Fathering from Afar

Primed for middle age and somewhat going past it and that you are a father in exile, voluntary in some sense because you have, indeed, if it were true, chosen to go away to search and find some luxuries of life elsewhere in the hope that you can buy time and space to write your ambitious work about the terrors and surprises of being a Filipino and being part of an imagined reality we call 'the Filipino nation', you become sensitive to so many things.

Oh, I have been like this these past few days: sensitive, so sensitive to a fault. Words have been like blades, sharp and wounding, blood oozing in their edges like a Bushido sword.

When you have my age, you become ultra sensitive to the hidden and secret meanings of utterances even if, in Fernand Braudel's sense, the clear intention of our words is what, to him, would pin down what we mean and how to make sense of the world.

Braudel is historicistic, for certain, in the mold of the classical hermeneuts who were looking at the sacred biblical text as if they were fossils for us to look into and interpret the past.

Then again, we understand the point of Braudel as well as he looked at the world and the geographies of joy and sorrow he saw in the formation of a community or a new nation or a new country out of the political and 'national' aspirations of a people.

We see here, for instance, the hidden desire of Islam to create a world that is Islamic in much the same way that we see the imperialistic posturings hidden in the Christian sense of evangelizing the world, with rice and salvation bribes in order for the missioners to have something to report to their kings and patrons and popes and superiors in the foreign countries where they came from, the report, almost always, semantically hidden in such phrases as 'the number of souls saved' or 'the number of souls baptized.'

It is in light of "The Word" in these events that I tried to put some sense and meanings--or their semblance--to the utterances of my youngest child, a talkative daughter who likes to pose questions at a time that you do not know how to answer them because, for one, you are drowned by sorrow when talking to her even as you find comfort in her voice, tone, and pitch only a joyous child has. When I called her up the last time, she told me, "Tawagan mo uli ako mamamayang gabi, ha, papa? Please, kakausapin mo ako uli."

Those twin statements, from the exuberance of a child that did not see much of me while she was trying to make sense and meaning of her child's world through her child's words, were something that touched me so terribly, more because they have in them the hidden longing of a daughter who barely knew my face and pathos as she was growing up and I was not there, I was not simply there to lull her to sleep or to pick her up when she stumbled and hurt herself.

I left her when she was one, and I could not imagine the scene when I left that March. Now she told her tita, an aunt who takes care of her, "Pag nasa Hawai`i na ako, tita, padadalhan kita ng pera."

When I left that March, school had just closed, the first born done with his first year of college life away from home, the first born who chose to study in another campus of the state university in order to have his own taste of freedom college life offered; the second born was going to fourth year, and whose graduation in high school I would miss, my missing of this event and her confirmation and her graduation in the elementary and some others leaving me heavy traces of incompetence and guilt; and the last born having just celebrated her first birthday in a Jollibee store some months before.

I could not remember if she had uttered her first word at that time; but some months after, I would receive a picture of her scanning the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the broadsheet spread on the cement floor. I only knew one thing: that we all cried on the night before I left, the long and sad goodbyes a ritual of hope and promise at the same time.

She quizzed me when I last called, the youngest daughter: "Saan ang bahay mo? Umuulan ba diyan? Umuulan dito e, bumabagyo pa! Anong ginagawa mo? Sinong kasama mo? Kailan ka uuwi? Nami-miss mo ako, papa? Nami-miss na kita e."

And then the exuberance of a child discovering many things: "Marunong na ako ng 'Bayang Magiliw'. Tumatayo ako sa bangko kapag sinasabi ko ang 'Iniibig ko ang Pilipinas'. Inilalagay ko sa dibdib ko ang aking kanang kamay, papa, kasi yun ang sabi ng titser."

"Tatawagan mo ako mamayang gabi, ha?" she reminded me. I remembered that she was in my mother's house to wait for her ride home, her school done and over with that noontime and she expected me to call her in our home.

Something hurt as I listened to her, deep in the guts, a pinch in the mind, a wound in the soul.

As I write this, I looked at the late moon rise, the comb-like light in the west standing guard, atop the outline of mountains so broad and so calm, like the sea that I knew was there for always beyond these sacred scenes. There are mercies and kindnesses, indeed, from the universe. I teared up for the lost times that have something to do with fathering from afar.

