Human Rights Day, the Gabo Prize, Danica Mae and the murderers who go unpunished

10 December is International Human Rights Day. In the same week the Philippine Congress has been busy trying to bring back the death penalty. It is not simply a step back for the country of my birth – more like running backwards down a dark alley littered with shattered rocks and corpses, wearing no helmet and blindfolded. Since the current president, Rodrigo Duterte, came to power the country has been gripped with a madness that his most blind supporters continue to embrace.

I wrote “Danica Mae” in response to the state-sanctioned killings that have summarily ended the lives of nearly 6,000 people as of this writing. I wish it wasn’t necessary to write it. The translation – or re-vision – in English, along with two other poems I originally wrote in Filipino many years ago, got the attention of Mark Statman, the judge for the Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation and Multi-Lingual Texts. He says

“There is something beautifully and sadly dense about these poems, which the poet, Jim Pascual Agustin, himself has translated. I found myself returning to them because I found them at once mysterious and ordinary, describing what I can only think of as tragic events (in “Danica Mae,” the actual death of one child, in “Standing in Tagatay,” the learned careless callousness in the life of another). The final short poem, “The Long and Brief History of the Bald Old Man and the Busted Pot,¨ presents the reader with a different kind of tragedy, a view of a long life at its unhappy end. Not easy to want to read, these poems nonetheless demand it. That demand is what I think I want most from a poem.”

Lunch Ticket has featured the winning work in its latest issue, Winter/Spring 2017, edited by Arielle Silver. Here is a link to the Filipino version that I posted on this blog earlier.

gabo-prize-danica-mae-lunch-ticket

Please read the issue, leave a note to the editor, express your reaction somewhere, anywhere, should you find resonance in what is plaguing my country of birth today.

Some links for those who might wish to know more about what has been happening:

ABS-CBN NEWS ITEM

NEW YORK TIMES photo essay

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY OF PROTEST

NEVER AGAIN

iDefend

My hope is that you share this post far and wide. Perhaps those in power may read it and respond. Perhaps those who feel they have little power to change this tragic course may find courage and learn that they actually do wield something that no violator of rights can ever take away.


TokHang Santa – first draft

TokHang Santa

PNP Chief Dela Rosa plays Santa to kids of those killed, caught in Tokhang
A total of 120 children of drug suspects received gifts from Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa (Bato), who dressed as Santa Claus at an event on Thursday.
Dela Rosa said giving gifts is the PNP’s way of bringing cheer to the lives of children whose parents have either no income, are in jail, or were killed during anti-illegal drug operations.
-Amita Legaspi, GMA NEWS ONLINE 01 Dec 2016

He believed his intentions were pure
and shiny like his lightbulb head when,
sometime after All Souls’ Day, he wondered
what it must be like to be a child

who had lost a parent. Perhaps once
when he was still small he had pretended
being an orphan, as most children do,
and that helped him arrive at the grand idea

of dressing up as Santa to bring some cheer.
How difficult could it be? Having no hair
meant that white wig would fit nicely,
not at all uncomfortable. The red suit

with fluffy white trimmings must be breathable
cotton, like the elf hat. Not at all like
being wrapped in a garbage bag and tagged.
Since he’s big and solid as a chunk of rock,

a kid on his lap will feel like a stuffed toy,
or an inflatable beach ball. Still, he has to be
gentle. These kids may not remember
that lost parent for a day, or forever

if they’re lucky to be too young to retain
memories. But surely they’ll never forget
the day TokHang Santa came for them, the chosen
120 from the ever-growing thousands.

-o-
http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/…
“TokHang” is a contraction of the Visayan words “toktok” (knock) and “hangyo” (request).

Since this is a first draft, I welcome all feedback, critiques, comments – as always. Thank you in advance.


