If You’re Still At Talkin’ To A Stranger

If You’re Still At Talkin’ To A Stranger

(for Maros)

Tonight perhaps when you’re over
With drinking, the hours
Will lose their force and accept
The throbbing of words and aches
In your heart like alab, sidhi,
Magulong kapalaran
The green-eyed melancholy will come
Streaking in the evening sky
Of the city of your strange crossings,
Benevolent and tempestuous both.
But what can you do?
How you put out
The fire consuming your heart?
The angels only stretch their wings
And mortify us with their silence,
And we hear the breaking,
The mind drowning, landscapes going off,
And you go off as well,
But always wake back
To your lover of pain.

*alab – Filipino word for intensity
*sidhi – desire
*magulong kapalaran – a troubled fate

Phnom Penh, Cambodia


Freak Storm

Friday, 26 March 2010

In the wee hours of the morning, the rain came back.

I woke from the strong rush of cool wind and the sound of flapping wooden windows; and the rain came no sooner than I had the time to secure the doors and windows of my small wooden house. I stepped into the veranda and there was a weak moonlight that clothed the forest. I got sprayed by the rain, drenching my arms and shorts, and gave me chills in bed.

This rain is a kind of continuation to the sudden thunderstorm from the early evening of yesterday – a respite from high temperature that came in a blitzkrieg manner, just less than a couple of hours after quite an intense staff meeting we had where the subject of extreme heat and lack of rain dominated the discussion. The farmers are having difficulties in growing crops on their rows with all this heat and frustration has been gnawing at their patience.

On the flipside of the issue, one of the senior local staff made an in-your-face counterpoint by raising the seemingly lack of serious effort of the field staff to address the issues of the farmers, that they (the staff) are sleeping on their job- an accusation met by silence but this I speculate is because no one wanted to get into a serious verbal tussle with this lady staff who has a reputation of being vocal and critical. On my part, I found myself the initiator of this debate, egged on the field staff to speak up, bring their varying concerns up on the table so that appropriate remedies can be applied. Oh well, we have been through a lot of this kind of productive arguments and actions that they have long been a pattern of field challenges or a rhythm of life in the village.

But yesterday’s whine against the climate took on a bizarre turn. From a desultory feel of things brought on by the heat of summer, the sudden grumbling across the northern sky coupled with the massing up of dark clouds sent a longed-for answer of bountiful rain to slake the parched fields. However, it was a brief violent storm with lightning and thunder. The flashes of lightning were particularly scary, too strong and random for good measure. The villagers had a fright for sure, cowering in a corner of their house, having known already how deadly one strike can be after a child was mortally struck inside her house a few years back. It looks like we are situated in a lightning zone.

In its wake, the storm left some roofs blown off and trees pulled apart and lying by the road. One of our structures (a meeting/parking place) was toppled down and the staff house roofs were also blown away. Through all this condition, I found once again the uncanny juxtaposition of things that leaves one marveling at how the rhythm of the universe unfolds before our eyes and within the realm of our fears and hopes.

Koh Kong, Cambodia


A Week of Encounter with Snakes

A Week of Encounter with Snakes

From Canada, the snake poems
of Margaret Atwood’s are snared
in the interplay of sun and rain
In Cambodian siesta hours.
The snake enters your dreams…
O snake, you are an argument for poetry…
Yesterday, one wanders
through a grassy path,
green-yellow and thin
akin to an impoverished finger.
I let it pass, slither under the house,
let it seek its own happiness.
Today we see two in the field,
bearing gobs of venom both,
one I almost crush underfoot.
But in both instance,
Bunleng clubs them to death
on vegetable rows .
Goners as Fate would have it,
as Dostoevsky, Darwin, Nietzsche,
Or Eve of Eden
have their own take.

15 August 2008
Koh Kong, Cambodia


Ngunit Paanong Masasabing…

Ngunit Paanong Masasabing…

Sa papaubos na kape sa bughaw na tasa
kasamang hinihigop ng init ang alab ng isang ibon
sa pagtiklad ng tuyong damo sa kanyang tuka at balik-lipad
nang ilang ulit sa siwang ng tuktok ng bahay para sa
paghahanda ng pugad.

Sa lumiligwak na buhay ngayong araw sa masiglang alon
ng hangin, may kung ano-ano pang bagay
ang pumapalo sa kamay ng orasan
na hindi ko na ikinagugulat o ipagbubuhos pa ng sentimyento.

