Category Archives: Alien to Any Skin

Don’t be tricked into following the herd

Sometimes free means free. No strings attached. Here’s an early Christmas gift.

Fixional has made available my special trilogy of poems based on Krzystof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy of films.

While I’m at it, I’d like to thank the editors of the following websites and journals for publishing my work in the past. I have posted links to some of them previously.

Modern Poetry in Translation

 Aerodrome

Canopic Jar 

Houseboat

Black Friday Sales are being promoted extensively even here in South Africa. If you pause and think, it’s nothing but a way for shops and online retailers to offload old stock before the Christmas rush of new products to entice consumers. But really, they’re just material things you already have, perhaps newer versions with a few new bells and whistles. How soon after the feelgood rush of the purchase will you be made to crave for the next new iteration?

I don’t see the same when it comes to books, good books that aren’t designed to be replaced in a season. Or at least that’s the hope. So forgive my little sales pitch.

If you are outside of the Philippines, please consider ordering my new book, WINGS OF SMOKE, online via the following (or other decent retailers):

The Onslaught Press

The Book Depository

Amazon

But if you are in Manila, you’re in luck as https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FUSTPublishingHouse%2Fposts%2F1683897564963264&width=500” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>UST Publishing House has a sale of all my books they’ve published. Get all of them at a great discount!

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Brief Bio for an Anthology

I stare at it like the beginning of a flatline,
that dash next to my year of birth.
Two lines down, a paragraph with nothing
but blurry snapshots of a life
unwillingly summarised for imagined readers,
strangers, for posterity.

Then that uncontrollable laughter kicks in.
It is shrill, like the wailing of an ambulance,
and drowns out all dramatic gestures
I have conjured for myself
on that page. Delusions of grandeur
stripped naked on a stretcher.

Sometimes oneself can be the cruelest critic,
the first to hold the blade
against such tender skin.

June 2008
-o-

(from Alien to Any Skin, UST Publishing House, Manila 2011)

This poem came to mind when a good friend, SA poet Raphael d’Abdon shared his bionote poem with his friends on Facebook. I hope I haven’t posted this before here. The book where this poem first appeared, Alien to Any Skin, was published around August six years ago (if memory serves me right).

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A paper child is born

1 February 2017. Or nearly. As I start writing this it is 23:33 in Cape Town. It is already dawn where I was born. I wonder what it’s like in the UK where my new paper child, Wings of Smoke, has just been born.
A few years ago two books of mine came out at the same time, Alien to Any Skin and Baha-bahagdang Karupukan. I’m still very fond of those books. They broke the more than 10 years of publication silence I underwent. I was terrified what would happen to them, as if they were flesh and blood of mine. So I wrote a poem where I gave them names, Karu and Skin. That poem later appeared in another book, Sound Before Water.
I can’t remember if I’ve posted it here before, but it seems appropriate to share it as Wings of Smoke is born.
May you all find loving homes and eager readers, my paper children, sooner rather than later.

How to Sell a Child Door to Door
for Karu and Skin, my paper children

tell them this child has no parent
and can only bring joy
to its new home
bring light and promise
into the room
as it silently sits
in their hands

even as the world burns
outside the window

tell them everything
they want to hear
that might make them smile

anything just to get
this child’s little foot
in the door

do not bat an eyelid
should the child
gasp at fragments
of moth wings

by the kettle
no one invites sorrow
into their lives

-o-

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I don’t need a greeting card for my dad

There are far too many celebrations used to justify spending on things one doesn’t need or really want, thanks to consumerism.
I don’t like celebrating Father’s Day. Not since my father passed away. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever did anyway even when he was around. It just wasn’t part of any family tradition, I guess. One can argue making such a day special can be seen as superficial. Each day should be celebrated with the ones we love, for, as with everything, all this is temporary. We’re all just passing. Yeah, others have said that before and probably in better ways.
The youth are often uninterested in what the generation before them lived through – what made them happy or sad, what they wished before they ended up with a particular job that wasn’t their first choice, what their favorite shirt was, and other details that seem inconsequential.
I only know a few things about my dad before I was born. He was a good soccer player and was offered a scholarship to keep playing. He had to refuse it so he could work and support his brothers and sisters. He joined the military. Imagine if he had chosen just for himself?
He passed away when I was on the other side of the world. My sisters put the cellphone close to him as he muttered various sounds no one could make out. I doubt he knew it was me on the other end.
I was with my wife and our twin daughters who were too small to have any memory of that day. We were at a function organized by parents of twins and multiples. There were farm animals in the stalls being petted by laughing children not far away from where we were sitting in the grass.
He never got to read the following poem (which I may have shared here or elsewhere before).

Paper Skin, Bone of Bamboo

These were all we needed:
an old pair of scissors,

two pieces of sturdy
but pliant bamboo, split
to the width of a finger
the span of my young arms,

newspapers, the gray skin
rubbing off on my palms,
a fistful of cold rice
to glue everything together.

Last was the longest string
I could steal from my mother
as she lay in restless sleep.
Then there had to be time.

All these things grew useless
without time. They waited
to be gathered, to be touched,
pieced together with patience.

