We Can Never Call it Quits, This Loving of a Heartland Promised

We can never call it quits,

this loving of a heartland

promised a long time ago

by the eternal earth that gives grace,

by the solemn skies that give hope

by the feisty fire that warms our hearts,

in this winter cold as in the sunny days

in the colder climates in the old country.

Baguio comes to mind with its quiet

peace after its share of earthquakes

and its terrrors, its poetry of silence

shattered by the scene, just the mere scene,

of a summer city of regrets & ruins.

Or Baggao as well, in San Jose, for certain.

There the memory comes frolicking,

its tragedy one for the record of firsts & pains.

We see the young child now on that road to

an afterglow of speech to the young,

the speech about some rotten love for others

the speech about some kind of a calling to neglect.

The orange rays of the early morning sun

streak through the foliage serving as cover

from the punishment of the night

that saw both the dead man and his son.

The murderers told the son, perhaps grown

now in years and yearning for the father

who is gone, to start that vigil for the father

sleeping. He was four or five, innocent

as innocence was in these parts.

Yes, I will watch over him,

the child said, the tone final,

the promise faithful.

I will watch over him

and I do not mind the hole

in his head, the blood spurting from his

sides and neck. You see, apo a natuturay,

you see, apo a nabibileg, the rains have come

rampaging from the mountains

and the murky and dirty waters

have washed my tears

have swallowed up my fears

have cleaned the blood on my father's wounds &

have drowned my tears.

I can only watch over him now

with the love that I know,

the knowing love of a child

that has yet to know.

I will grow up to be one

like you, with the bullets encircling you

tough chest, perhaps hardened

by your presiding over punishments

like this one.

I know my father is alive,

will rise from the dead

when the morning comes.

So I will watch over him

& sing to him the lullabyes

I have kept in heart, some of them

he sang to me when I was younger,

about two when this martial law

came to sabotage our sorrowful life.

And the scene comes full circle:

we found the man dead for a day

and a night, his body washed clean

by the furious rains that came with the fierce winds.

Siberian breeze, we called, this coming of chill in the fields

this coming of age of children in dictatorial times

this coming of age for reciting the oath of allegiance

to him and his cohorts, this cabal of megalomaniacs

loving their mirror images in mirrorless mirages.

The times were interesting

& indeed they were so. Priests & nuns

from empty convents & seminaries

in Rome came to talk about redeeming our stories

of disgrace, this fallenness, a people vowing

to a promise that was never there in the first place

except to write it in a false verse of freedom

to mean a decade or two of deliberate deception

and an epiphany of manifold mistakes:

the raising of our hands to respect the heartland

the eradication of rumor to honor the family

the writing of decrees to violate us in thought

the putting up of barricades to exclude us from discourse

the speaking of English to make our mind lesser than an idiot's.

How can we ever call it quits, this loving

of this unruly land of our public selves & lives,

the questions from our emotions raw and fresh

each time we recollect the ages that have come to pass?

Even from our perch, we who have gone away

to exist like exiles elsewhere, in fiction & in fact,

we cannot call it quits. The redundant reminders haunt us:

the coup attempts that are a daily fare

the staging of a funeral to fulfill a fantasy courtesy of the dead

the announcing of corruption in dollars to test the waters of truth

the entitlements of officials' sons & daughters to privileges

the continuing accent on the perks and pelf of greed.

No, we can never ever call it quits.

The payaos are calling us into action even as the ritual

of birthing and dying continues to enchant us.

The payaos are there for the rice farmers to work on,

for the coaxing to yield to the promises of needs

being met, the faithful promises of the elements,

in Kalinga as well as in Dumalneg,

down the sloping terrains of Adams & Carasi,

there we dream of not quitting, we dream of endless

dancing with the soothing winds from calm seas

and gurgling rivulets of our homing hearts.

Aurelio S. Agcaoili

Torrance, CA

Dec. 27, 2004

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