Katulad ng ibon, ang hangin ay kumakatha nang pabalik-balik
na ulirat ng katatagan ng tiwala at pag-asa
sa bawat dampi sa balat. Katulad ng minimithing paglalakbay
sa hinaharap, sa paghupa ng disgrasya at karahasan,
sa maayos na pagdaan at pagtatawid ng buhay at kamatayan.

Sa isang tahimik na hapon tanging mga puno
at tunog ng mga ibon ang kasamang nagdaraan lang din.
Tawagin mang paraisong oras, kagyat na lilipas,
mananahan sa panaginip ng hangin.

21 Marso 2010
Koh Kong, Cambodia


Stopover By Okai River

Stopover By Okai River

White crush of mountain water,
then green-gray rush.
Bunch of butterflies gleam
and skitter at the touch
of sun. On the rock
a cigarette lies dying.
The seething sound of the forest
will seem to stay
forever between light
and dark, births and deaths
of every creation
as we ascend back through
outcrops and bushes,
leaving behind something
irrecoverable: the gesture
of throwing chicken bones
and jackfruit seeds through the flow,
the cold felt by our hands,
words spoken and sounds gathered,
breaths exhaled finding
other body. We get diminished
at each passing growth of seeds,
the snap of wings or tumble
of water, until we become
mere breath
in the home of infinity,
a dew of memory
in the world of leaves
and spirits.

September 2006
Chiphat, Koh Kong, Cambodia


High Noon

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The scorching heat of March took its toll on our villagers’ crops yesterday mid-noon. A day-old burned clearing that was thought to have died down already simmered back to life and came in swirls of flame as they gobbled up remaining grasses and tree stumps, and insidiously crawled through the rows of fruit trees and vegetable crops tended by about ten affected families.

When I got to the place on the west end of our project site upon emergency call from a field staff, I saw our women and children frantically pulling back the 140-meter plastic irrigation tubes on the rows before the flames could engulf them, challenged by the thick smoke blustering in their direction. A couple of them were collecting water from the irrigation pipes into plastic containers and running towards the encroaching flames, while some children tried hard to do their bit by thrashing the flames with plucked branches.

Right there and then I joined the fight, hoisted up the seams of my pants, grabbed one of the jugs into which one of the mothers poured water from the pipes- but because of her adrenalin-driven frenzy she would miss the jug and channel the water onto the ground, and sallied forth into the cloud of smoke and raging fire.

For a bit of time we thought we were succeeding in putting the fire out when only smoke was visibly left wafting away from the burned area; but the intermittent gust of wind would enliven the embers and reconstitute into a fiery monster. Fearing that the situation may turn for the worse, I called the other staff to drive fast to where it was happening to augment our force.

Where were the menfolk of these families? All of them were outside the village at the time to sell labor in the nearby sugarcane company or another developing plantation of a favored investor. As a demographic truism in a rural village, the men are mostly off to any place where they could get more income for the sustenance of their families. And the women and children are the all-too-familiar fixtures left in the village. So whenever a situation occurs in the village these folks are left to their own devices.

Fortunately, our field incident was contained more so because of the cooperation of the wind. It stopped fanning the flames altogether after maybe seeing how anxious the poor people were getting, content in the knowledge that humans can never be equal to nature’s rage.

Koh Kong, Cambodia



Where the Flow Goes

Where The Flow Goes

This is a weekend that I move about
The house disrupted by lack of power.
Cables are splayed about by the roadside
Like improbable snakes
In the clutter of leaves, the old and venerable
Acacia trees shorn of imperial branches,
And the men still wrapped up in their labor
To bring back the light.

This simple lack somehow has brought me back
To the essence of living, where contact
From the world is severed
And I get to see through the spirituality
Of the trees shaken by the strong winds,
The condition of every other being,
And rainclouds moving heavy
And portentous, hanging lower and lower
Across this land of fragile dreams.

In the evening my eyes strain to trail
The thoughts of ancient souls,
Poets and mystics, through the flicker
Of a candle light.
I seek solace from their humanity
And I believe I can grow to be content
With the basic lack of things like power,
Like home, like desire, like self.
One incontrovertible law pervades this existence,
A leveling that always yields to the flow,
Nothing extravagant, nothing destitute,
All going in one direction.

July 2002
Pursat, Cambodia

Published in The Sunday Inquirer Magazine (Philippines, 11 August 2002)