I dreamed last night

Found an old poem written years ago …

I dreamed last night of the (insert name here) tree
Atop the Thousand Steps
From where we rowed a banca
When we fished for tilapia
The summer we turned twenty.

I’d never seen a kapre or dwende before
Though they’re common in folklore
But Lola’s tales before she died
Swiftly rendered me tongue-tied.

Oh, it was a fearful sight!
Standing above in a circle of light
Sword at his side, with whiskers brown and ugly,
Clothed in belted, black tunic, a kapre glared malevolently.

“Halt!” cried he while his minions
Blocked the escape trail to Muzon
And an army of dwendes garbed in green
Descended from nearby Curly Mountain.

“The password or your life!” he threatened me.
Looking around for Ali Baba’s cave, I
Saw dew-dropped leaves glitter obliquely
Like diamonds on a lightning-struck sky.

‘Twas the same (insert name here) tree
With its verdant, rustling canopy
Where we’d carved our initials that third of May
Before dusk drowned out the light of day.

I never gave the password
But
That surreal scene
Of a leprechaun and elves in green
And a first love’s kiss
Amidst the smell of fish
Are all I can now remember
Of a long and blissful summer.

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Have been wanting to write for the longest time but life throws a curve each day …

Still, I do write.
In my head
As I try
To drown out the list of things
To do tomorrow
While lying in bed
And driving to La La Land.

There must be a thousand opening
Paragraphs I’ve composed
About
My eldest’s flight and
Mid-air meeting with Trump,
The salads that brighten my world
Each day I’m in a stump;
The online friends I meet
Whose chat gets me through each day,
The flab on my belly that greet
Me each morn and refuses to go away.

Most days life sucks,
Some days ecstasies abound.
Whatever shit I’m buried in –
Don’t worry, dear,
I’m still around.

1
“Ohm’s Law, Boyle’s Law, cole slaw …” my son chanted a few years ago and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what Cole’s Law was, ha, ha! 

Keeper of my dreams

Keeper of my dreams
At your altar do I bring
All my person’s pride and pain
And a sinner’s dross and shame.

Keeper of my dreams
Gladly do I give you everything:
The fears and tears of yesteryears –
Free them, please, on an angel’s wings.

Keeper of my dreams
To you I surrender all heartaches
Carry me so my soul won’t break
Strengthen me for thy Spirit’s sake.

Keeper of my dreams
Gently sew these tattered seams
Of long dormant desires and whims
Into a garment of psalms and hymns.

Dimly through the world I see, 
Dreary though my life may be – 
Forever will a praise I sing,
Seeking not a blessing
But the strength to come shining through;
Clutching at your hand as children do
Clinging to nothing else but you:
       Tender keeper of my dreams.

The Waste Land

When the children were smaller, I looked forward to spring because I always woke up to a rainbow across the white rice cooker in the kitchen. Since I started to garden, however, spring’s association with renewed life and all its extant hopes have all but died. While residents in temperate countries look forward to coming out of winter to a world filled with color, here in the Levant residents literally feel the summer heat even before the first of April. In recent years, April marks the start of a drought of garden blooms. It’s when the gardener uproots the dried stalks of zinnias and other flowers that sparked joy through the cold months of December, January and February.

Lately, the dreariness that April brings has been compounded by grief over friends who leave. Last year a dear friend flew away on April 8. This year another close friend is returning home for good at the end of the month. Who, I wonder, will leave next April?

Perhaps it was fitting then that the month of April began with rain, an anomaly considering that our section of the desert receives rain only once or twice a year and we’d already gotten several days’ worth in early March. Thus when T.S. Eliot’s words popped up on my screen on April Fools’ Day, it seemed like an ironic and tasteless if not apt joke.

April is the cruellest month, breeding  (it sure is starting to feel that way)
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing  (my garden will soon be a dead land)
Memory and desire, stirring                 (why does memory always stir desire?)
Dull roots with spring rain.                   (April began with rain this year)
Winter kept us warm, covering            (winter blooms always warm me up)
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding         (ah snow – I’ve yet to experience that)
A little life with dried tubers.           (what I think of my existence: a little life)

Eliot’s The Waste Land, long considered a masterpiece of modern poetry, is a difficult poem to understand for its many allusions lost to post-modern readers and for the varying voices of its speaker (or the switch between different characters). That it is so long is also a turn-off. Its opening lines, however, grab readers – who, for example, thinks that April is the cruellest month? I sure didn’t until I lived in the desert. In my childhood, April meant lazy summer days spent reading and eating. In my adulthood, April meant continuing work.

