Monthly Archives: December 2016

Sign at a library window. Sometimes you just have to look closer and the outside world becomes clearer. Sometimes literally. 

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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.