Home in Exile, Exile from Home, Part VIII

Another Bacong poem recreates the familiar from the foreign and the usual from the strange by an appeal to a nostalgia for a place personal and life-giving, even if at times paradoxical for its suggestion of a continuing colonial culture and practice like the melodious intoning of a white Christmas.

Tatlong taon ko nang nararanasan
ang magdiwang ng kapaskuhan
sa ibang bayan
nakita’t nahipo ko na ang niyebeng
tila bubog ng mga diyamante
na noo’y sa mga awiting pamasko
ko lamang naririnig.

ngunit hinahanap-hanap ko pa rin
ang maligamgam na patak ng ulan
na naghahatid ng buhay
sa tigang na lupain
ng mahal kong bayan.

(It has been three years
of going through Christmas
of celebrating it in other lands
I have seen and touched snow
like small pieces of diamond
I only have come to know
Through the season’s carols

still I am searching for
the warm drop of rain
that gives life
to the dry earth
of my beloved land.)

The return happens—but not necessarily in setting foot on the native soil once again.

The remembering, the mindful recollection of the details of experience back home, are sufficient to get him by and make him succeed in spending Christmas with his aloneness keeping him company.

A poem by Saturnino de Asis Jr. prays to God, invokes His blessings after thanking Him, in the manner of an anamnesis-epiklesis, and then the plea for the virtue of sharing:

O, Lord most high.
Thank you for those
who helped me attain
this overseas employment
and for the wonderful blessing.

The prayer is a contradiction when set against the backdrop of the Philippines as the “largest migrant nation” in the world, when foreign employment does not necessarily mean the good life but the maiming of a limb or coming back home on a cold coffin at the rate of four Filipinos per day.

For as long as the country and its leaders continue to be apathetic to the plight of the poor, exile will remain enchanting, magical, and redeeming because of the promises it offers. Thus, this kind of literature, written from a variety of languages and positions and perspectives, will be produced to document a poetics of difficulty of making meaning out of the wanderer’s dream of dollars and deliverance. The exile can only pray to extend time and space.

Lilia Quindoza-Santiago’s account of Lorna Laraquel, a migrant worker, is a sad, sensitive tale of an exilic dream that does not end in a salvific exodus but the beginning of a cycle more vicious than the previous one. In the poem that ends in a plaintive, if faint but conclusive tone and temper, the migrant who was about to be executed for killing her abusive employer, speaks:

Wala, kailanma’y walang buhay na maalwan
Kung walang mapagpalang lupang tinubuan .

(No, there will never be a better life
If there is no nurturing and caring nativeland.)

How the space and time in the life of an exile awaiting execution leads to a narrative of a paschal mystery is apocryphal. It does not happen to mortals, this mystery, much more to Filipinos.

At best, the space and time before the final hour form part of a semiosis of want and deprivation and the unabated democratization of misery and poverty by political leaders professing and promising liberation to the masses.

The waiting game is some kind of an ontology of a suffering made more real by a critical reflection of that anomaly in a society professing Christianity and justice and “church of the poor.” Ceres Doyo recounts Laraquel’s experience this way: “She counted the days, the hours, the minutes, the seconds. Her thoughts turned to home. She had left her family and friends for this land that had promised her the good things in life. Now she was experiencing this place as it really was—a desert of the soul.” (To be continued)

Pub, INQ, V1N20, Nov 2005

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