There are poems that reveal themselves only after one has undergone an experience that enables one to comprehend, even though you know what it’s all about. Does that make sense? If it helps, I’ve harvested dried tubers from our backyard. Well, anyway, reading the first stanza two nights ago felt like a flash into one’s psyche. What serendipitySo I googled the rest even though I knew it was going to be a long read.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

The second stanza above has three biblical references, would you believe? I have no desire to go through a line-by-line or stanza-by-stanza analysis of the poem here even though there are many, many lines that grab me. Others have done it. Yes, Eliot’s depiction of man’s growing selfishness is a hard piece to follow or swallow since his view of man’s social and spiritual decay is not declared outright but via snippets of conversation (one of which is between two women in a pub discussing the other’s abortion) and scenes of everyday life (one of which is copulation between uninterested lovers as seen through the eyes of the poet Tiresias from Greek mythology).

Suffice it to say that if you’re in a blue mood, Eliot’s pensive, insightful prose can give comfort, yes, despite its desolate tone and gloomy critique of the world he lived in. Eliot’s despair at the collapse of Western civilization as it was before the Great War makes one pause and think that we, like Eliot’s generation, will return to a handful of dust someday and that we should strive to rise above a life that is a heap of broken images.

Then spoke the thunder
DA
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract

By this, and this only, we have existed

Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
DA
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
DA
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands
 
                                    I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
                  Shantih     shantih     shantih

Lastly, isn’t it fascinating that after showing the decline of Western culture and referencing the Bible so many times, Eliot ends with the words Datta, Dayadham, Damyata? Taken from the Upanishads of the Hindu religion, they translate to give, show compassion and exercise self-control.

Does that mean Eliot believes that these tenets are the key to achieving Shantih, another Hindu word defined as the peace that passes understanding? Most probably – his deviance from the Bible (but not biblical principles, remember!) could mean that he was disillusioned at a religion long associated with the West for failing to arrest the decay of humankind into red sullen faces (that) sneer and snarl / from doors of mudcracked houses. Because of this, I personally don’t think The Waste Land ends on a slightly positive note as some readers believe.

PS. Blogging anonymously, I vacillate between having the public read my poems and the fear that Internet anonymity could lead to copyright infringement or worse, intellectual property theft. This being the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, I shall be unlocking the password-protected poems here for the month of April. Who knows, I might even publish one from my cache!

VDay verses

Hmmm. It appears that my taste in poetry is sadly out of date according to yesterday’s readings. Thing is, one has to buy the latest poetry books to keep up to date (of course these new poets are not going to post their poetry online like you and I do – they’ve usually got tenure and royalty to claim from their published books) and poetry books are at the bottom of my wishlist.

Anyway, thank goodness for the Web!  So. Here below are several sonnets (okay, they’re not strictly sonnets!) that grabbed me the most yesterday. I wonder: does anyone else spend VDay immersed in verse?

                   I love you as the sunlight leads the prow
Of a ship which sails
From Hartford to Miami, and I love you
Best at dawn, when even before I am awake the sun
Receives me in the questions which you always pose.

                                           Kenneth Koch, To You

If you’re sick of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? read Kenneth Koch’s ode to his love here.

That morning, when she asked me to leave, wearing only
The apricot tinted, fraying chemise, I wanted to stay.
But I also wanted to go, to lose her suddenly, almost
For no reason, & certainly without any explanation.
I remember looking down at a pair of singular tracks
Made in a light snow the night before, at how they were
Gradually effacing themselves beneath the tires
Of the morning traffic, & thinking that my only other choice
Was fire, ashes, abandonment, solitude.
(Larry Levis, My Story in a Late Style of Fire)

Read Larry Levis’ entire poem here (I guarantee you a gut-wrenching read!)

