Tag Archives: memory

I’m Being Petty, but it makes me happy! (TRANSITIONS Table of Contents)


I laugh at the drop of a hat. Or a hat staying on someone’s head when it should’ve been blown away by the wind. Or just a hat with or without a cat. Or the absence of a hat that used to make me laugh – well, a sad laugh then.
So this makes me ecstatic – seeing my name in the table of contents of Modern Poetry in Translation‘s latest issue, the last one to be edited by David and Helen Constantine, and the first one with incoming editor Sasha Dugdale.
I grabbed this image off the MPT website, so sorry for the low resolution. If you are able to buy a copy of the issue, please do. If you work for or are in touch with libraries – in the Philippines or wherever in the world – please request the staff to subscribe to MODERN POETRY IN TRANSLATION. It is an amazing publication. A bridge of words, ideas and worlds across time.
This is probably not my last post regarding Transitions. Wait til I get my copy from the post! 🙂


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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


Another poem from ALIEN TO ANY SKIN gets published!

One of my poems with a very long title that’s a dig and a stab after the initial tickle (or so I hope), has been published on the The Philippines Free Press website. I posted the news on my book blog for Alien to Any Skin.

I did a quick search on the event the poem tackles and found this:

Toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein

Toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein was a staged event, by U.S. soldiers, for the media. A Reuters long-shot of Firdos Square where the statue was located (see below) shows that the Square was nearly empty when Saddam was torn down. The Square was sealed off by the U.S. military. The 200 people milling about were U.S. Marines, international press and Iraqis. However, the media portrayed it as an event of the Iraqi people.


An American military vehicle actually pulled down the statue. Marine Corporal Ed Chin, who temporarily placed a U.S. flag over Saddam’s face, became an instant media celebrity. His sister, Connie, appeared on the “Today” show and spoke with her brother via a video hook-up.

Military Admits Statue Toppling was a Psyops Stunt

On Point, a US army report on lessons learned from the war, notes that it was a Marine colonel, not Iraqi civilians, who decided to topple the statue. “We moved our [tactical PSYOP team] TPT vehicle forward and started to run around seeing what they needed us to do to facilitate their mission,” states a U.S. military officer involved in the operation. “There was a large media circus at this location (I guess the Palestine Hotel was a media center at the time), almost as many reporters as there were Iraqis, as the hotel was right adjacent to the Al-Firdos Square. The Marine Corps colonel in the area saw the Saddam statue as a target of opportunity and decided that the statue must come down.” The pyschological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, packed the scene with Iraqi children, and stepped in to readjust the props when one of the soldiers draped an American flag over the statue. “God bless them, but we were thinking from PSYOP school that this was just bad news,” the officer reported. “We didn’t want to look like an occupation force, and some of the Iraqis were saying, ‘No, we want an Iraqi flag!’ So I said ‘No problem, somebody get me an Iraqi flag.’ “



“Going Retro: The Victorious Army of Gobbledygooks Penetrates the City” was written in December 2008.

Suddenly, Memory

Detail from the music video for Bjork's "Unravel"

From the music video of Bjork's "Unravel" directed by Lynn Fox

My cellphone went wild this morning – sounded like a maimed animal trapped in a dark cave.  It was the alarm for a reminder I had set over a year ago, around the time I visited my family back home after the Ondoy floods.  Today is the birthday of my youngest sister’s first son.  I tried to phone them to greet him, but the line was bad probably because of the super typhoon that had just wreaked havoc in the region.  I wanted to share with them some good news, but had to hang up.

Today also marks the day I took my first international flight in 1994.  I thought the flight was going to be cancelled because, just as now, a powerful typhoon had just dragged its vicious winds and heavy rains across the country.  I went to my old university that morning, hoping to bid farewell to any unfortunate being I might bump into.  Classes had been called off.  It was mostly working staff who were there picking up huge branches of trees strewn across the campus roads, shaking their heads at uprooted trees that were older than them.  Roots pointed to the brewing clouds.

