Category Archives: Sanaysay / Essays

The first review of WINGS OF SMOKE


Huge things are happening in my country of birth. A retired policeman has corroborated the testimony of one of the hired killers of the dreaded Davao Death Squad, saying the former mayor, now elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, created and conducted the vigilante-style group. During Duterte’s term as mayor of Davao City thousands were claimed to have been murdered or made to disappear by the DDS. Will this revelation change the course of my country of birth? One hopes for the better, as worse scenarios have been floated by various critics such as self-initiated revolution in order to force a change to federalism or even dictatorship (as Duterte’s hero, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos did in the 70s).

But the title of this post said something else! Yes, it did. My apologies. Here goes.

It is one thing an author wishes for his/her paper child – to be read. So I always thank readers who can find time to delve deeper into my work and come up with their own ideas about it.

Thank you to Marius Carlos, Jr for this review with two versions. One appears on his page. The other version appears on The FilAm.


Wings of Smoke may be ordered via my publisher’s website – – and Amazon. It will be made available in South Africa in March 2017 mainly through the author who will be reading and launching the book at various venues: at the Writing for Liberty Conference at the Centre for the Book on 28 March, at Off the Wall (A Touch of Madness Restaurant) in Observatory on 30 March and at Kalk Bay Books on 4 April. More to follow during the year.

My Middle Name is My Mother’s Surname. No, Her Father’s!

sol plaatje iii in my hands low res

I finally have in my hands my contributor’s copy of The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Volume III! Took some time due to the mysterious appearance of a black hole, but what matters is that it has arrived intact ahead of the Cape Town launch in early December.

silent wing low res

I feel lucky to be in this anthology despite sending my three poems in at the last minute. The poems, “Silent Wing,” “Human Patience,” and “Exit Music for the Disappeared,” are part of a nine-poem cycle called Endings are Beginnings which is the last section of my manuscript in progress, Sky for Silent Wings. I just wish my middle name – which is really my mother’s surname… no, wait, her father’s surname! – had not been left out altogether… well, not entirely. I see it in the biographical notes!

human patience and exit music for the disappeared low res

I’m not complaining, not at all. Just a niggle, really. 🙂

Thank you to Liesl Jobson and all the judges. Maybe next year I’ll be even luckier. Hahaha! Keep dreaming, Jim Pascual Agustin!


My country of birth is still reeling from the devastation of Haiyan/Yolanda. There is no forgetting how this tragedy has ruined so many lives. And yet human kindness and generosity shine through despite the petty politics of various parties (media, politicians, and individuals armed with keyboards). I am thankful for those who continue to help in countless ways the survivors, and all those who see beyond this catastrophe, those who seek new ways of lessening the blows of climate change. The human family can come together, I believe. This I say in a world where often there seems so little to believe in, to hope for. Yet we continue to surprise one another. We are never alone.



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It has been a while since I wrote anything here. Too many things have happened, not all of them I can really share with anyone else. Self-censorship is a version of hell – worse because it is your own thoughts that you imprison before anyone else has heard/read/seen them. You stop yourself from expressing what needs to run out the door to find its own path, its own world that might or might not welcome it.

As far as I know there are no birds, even flightless ones, who pluck out their own feathers. Tragic characters in old narratives pluck out their eyes.

Not long ago I wrote a short poem whose title was longer than the body. Not a lot of journals or magazines accept short poetry (or Haiku, or whatever this particular beast might be called). And this rambling post was not meant to be an introduction for the piece. I just remembered it. The same way things that have no connection to what I am busy with suddenly enter my thoughts – like when I was mowing the lawn earlier I suddenly realized I hadn’t written birthday poems for our twins. They are now ten and I owe them at least a poem for each year that has passed. The next thought was “Maybe I can write the poems backwards.” Who knows that that means? The lawnmower blade got stuck with thick grass and I had to deal with it. The thought passed.


The poem has two versions, so I shall post them both here.


I Took a Walk and Came Home a Stranger in the Dark

cold night, hum of stars
my feet stick out the blanket
soon enough, sunrise


cold night, hum of stars
blanket’s too short for my feet
soon enough, sunrise


Like a Stranger, April

I write to a friend whom I will never see in person, someone I’ve only met online. We are words and images flickering on a monitor, transmitting thoughts. It is an odd feeling knowing someone this way. Strangers who, in another time, would have walked past each other perhaps on a busy street or in the caverns of an airport. More likely we would never have met at all, submitting to the reality of living on either side of the world, sunrise and sunset forever chasing each other.

