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.