I knew, I knew: I was on a sacred ground at this sacred hour. On that nite, I had to wait for the opportune time to call my daughters and my son who were from afar. No, I was the one from afar.

A. S. Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
July 29, 2006

Thinking Thoughts on the Filipinos in Lebanon

Today before sunrise, I wrote to one emigre from San Francisco who has resisted to be totally absorbed by the culture of the adoptive country.

She says she has evolved as an American Filipino, not Filipino American, having grown up and having lost as well the sounds, sights, and smells of the home country.

But she assures me: "I have refused to be swallowed up by all the things around me. Which is why I have picked up some of the grammar of our pains as a people." She adds: "That is why I have learned of the semantics of our suffering, which, in some sense, we have learned to live and love and also enjoy."

As an aside, she asks: "Are we a race of sadomasochists or plain masochists or both?"

I emailed her back while thinking thoughts about the Filipinos in Lebanon even as Hesbollah pounds Israel, even as these cousins and brothers and kins mortally punish each other by accounting the dead on each side, the Beirut count in the hundreds while the Tel Aviv count has been far less, so far.

There are problems here when you think two thoughts at the same time, and during early hours of the morning that has yet to come from the mountains and the sea around you and the crisp air coming from the fields that the sakadas tended for many years since their coming over in 1906.

I worked on my response by centering on the difficult and trying condition of the Filipino emigre everywhere, in all the lands of the world.

It is not something that we envy, I wrote to her. We have become OFWs, a semantic rendering to camouflage our unenviable fate and fortune. Earlier, we were OCWs, I told her: overseas contract workers. But we could have been worse: OUR CATTLE TO THE WORLD. I underlined, our and cattle and world for effect.

She asked me about the brain drain.

I began with an admission: Yes, emigre, there is brain drain in the country and soon, the beloved country might have an intellectual hemorrhage if the holes and exits are not plugged ASAP.

And the explicitation followed suit: Imagine the thousands of some of our best professionals leaving every year for the developed countries, and for countries you cannot, for heaven's sake, imagine that Filipinos would have a liking to go. But we are living in difficult as well as interesting times and we cannot just sit back and relax and watch the Manila sun setting while our families and children starve. And so we are sending any able bodied Filipino professional and skilled workers to the Middle East, to Africa, all the continents that you can imagine, war or no war.

And then I told her my story, my sad story, which she asked: I was a teacher back in the home country. I wrote poems to live and survive. But we could not live on metaphors and so I had to find a way to seek and find for a way out. I have waited for so long for democracy to bear fruit but two people's revolutions ended up with an empty and emptied paradise long promised to us.

And then I emailed her about the need to have that a connect to fight the decades of disconnect that have plagued us migrants and immigrants: Yes, we need to connect, discover the roots, link up again and again with the home country. But we also have a duty to feed ourselves, put food on our family's table, and dream of a better life. The most ironical of the ironies is that we have to leave the homeland, the heartland, the birthland to live the good life, or so we keep hoping and praying and believing.

Because it is not the same way in Beirut, I wrote.

There, the Filipinos who go through a gruelling war and despair and hopelessness, with some of the Lebanese employers denying the basic rights of our people to be repatriated by withholding our people's passports, by accusing our people of being thieves, and some other terrible deeds just to make them stay and stay put. One of our own, a woman, jumped from her employer's building and hurt herself so bad, and now she is in a hospital, with broken limbs and broken life and broken dream. She will go home this way, if the war does not catch up on her.

I do not understand this, I wrote the emigre, and I worry about our people. At least two of my relatives are there, having been there for quite some time and picking up the language and redeeming the mortgaged land of our maternal grandparents. Now that land is back in the hands of the family but this war, this terrible war in Lebanon, will this change the contour of our family's story?

I continued: I read one account of Filipino staying put, and staying put with her employer even as the employer was contemplating of running away from the ravaged land of the Old and New Testament and Koranic people. What has faith got to do with all of these, I wrote to her.