They waited for father.
Those newspapers could have told me
scraps of stories, something
about his absences, nights

and days on end. Curfews, arrests,
insurgents, offensives,
puppet masters, empires.
Back then words mattered less

to me. All I wanted to see
was that kite defying claws
of TV aerials and rusty roofs,
the grasp of remaining trees.

From both our hands
that kite took off and saw
the sprawl of lives made intimate
by a common silence and struggle.

It took on the wind and sang.
Blurred all words on its skin.
Stillness in between mad search
for balance became its dance

to its very end.
Although those rare afternoons
never lasted long enough,
that kite was relentless, fierce

in its defiance of wind
and ground, everything
that dared to take away
all that fragility,

all that majesty.

-o-

from Alien to Any Skin, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011.


Burying a Dictator

My country of birth has an incoming president who won by garnering less than 40% of the votes. It can be said that over 60% of the voting population did not choose him, and when he gains control of the country this many people will be watching his every move, hoping all their fears be proven wrong. More than a month away from being sworn in, he mouths the same things during his notorious campaign. The ghosts of those killed by the so-called Davao Death Squads (documented by international agency Human Rights Watch and the country’s own Commission on Human Rights) will continue to haunt him until justice is done.
One thing that seems to have forced even his own supporters to declare disagreement with him even this early has to do with the remains of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. The incoming president apparently sees him as worthy of being buried at the Heroes’ Cemetery. The public – perhaps more aware of that dark part of the country’s history – has started various campaigns to fight this utter disrespect for the countless victims of Martial Law. One of the campaigns is on Change.org. Here is the LINK. Please consider signing it and then sharing the petition link.
In showing my support, I am posting this poem which appeared in my book ALIEN TO ANY SKIN (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011). My poem is nothing compared to what the people of the Philippines suffered under the rule of the dictator, his family, and various cronies.
 

Tracks on Grasslands

It begins with that one step. A boot
on the slenderest blade
of grass. The faintest
crunch of bright green veins
nearly invisible to your eye.

But it happens. That breaking.

It happens again and again
as you move on, forcing down
other blades of grass,
leaving your tracks,
making a path of near
silent destruction
to somewhere
you think is yours
to claim.

And when you encounter
thicker grass that dare
to keep you out,
you make them sing
with that sharpened edge.

You do this in the dark.
You do this mostly in the dark.

October 2007
-o-


The tap was left running – or “Oh, I got featured on the Ploughshares blog!”

My country of birth just had major national elections. I wasn’t there to participate, to feel all the excitement, the dread, the many and varied hopes that gushed out of people I know and many I will never meet. So it feels almost selfish that I share this bit of personal news. Someone felt my work was worthy of being read and gave me some room to express myself.

I don’t really know what to say most times when asked highly personal questions. Nichole L. Reber threw some really tough ones and I hope I didn’t sound like a tap left running until the bucket overflowed. Please visit the Ploughshares blog and maybe try to leave a message here or there if you have any feedback – complaints, curses, blessings, or whatever reaction you may have.

Mostly I really just want to thank each reader who has given my work a chance. Maraming salalamat, sa inyong lahat. Nichole, I hope I didn’t disappoint with my long-winded answers.

EDIT… In the interview a particular poem was mentioned, “Ghosts of Sweaty Air,” which was originally published in GUD Magazine. The GUD website allows you to read the first few lines. The whole poem is in my book Alien to Any Skin. If you’re interested and nice (hahaha), then leave a note here, I’ll shoot the poem to you.

HERE IS THE LINK TO THE PLOUGHSHARES BLOG

my favourite jeans cropped


Reading to an Imaginary Audience

I’ve been invited as feature poet at the Cape Town Central Library’s Poetry Circle this Saturday, 30 January 2016. They even put up an invitation on their Facebook page, which made me nervous.

Here is the LINK to the public announcement.

I told my online poetry critique group my fear of facing an audience that might not know me. Worse, what if nobody turned up? Well at least there’ll be refreshments. “More for me!!!!” (hahahaha). One kind member of the group said this:

Time for one of my favorite stories. I tell it all the time. People start nodding their heads finishing off the lines because they know it so well. But here goes anyway. I’ll probably tell it again.

It’s about Abbott and Costello, the famous comedy team. Bud Abbott cheated on his taxes and was in trouble with the IRS for owing back taxes. Lou Costello at this time was dead. So Abbott sent out a nationwide request to his loyal fans to help him out with donations. After all that trouble, he only got about 2 hundred dollars. A wise-ass reporter asked him to comment on his so-called fans donating so little. Mr. Abbott said, “It was damn nice of them.” So it’s damn nice of those 7 people or however many finally do show up.

Seriously, though. I do love reading my work out loud, particularly those that work better that way than just flat on a piece of paper. I know most people who read this little blog are not even in Cape Town – or South Africa, for that matter. So feel free to give me a shout and wish me luck. Yes, I’m nervous but I’m also very excited. I hope not to waste anyone’s time at the very least.

If you’ve ever read and like any of my poetry, it would be nice to hear which ones you think I should include for the reading. Makes the whole effort less solitary.

Thanks for accompanying me on this journey.