Category Archives: poetry

Duterte’s dead

httpss.yimg.comnyapires1.2S30Kp_tWv.YqcaDoYQR8dg--YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjtzbT0xO3c9NDUwO2g9Mjc3O2lsPXBsYW Tony Perez photo of chick on top of coffin 17426098_1307916249295099_709865950848

photo by Erik de Castro found on Yahoo News

Duterte’s dead

are squirming with worms
that take the place
of forensic investigators.

They seek the shortest
and most efficient way
of exposing bone.

To those unacquainted
with the language
of final repose,

the worms render
each body
nearly identical.

Duterte’s dead
have lost the need
for food and water,

for the rare solace
of undisturbed moments
at the toilet.

Hope leaves no trace
in their hollowed skulls.
Only the living carry

that weight as they navigate
the mute streets, the dark
alleys, the witnesses

to the carnage.
Is there really
no memory in heaven?

-o-

The world seems to be on a tailspin – so-called leaders are intent on taking entire countries into variations of hell on earth. In my country of birth, it has been reported that over 8,000 people have been killed under the reign of President Rodrigo Duterte. Among the victims are children, innocent bystanders, and relatives who could not point to the whereabouts of a supposed target.

I entered this poem in the current Goodreads.com poetry competition. I don’t know if the good judges will choose it as a finalist, but I just wanted to put it out for as many readers as possible.

In the Philippines, there is a practice of not wiping the tears that fall on the coffin. It is also believed that if one places a young chick on the glass of the coffin with some seeds to peck at, those responsible for the death will never find peace.

The photo is credited to Erik de Castro, image found on Yahoo News.


PROMOTIONAL SAMPLER selected poems from Wings of Smoke

PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL for Wings of SmokeDSCF8849

Please send me a request if you wish to read this sampler.

Wings of Smoke is available worldwide through The Onslaught Press website, on Amazon and, for South African readers, through me (leave a message here).

I also put up an audio recording of the set on Soundcloud.com.


Using what’s free to fight what’s wrong

protea going dry

I posted on Soundcloud.com audio recordings of both the original Filipino and English translation of my poem “Danica Mae” which won the Gabo Prize from Lunch Ticket. The texts were published here on Matangmanok as well as on Lunch Ticket.

I’m using Soundcloud as I have over 160 minutes of free time to fill. I thought I might as well use it as another platform to spread not just my poetry but to also express my disgust at the continuing murderous war on drugs policy of the Duterte regime in my country of birth.

I can’t say “Enjoy it!” as that is not the intention. Be bothered would be more apt.


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-

silly-photos-of-jim-082-adjusted


“The Breath of Sparrows” on Soundcloud

sparrow-from-wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

I have many fathers. One who gave me flesh and bone, a few who guided my first steps in the world of words, some who don’t even know I exist, and then many now no more than dust. I shall not name them here. There is no need.

In that vein I wrote “The Breath of Sparrows” years ago and posted its early version here on matangmanok. It now finds a final version in print form in my forthcoming book, Wings of Smoke (The Onslaught Press, UK, 2017).

I did a rough audio recording of it. Please click this LINK TO SOUNDCLOUD to listen to the final version of “The Breath of Sparrows.”

Tell me what you think, if you have the time or inclination.


Of Pregnancy and Paper Children

I have the utmost respect for mothers. It is no small effort to carry a life that is slowly growing inside you, turning your body into a vessel that seems less and less your own. Imagine bearing two or more!
My wife didn’t have the easiest time when she was carrying our twins. Likely only the mothers of twins or multiples will ever have a true idea of how it was for her. All I could do then was try to be around whenever she needed any assistance, especially in the last few months of the pregnancy. I’ll spare you the details of those days for now.
Here’s a poem I wrote way back, not to make light of the whole ordeal, I hope. The poem appeared in my book Alien to Any Skin (UST Publishing House, 2011) – a book I wish more readers would seek as it contains what I feel is a substantial body of work.

Pregnant Moon Reflection

I watched the moon lift herself,
a woman ripe
with twins.

Brimming with awesome fullness,
she heaved her burden of light
over the eastern mountains,
past sandstone peaks,
cubist dream of broken rocks,
deserted cities of the future.

Up she pushed herself
until the blue darkness
surrendered his realm.

The stars felt faint,
their grandeur diminished.

A hush fell upon the heavens
reminiscent
of my wife’s visit
to the clinic.

     January 2009
-o-

wings-of-smoke-cover-jpg

I call my books paper children. The struggle to bring each one to life is not at all like carrying a real child.
A paper child is bound to be put out for adoption once born. Yet I feel something similar to a parent who is forced to surrender a child for whatever reason.
What I let go will have to wind its own way without looking back. It has to find its own home. Otherwise it will be forever lost, perhaps shredded beyond remembrance by cruel time.
Who will adopt this new one?
My UK publisher, The Onslaught Press, posted an initial announcement regarding the worldwide release of Wings of Smoke. CLICK THIS LINK to the page on their website where you can place your order come 1 February 2017.
Two other fantastic titles will be released – Hold Your Breath by Waqas Khwaja (Pakistan-United States) and long days of rain by Janak Sapkota (Nepal).
Friends in South Africa will have to wait just a little longer – 1 March 2017 – to be able to order the book through me. I’ll see if an arrangement can be made with accommodating local book dealers.

Here is the Goodreads.com link to WINGS OF SMOKE.

Aside from The Onslaught Press website, the book will also be made available through Amazon.


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.