Category Archives: Imperialism

“Like a Log” on SoundCloud to mark UN Refugee Day

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I am bothered by news from back home. Internal displacement in Mindanao due to the fighting between government forces and the Maute group comes to mind. Disturbing news of the growing number of dead from the fighting as well as in the dire situation at refugee centers.

And then, of course, there is the ever-increasing number of people fleeing their own countries in desperation due to war. They try to cross treacherous seas, and, even if they survive, they are rarely met with open arms. They face borders.

Borders, before they become fences and walls, are imagined. Applied to people, they can easily be turned into tools of abuse, tools of turning one human being against another, tools of forgetting what happens when those armed and more powerful impose their will on the vulnerable.

Listening to the radio this morning, I learned it was Refugee Day.

I have never been a refugee. I’m an immigrant by choice – by luck. Even as all of us can be struck with a longing for our place of birth, the place where we took our first breath, tasted water, touched mud, got blinded by dust on a hot day, we can only imagine the struggles of refugees.

I’m sharing my poem, “Like a Log,” which first appeared in The Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology VI. I’ve also posted a voice recording on SoundCloud. The link is HERE.

 

Like a Log

 

“I’m not going to tell you another story,
my boy. You laugh too loud,” grandfather said
as I begged. His voice sounded
like it was coming from the village well

before it was blasted. The stories he told
came from a time when the sky
was not yet something to be feared.
His eyes, clouded with cataract,
only saw white shadows.

But he could sense when someone
was stirring awake. He began to fade
into the damp wood. I whispered to him,
“I am afraid of the dark and the sound
of water splashing against the sides

of the boat.” Grandfather held
my small hands and then patted
the tied up bundle mother left me
before they threw her overboard.

-o-

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Mr. F. Sionil Jose, how does kissing the barrel of a gun make a country happy?

People often have a misconception about progress, about moving on, about how today and tomorrow will always be better than the already receding past. This misconception sometimes comes hand in hand when a leadership is replaced by what appears to be a far better one, one that proclaims a new order. When there is disillusionment toward the past, the future always seems brighter and brimming with hope. There is an accompanying euphoria, a deafening celebration even, as nearly everyone is overcome by a singular energy emanating from an apparently bold new power.
In the case of the recent Philippine elections, facts show that the new leader was not actually swept into power by a majority vote. A much bigger voting population did not choose him, which partly reflects a fault in the electoral system that may need tweaking. For the record, it must be recognized that Mr. Duterte’s presidency was not an outright landslide victory as is often parroted by foreign media correspondents.
Mr. F. Sionil Jose, you welcomed and bestowed such glowing praises to this new order. I cannot help but disagree with you. Allow me to say this outright: your metaphors may be simple and clear, but none of them can ever bring back the lives of those who have been killed and will continue to be murdered under Duterte’s watch. Not a single one. But they don’t matter, do they? Not in your view that fits nicely in the pocket of the new power who, on each and every occasion, has said human rights do not matter and that they are a hindrance to progress.
You cheered when Duterte criticized (as if he were the first to do so) the Catholic Church – an institution that arguably has many faults as well as merits, which its own followers and long-time critics know well enough. His first outbursts made mythical were but toilet-related.
You called him an Indio or a commoner (because of his looks perhaps, or his way of speaking?), yet he is among the elite – bank accounts, if ever they are revealed, or funding during his campaign should clarify that. His reign in Davao City, infamous for the death squads of recent memory, is now securely extended in the hands of his children. Do tell us, Mr. F. Sionil Jose, what this amounts to.
Your statement on the country’s free media completely disregards the fact that the Philippines remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Surely any PEN member would know this. Those who fear exposure begin by branding the media as irresponsible and arrogant. Then they find other excuses such as allegations of being linked to some illegal activity. Not far down the line, the dark barrel of a gun.
The phrase “collateral damage” was coined by the CIA, as I’m pretty sure you are familiar with. It is nothing more than a lame excuse for murder that may as well sound like this: “We did not mean to kill the innocent, they were just caught in the crossfire. Sorry, sort of. Thank you for your understanding, your sacrifice.” Say that to the family of a victim and see how they react, I dare you. I’ll deliver you right to their doorstep.
That word, sacrifice, you invoked more than once, like a prayer. True sacrifice involves choosing to perform something that would normally be resisted. It involves giving up one’s own freedom in a way, with a complete understanding of the weight of that decision. But your idea of sacrifice here brings to mind a master telling its slave to choose either to be thrown into the fiery chasm of a volcano or to be fed to a wild beast.
There are far too many disturbing points in your article, but all of them boil down to what you said in your opening paragraph. You seem to have missed the very core of EDSA 1986, that momentous time in our country. The whole world was astounded when Filipinos from all levels of society – your belittled poor and the “privileged” and everyone else in between – came together and silenced the destructive power of guns. People knew the fragility of flesh yet they faced the brutality of the regime, believing their actions will awaken the inherent sense of humanity among the armed soldiers. Do you understand the true force in that?
Mr. F. Sionil Jose, you tried to justify surrendering human rights as part of the sacrifice that must be made so that a promised better way of life should come to fruition. I guess you mean only for the survivors, as the victims are of little value. The greater good, the bigger picture, that promise which, in Duterte’s twisted logic and in your claimed revolution, means bloodshed rising like a storm surge.
Although there are many hopeful plans by the Duterte government, these are in deep conflict with the essence of nation building which treasures each and every citizen, including those who may seem to be a lost cause. In passing, you mentioned the case of Venezuela as a warning without recognizing how the people of that country continue to fend off the imperialist moves of your benefactors. It may do you some good to read other views of what has happened in that country.
Our very constitution states in many ways: each human life is precious and must be respected.
Human rights, Mr. F. Sionil Jose, cannot be set aside in this country of ours precisely because of its experience with dictatorship. Martial Law was a time when those who knew how to please certain masters were certain to benefit, while those who showed the slightest opposition due to their moral convictions were dealt with in various and devious ways. The violations began with so-called evils of society – the alleged criminals or drug lords – then moved on to student activists, the free media, then anyone else perceived to be opposed to the regime, or, for that matter, anyone who fell on the wrong side of a petty official or his goons. Investigations were rare, if at all. Everything and everyone was swept under the carpet. It was the New Society. Remember?
Similar events are taking place in this country. You do not just condone these, you sit up and applaud as people are silenced forever. It is so close to Martial Law, what with all the dead bodies turning up, except for two main differences: the dead are left to be seen and those who elected Mr Duterte (and horrifyingly even those who did not) see progress.
You and Mr Duterte, along with numerous others who these days clamor for more blood, need to read, at the very least, the UN Declaration on Human Rights. If it is too difficult to comprehend properly, I am sure there are individuals who would sacrifice their time to enlighten you.
The barrel of a gun seeks to plant fear in everyone’s minds. Not reason, not communication, not healing, not understanding, and definitely not the building of a nation. Every person becomes a possible target, at the mercy of the most petty killer.
This president sees no value in human rights. His response has repeatedly been “I really don’t care.” Where do we turn when we hear the howling of a hollow heart?
Being human means more than having gleaming new bridges of steel connecting islands, or a network of train lines that covers cities and provinces, or orderly streets swept clear of informal vendors, or emergency numbers for those in need of immediate assistance, or even silence in the dead of night.
Mr F. Sionil Jose, as one writer to another, we know we all seek to write imagined lives as if they were real to us. If we cannot believe them, their possibility of existence, then how can we convince a single reader? In order to achieve this, we seek the heart of a character, the world s/he sees, the voice of one that might be. We may even be thought of as mad as we laugh or grieve with them, as if they were real. I shouldn’t have to tell you to imagine what real people are beyond the page, yet I feel I need to after reading your article where you’ve discarded with a sense of humanity.
Being human means trying your very best to see each person as possessing the same rights you hold dear. It means looking at the details of a life with value, a life as if your own. To be human is to see the frailty as well as the possibility in each person that should never be so quickly extinguished and disregarded, silenced by a bullet and a sign on a piece of cardboard.
This one man’s order that brands anyone (for whatever reason) as unwelcome in the new order, and thus deserving a swift end, is a violation of this right, this life.
With each bullet, each drop of blood, monsters come to life, painted with the crudest brush. Let us not be led back to the days of scrawling on caves.
-o-