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
(Carol Ann Duffy, Valentine)

Sigh! Wish I could write like that … ah well, who else but a poet would try to offer an onion to his/her object of affection? (Update: British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy is coming to Dubai for the 8th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 1-12 … am so excited! )

i think of lovers as trees, growing to and
from one another searching for the same light,
my mothers laughter in a dark room,
a photograph greying under my touch,
this is all i know how to do, carry loss around until
i begin to resemble every bad memory,
every terrible fear,
every nightmare anyone has ever had.

i ask did you ever love me?
you say of course, of course so quickly
that you sound like someone else
i ask are you made of steel? are you made of iron?
you cry on the phone, my stomach hurts

i let you leave, i need someone who knows how to stay.
                                  Warsan Shire

warsanshire
Image Source: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/862251

Warsan Shire’s verses contain so much honesty, they make you cry. And think about what it’s like to be a black African woman today. She’s not the only one to write with raw honesty that verges on the sublime, though. Below are some verses written during the Middle Ages (believe it or not!)

If anyone asks you 
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say, 

Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,

Like this.

If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
or what “God’s fragrance” means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your head toward him or her.

Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.
(Rumi, Like This)

It’s hard to believe the verses above were written by a Sufi mystic/poet. Read Like This and other Rumi poems here and be stirred by words written several centuries ago. Of course, Sufi mystics and lovestruck musicians don’t have a monopoly on sexually charged verses. According to the Bible, they’ve been around for several millenia. Don’t believe me? Consider these

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
                                                  Song of Songs 1:2

He brought me to the banqueting house,
    and his banner over me was love.
Sustain me with raisins;
    refresh me with apples,
    for I am sick with love.
His left hand is under my head,
    and his right hand embraces me!
                                                  Song of Songs 2:4-6

I will seek him whom my soul loves.
    I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me
    as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
Scarcely had I passed them
    when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
    until I had brought him into my mother’s house,
    and into the chamber of her who conceived me.
                                                    Song of Songs 3:2-4

Hopefully, these three examples are sufficient to show that Scripture contains content of an erotic nature. Of course, some of the metaphors are now obscured by time …

Your hair is like a flock of goats
    leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
    that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
    and not one among them has lost its young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
    and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
    behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
    built in rows of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
    all of them shields of warriors.
                                     Song of Songs 4:1-4

But. Believe me, listening to a read-aloud of certain verses from Song of Songs can put my significant other in a romantic mood. Anyway, for those die-hard romantics, here’s one from Neruda, er, E.e. Cummings (a friend suggested I print it out, hence the photo). The roses came from my garden – yes, roses bloom in the desert soil and aren’t they lovely?

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Speaking of writing in a digital age, The Atlantic’s A Modern Guide to the Love Letter is a seriously funny piece! Meaning, it gave several laugh-out-loud moments. Of course not everyone will appreciate such an article. After all, not everyone remembers receiving snail mail or the fastidiousness associated with writing love letters. But I do since I was sometimes asked to do so by my classmates at university.

Lastly, if the overdose of literary expressions of love or whatever sentiment yesterday made you puke, consider this post-modern take on love from a Romantic poet. Belated Hearts Day, everyone!

And what is love? It is a doll dress’d up
For idleness to cosset, nurse, and dandle;
A thing of soft misnomers, so divine
That silly youth doth think to make itself
Divine by loving, and so goes on
Yawning and doting a whole summer long,
Till Miss’s comb is made a pearl tiara,
And common Wellingtons turn Romeo boots;
Then Cleopatra lives at number seven,
And Antony resides in Brunswick Square.
Fools! if some passions high have warm’d the world,
If Queens and Soldiers have play’d deep for hearts,
It is no reason why such agonies
Should be more common than the growth of weeds.
Fools! make me whole again that weighty pearl
The Queen of Egypt melted, and I’ll say
That ye may love in spite of beaver hats.
(John Keats, Modern Love)

Both Sides Now

At our age, we don’t mull. We move!
                               advice from a friend 

Ugh! I hate being reminded of my age. One has only to stand in front of the mirror to see that time has wrought changes that do not reflect the Me I am inside. Then again. With age comes a certain point in time at which one looks back. When Gail Sheehy did so, she chose the favorite song of my childhood. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the song, Sheehy wrote an article on how Joni Mitchell’s iconic folk song Both Sides Now carried her through the different stages of her life.