I didn’t know I, too, was being uprooted that day.  I didn’t say goodbye to friends properly.  My best friend drove me to the airport doors, he wasn’t even allowed in.  I pretended not to be afraid.

A few hours after takeoff the plane caught up with the departing typhoon, so the shrimp dinner that was hastily served by rattled flight attendants said Hi to me a second time.  Singapore Airport was cold and mostly empty after midnight when the plane landed.  In transit for over four hours, dreading the longer haul, I stupidly spent sitting not that far from huddled countrymen who were on their way to hard labour in unwelcoming kingdoms.

I did not know how fortunate I was.  Or what really awaited me that October 1994.  South Africa was a country in the midst of transforming itself and I was merely an alien, just as uncertain of what lay ahead.

Today I also received word from the director of the publishing house back home which recently accepted my two manuscripts.  She sent me snippets of what the reviewers had said about my poetry collection in English.  I was overwhelmed.  I couldn’t believe what they thought of my work.

Then at the same time I felt like I was on my own.  That very moment I truly was.  It would be an hour before I was to see my wife and share with her the good news.  And the only friends I managed to get hold of were online ones — one in Phoenix, Arizona, and the other in central Cape Town.

Somehow all those years in between came rushing back.  Suddenly, memory.


Blind Girl Running

There’s a question of motive when a group of university students go to visit a primary school for the blind in a far from wealthy area. Or make that any type of visit by a privileged group to a much less privileged one. Who is it really for?  Is it possible to make a real connection in the span of an hour?

This was many years ago, when our young minds were full of hope and a sense of purpose – we were going to change the world. How was not really clear, nor did it matter that much then.

We arrived early. The school seemed deserted.  And I could be wrong, but I remember hail coming down, round as the eyes of frozen fish. The iron roofs rattled like gunfire.  The gray concrete suddenly glistening.  A few minutes later the tropical heat melted away all traces of those cold fish eyes.

The school bell rang.  The sound of children laughing as they ran came rushing.  We were standing next to the glass door of the school offices.  And I thought then, what an odd thing to have in a school for the blind, glass doors.  With that thought I instantly grew worried as I saw the children who could not see approach us running – yes, running like ordinary children!

The girl who was leading came to a sudden stop just as she was about to reach the glass door. She turned toward us, knowing there were strangers around her. She tried to give a smile, but it had a startled look, like a gasp of fear being stifled. She didn’t say anything.  She just stood there, frozen, until one of the administrators came to introduce us to all of them.

The rest of that day I can no longer recall.  Just that, a blind girl running then coming to a stop.

If You Look Closer You Just Might See

Took this shot of the new moon tonight – yes it is there if you look closely. Thought it was time to get back to sharing some images of the good world.  Sometimes it is worth remembering nights like this, even as darkness grows.

Ang Pisi ng Saranggola

kite string 2 sepia

Sa haba ng panahong lumipas hindi ko na alam kung sinimulan ko nang habian ng imahinasyon ang gunita.  Ako na lamang ang mag-isang nakakaalala ng hapong iyon.  Noong may kabataan pa ako, siguro mga labindalawang taong gulang, may binuo kaming saranggola ni Daddy.  Kapwa naming pinalipad at pinanood ang pagpapaalagwa nito sa langit.

Malaon nang ginutay ng panahon ang kalansay at balat ng saranggolang iyon.  Ngunit noong naglilinis ako ng mga putikang aparador isang lingo makalipas ang baha sa Marikina, natagpuan ko ang pisi na nakapalibot sa dalawang piraso ng popsicle sticks.  Hindi ko alam kung bakit nakahalo and pisi sa aparador ng mga gamit ng tatay kong ilang taon nang yumao.

Noong Pebrero 2008 may nasulat akong tula sa Ingles.  “Paper Skin, Bone of Bamboo” ang pamagat.    Hindi ko alam kung maisasalin ko ito sa Filipino isang araw.  At dahil nga ako na lamang ang mag-isang gumugunita at nagtala nitong alaala, may duda akong ganitung-ganito nga ang naganap.  Hinabian ko na malamang ng imahinasyon.