I tell this friend I am going back home. Home where my umbilical cord was cut. Where my feet first touched soil warm with the struggle of sun and rain, on land close to the band of heat that whips the planet. This friend has only known life in four seasons. Looking up to the heavens at night gives us some comfort – we become equally small and bound by the earth’s pull, beckoned by stars.

I tell my friend my worries. Time having pushed all family and friends to trajectories away from mine, we will be more like strangers than we dare admit. It will be like rebuilding a house on another plot of land – the same rooms perhaps, but not the same views out the door and windows. No, that’s not quite right. It will be more like a tent than a house. Sharing a temporary space, forced in a squeeze of time. We will be taking fragments from the past and try to make them fit some picture neither of us will fully recognize.

All will be over in less than three weeks. And I will step into a plane that will take me back to being a stranger to everyone. Again.

It is the reverse of homesickness.


The Chagos Islanders and the War on Democracy

I posted a poem some time ago, “Rounding Up the Dogs of the Children Who Died of Sadness,” but a recent article from John Pilger that appeared in The New Statesman made me remember it. Here’s the poem’s link –

And here is Pilger’s article link:

A snippet:

Lisette Talate died the other day. I remember a wiry, fiercely intelligent woman who masked her grief with a determination that was a presence. She was the embodiment of people’s resistance to the war on democracy. I first glimpsed her in a 1950s Colonial Office film about the Chagos Islanders, a tiny creole nation living midway between Africa and Asia in the Indian Ocean. The camera panned across thriving villages, a church, a school, a hospital, set in phenomenal natural beauty and peace. Lisette remembers the producer saying to her and her teenage friends, “Keep smiling, girls!”

Sitting in her kitchen in Mauritius many years later, she said: “I didn’t have to be told to smile. I was a happy child, because my roots were deep in the islands, my paradise. My great-grandmother was born there; I made six children there. That’s why they couldn’t legally throw us out of our own homes; they had to terrify us into leaving or force us out. At first, they tried to starve us. The food ships stopped arriving, [then] they spread rumours we would be bombed, then they turned on our dogs.”

In the early 1960s, the Labour government of Harold Wilson secretly agreed to a demand from Washington that the Chagos archipelago, a British colony, be “swept” and “sanitised” of its 2,500 inhabitants so that a military base could be built on the principal island, Diego Garcia. “They knew we were inseparable from our pets,” said Lisette. “When the American soldiers arrived to build the base, they backed their big trucks against the brick shed where we prepared the coconuts; hundreds of our dogs had been rounded up and imprisoned there. Then they gassed them through tubes from the trucks’ exhausts. You could hear them crying.”

Lisette, her family and hundreds of the other islanders were forced on to a rusting steamer bound for Mauritius, a journey of a thousand miles. They were made to sleep in the hold on a cargo of fertiliser – bird shit. The weather was rough; everyone was ill; two of the women on board miscarried.

Dumped on the docks at Port Louis, Lisette’s youngest children, Jollice and Regis, died within a week of each other. “They died of sadness,” she said. “They had heard all the talk and seen the horror of what had happened to the dogs. They knew they were leaving their home for ever. The doctor in Mauritius said he could not treat sadness.”

This act of mass kidnapping was carried out in high secrecy. In one official file, under the heading “Maintaining the Fiction”, the Foreign Office legal adviser exhorts his colleagues to cover their actions by “reclassifying” the population as “floating” and to “make up the rules as we go along”. Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court says the “deportation or forcible transfer of population” is a crime against humanity. That Britain had committed such a crime – in exchange for a $14m discount off a US Polaris nuclear submarine – was not on the agenda of a group of British “defence” correspondents flown to the Chagos by the Ministry of Defence when the US base was completed. “There is nothing in our files,” said the MoD, “about inhabitants or an evacuation.”

Today, Diego Garcia is crucial to America’s and Britain’s war on democracy. The heaviest bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan was launched from its vast airstrips, beyond which the islanders’ abandoned cemetery and church stand like archaeological ruins. The terraced garden where Lisette laughed for the camera is now a fortress housing the “bunker-busting” bombs carried by bat-shaped B-2 aircraft to targets on two continents; an attack on Iran will start here. As if to complete the emblem of rampant, criminal power, the CIA added a Guantanamo-style prison for its “rendition” victims and called it Camp Justice.