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View of Taal Volcano (I think)

Listening to it again after a lapse of several years, likewise, I, too, could relate to the “many sides of Both Sides Now” that Sheehy explored (none of which I care to discuss publicly). Because. Despite growing old, I really don’t know clouds … at all … or love, or life – for that matter.

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere,
I’ve looked at clouds that way.

But now they only block the sun,
They rain and they snow on everyone
So many things I would have done,
But clouds got in my way.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels,
The dizzy dancing way that you feel
As every fairy tale comes real,
I’ve looked at love that way.

But now it’s just another show,
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know,
Don’t give yourself away.

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud,
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds,
I’ve looked at life that way.

Oh but now old friends they’re acting strange,
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life
I really don’t know life at all

Note: This post was originally written on November 8, 2014.

Untitled

My roses, how they grow!
Ask me not, I do not know.

Crimson, fuschia, burgundy
Pale pink, old rose, almost white
My roses, though a glorious sight –
In winter, they cannot be but a blight.

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Was it only yesterday?
When you declared, as your fingers
Gently snapped off each velvet petal
And cupped them in your hand for me
To savor their whimsical, fleeting fragrance:
The brave cannot fail because they’ve got 
     courage enough for a crowd to stand up
again and again and again.

Well, I never was and still am. Not. Brave.

Oh!
To be you and me
In a universe that cannot see
Helios charging his chariot across the sky
Or the moonbeam’s kiss upon your eye.

Oh!
To be with you and sail,
Pen the plot of a thousand tales.
But fate unkind uttered a decree:
There never more will be a We.

If you can, see me now:
Limping along life’s highway, being careful
Plucking hope from the barren, rotten soil,
Planting love and kindness to be faithful
In the midst of never-ending, grinding toil.

Ask me not to forget:
I will mourn, dance and sing
Till the crying clouds part and bring
A whiff of sweet sunset borne
On a gale from a meteor torn.

Ask me not to forget:
I will write, write and weep
Till your laughter thunders down from heaven and flings
Away these wet and buried, waxen tears
Wrought so long ago by death’s sting.

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My roses, how they grow-
Ask me not, I do not know …

Maguindanao in my mind

Can a land be cursed?

Oh, Maguindanao!
Why is your earth so hungry to swallow souls?
Why does your soil bear graveyards
That torch a nation’s psyche?
Why does your name conjure up
Visions of fallen men and women –
Their voices silenced before their prime?
Why is peace so elusive in your air?
How much more can your people bear?

Oh, Maguindanao!
When will justice be done?
And so it goes, when hope is gone ….
Farmers, tired of tilling from dawn till end of light,
Stow rifles at their sides, ready to fight.
Tired of waiting for a government with promises to keep,
They moonlight as militia, forsaking their sleep, 
While in their bosoms: mothers, wives, daughters and sisters weep.

It may seem odd that a matron who largely spends her time outside the house shopping should write about a place that she has never visited much less mingled with its residents. Let me explain. Twenty years ago, I married a farmer’s son. Thereafter, a world that was hiherto unknown opened itself up to me. Alien to city dwellers, the rural life remains living reality for the majority of people in the Philippines. That it is a daily experience for so many Filipinos still astounds me to this day.

With each visit, I had to keep my mouth shut from complaining and reach out to find a common ground with folks with whom I had little in common. Thus, I know. About farmers who get up two hours before sunrise, drink a mug of hot coffee then go out to till their fields or mind their livestock before having breakfast at daybreak. About walking a kilometer or two to fetch water or wash clothes when the water pump runs dry during summer. About barking dogs that signal the presence of Communist guerrillas lurking around at midnight. Frankly, I doubt whether those commuters and motorists cursing the traffic in Metro Manila will readily trade places with a farmer living in a barrio without electricity or water flowing from a faucet.

Then again, I’m a journalist’s daughter. And. The audacity of the perpetrators behind the Ampatuan Massacre six years ago still leaves me gagging. So much so that I promised to pen a poem after reading about the Mamasapano clash last year and the Christmas Eve murder of farmers by the BIFF.

Can a land be cursed? I don’t know but Maguindanao sure seems to be …

The Painted Veil

If there’s one film that has been on my bucket list for the longest time, it’s the screen adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil. Well. I finally watched it the other night. And. Oh, how my heart was beautifully broken!

