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
takes over side streets
slithers and hisses
closer to our
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:
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
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.