post a comment here.  It would be great to hear any feedback from readers. Maraming salamat!

Here is a list of the poems as I post them.

Awit Amats


Ganoon pa rin ang mga Salita

The Climb

Ang Sabi Mo

Mountain Province

Night Gown

Water Renders

Kakambal-Kaluluwa / I Don’t ever Wish to Get Used to This

The Scar Examined at Midnight

Banaue, Bontoc, Sagada


Poem for Palestinian Samer Issawi Who is on Hunger Strike to Draw Attention to Israel’s Human Rights Violations

Hunger Strike
for Samer Issawi
version 2

The stomach is not a beast to be caged
or tamed. It is no more than a sack
to be filled and emptied.

Those who clutch the keys
to your prison cell believe their fists
are not made of skin and bones,

that blood only flows
one direction.

With the world watching,
they are begging you now
to open your mouth and chew

what they can easily
take away.


Here is a link to one of the sites with some information on his struggle.

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.



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