Monthly Archives: February 2011

Empty of Words

Empty of Words

It started in the car. My cellphone with MP3 player plugged in to the speakers, Natalie Merchant started singing “I may know the word…” Hours later my ears sought other music to accompany the ghosts that Merchant roused. I listened to the whole of Hildegard von Bingen’s “Canticles of Ecstasy” followed by John Tavener’s “Svyati.” I thought if I keep surrendering to this, it was likely I would end up playing Jan Garbarek’s “Officium.”

That was yesterday, the day my mind needed to empty itself of words. Or perhaps of easily recognizable words.

How the World Spins

I was listening to an interesting discussion on the radio today, The After 8 Debate on SAFM, on the recent events in Egypt. A lot of very good points came up, but one caller made me laugh. He shouted AMERICA KEEP OUT! He confessed to being an ex-CIA-trained-and-paid mercenary sent to Angola many years ago. How the world spins.

I wrote a poem years ago about foreign aid and the kindness of the heart (har har), “Threats and Deeds.”  But I can’t post it here.  It is included in my new book, Alien to Any Skin.

Hallmark Love

Hallmark Love
version 2

The bishops are talking
down from the top of the pulp,
declaring war
on common human urges.

They say half-babies must never be trapped
in balloons. That women have dominion
over their bodies, but less
than God, priest, husband, rapist.

Dear men of the cloak,
what dagger lies under those
flowing fabrics, what skeletons
rattle behind your pulpit?

Blessing for empires,
allegiance to the Third Reich,
cover for the paedophile,
and now, seller

Of Hallmark cards.
Happy Valentine, dear bishops,
as you wield your scepters
so mighty and high. For all we know

You’ve never fed a baby
with your nipples
so dry. Go ahead,



this is an early draft… hoping to fix it up some more later

Ghosts of a Wound

Birthday LettersBirthday Letters by Ted Hughes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have the 1999 paperback edition from Faber of this book, in a rather unattractive blue with text in gray and red. Whatever Plath defenders may say (or stab with), this is a moving and painful collection that is worth reading over and over. Here Hughes dresses a wound that refuses to heal.

View all my reviews

The Chill in the Bones of the Puppet Masters

Nice title.  I could sell it to a hack novelist. 🙂

George Galloway writes in The Morning Star:


All the lies deployed to justify the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan took this great lie as their premise – that the West must bomb and blast the people of those countries into “democracy” because they are incapable of changing their societies themselves.

The fall of Ben Ali and the rise of the Egyptian masses has put paid to that essentially racist stereotype. The women in Egypt – young and old, with hijabs or not, university educated and from the slums – are showing that they do not need Laura Bush or Cheri Blair giving a faux-feminist gloss to F16s to liberate them. The sisters are doing it for themselves alongside men drawn from across the base of Egyptian society.

And the US State Department, British Foreign Office and French Quai d’Orsay don’t like it one bit. It’s not only their close personal connections with the torturing regimes of Ben Ali and Mubarak which now stand fully exposed. We know a little about Tony Blair, who still found Mubarak a force for good as the death toll from his clinging onto power climbed above 300.

More is at stake than these politicians’ personal connections with Mubarak. The cornerstone of decades of US and Western policy of holding down the mass of the people in the region in the interests of oil, corporate control of trade and investment and Israel is shattering. Every Arab despot ruling the region almost without exception from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf knows it. Which is why the wind of change that is intoxicating their people is bringing a chill to each of those regimes.


The Taste of Freedom

Having experienced the euphoria of EDSA 1986 in the Philippines, I can imagine the jubilation and hope now flooding the streets of Egypt. The road to freedom – true freedom, and not the one spoonfed by mass media to couchdwellers (hahahaha, new term) – will be far from smooth. May the people of Egypt find their way on their own terms and without the shadow of some other power’s hands hovering over their land.


Saying No to the Business of Injustice

As much as I admire pop bands like Faithless, Gorillaz (love them!), Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, The Pixies, Gil Scott Heron, Devendra Banhart, Snoop Dogg, and The Klaxons (the list goes on) who declare their reluctance to perform in Israel, there might be another option.

It is certainly a brave thing to say no to your fans and to high-level exposure, not to mention the big bucks.  It might be braver to go there and tell the audience that ticket sales will be donated to pay for much needed medical supplies for the people of Gaza.  Now that would be something else.


Sariling Wika / Own Tongue

Yesterday, 3 February, was my youngest sister’s birthday.  I tried to phone her to say some words, but somehow the line was down both times.

Bunso is the word for the youngest child in a Filipino family.  I thought perhaps I could write a poem for her with that as a title.  But I had neither time nor inspiration.  Then I remembered I wrote a poem for her in 1992, one I never had the courage to show her or anyone else who knows her.

The poem is included in my new book of poetry in Filipino, Baha-bahagdang Karupukan (UST Publishing House, Manila 2011).  Here is the poem with my attempt at translation.  And no, she has no internet access so cannot even read this yet.  This is not even a good poem anyway.  Worse in translation, but this is all I have.





Sariling Wika

Hindi manika ang ipinunla

sa iyong sinapupunan.

Alam mo iyan.

Ngayon.  Uha lamang

ang alam na wika

nitong sanggol.

Nakikipaghulaan ka

sa kahulugan

ng kanyang mga ungol at palahaw

maghapon, magdamag.

May hiwagang hindi ko marahil

malalaman kahit kailan:

ang bata’t sanggol

na mag-ina, may

sariling wika.

Mahabang panahon

kayong mag-uusap

at sana isang umaga

maunawaan niyang

kailangan mong hubarin

ang maluwag na daster

at isuot muli

ang damit pang-eskuwela,

balikan ang kabataang


Darating din ang araw

ikaw ang mag-aalala

sa hindi niya pag-uwi

o pagsabi ng mga ginawa.

Maglilihim siya ng katotohanan,

ng mga pangangailangan.


At hahanapin mo

ang dating tinig

ang dating wika

na sa iyo lamang

at sa kanya.





Own Tongue

What has taken root

in your womb is no doll.

You know this.

Now.  The only language

this baby knows

has but one word: Uha.

You grasp in the air

for the meaning

of his grumbling and wailing

all day, all night.

There is a mystery

I will likely never crack:

the baby and young

mother have a tongue

all their own.

You will speak to each other

as if forever

until some day I hope

he understands

why you must leave

your ragged home clothes

and try to fit in

a fading school uniform,

return to a childhood

that was set aside.

The day will come

when you will be the one

to feel the weight of worry

when your son fails to return

home, or refuses to say

what he’s done.  He will keep

secrets, hide urges.

Go silent.

And you will seek

that lost voice

that lost tongue

that was yours

and his alone.


Flash forward to now.  Her teenage son has a three-year-old daughter.  This year he returns to his studies.

Obama and Clinton, get on the bandwagon!

I wonder if we can make Obama and Clinton sign this petition.

Join citizens around the world standing with the democracy protestors in Egypt: sign the statement of solidarity! The internet blackout can’t block radio signals–so the number of signatures will air on radio stations in neighboring countries that reach over the Egyptian border.
And please no more doublespeak