Vampires that do not Fear the Light

Read two articles from the Mail & Guardian online that should scare all those who think international law can protect sovereign countries and their population from a special breed of Vampires.


Mbeki: We should learn from Libya’s experiences

Recent events in Libya should raise alarm bells about the threat to Africa’s hard won right to self-determination, former president Thabo Mbeki said on Saturday.

Addressing the Law Society of the Northern Provinces in Sun City, Mbeki said it “seemed obvious” that a few powerful countries were seeking to use the council to pursue their selfish interests.

They were also determined to behave according to the principle and practice that “might is right” and to sideline the principle of self-determination.

“I must state this categorically that those who have sought to manufacture a particular outcome out of the conflict in Libya have propagated a poisonous canard aimed at discrediting African and African Union (AU) opposition to the Libyan debacle.”

He said this was done on the basis that the AU and the rest of “us” had been “bought by Colonel Gadaffi with petro-dollars”, and felt obliged to defend his continued misrule.

He said all known means of disinformation was being bandied about, included an argument that Gadaffi’s Libya had supported the ANC during the apartheid struggle.

“The incontrovertible fact is that during this whole period, Libya did not give the ANC [African National Congress] even one cent, did not train even one of our military combatants and did not supply us with even one bullet…



West rushes to grab its Libya reward

Britain’s new defence secretary, Philip Hammon, announced that British companies should “pack their suitcases” and head to Libya to snap up lucrative reconstruction contracts.

It all sounds disturbingly familiar. Think of the American companies streaming into Iraq to aid the “reconstruction effort” after the invasion. If there was any doubt, this modus operandi may soon define what seems no more than a new form of neocolonialism in the Middle East. American, Nato (or both) armies will destroy your country under the guise of ushering in democracy, and Western companies will assume the lion’s share of contracts to build it up again.

And with Libya’s National Transitional Council having already announced it would “reward” those countries that were in its corner during the “revolution”, it’s anyone’s guess who will be the biggest of the war profiteers.

Whereas in the past Gaddafi’s Libya was only dealing with China, Russia and Italy, the playing field has now been levelled, in a manner of speaking. Though it has portrayed itself as having had only a “back-room” role in toppling Gaddafi, the United States wants to be the number-one oil buyer from Libya, to compensate for its decades of deprivation of Libyan oil. There can be no doubt that in due course we will see that the US will want a far bigger cut of Libyan oil supplies than it is currently letting on.

It will be said in the future that the end justified the means: the removal of a hated dictator who terrorised his own people for four decades. This may be so, and nobody in their right mind could endorse what the colonel did to Libya. But there are some questions to be asked about the selective morality at play here.



Please proceed to the nearest toilet to throw up.  Now pull yourself together and fight the propaganda machine of these Vampires.


Four Filipino poems of mine which I translated to English have been published in the most recent issue of Modern Poetry in Translation: The Dialect of the Tribe (Issue 3 Number 16). One of the poems, “Galing Ingglatera” / “From England,” appears in Baha-bahagdang Karupukan (UST Publishing House 2011). Two poems are from previous books. “Aso sa Tabi” / “Pet” is from Beneath an Angry Star (Anvil 1992) and “Siglo” / “Century” from Salimbayan (Publikasyong Sipat 1994) while the last one, “Ngayong Gabi” / “This Evening” has never seen print.

I am looking forward to receiving my copy of this amazing anthology in the post. Perhaps I’ve found a new audience for my work? 🙂

Here is a snippet from the issue’s editorial:

A language must evolve or die, all its speakers may contribute to its life. And every speaking voice of a language is unique, every person’s speech is an ideolect, every poet’s language is as distinguishable as his or her DNA. Translating a poem, you mix your own voice with the poet’s. Thus doubly flighted, poems pass over the frontiers like seeds.

A Fragile World – Philippine Daily Inquirer review of BAHA-BAHAGDANG KARUPUKAN

A Fragile World, a review of Jim Pascual Agustin’s Baha-bahagdang Karupukan
by Gary Devilles, 26 September 2011 Philippine Daily Inquirer

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard believes that true existence is achieved only by reckoning with one’s intensity of feelings and in Jim Pascual Agustin’s latest collection of poetry in Filipino, Baha-bahagdang Karupukan, not only do we encounter such forceful emotions, but we see an intimation of this sustained struggle to transcend oneself, where the infinite merges with the finite and the universe is incarnated within.