Carrion Flies and Congressmen – a first draft

Carrion Flies and Congressmen
for De Lima and Dayan

Carrion flies, not Congressmen,
these buzzing before us. Unable
to keep themselves from prying

into flesh, they push their blunt
and moist mouths to break down
each morsel that they may suck

some sick nourishment. Compound
eyes unblinking, they imagine fragments
of wet dreams while questioning

a witness in the cold halls of Congress
that might as well be a makeshift morgue,
an EJK cottage industry offshoot.

Their wings transparent with such dark
veins, quivering with every imagined
movement of limbs behind closed doors.

Their feet have tongues that taste
possible fodder. Lust and love,
these flies could never have.

-o-

NEWS ITEM 1

NEWS ITEM 2

 


Utot ng Hari – first draft

Utot ng Hari
18 Nobyembre 2016, Araw ng Kandilang Nakahiga

“Huwag ninyong buksan ang kabaong
ng nakaraan,” sabi ng Bagong Hari-
harian sa lupain ng rangya at hikahos.

“Ako lamang ang may karapatang pumili
ng maaaring ungkatin mula sa tagpi-
tagping kasaysayan ng bayan.”

Bago pa siya naupo sa trono
na singkinang ng inidoro,
naamoy na natin ang hangin

mula sa kanyang katimugan.
Bakit pa kaya may nagugulat
kunwa sa sangsang ngayon

ng kanyang pinakawalan,
tila sawang lumilingkis
sa ating gunita at katinuan.

-o-

 

My apologies to dear friends and readers who cannot read Filipino. This is a first draft of my attempt to respond to the “Thief in the Night” style burial at the Cemetery for Heroes of the wax image/remains of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos done at noon, Philippine time by his family.


“Danica Mae and other poems” will be featured in Lunch Ticket soon

UPDATED.

The English version of my poem, “Danica Mae,” along with two other older poems of mine I translated from the original Filipino, have been chosen by Mark Statman, guest judge for Lunch Ticket’s Gabo Prize in Literature in Translation & Multilingual Texts.

They made the announcement a few days ago.

gabo-prize-in-translation-multilingual-text-5

While Lunch Ticket prepares for the early December launch of their new issue which will feature my work alongside two other finalists, you can read the original Filipino version of “Danica Mae” HERE.

I wish to thank Alli Marini and Jennifer McCharen, founders of the Gabo Prize, as well as Arielle Silver, Lunch Ticket editor, and Mark Statman for allowing new readers to discover my work.

 


SANGA SA BASANG LUPA now out!

It took me this long to share the news of the release of my first (and perhaps last) short story collection in Filipino, SANGA SA BASANG LUPA. My Philippine publisher, UST Publishing House, has made the title available and announced it on 19 October 2016 on their Facebook post. I’m hoping a launch of sorts would follow, but times are difficult at the moment. My previous attempts to do a virtual launch for my recent poetry collection, A THOUSAND EYES, never materialized.

My own sister has warned me not to come home because of what’s been happening. Anyone can be killed and be declared a drug user or drug pusher. Anyone. Nearly 5,000 people have been killed since Duterte took to the presidency. That and the tight budget keep me from booking a flight back home. Home. That’s a tough word to say when you have your heart in too many places and official documents and procedures – aside from economics – bar you from moving freely among your loved ones. I include my paper children among my loved ones.

Sanga sa Basang Lupa took a long time to be born. If you read Filipino fiction, I hope you give this paper child of mine a chance. Apparently not many short story collections in Filipino get put out there these days. Mine took over 20 years to see the light. Please take care of this one, dear reader. Maraming salamat.

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It was never a landslide: a poem that accompanies an interview

I was interviewed by Bookwatch, the National Book Development Board’s publication. The print issue was meant for release at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The online version may be read HERE. At the end of the interview is a poem with a rather long title. For those who know little about what’s been happening in my country of birth, you could maybe do an online search on the following phrases: EJK, extrajudicial killing, war on drugs, Duterte.

Here’s a screen grab from the issue. Hope you read the whole interview and those of other Filipino writers currently writing and living in other parts of the world. I would love to hear what you think of the poem and the interview. Thank you in advance.

bookwatch-2016