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.

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 “Sariling Wika / Own Tongue

  • Teddy Espela

    anong sinasabing hindi maganda ang tulang ito?

    i like it including the english translation. brings me to the familiar terrain of family relations steeped in real feelings of love albeit suppressed, of concerns held in quiet fears…

    congrats bro sa libro. gustong-gusto ko nang makita at mahawakan!

  • matangmanok

    Hey Teddy!

    Salamat. Maraming salamat. The format is all wrong here, stanza breaks, and line spaces. Bulok ang layout ko rito. I will fix it up later.

    The books are still in the stockroom of the publisher. I won’t see a copy until… who knows. 😦 They can probably be bothered with international orders by next week. Or so I was told. Ingat.


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