In time, imagination sometimes weaves into memory. Now only I can remember a particular afternoon.  I was only about twelve then.  My father and I put together a kite.  We flew it together, allowing sky and wind to toss it about.

Time has long since gutted that kite.  But while I was cleaning one of the muddied closets back home a week after the flood in Marikina, I found a string spun around two popsicle sticks.  It was the kite string; I don’t know how and why it was tossed in with the few belongings of my father who had years ago passed away.

In February 2008 I wrote a poem (or at least an attempt at one) in English, “Paper Skin, Bone of Bamboo.”  I don’t know if I will be able to translate it in Filipino one day.  And because I am the only one who remembers and has tried to record the events of that day, I have doubts that this indeed is how it was.  It is more than likely that imagination has been woven into that memory.

I sent the poem to a few publishers, hoping one of them would deem it worthy of seeing print.  A version (aversion?) of the poem can be found at a discussion site I now seldom visit, for reasons you might discover if you search around the net.

Update… many years later.

The poem Paper Skin, Bone of Bamboo may now be found at Goodreads.com where it was a finalist for the monthly poetry competition.

Ang pisi ng saranggola

Sa haba ng panahong lumipas hindi ko na alam kung sinimulan ko nang habian ng imahinasyon ang gunita.  Ako na lamang ang mag-isang nakakaalala ng hapong iyon.  Noong may kabataan pa ako, siguro mga labindalawang taong gulang, may binuo kaming saranggola ni Daddy.  Kapwa naming pinalipad at pinanood ang pagpapaalagwa nito sa langit.

Malaon nang ginutay ng panahon ang kalansay at balat ng saranggolang iyon.  Ngunit noong naglilinis ako ng mga putikang aparador isang lingo makalipas ang baha sa Marikina, natagpuan ko ang itim na pisi na nakapalibot sa dalawang piraso ng popsicle sticks.  Hindi ko alam kung bakit nakahalo sa aparador ng mga gamit ng tatay kong ilang taon nang yumao ang pisi.

Noong Pebrero 2008 may nasulat akong tula sa Ingles.  “Paper Skin, Bone of Bamboo” ang pamagat.    Hindi ko alam kung maisasalin ko ito sa Filipino isang araw.  At dahil nga ako na lamang ang mag-isang gumugunita at nagtala nitong alaala, may duda akong ganitung-ganito nga ang naganap.  Hinabian ko na malamang ng imahinasyon.


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,

put 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 that rare afternoon

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.


The Throwing of the Shoes

“This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog!
This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!”
Muntazer al-Zaidi

Your bravery has taken over
your sense of reportage.

What options do they have
as a futile response?

Arrest you on charges of
“Assault with a pair of shoes with the intent of expressing the truth.”

Force on you a one-way ticket
before they close Guantanamo.

Keep you in a windowless cell
without pen and paper.

What could be worse?
Make you eat Dubya’s shoes?

A better aim would have been good,
though unnecessary.
As it was you showed us
how expertly
he dodges.

For in two seconds and a pair of shoes
you have assured history
shall not be written
by those who bombard
with lies.

Unlike the 15 seconds fought for
by those overfed on the idiot box,
your simple, poetic gesture
shall be recorded, applauded,


This was written perhaps too hastily on 15 December 2008.  Recently Mr Al-Zaidi was sentenced to three years in prison by the Iraqi courts.  One wonders whose feet are being kissed by handing down this sentence.

If throwing a pair of shoes warrants such a punishment, what would be the just punishment for the mass murder of innocent people?

I am hoping to be able to write a follow-up piece one day.

War on Terror: Demand the Truth

Terror becomes a pair of Bushy hands

Terror becomes a pair of Bushy hands. U.S. President George W. Bush hands back a crying baby that was handed to him from the crowd as he arrived for an outdoor dinner with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Trinwillershagen, Germany, July 13, 2006. REUTERS/Jim Bourg (GERMANY)

Avaaz is calling for signatures for this campaign.


