Later Must Be Bach
As I breathe back into a known world,
The puddles reflect pieces of dawn: breaking gently,
Gray turning blue, corporeal like a rock.
The frogs with their shrill voices
Shake the still slumbering earth,
The farmers’ crops, the interior of forests.
From where I’m sitting, collecting the bread
Of the day, the nearest stern slender two-trunk tree
Stands impassive yet growing distinct
Through the creeping light.
Now I surmise there is tentative
Pause of rain, a wider berth of work and talk
For us, vegetation, deer, gibbon, snake, civet,
From so much water, so much dampness;
We’ve long known patience for lingering dark clouds.
Now I set my tea, its warmth being
Planted on the skin of my palms and sends
Resonance of newness,
A prayer unfolding from wet leaves,
Stirring in the cool morning air.
16 June 2004
Koh Kong, Cambodia
RUE 113, PHNOM PENH
Another morning to wake up to
Before getting weighed down
Later in the day.
A composed wind stirs
Each surface it touches
Gently as hands
Possessing another body.
Sipping black coffee
By the array of plants
On the white-tiled veranda,
Palms, bougainvillea, tiny citrus,
And red daisies, I see
The permutations of daily grind
Down the narrow street.
A woman stripping
Layers of lettuce leaves
By the window,
A vendor hawking her rice noodles,
Motodops passing through,
A pair of schoolboys playing fierce football
As a grandma splashes water
On the ground
To inhibit the surge of dust,
A couple of bare-footed monks
With silver bowls making the round
For the day’s provision.
This lure of images clashes
Against a delicate mantle
What country really
Is the terminus
Of all that are known
And ravaged by use?
Savage desires, greed,
And insidious schemes,
How they overpower plain
Strength of goodness?
It is good that there is a morning
Like this, a calmness
Charmed by birds
And thoughts fly high
To an enduring sky.
17 February 2003
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
On the bus roof
I hauled myself
Among the locals,
Saddled with boxes, sacks,
Of faithful living,
Points of light
Hurtled toward the stars.
I held on the cargo rail
With gripping suspense
As the bus lurched drunkenly
On the zigzag,
Throttled back and forth
Like a horse.
We ducked our heads
Off bent branches,
Decking the road.
Two or three times
I would get hit.
The leaves lashed my face
As though some ritual
In a wider, open space
On the wayside,
Red and yellow
Bloom of fire trees
Smothered the air.
Commenced their song
And I kept to myself
All these vanishing
And emerging graces.
Published in Philippines Free Press (7 January 1995)
Hanging My Laundry
On the rooftop, shirts, pants, and socks
Hang heavy and limpid on the clothesline.
There is a hint of movement
In the sky. A wonderful bird,
Whose kind I do not know,
Punctuates the air with its piercing chirps
As it perches on a TV antenna.
The wat nearby is quiet.
Perhaps the monks have slipped back
To their worldly lives
Like going out for a walk
And smoke, learn English
And get wired on cyberspace.
The villas and common houses
Also hold some delicate
Peace in their being,
Long healing broken lives.
On Norodom Road,
Someone, whose head
Is covered with a khroma, sweeps
The fallen red flowers of a flame tree;
Cyclos on the pavement,
Poised to breeze through
The morning grace.
And the drone of vehicles
And shapes of life fizzle out
As I ascend higher
And take in an edifying breath
Through all the countenance
Of this sense and rhythm;
I could pluck out clouds and also
Hang them on the line.
23 June 2003
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Sa aking pag-iisa dito sa isang inuman
sa tabing kalsada ng Quezon Avenue,
wala pa ang mga parokyanong maya’t-maya’y
magsusulputan at mag-iingay sa kalasingan.
Hinihintay ko lang na tuluyang lumalim ang gabi
na parang sugat, hindi magbibigay ng awa
sa mga taong lugmok sa lungkot
hindi malaman kung papaano palilipasin
ang isa na namang pakikipagtunggali
sa bagsik ng mga ilaw-dagitab,
ang katahimikang nanghahataw ng lakas,
susuka ka na lang sukat ng mga patay
na bituin at maging pangalan mo’y walang bakas.
Hindi ko naman nararamdaman ang pagbubuwal
ng lakas gayong nararamdaman ko rin ang lungkot.
Hindi ako magpapakamatay. Hindi pa o hindi na.
Tanggap na tanggap ko ang lahat
tulad nang sabihin ng isang matanda
na ang buhay ay isang bangungot, bangungot, bangungot.
Nagsisimba ako at palaging kausap ang Diyos,
pilit na gumagawa ng makabuluhang pakikipag-ugnayan
sa mga api, mga patapon, silang tinakasan ng bait,
kahit na sa kanilang nabubuhay sa kababawan
ng halakhak. Nagkakasala maya’t-maya
ngunit huhugasan ang puso ng kapangyarihan
ng tula. Tulad nito, ang gabing ito’y isang bulaklak
na nagbibigay ng samyo ng kalungkutan,
pero maglalakad ako na matibay at makisig,
magpapasalamat sa mga sindak
na sinasaksak ng buhay gayong ako’y taung-tao lamang,
walang bumabalot na agimat o kapangyarihan.
Quezon City, Philippines (1991)
A cigar smoked through vital glands,
Slush of detritus on rain-choked arteries.
I tread the streets of fevered images,
Surge back to this far claustrophobic city
Of the dregs, protracted wars, destructive
Obsessions, poets gasping for virtual air.
Where carry your wisp of fatal wishes?
Do all of you converge at someplace, say, a river
And whisper judgment like a sick weather?
Do what you want for the life of me.
I’m only here rooted in this mean time,
Flicking the wreckage like wounds,
Visayan islands spectral at daybreak,
My thirst seasoned by beer,
My sadness trailed by the plume
Of your murderous friendship.
Published in MIDWEEK (Philippines)
The House in Kompong Speu
“…and miles to go before I sleep”
This is the house that I’ve come to love
For all its underpinnings of sobriety, quiet, lush, solitude.
Typically Khmer perched on high stilts
But whose height is caught up by the trees
That wildly surround it, coconut, guavas, bananas,
Bougainvillea, hibiscus, and another sturdy tree
That is home to orchids and strands of cobweb
That plaster on your face like zen greetings.
On the veranda you could watch the sky
Metamorphose into a quality of dream.
Red splash of light on streaks of cloud
As night falls gently on the exhausted earth,
The trees a cinema of dramatic silhouettes,
Fireflies and evening stars in early carouse
For endless births and endless joys.
The previous occupant is now in Mozambique.
Does she ever visit this home
In her dream again and again and again
Like other Cambodian mementos
That haunt and demand instant nostalgia?
This is the house that I’ve come to love.
It lives inside my gentle storm now.
And I have other houses, other loves, other distances
To live in and conquer, to hope and hanker for
Even if the hour is paltry and beguiling.
03 December 2000
Kompong Speu, Cambodia