The poem “Kristal na Holen” which serves as the book’s prologue demonstrates how such transcendence is achieved by comprehending one’s limited sense experience and through which one is able to grasp, albeit partly, this otherworldly moment. In the poem we see our world refracted from the prism of the play marbles and despite the violence of smashing the marble on the floor we are summoned to listen to a reverberation which can only be a pulse or heartbeat and yet as archaic as man’s existence in this world. The poem ends with these haunting lines:

May ningning. At ngayon may mga
nakatingin. Ginagagap ang anino ng anino,
alingawngaw ng alingawngaw. May awit daw.  

There’s a glittering. And now there are
people looking. Trying to grasp the shadow of a shadow,
echo of an echo. Apparently, a song.

The marble is not just a plaything after all, it is the world as seen from a child’s point of view and in this poem our fragmented world becomes suffused with songs and possibilities, experiences are intensified as colors break in thousand hues. Agustin uses the child’s innocence motifs in most of his works not just to be romantic but to elucidate on how we stand in relation to the cosmos, on how we are somehow ironically childlike, quite helpless and still struggling to find some answers.

In “Bagyo,” we find similar theme of naiveté, the children’s victimization, and the attempt to transcend the moment into a perspective. We find the force of nature sparing no one and the children in school, not knowing what is going on, become helpless against the storm ruining their classroom. The final image of an ajar door clinched the precise sentiment and becomes the objective correlative of the tremble and fear we feel in the poem:

ng putik ang mga eskinita
papalapit sa aming
pintuang napanganga

rushing mud
takes over side streets
slithers and hisses
closer to our
gaping door

Agustin as an impassioned poet able to conjure these passionate everyday scenes, is quite adept in handling images and he is also successful in “Kapiling ang Gagambang Agiw,” where the world of the child is likened to the world of spiders. As the children play hide and seek, the spider tries to conceal itself by its meticulous weaving of web and in the end what is seemingly an innocent play or game becomes an artifice, an intricate design, and the art of discovery and the mystery of revelation.

Other than transcending the world of the child, Agustin invokes a transcendence of space. In “Hawla sa Magdamag” we see the persona imprisoned temporarily by his dreams and yet the boundary between the waking world and the unconscious is reedy and whatever dream images are summoned can only come from dread reality:

maalimpungatan ako
sa kaluskos ng kumakaripas na ipis
at pukpukan ng mga sapaterong kapitbahay
…Matigas ang unan
manipis ang kumot,
hindi mapinid ang bintana
…manipis na dingding

the sounds of a cockroah
scuttling away
and the hammering
of shoemakers next door
rouse me from slumber
…the pillow is stiff,
the blanket thin,
the window is stuck open
…the wall flimsy

Agustin as a poet of space articulates the alienation of being in another country. In “Kalawakang Binabagtas” we see how the persona, distraught by separation with his loved one, is lost by the different time zones of countries and yet it is precisely this difference in time and space that the persona attempts to reconcile by recognizing not just hours, but memorable years that have spanned between him and the loved ones he left behind. Agustin has always a sense of scale and what is seemingly small and insignificant takes on a magnitude and the overwhelming scene is dwarfed into a perspective. In “Balita” we see how Agustin crafted “nationness” or the persona’s sense of nationhood within five lines of news report and use these very lines to invoke the overpowering image of devastation that happened in his country. Irony is quite strong in Agustin’s poems and in “Dayuhan,” we see a more assertive persona who claims his private space as his birthright, believing that nature knows no race or country:

At maglalakad ako sa dalampasigan
dadamhin ang sagpang
ng init at lamig.
Sapagkat walang hindi niyayakap
ang araw, ang dagat.

And I shall walk to the shore
feel the stinging
heat and freezing water.
Because the sun and the sea
never hold back their embrace.

And sometimes even myopia or bigotry is something that persona admits happen in all places even in his own homeland as hinted by the poem “Sa Tuwing May Sisitsit sa Akin.” Agustin’s Baha-bahagdang Karupukan is a testament on how our everyday lives prevent us from seeing our true selves, where we experience ourselves as commodities, replaceable and dispensable. However, Agustin’s poetry always alludes to certain possibilities as we encounter pain and suffering, orientating us towards the future. Our world may be fragile and there would be levels of fragility, but in Jim Pascual Agustin’s collection of poetry, underneath or in between these levels of fragility is a space of the real and authentic.

