This writing of the literature of exile
by exiles begins tonight
in this coronation ball by the seaside,
the sand and surf the witnesses
of this opulence only rootlessness
can bring. I take pen and paper
and much grief to understand
the rhythm of this sad laughter
we contribute to make more dense
the festive air of provincial joy,
a memory of the Ilocos, the environs,
and all the thrones and islands
that dream of dollar and destitution
the green money to wipe out all
the traces of the wiping of sweat
in the noonday sun in the fields
the dream of destitution
to make us forget the look of porridge
on earthen pots, the menu a gruel
of much water on rice swollen like
murky waters in the season of storms
in the season of hunger
in the weeks of want
that come after a poor harvest.
It is a cruel covenant, this crowning
of the almost royal queens,
five of them, the color of their skin
that of the dark earth in the homeland.
The politico's speech comes condescending,
in clear staccato of a mind that calculates
gains and needs and motives and profits.
I watch from the corner table
with the one round of an applause
on bowls of mushroom soup
on the white and red linen
starched to make the proceedings
crisp or the morsels sliding
unnoticed by the promenading princess
past my aisle to take a quick look
of bejeweled crowns on the stage
of the cutouts in blazing gold and orange
announcing a hodge-podge of majesties
their highnesses and their royalties,
big and small, blue and not-so.
This is an empire, I tell myself.
Medieval and rotten and mossy.
Corrupt and criminal and colonial.
Triumphalist and terrorist of truth.
Or its stains, vestiges, relics.
Or a whole mind stunted like
a whole village gone idiotic, crazed.
To wear a scepter, or is it?
to help the poor and the dying
of the country that drove you away
to help the victims of victories
of the elect of the old country
in this cycle of quicksilver fame
and fortune for a moment
of dream and regret too soon
when the whole brouhaha of the banal
wears off the morning after.
I take everything, take them all,
jot them in the mind,
the details and denoument
the victors and the vanquished
in this royal masquerade
of masks and masked men,
masked women, masked children,
their games required to create
a palimpsest of patriotism
and self-hatred for wearing
the smile that has to be worn
the crown that has lost its luster
the vestment of glitter and bad blood
and putrid like the legendary palace
by the river where all this began in memory
where all this continues to corrupt us all
where all this makes us justify our rootlessness
where all this hides the homelessness
of our hearts. So tonite, I begin to write
about the literature of exile
by exiles. Redemption is farthest
in the poetry that parades how far
have we arrived from the land that awaits
the pageatry of princesses and their consorts
getting a cheap rite of passage.
Aurelio S. Agcaoili
Jan. 16, 2005