UPDATED: More Wax than Human Remains

Duterte Marcos

More Wax than Human Remains

The late dictator’s image rendered
in wax, displayed in a Quiapo-quality
glass box, is what his family would love
to drag down from the North

all the way to sweltering Manila.
Only those who have lived
through the darkness might ask:
How many candles could they carve

out of his non-human remains?
Will his greatest admirer simply
mow us down with curses and bullets,
deaf as he is to any protest?

-o-

 

 

The above is the first draft. Here is the new version which I hope is a bit of an improvement, thanks to the generous members of my secret online poetry discussion group, The Boathouse:

More Wax than Human

The late dictator’s image
rendered in wax, displayed
in a Quiapo-quality glass box,

what his family and most touched
admirer would love to haul
all the way from the North

down to sweltering Manila.
Only those who have lived
through the darkness might ask:

How many candles
could they carve out
of his non-human remains?

-o-

 

Related reading.

THE NARRATIVE has always been that the body in the glass coffin in Batac, Ilocos Norte, lying there since 1993, is yet to be buried because the state refuses burial. As a result, the body lies embalmed until God knows when. There is an irreverent twist to it, sacrilegious even, that appeals to most cultural norms barring the desecration of the dead. In short, the message is: The state is cruel to disallow proper burial.

I have had two opportunities to visit the crypt of Ferdinand Marcos. The tourist gazer is usually led to an inner chamber inside the mausoleum just beside the family’s “ancestral house.” I enclose that in quotation marks because the house is anything but old; it is a new building designed to have fake, exposed “paletadas” so as to conjure antiquity; this is also part of the narrative. This first visit had an Imeldific air to it—the sound of choral cantatas filled the chamber.

The second visit some years later was unexpectedly and surprisingly revealing. A close Marcos family friend escorted us to the crypt. There in the stillness of the chamber (no choral cantata this time), looking down on the finely chiseled body of the deposed president—you could clearly see the veins on his hands, or so I thought—the family friend whispered: This body is just a wax replica, the real corpse had already been buried underneath. End of the narrative.


Mr. F. Sionil Jose, how does kissing the barrel of a gun make a country happy?