It was pure cinematic perfection from the breathtaking cinematography to the acting to the musical score. Halfway through, Naomi Watt’s luminescent beauty reminded me of the actress who played Julia Flyte in the BBC’s 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, perhaps because of the hair style during the prewar years.

The title, of course, comes from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet below:

Lift Not The Painted Veil 

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,-behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o’er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it-he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.

Discussing the poem is beyond my present powers. Here is an analysis by Stephanie Huff. Don’t let it, however, detract from your own interpretation/enjoyment of the poem.

All the light we cannot see

It’s strange how one’s tastes change when one reads a book under time pressure and when one reads a novel at leisure. It being the Christmas holidays, yesterday I reread a book that had initially repulsed me. Then cried. Not only for the tale of innocent love (was there really a love story?) contained therein. But also for the tragedy of being of its characters. And the exquisite beauty of a narrative about human existence amidst deprivation and the human spirit’s ability to move on.

Ten years in the writing, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See actually has a very simple plot: a German boy and a blind French girl meet courtesy of a radio transmitter during WW2. Oh, and the girl has in her possession the Sea of Flames, a blue stone hunted by the Nazis.

Rereading it again, I saw that what I’d found repugnant at first were poetic embellishments that did not descend to the level of dross. It’s not the usual type of sentimental crap. Despite a lyrical prose, Doerr has imbued the story with the gritty realism of war and everyday life after the war so much so that his story tugs at the heartstrings.

I don’t normally post book reviews here. That’s reserved for another blog. But since that blog has morphed into a foodie journal and the verses below arose as a response to that book ….

All the light we cannot see
All the roles we have to be
All the work we’ve got to do
Stand staring between me and you.

All the steps that brought us near
All the journeys we take each year
All the threads we hold so dear
Underlie all dialogues we’ll never hear.

All the words that pushed us farther
All the battles we undertake
All the thoughts we have to gather
Wait for the meet-ups we’ll never make.

All the dreams that in years past mattered
All the hopes that once we thrust
To the future now lie tattered
Crying, crumpled in the dust.

Between now and then

So here I am:
Writing furiously to make amends,
Bridge a broken melody between so-called friends,
Regretting a moment’s insanity I can’t comprehend.

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And here I am:
Wishing for the gentle rain
Of your laughter to fall again
In the crevices between now and then.

So this is love …

It never ceases to amaze me … this thing called love. Because. I’ve known of and know men who … cheat on their wives, remain faithful despite long separations, shoulder on through widowhood for more than 20 years, become silent partners to their domineering wives, are proud of their trophy wives, etc …

A friend, for example, yesterday recounted to me a man who told her while she was attending to his wife (her patient), “You’re very fortunate, you don’t live with your husband . It is very difficult to come home to a wife everyday!” The guy’s wife, btw, was pregnant with his ninth child when he uttered those words.

It being our 20th wedding anniversary two days ago, I am sharing here a post that was originally published on Sept. 29, 2014, in another blog. Please pardon my long-winded reflections on the nature of love …

Never think she loves him wholly
Never believe her love is blind
All his faults are locked securely
In a closet of her mind;
All his indecisions folded
Like old flags that time has faded,
Limp and streaked with rain,
And his cautiousness like garments
Frayed and thin, with many a stain–
Let them be, oh let them be,
There is treasure to outweigh them,
His proud will that sharply stirred,
Climbs as surely as the tide.
Senses strained too taut to sleep,
Gentleness to beast and bird,
Humor flickering hushed and wide,
As the moon on moving water,
And a tenderness too deep
To be gathered in a word.

                     Sara Teasdale, Appraisal

It hits me at the most unexpected moments. That the guy I married remains true and faithful, even after spending nearly 20 years with selfish me. And I wonder: Why? How? One of those times was last July, right after Typhoon Glenda had wiped out electricity and water supply in our village. Knowing that I had not wanted to return home to the Philippines for a vacation, the hubby said nothing while I used the lack of water and electricity to feed only bread to the family and immersed myself in a poetry anthology to prevent myself from complaining.
 