Bavarian Bovine Prisonbreak

I’ve been skipping watching the news on TV for the recent while.  It gets depressing to see the same players playing the same games. Showing off new improved versions of toys of destruction – drone planes expo in Washington anyone? – or the barely modified economic/policing ploys to break the legs of street unrest (duh, mixed metaphors?).  Sorry, coffee hasn’t kicked in.

Then last night, tuned in to Aljazeera, I literally fell off my chair with a news item straight out of THE FAR SIDE.

Here’s a snippet from an online source:


A “cow whisperer,” helicopters and infrared cameras: no effort is being spared to find Austrian runaway cow Yvonne, who escaped slaughter in May to seek refuge in a Bavarian forest.

The cow has become a media star in Germany and Austria, having evaded capture for almost three months, with Germany’s leading newspaper, Bild, putting up a 10,000 euro ($13,892) reward for her capture earlier this week.

But an Austrian animal sanctuary, which has offered to buy Yvonne to spare her another traumatic trip to the slaughterhouse, is resorting to more unusual means to find the timid animal.

A “cow whisperer” has been communicating with Yvonne every day by telepathy, Britta Freitag from the Aiderbichl sanctuary near Salzburg told the Austria Press Agency overnight.


Some folks need to see the continent where I currently live. We have signs on the highway: BEWARE – COWS CROSSING.  Europe is so behind. (hysterical laughter unleashed once again)

I started a poem cycle about this, can’t share any until I wipe my tears dry.

not quite fiction, not quite poem, not quite anything more than a ramble?


seagulls glide between buildings and the mountain. rushing wind and the sea on the other side. around here it is always the mountain, a fallen mountain, that decides where things are. the clouds must move over it, around it, smash itself into the finest shreds of rain, turn almost into frozen air, and then desperately try to recollect itself like seafoam on sand. roads are sloped. one can never walk totally upright. cars must take sharper bends, closer to the edge of accidents. there is something humorous about this whole thing, something bitter and funny, not far from laughing at the unresponding dead about to be robbed by family and friends.

there’s a set of crooked teethmarks on the back of my train seat, where my right shoulder touches the leather as the cars jolt back to a start. although the train is packed, no one decides to sit next to me. perhaps they’re scared of the marks.

i look down on the bag beside me. its blackness has been mine for the past three months. someone else’s before that. someone long gone. as if crawling towards it in a sharp S is a vicious knifecut on the leather that’s been stitched up. caterpillars come to mind. poisonous centipedes. i am sitting next to death and no one wants to sit next to me.

someone two rows ahead has opened a packet of steak pie. the fine crackle of pastry and the stench of cheap meat. it is hard to think of anything else but that person’s hunger. i feel like walking towards whoever it is and throwing up to refill his packet.

the train pulls up to my station before i could force a burp.

i shouldn’t be writing to you in this state. something is about to burst and i wish it were somewhere else. somewhere far away with a name so foreign i couldn’t even pronounce it. but no. it is right here.

feet, i have grown to believe, have their own mind. they take over when your body goes restless. they take you through the motions of the day, right to the very end, without you noticing the scenes around you change. the pavement becomes a pale river. and you drift seeing grey. only grey.

my apartment door is open. three locks forced open. three locks. five if i had been inside when it had happened. i know this sequence now, too well. no need to worry. just routine. like flushing the toilet.

make as much noise as possible before you step in. give them enough time to run away in case they’re still rummaging inside. wait a few seconds. listen. if nothing stirs, proceed to your unfriendly neighbour’s door. they haven’t had a break in for five years, ever since they installed an armed response alarm service. and they’re used to you. try to be calm, at least for their sake. they could be having early supper. ask if you could use their phone. they should know this procedure by now once they step outside and see your door.

the cops rush in, like in the movies. kicking doors with their guns cocked. but it is too late, as always.

my things have gone – the ones the burglars thought were worth their trouble. clothes, shoes, pieces of handed down jewellery, some music. anything of some value has gone out my own door without me. for weeks i won’t really know which item has left me forever. only when i think of wearing an old shirt, or a funny hat, or a pair of socks with a floral pattern, at a time when i had almost forgotten about this incident, will it strike me. like someone behind a door in a dark room. that is the painful side of being broken in.

i know this now. and yet it is not this incident repeated more than a dozen times over the years that is bothering me.


not quite fiction, not quite poem, not quite anything more than a ramble? one of those surviving bits of writing i have been tempted to SELECT AND DELETE but never could.