People often have a misconception about progress, about moving on, about how today and tomorrow will always be better than the already receding past. This misconception sometimes comes hand in hand when a leadership is replaced by what appears to be a far better one, one that proclaims a new order. When there is disillusionment toward the past, the future always seems brighter and brimming with hope. There is an accompanying euphoria, a deafening celebration even, as nearly everyone is overcome by a singular energy emanating from an apparently bold new power.
In the case of the recent Philippine elections, facts show that the new leader was not actually swept into power by a majority vote. A much bigger voting population did not choose him, which partly reflects a fault in the electoral system that may need tweaking. For the record, it must be recognized that Mr. Duterte’s presidency was not an outright landslide victory as is often parroted by foreign media correspondents.
Mr. F. Sionil Jose, you welcomed and bestowed such glowing praises to this new order. I cannot help but disagree with you. Allow me to say this outright: your metaphors may be simple and clear, but none of them can ever bring back the lives of those who have been killed and will continue to be murdered under Duterte’s watch. Not a single one. But they don’t matter, do they? Not in your view that fits nicely in the pocket of the new power who, on each and every occasion, has said human rights do not matter and that they are a hindrance to progress.
You cheered when Duterte criticized (as if he were the first to do so) the Catholic Church – an institution that arguably has many faults as well as merits, which its own followers and long-time critics know well enough. His first outbursts made mythical were but toilet-related.
You called him an Indio or a commoner (because of his looks perhaps, or his way of speaking?), yet he is among the elite – bank accounts, if ever they are revealed, or funding during his campaign should clarify that. His reign in Davao City, infamous for the death squads of recent memory, is now securely extended in the hands of his children. Do tell us, Mr. F. Sionil Jose, what this amounts to.
Your statement on the country’s free media completely disregards the fact that the Philippines remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Surely any PEN member would know this. Those who fear exposure begin by branding the media as irresponsible and arrogant. Then they find other excuses such as allegations of being linked to some illegal activity. Not far down the line, the dark barrel of a gun.
The phrase “collateral damage” was coined by the CIA, as I’m pretty sure you are familiar with. It is nothing more than a lame excuse for murder that may as well sound like this: “We did not mean to kill the innocent, they were just caught in the crossfire. Sorry, sort of. Thank you for your understanding, your sacrifice.” Say that to the family of a victim and see how they react, I dare you. I’ll deliver you right to their doorstep.
That word, sacrifice, you invoked more than once, like a prayer. True sacrifice involves choosing to perform something that would normally be resisted. It involves giving up one’s own freedom in a way, with a complete understanding of the weight of that decision. But your idea of sacrifice here brings to mind a master telling its slave to choose either to be thrown into the fiery chasm of a volcano or to be fed to a wild beast.
There are far too many disturbing points in your article, but all of them boil down to what you said in your opening paragraph. You seem to have missed the very core of EDSA 1986, that momentous time in our country. The whole world was astounded when Filipinos from all levels of society – your belittled poor and the “privileged” and everyone else in between – came together and silenced the destructive power of guns. People knew the fragility of flesh yet they faced the brutality of the regime, believing their actions will awaken the inherent sense of humanity among the armed soldiers. Do you understand the true force in that?
Mr. F. Sionil Jose, you tried to justify surrendering human rights as part of the sacrifice that must be made so that a promised better way of life should come to fruition. I guess you mean only for the survivors, as the victims are of little value. The greater good, the bigger picture, that promise which, in Duterte’s twisted logic and in your claimed revolution, means bloodshed rising like a storm surge.
Although there are many hopeful plans by the Duterte government, these are in deep conflict with the essence of nation building which treasures each and every citizen, including those who may seem to be a lost cause. In passing, you mentioned the case of Venezuela as a warning without recognizing how the people of that country continue to fend off the imperialist moves of your benefactors. It may do you some good to read other views of what has happened in that country.
Our very constitution states in many ways: each human life is precious and must be respected.
Human rights, Mr. F. Sionil Jose, cannot be set aside in this country of ours precisely because of its experience with dictatorship. Martial Law was a time when those who knew how to please certain masters were certain to benefit, while those who showed the slightest opposition due to their moral convictions were dealt with in various and devious ways. The violations began with so-called evils of society – the alleged criminals or drug lords – then moved on to student activists, the free media, then anyone else perceived to be opposed to the regime, or, for that matter, anyone who fell on the wrong side of a petty official or his goons. Investigations were rare, if at all. Everything and everyone was swept under the carpet. It was the New Society. Remember?
Similar events are taking place in this country. You do not just condone these, you sit up and applaud as people are silenced forever. It is so close to Martial Law, what with all the dead bodies turning up, except for two main differences: the dead are left to be seen and those who elected Mr Duterte (and horrifyingly even those who did not) see progress.
You and Mr Duterte, along with numerous others who these days clamor for more blood, need to read, at the very least, the UN Declaration on Human Rights. If it is too difficult to comprehend properly, I am sure there are individuals who would sacrifice their time to enlighten you.
The barrel of a gun seeks to plant fear in everyone’s minds. Not reason, not communication, not healing, not understanding, and definitely not the building of a nation. Every person becomes a possible target, at the mercy of the most petty killer.
This president sees no value in human rights. His response has repeatedly been “I really don’t care.” Where do we turn when we hear the howling of a hollow heart?
Being human means more than having gleaming new bridges of steel connecting islands, or a network of train lines that covers cities and provinces, or orderly streets swept clear of informal vendors, or emergency numbers for those in need of immediate assistance, or even silence in the dead of night.
Mr F. Sionil Jose, as one writer to another, we know we all seek to write imagined lives as if they were real to us. If we cannot believe them, their possibility of existence, then how can we convince a single reader? In order to achieve this, we seek the heart of a character, the world s/he sees, the voice of one that might be. We may even be thought of as mad as we laugh or grieve with them, as if they were real. I shouldn’t have to tell you to imagine what real people are beyond the page, yet I feel I need to after reading your article where you’ve discarded with a sense of humanity.
Being human means trying your very best to see each person as possessing the same rights you hold dear. It means looking at the details of a life with value, a life as if your own. To be human is to see the frailty as well as the possibility in each person that should never be so quickly extinguished and disregarded, silenced by a bullet and a sign on a piece of cardboard.
This one man’s order that brands anyone (for whatever reason) as unwelcome in the new order, and thus deserving a swift end, is a violation of this right, this life.
With each bullet, each drop of blood, monsters come to life, painted with the crudest brush. Let us not be led back to the days of scrawling on caves.
-o-