When dusk fell, he quietly gathered up our two youngest children (why did they have to dirty themselves more than usual when there was no water?) and cleaned them up using only a tabo of water. I came upon the children being wiped clean in our upstairs veranda and quickly turned to our bedroom so nobody could see me choking up. We don’t have a maid so scenes like that – they overwhelm and make me cry. To me, that act of love was better than an SMS saying “I love you.” Without an exchange of words, what my heart heard was “This service is not a sacrifice on my part because it was done to make life easier for you.” It also spoke volumes about the kind of man I married: quiet, unassuming, and a servant-leader willing to do dirty jobs. Then again, it’s not  surprising because the hubby is a farmer’s son. And proud of it, too.

This month, Christianity Today published an article entitled “I Didn’t Marry My Best Friend.” I could write an article, too, entitled “I Didn’t Marry My Husband” or something like “I Didn’t Marry the Man I Thought I Was Going to Marry.” Because. I didn’t really know the man I got hitched to. How could I? We didn’t grow up together, we were never playmates or classmates (we were schoolmates) and besides, how does one truly get to know another person whose interests are a far cry from yours except by the grace of God? Believe me, I can so relate to the poem below …

She reads the paper while he turns on the TV,
she likes the mountains, he craves the sea.
He’d rather drive, she’ll take the plane.
He waits for sunshine, she walks in the rain.
He gulps down cold drinks, She sips at hot.
he asks, “Why go?” She asks, “Why not?”
In just about everything they disagree
but they love one another and they both love me.
                                             Eve Merriam, Two People

         All I knew back then was that this guy is – just like me – a sinner saved by the grace of God and that, out of debt to the Cross, I’d have to forgive him for whatever future hurts he’d bestow upon me. So it’s been quite a dance through the years… this learning that love is a verb, not a noun (a feeling) as so many of us have been led to believe.
So yes, he still springs surprises on me. Like the time he signed up for scuba diving lessons. Or the times he splurged on a Nikon digital single-lens reflex camera and expensive lenses. I wondered whether these had to do with life happening after 40 but later realized they only reflected his spirit of self-sacrifice – he’d waited until our financial position was somewhat stable before pursuing his passion. Or dreams. Or whatever men call the gadgets they buy. I’ve heard they’re toys for the big boys.
Perhaps the greatest quality that I appreciate about my husband is his being a follower of Christ. It’s almost sacrilegious to admit this and I’m guessing not many will understand but I do mean it when I state that listening to one’s hubby preach or deliver a sermon can be a huge turn-on. Couple that with a self-confidence that gives him strength to go against the world’s grain and boy, have you got an attractive combination.   

Next is his inability to be attracted only by physical beauty (or so I’d like to believe, ha, ha). I can’t count the number of times when I’ve expressed admiration for a woman’s beauty only to be told something negative about her character that he noticed but which I had not seen. Besides, as one’s looks go by the wayside, one cannot help but feel greater appreciation for a man who does not see you as a trophy wife but has valued you as an intellectual equal since the start of your marriage. 

 Oh, and have I said anything about his sense of humor? I had not expected any laughter in our marriage, never having observed my parents laugh at themselves. But God in His infinite wisdom sent me a man whose dry wit and wacky sense of humor continues to make life entertaining. Who else can kid with me in a serious tone of voice?
Me:        Hey, it’s our 20th anniversary next year. Want to renew our
               vows?
Him:      Ah … I don’t think so.
Me:        Why not? We didn’t have any money when we got married.
                This time we could have a grand party.
Him:      That’s just it.
Me:         What is IT ???
Him:       Honestly? Well, after nearly 20 years, I don’t think I can
                declare “I do” again in front of so many people.
Me:         You’re joking, right?

So maybe I can’t get the guy to walk down the aisle again. Heck, I can’t even get him to hold my hand while taking a moonlit stroll in a scene straight out from the movies: waves lapping, yachts berthed by the quay, lights twinkling across the river, etc …. Sigh… Moonlit strolls at forty-five are so, so vastly different from nighttime walks at twenty-five.

Btw, I’m older than forty-five, it just sounds better than forty-six or forty-seven or forty-eight. Whereas my hand would have been grasped tightly twenty years ago, today I know my place. Had I tripped (little chance of that really since he convinced me to abandon my heels in favor of flats but still, it was dark), a dent to my pride would have been nothing compared to the dent to his pocket that a damaged Nikon D7100 camera would give. Reality blues, er, bites ….

