Letter from My Sister Followed by a Mad Dance

detail from Caravaggio's Crucifixion of St. Peter

I asked my sister for this, this letter
that lays bare the last days of my father.
Our father.  For then I was in a distant land,
the furthest side of the world,
where no one I knew had ever been.

Two years after he died
I came for a brief visit,
introduced my young family
to the grass that grows
above my father’s bones.

One evening, laughter, hysterical
laughter, filled the living room I grew up in
as my sisters tickled my twin daughters.
Those moments drove away the stale darkness
that hung unspoken.  In all the days I was there

No one shared a word about his passing.
Not to me, at least, but to my wife
from another land.  I was spared
the details of grieving.  And that
silence clung, a hungry beast.

Until finally this letter.  Not really a dagger
for the beast, but fodder.  My god,
you do have a sick sense of humour.
Hiding the key from my father
when he was no longer himself,

At the mercy of chemicals,
underpaid nurses.  His body
like a puppet tied by a prankster
to a rattling exhaust pipe.
You cut us down to size, god.

So I gave you a small “g” here,
for now.  Until I wake up from this
endless grief, see this pathetic rant,
and somehow repent.  Or curse some more.
Whichever wins.  You always do.

Go ahead.  Do your mad dance.
I can stare forever at your antics,
silent as a lump of meat
before a fire,
before a feast.


About matangmanok

Jim Pascual Agustin writes and translates poetry. Sometimes he tries his hand at essays and stories. His latest book is BLOODRED DRAGONFLIES, published by Deep South in South Africa. Check out the official blog page for Bloodred Dragonflies. In 2011 the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House in Manila released BAHA-BAHAGDANG KARUPUKAN (poems in Filipino) and ALIEN TO ANY SKIN (poems in English). The same publisher released his most recent poetry collections SOUND BEFORE WATER and KALMOT NG PUSA SA TAGILIRAN. In 2015 a new poetry collection in English, A THOUSAND EYES was released. His first collection of short stories in Filipino, SANGA SA BASANG LUPA, was released in 2016. UK publisher The Onslaught Press launches his poetry collection, WINGS OF SMOKE, worldwide in February 2017. San Anselmo Publications released HOW TO MAKE A SALAGUBANG HELICOPTER & OTHER POEMS in 2019 followed by CROCODILES IN BELFAST & OTHER POEMS in 2020 - both books can be purchased through their Facebook page. View all posts by matangmanok

2 responses to “Letter from My Sister Followed by a Mad Dance

  • Melissa

    I thought how profound the first time I read this in the Coffeehouse and it is still moving. Death is such a personal journey to each individual, even when related because it evokes different memories for that person.

    Jim you bring all that you are to the fore through your poetry. You’re a man of many layers (like an onion – remembering the cartoon Shrek there hehehe) Seriously, I know you’ve been published, but your talents have grown since I’ve started reading your poems.

    To me that is what makes a fine poet, the evolution of self. Great read.

  • Michael

    This piece takes us on a journey through almost every emotion we know of as humans. Grief, deep loss, concern during the laughter, followed by relief at the normalcy of that scene, anger …

    It is impossible for me to read this and not feel every one of those emotions.

    One thing that surprised me that has nothing–and in someways everything–to do with this poem: the grave stone of Pedro Eugenio Agustin is carved in English. I had assumed that would have been done in Filipino. Another assumption blown away, as this piece blows away complacency, mediocrity, and apathy.

    Melissa’s comment of “profound” is the perfect description of this one.

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