 

PLEASE CONSIDER READING AND SIGNING THIS PETITION

PHOTO THAT GAVE THE KILLINGS A HUMAN FACE


Hooks, Boundaries, Feathers

This post will only be up for the last weekend of January 2016. Congratulations if you managed to read it. The poems are what I intend to read at the Central Library in Cape Town to as yet an unknown number of people (perhaps just the librarian and myself!). If you like any of the poems at all, it would be nice to get some feedback. The reading is at 2pm South African time.

Thanks to all my friends who are in various parts of the world and cannot attend.

 

UPDATE. 4 February 2016.

I’ve deleted the file. But for those who missed the reading or would like to read the said poems, you may contact me here and I’ll gladly share with you.

Thanks to all those who made the effort to listen to my poetry. I had fun and met some new friends. I’m not gonna lie, I like reading to an audience. Something I really miss since I moved to South Africa. It doesn’t matter whether it is at a formal venue or just with a group of friends. I remember those crazy days back at university with people I may not always agree with but who were nonetheless open to hearing what I had to say. Then years later at various poetry reading venues – small smokey pubs, or at launches and some academic gathering. Or a handful of friends who manage to find time despite work commitments.

I guess I can come out of my shell and look around here where I am now. Making new connections is never easy, but that’s the only way one keeps growing.

Hmmm. I’m not drunk. Just blabbering like I had a few bottles. Sleep deprivation does pretty much the same thing to me. 🙂

 

 


New Blog on Asian Literature

I was pleasantly surprised when I found my name mentioned in an interesting new blog on Asian Literature. Please visit Nichole L. Reber’s blog on Ploughshares. HERE is the link to the first entry.

Although I now live in South Africa, my country of birth (family, friends, the landscape, whatever else that allowed me to be aware of the ground beneath my feet and the air I breathe for the first time) remains part of me and will somehow reside in me for the rest of my life.

 


Commemorating the 2015 Day of the Imprisoned Writer

I have been invited by PEN SA to read on 16 November 2015 at Kalk Bay Books to commemorate the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. Here is a LINK to the PEN SA website regarding the event. I’m thinking of reading some poems from ALIEN TO ANY SKIN and perhaps a new work, if things fall into place.

If you are anywhere in Cape Town on that day, please do join us.

Copy of fist heart


The Poem version of “Mass Murderer on World Tour”

from wikimedia modified

Yesterday I shared a news article on a former world leader. I didn’t know I’d end up with a poem of the same title. Well I’ve put up the first draft for critique on one of the websites I sometimes visit. You can read it and comment while it’s up HERE.

I appreciate each and every feedback. You may not agree with my work and I certainly don’t want you to just accept what I say. Goes both ways, this thing called respect.

Thank you.

The original image (which I then fiddled with) is from wikimedia.


Israeli Soldiers Use Palestinian Civilians as Human Shields

The lies that the IDF and the Israeli propaganda machinery try desperately to force-feed to major media outlets can only be countered by the accounts of their victims.

Watch THIS VIDEO.