The reality is altogether different after 20 years. Whereas hardly a disagreement characterized our pre-marriage period, today – well, Depeche Mode got it right when it penned

Though my views may be wrong
They may even be perverted
She will hear me out
And won’t easily be converted
To my way of thinking
In fact she’ll often disagree …

In fact, when I think about how I steered clear of sports and other athletic activities throughout my school life, I can’t believe how their lyrics sum up what I feel:

All the things I detest
I will almost like

So yes, the honeymoon phase of our marriage has been over for quite some time. I suspect it’s been over far longer for him than for me, though, he being the breadwinner and all. Recently, he threw a book off the bed and asked in an irritated voice “Can I have a rest day tomorrow, please?” Good thing his glance did not fall on the book’s title: Confessions of a Slacker Wife by Muffy Mead-Ferro.

Meanwhile, the children are growing up and our hairs are turning gray. By the grace of God, however, and despite having dissimilarity of pursuits,  our life together continues to be a

romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship — camaraderie — usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death—that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.                                                                                                                                                                  Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd

Letter to a friend who’s gone for good

Belated Happy Birthday!

Of course this greeting is late. But. Being such an efficient and highly organized person, I know you’ll understand the perfectionism that drives me to edit and re-edit my prose. All day long yesterday, I thought for the longest time whether to open Facebook or not just to greet you (I haven’t opened FB for – well, I forgot to count how many weeks!) but decided against it ultimately because FB depresses me in a way that I’ve yet to grasp. Maybe the selfies of smiling faces there remind me that there’s more to life besides frowning and writing? I sure don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that I miss you. Terribly. So here’s a list of ten things that I miss about you. Btw, you have my permission to share this on FB – just in case you want to remind Ben what a wonderful individual he’s married to, what a smart decision he made in getting married to you, blah, blah, blah …

1   Your snorts through the nose (are my pronouncements like the one-liners from a stand-up comedian?)
2   Your snide remarks about my age and growing old (nobody tells me the truth anymore)
3   Your cinnamon buns (the ones I buy from Cinnabon or Tim Horton’s don’t hold a candle to yours)
4   Your thought-provoking questions (nobody challenges me intellectually anymore)
5   The way you start every explanation with “Where I come from …”
6   Our discussions on what being a Christian and a Catholic means in different cultures
7   The honesty that permeated every dialogue I had with you
8   How you taught me to make tortillas (it’s a testament to my age that I’ve forgotten the recipe)
9   How you bring baked goodies right after I’ve had a cry inside the loo (how do you always know when I’ve had a breakdown?)
10  Your sociable youngest son (are you sure you’re his mother?) … your artistic daughter and your poker-faced middle son

So, here’s to life! And a prayer that your journey will be full of surprises that bring a smile to your (always serious) visage, that your days will have momhood moments that make all your sacrifices worthwhile, that your travels will bring you to places and people where you’ll be a blessing (the same way you were in mine), and that your marriage will grow old like wine (remember, it gets better with age!)

Perhaps someday we’ll have that conversation we never got to have – the one on how Christianity and being a feminist can exist side by side without one bashing the other. Who knows, I might even travel to Mexico and eat tapas, burritos, tortillas, etc,  by the seaside while we watch the dolphins. Till then, I hope you’ll like this poem by a Greek poet:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
 
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
 
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.                                                                                                 Constantine Cavafy

PS. No offense meant, but just in case you’re having a hard time deciphering the poem, here’s help.

For Mei

Note: A shorter version of this article was published here.

 It’s embarassingly plain how inadequate language is …. Some griefs can never be put right.                                                              Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

I come from a country which, in 2009, shoved aside Iraq to be the worst place on earth for a journalist to practice his or her profession. That year, 34 media people were massacred in a single event  that – five years, four months and four weeks on – remain unaccounted for. Not a single suspect has been prosecuted though everyone knows the culprits and the mastermind(s). Witnesses have either disappeared or gone into hiding.

In such a climate of fear and retribution, it is no wonder that truth becomes so precious a commodity that exposing it to the cold light of day draws enemies of the killing kind. Like a miner excavating for diamonds, journalists who mine for news that endanger dynasties – political, financial or otherwise – often risk their lives when their investigations congeal into print. Honest reporting brings its own recompense: they are either harassed, bought off or silenced.