 

PLEASE CONSIDER READING AND SIGNING THIS PETITION

PHOTO THAT GAVE THE KILLINGS A HUMAN FACE


Sympathy for the Doomed – NoiseMedium publishes my winning poem, “To be an Orc”

orcs lord of the rings

A frame from “The Lord of the Rings” movie directed by Peter Jackson

 

This isn’t a sob story. I hate those. This is just a statement of facts. Almost.

No one ever read to me as a kid. The image of a child being tucked in bed with a night lamp close by and his/her parent(s) reading while the child looks up in enchantment was entirely foreign. My overworked parents were government employees – my mother was a teacher who was given too many students and after-school tasks to handle (including possibly risking her life during turbulent elections as part of the underpaid voting staff), and my father was a soldier who got called and posted somewhere during the years of Martial Law. My grandmother spoke a local dialect I didn’t know well enough to understand.

I didn’t even have a single children’s book to read on my own and fall asleep with, let alone what others might call a family library. Aside from school textbooks and local comic books that I saved up my weekly allowance for, I read nothing else. Oh, yes, my parents eventually put aside some of their earnings so they could buy me and my three sisters the 1981 edition (I think) of the Encyclopedia Britannica. (That huge set was destroyed by the floods of Ondoy in 2009, along with my small collection of books from university days.)

With the state-controlled media swamped by US media, I was only exposed to the generally loud and garish images of Looney Tunes and Disney. And then, for a time until the dictator Ferdinand Marcos shut them all down, the robots of Japanese anime series (a separate post on that one day).

So elves and fairies I knew were fluffy and cute thanks to Disney. Dwarves were adorable as they sang and whistled happy melodies while digging.

Orcs I didn’t read about until high school when my closest friend, Arman, introduced me to the world of Tolkien. He got me to take up membership at the British Council in Manila. There I devoured all that I could get my hands on, not just of Middle Earth (illustrated accompanying books included), but of authors I’d never heard of. It was there that I “met” Craig Raine and the late Elizabeth Bartlett (whom I really, really “met” by traditional mail – I received letters and books from her!).

I was both awed and disappointed with Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings years later. Oddly, I felt some sympathy for the orcs. Or rather, the actors who portrayed the orcs.

On 5 August 2014 (I enter dates when I start and finish a piece), I began a poem called “To be an Orc.” It has taken a long time for it to find a home. So when I was informed it was not only seeing publication for the first time, but on top of that it had actually won something, my first reaction was “What? Am I dreaming?”

I wish to thank NoiseMedium for finding my work worthwhile of publication. I hope you all visit their amazing website and read “To be an Orc” as well as all else that they have lovingly gathered there.

An aside. I wish to express my strongest objection to the extra-judicial killings supported by the new leadership of my country of birth, the Philippines. I urge you to read, sign, and share THIS PETITION with all your friends, family, social media circle, as well as anyone who you think might might help put out this urgent matter. Thank you.

 

 

 


Last Words, and a photograph that says something else

A few days ago I was sweeping the leaves that had fallen all over the front of the house. There were so many of them that I had gathered nearly ten heaps about a foot high each. They were mostly brown, but also green ones and yellow ones, and shades in between. I couldn’t count how many there were really unless I picked them up and separated each one at a time. I tried to take a few photos, perhaps just to remind me that I did some work in the yard that day. Then one photo came out completely different from the others. It came out red.