This week the US government is debating whether to set up a Commission of Inquiry to look into Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ tactics. This could have major ramifications all the way up the chain of command.

Key US Senators, leading this call for justice, need a massive global endorsement to ensure that the Commission is set up and has real teeth. But there are powerful interests that want to cover up the truth about torture, secret detention and other unlawful abuse.


Your voice counts!

The Whistle that Became a Memory


Photo by Ze Boss

(Day Three – Maybe)

The path has been winding through the lowest levels of the Cederberg valley for about an hour.  We are close to the river that grows loud when it meets up with rocks, boulders, low waterfalls.  It murmurs and almost goes silent where the water is deep.  But it is there.  We know it by the scent in the air even as the midsummer heat batters us.

While we take careful steps on stone and loose ground a cool breeze takes up a few dry leaves.  I look up.  Mountains surround us on all sides, but they do not oppress us or make us feel we could go no further.  I gather they are not much different from the time the first settlers broke the first rock some hundred years ago.  Or even before the first nomadic tribes set foot on a slab of sandstone.

The sky is a blue so intense it makes you want to take a deep breath.

Without realizing it I find myself whistling as I exhale.  It is almost instinctive, releasing this long, extended whistle of three linked notes.  And I am struck by something from the distant past, like a ghost had appeared.  My children must have sensed it.  I force a smile.  I tell them it is a tune a friend of mine shared when we were kids.

They ask me to repeat it so they could mimic the tune.  But the sound they make comes from their little throats, not their lungs and lips.  Imagine a steam train on its last voyage.  They make us all laugh.  They try and try until the novelty wears off.

The trail is not signposted.  We struggle to keep to it.  We have to be careful not to make new trails that could lead other hikers after us astray.  The sound of the river grows and wanes, but it is always there.

The melody of that whistle haunts me.  It has travelled from a cramped childhood in Southeast Asia all the way to vast African skies, a journey halfway across the world.

I cannot recall when I first whistled that tune.  But I clearly remember the friend who made it up with me.  His name is Toto.  I should say his name was Toto.  But that puts an invisible weight on me.

I met Toto when my family moved out of the huge communal house we were sharing with my cousins.  The correct term to explain how close my cousins were to me and my sisters would be “pinsang buo” or roughly “tightly bound cousins.”  My father’s elder sister married my mother’s elder brother.  Sounds strange as I say it now.  I was eight and it made perfect sense then.  There are many stories from that time.  But those are for another day.

From being surrounded by numerous cousins (I am still unsure what the total number was, but 14 was the minimum I counted in my head) it felt strange to be standing outside our new house without seeing another kid my age.  It was a new suburb and there were only a handful of houses around.  The land was once a ricefield.  There were still some farmers on the outskirts, but they slowly vanished through the years.  Concrete replaced narrow mud paths.

Then Toto became my friend.  He must have been two years older than me.  We made up the whistle of three notes as a way to call each other at the hottest time of day when everyone was having a siesta.  I would creep out of the house, climb the guava tree that stood right next to our low, concrete wall that had metal spikes.

As soon as Toto saw me, he’d grab the vertical metal bars on the wall and pull himself up and over those spikes.  Then we’d be as far up the guava tree as we could go.  Those lean branches were stronger than they ever looked.

In time we used our whistle to greet each other in the morning.  He went to school early, at the crack of dawn.  He would whistle as he left his house.  And I would respond.  We kept responding to each other until he got too far for me to hear, or until he had caught a jeepney ride to school.

Many years later it came as a shock to me when my sister mentioned his name again.  I had been away from the country for a long time.  She said he had died.  Fell off a building at a construction site.  Left a wife and kid.

There are many moments in between all this begging to be remembered.  One day perhaps I will find them writing themselves out the way this one did.

Now I make that simple melody linger before I let it burst free out of my lips.  My kids find it entrancing.  The African sky is an intense blue, not a cloud in sight.  We follow the path as best we can.