My father was a journalist, too, but he was pragmatic in his outlook. With six children to feed, he sold insurance then went abroad and gave us a taste of other worlds beyond our own to strive for when we grew up. Thus, we never experienced the horrors of having family members disappearing, being tortured or dismembered.

Still, an episode occurred that until now remains a mystery to my siblings and I. In the early 1980s we returned home for a Christmas vacation and my father went missing for three days upon our arrival at the airport (which was still new at that time). My mother’s relatives, of course, had an explanation: Your husband is a journalist. What do you expect?

When he reappeared at my grandfather’s house, we all rejoiced and my mother accepted his explanation that he’d been lost and spent the time holed up in a hotel. If anyone had doubts, we children never heard of it. The adults kept quiet for we never heard the episode mentioned again. My siblings and I, however, cannot help  but conjecture over what really happened. We’d returned in 1985. Had my father a querida and a second family, we reasoned, they surely would have popped out during his funeral.

I narrate this piece of personal history to explain why something within me is disturbed each time a newsperson is murdered for simply doing his/her job honestly in my country. I know how it feels to have someone close to you disappear. Why does geography determine our fate?

A week ago, I learned that a journalist friend of the family had been gunned down while walking in my parents’ hometown by a man riding a motorcycle. It was news that we had been waiting for quite some time.

                                                                         ♥♥♥

Long before she had a byline in a national daily, our friend used to come to our old house and as we got to know her through the years, we marveled at her courage and ability to get witnesses to talk. She had a joie de vivre that transcends time so that even though it’s been years since I last saw her, her vivacious personality and enthusiasm for life remain inked in my mind. In fact, when I met her husband at the parking lot of a mall six years back, I remember thinking what kind of man was he to have gotten her to settle down. Alas, time moves on and friends drift off … as she climbed up in her career we watched from afar knowing that the enemies she made could be her downfall.

                                                                         ♥♥♥

Knowing our friend’s crusade as a journalist against the political bigwigs in our province, I was not surprised at her murder. Yet. I still could not help it. I wept. For her. For people of her ilk. And for my parents’ hometown where people are too afraid to speak about what they know. Believe it or not, my mother still says “Hush!” whenever our mealtime talks veer towards the political situation in town even though the house where we chat is situated in a gated community. And to think that our dictator left nearly 30 years ago!

Unlike other provincial journalists, our friend’s murder was covered by national media because she was the first victim of a national daily for which she had been a correspondent.  It even drew condemnation from the presidential office and rewards for information on the assassin.

The latter, however, worries me. Because. In my parents’ hometown, everything – and I mean everything – is controlled by the family that has occupied city hall’s highest seat for the past 29 years. From the police to the shipping companies operating the international port to drug pushing – you name it, they’ve got it covered by one or two or more of their extended family. Years ago, in fact, they even had the power to bring about a power failure at the exact hour a national news program broadcast its investigation into the mysterious disappearance of young maidens in the city.

Which is why rewards for information only defeat their purpose. Because. It will exert pressure on the police and the national investigators to resolve the crime quickly. In so doing, they may – as in the past they did – pinpoint people who were far from the scene of the crime. Last time I heard, they were looking into the angle of our friend’s separation from her husband. Now I know the true story. And I don’t think her estranged husband has reasons to wish for his wife’s death.

Meanwhile, I think of other provincial journalists who continue to work for the love of reporting. They do not get the recognition or the bylines of reporters working for national media. I know their kind. They used to come to our house when my father was still living. In the small world of provincial journalists, everyone knows who is a paid hack and which newspapers are mere mouthpieces of individuals aspiring or holding on to public office. It is my hope and prayer that these folks continue to be brave and honest voices in the community, come what may.

For Mei

For now, we shudder
As their bullets
Sail through the midnight
Sludge and ash blanketing
The big-time potluck city
Masquerading as your hometown.

Rest in peace, my friend.
You were a candle
Snuffed out early in spring.
We will shout, we will march
Till their empires crumble and
They shudder while they drown.

To learn more about the Ampatuan Massacre and the politics surrounding it, please visit the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.