Poems by Cirilo F. Bautista

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By: Cirilo F. Bautista

I want to write about life and deathlessness and the sea,

the rampage and calm and full flow of blood and bread


on cutting board, each in its own time to be tallied

against the conscious duties of government full of its


own importance, but I feel no sense in the enterprise

when I think how things hang on the balance, eternity


is a malediction and love a monster from lower

depths: an instance measures the quick tide that inundates


the pear in the bush and the grape in the vine, so that death cries

in the moment of burning when love unravels to its source—


the molten lava and the rising rocks. Of the book

of retorts I have worn the pages with my fingers, dragons


gambol on dark spaces where no proposals are accepted.

I traveled that realm once how I do not know but wind


folded my sails and pinned a prayer to my throat. O God

of True Beginnings, let me escape to the anvil that shapes


wings and breastplates of righteousness into policies

of tax and revenue, clear and just to start with, in the hands


of quiet rectitude, something to learn from like a habit

coming and going but ever reserved with its force.


In the paneled room of compromise let them see the self- same

force setting cities aflame, putting up new habitation


for our body against the raging sea. We are not

colonials moving from edict to edict, raising timber


over marshland to pave a town and abandoning it

at the sight of foreign men. We scribble sonnets to the moon


whose end has come, with longing and regret, to claim the light,

and dream of high- powered guns to protect our shores. Self- propelled,


our laws prick only the virtuous hearts and the taxable

conscience on the dancing floor, in the butcher’s shop,

in the schools for scandals and perfidy, others without faith

hear only the rattle of death from the raucous water.


Let the body roll in sweet stillness within the veil

Where threnodies murmur under stones and dried leaves,


rustles and whispers and soothsaying in the pine grove or in

the mind when light does not drip on the black brook— yes, the mind


above all that will outlast the ocean which is why power

allows a semblance of regret to outcasts and thieves


at the end of trail but no mercy to lovers whose words

fall apart at the croak of dawn, vows scattered in the air,


but worst, no wisdom to go to for choice or advice to fix

a feeling or a fortitude. How easily we invent


the island of our exile, from mountains to fire pits to boats

in the cove fro sailing when nothing is left to be desired.


During the war

By Cirilo F. Bautista


Tragedy is grief foreshortened,

compressed into bombs. When they explode,

changing the topography, it is to show

where suffering resides—under the stars,

on slimy grounds, over the trees.

You don’t see them even then for they come

when you are not watching. The factory

I worked for shelling cashew nuts—

toasted rate, ten centavos, well-done

fifteen—was gone in the blink of an eye,

gone with the black smoke that stained with acrid

smell my fingers, hair, skin, clothes, gone the boat

I rode to the shore to free myself

of the small with the wind, gone the birds

that fed from my hands in the park.

We moved from our coastal village

to a settlement deep in the mountains.

No mailbox to accept letters

of rumors about battles or

reminders about the danger of

typhoid fever. We had horrible death

from despair and starvation. No talk

of love in the open where one felt

exposed and vulnerable to the moon

slipping through the trees and a woman’s voice

riding high on the cloud, because to love

was to be weak. One day the men

caught a pig and slaughtered it. The meat

was cut into chunks, salted and hung

on bamboo poles to dry in the air.

There was dancing that night, subdued

as it was, our mind focused on

a closure to the conflict. The weather

confined us and protected us, too.

We learned camouflage, execution,

cunning against those who strayed into

our place. We buried them near a grove

of mangoes and covered their graves with twigs

and dried leaves. One morning, tired from lack

of sleep, we heard the planes circling the sky.

They found us. We wrapped the meat and ran

to the clearing. We were brought to a dark

hospital where old men coughed and children

cried, but were alive again.

Second chance adorns a tragedy.

You cut the loop and stand at the junction

of life and everything, making choices,

thinking of years and years. They may come,

they may not. Grief humbles the arrogant

and squeezes blood from a stone. We talked

by the windowsill, by the water pump,

by the barbershop about the house

we must build for our faithful God,

two dogs and a hen. What from? We had

a cruel passage, things not looking good.

I did make my choice or something like it,

working as a printer’s assistant

composing leaflets urging veterans

to sign up for government benefits—

“You deserve compensation for your

sacrifice.” We hired an old airplane

and dropped thousands of leaflets

all over Manila, they flipped and flopped

descending, getting caught in electric

lines, swimming in a sea of nothing

to be grabbed by the multitude below

who jostled and pushed each other.

I did not want to get down from the heights,

the city looked so serene, so clean,

the debris of carnage just dark blotches

on the streets and the people waving

and waving their arms at me as though

I was a homecoming hero.









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