Tag Archives: memory

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,
revered.

-o-

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.

-o-

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.

-o-

Your voice counts!


The Whistle that Became a Memory

sky-river-mountains

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.

-o-


Butterflies on Fire

fire butterfly

for M. L.

We’re setting butterflies on fire,
the ghost of a long lost
childhood friend and I.

Our fingers are phosphorescent and sad,
like matchsticks before the spark.
So much for things of the past.

I look at her smile,
cold white flame
flickering.

On her shoulder, an abstract
of a bird from the last
gasp of a dream

Before waking.
The windows rattle,
not knowing how she

Could have gotten through them
in the middle of the night.
The scent of burnt wings

Are trapped in the curtains.
What will Mother say
when she smells her ghost

In the secret pockets
of my dirty clothes?
Ssshhh…

-o-

This poem was written around 1992 and first appeared in Salimbayan, a collection I shared with three good friends back from university, Neal Imperial and Argee Guevarra.   The book was published in 1994 and is currently out of print.  One day we might get together and work on a revised version.

This currently appears on Helium.