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
Dec. 27, 2004