Writing the Literature of Exile by Exiles

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

Honolulu, HI

Jan. 16, 2005

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