IMG_20160714_110243

These days the people in my country of birth wake up to news of those summarily executed and dumped in broad daylight. It is a nightmare existence. The rising number of victims continues because of words. Yes, words from the newly-elected president who won by plurality vote (meaning not a majority, but by less than 40% of the voting population in this case).
Words of hatred and destruction. Words that seek to erase the humanity in each person, in both victims and perpetrators. Words that carry a blindness that quickly spreads. And so with words I share this warning.

-o-

Last Words

Being exposed to the elements,
the point of this spear
has gone
almost the way
of dust.

It has no memory
of skin and blood.

It has no memory
who held it first, last.

It is just one of many,
an echo of defeat
or conquest.

All who wish to keep
their grip on the rest
will surrender to the weaver

of myths and songs.
The last words
will never flow
from the lips of an emperor.

—from Alien to Any Skin (UST Publishing House, 2011)


Eclectica Magazine publishes “Tekla at the Grand Parade”

I have far too many things on my mind these days, more troubles than joys. But one poem just got published by Eclectica Magazine, and so I’ll take that as a blessing.

Thank you to the kind editors for giving space for my work.

Please read the poem “Tekla at the Grand Parade” and the others featured by this long-running online journal.

tekla at the grand parade eclectica magazine image


Maybe a different angle?

image

Sometimes one is not quite sure what one is looking at. But even a closer look doesn’t seem to help.

image


I don’t need a greeting card for my dad

There are far too many celebrations used to justify spending on things one doesn’t need or really want, thanks to consumerism.
I don’t like celebrating Father’s Day. Not since my father passed away. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever did anyway even when he was around. It just wasn’t part of any family tradition, I guess. One can argue making such a day special can be seen as superficial. Each day should be celebrated with the ones we love, for, as with everything, all this is temporary. We’re all just passing. Yeah, others have said that before and probably in better ways.
The youth are often uninterested in what the generation before them lived through – what made them happy or sad, what they wished before they ended up with a particular job that wasn’t their first choice, what their favorite shirt was, and other details that seem inconsequential.
I only know a few things about my dad before I was born. He was a good soccer player and was offered a scholarship to keep playing. He had to refuse it so he could work and support his brothers and sisters. He joined the military. Imagine if he had chosen just for himself?
He passed away when I was on the other side of the world. My sisters put the cellphone close to him as he muttered various sounds no one could make out. I doubt he knew it was me on the other end.
I was with my wife and our twin daughters who were too small to have any memory of that day. We were at a function organized by parents of twins and multiples. There were farm animals in the stalls being petted by laughing children not far away from where we were sitting in the grass.
He never got to read the following poem (which I may have shared here or elsewhere before).

Paper Skin, Bone of Bamboo

These were all we needed:
an old pair of scissors,

two pieces of sturdy
but pliant bamboo, split
to the width of a finger
the span of my young arms,

newspapers, the gray skin
rubbing off on my palms,
a fistful of cold rice
to glue everything together.

Last was the longest string
I could steal from my mother
as she lay in restless sleep.
Then there had to be time.

All these things grew useless
without time. They waited
to be gathered, to be touched,
pieced together with patience.

They waited for father.
Those newspapers could have told me
scraps of stories, something
about his absences, nights

and days on end. Curfews, arrests,
insurgents, offensives,
puppet masters, empires.
Back then words mattered less

to me. All I wanted to see
was that kite defying claws
of TV aerials and rusty roofs,
the grasp of remaining trees.

From both our hands
that kite took off and saw
the sprawl of lives made intimate
by a common silence and struggle.

It took on the wind and sang.
Blurred all words on its skin.
Stillness in between mad search
for balance became its dance

to its very end.
Although those rare afternoons
never lasted long enough,
that kite was relentless, fierce

in its defiance of wind
and ground, everything
that dared to take away
all that fragility,

all that majesty.

-o-

from Alien to Any Skin, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011.


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