I was rambling, for sure, with all the thoughts crisscrossing, and the night getting darker and darker in Waipahu. In the shadows, I sew the outlines of homes muted now by this evening of our immigrant lives.

I thought of the homes left behind by all ten million or more Filipino migrants and immigrants, the homes they left behind in order to scratch out a life in perilous places like Lebanon. How many are in Israel awaiting repatriation, I do not know. But if Lebanon has a share this many, Israel must have more, far more.

And this war has gone on, with the missiles and rockets and bullets and bombs and deaths and destruction from both sides.

Peacemaker, anyone?

A. S. Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
July 29, 2006

A Reason to Hope

To hope and keep on hoping is a virtue, the middle ground between hopelessness on the left and hopelessness on right. As all virtues, there is that tug-of-war in hoping, the tug-of-war between extremes. The hoping man has to strike that balance somewhere, plus or minus.

Even as I try to think of the heady days, with these wars going on--with brothers becoming like Cain and Abel to each other, in Lebanon and Israel as elsewhere--and hearing more and more of the Armageddon-type of discourse from the rightists of faith and other fundamentalist rah-rah-rah boys and girls whose narcissism and megalomania are damn so masked by the mass media, I think of hope.

I hope for hope.

I think of hope and I have a reason to hope.

Many thinkers have reminded us well: Life is a text and it is a difficulty.


A believer has to be tested of his faith, I suppose. Like a writer going through hell in order to write and then after writing, he cannot even be sure if he can feed himselft afterwards.

And yet a writer has to keep on thinking of metaphors and tropes to interpret the world and human experience.

With these thoughts in mind, I walk past the rainbow showers in baby pink and dark pink and light yellow and orange. In the fall, the clusters will gradually succumb to the punishing power of the elements.

The beautiful flowers will soon die, rot in the ground as if at one time they did not give off hope to people looking for hope.

And then the cold months of winter will bury all the memory of spring and summer, all that is beautiful including the flowers that made me hope and hope for the best. The wind will chill people and the flowers and the breeze from the sea will be less kinder in these parts as elsewhere.

I walk to the Newman Center, that intimate church where believers go for the only mass for the day, the mass at noontime.

We are 15 or so, many of the congregants middle aged people with middle aged hopes.

On the first day that I attended mass, the priest introduced me to the congregation. I felt hope at that instance. I wanted to keep on believing of the redeeming power of flowers in bloom, of the redeeming power of the breeze from the sea, of the redeeming power of the crisp air from the mountains garbed with proud trees, dense and green, their crowns reaching to the heavens.

Small things like these make me hope.

These are enough reason for me to hope.

As I write this, there is drizzle in this late night. The street lamps give off a yellow glow on cemented pavements that cut through Waipahu and its heart.

I pray for hope as I scan the flickering lights dotting the Pearl Harbor. I can only hear the silence now at this hour and I remember about hope springing eternal in the living well of the soul that keeps the faith and the love.

I take in all the scene of this late night and I think of the early morning hours that will wake up the bright morning and the blades of grass heavy with the dew from the sea and sand and surf.

Tonite, I will let hope to stay by my side, watch over me as I sleep the sleep of a man who hopes for the best days ahead in this land of im/migrants.

A. S. Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
July 28, 2006

The Sugiyama Garden in a Morning Like This

It is like writing a happy piece for the first time--this writing about the Sugiyaman garden.

Family and friends have noticed how sad my writings are and they do not mince words when they say so.

The missus has said that she would not read through my work when she sense something sad and sorrowful in it. "I do not want to carry the weight of your words," she emailed me many times. When she sees something funny and light and comic, she even posts a comment or two, reacting, counteracting, criticizing, commenting.

A poetess of a friend has the same feeling about my works: "You write as if sadness is in your blood."

She has charged me like a bull in a fighting ring until one day, when she could not take it any longer, she wrote several poems and dedicated them to me. The poems were sadder than my own, succumbing to the same malady all serious writers become afflicted with.

Serious writing is sad, always sad.

The act is an act of redemption whose goal is always towards the coming-to-life- again of sensitivities, sensibilities, and common sense.

It is one of renewal, resurrection if you so wish.

Serious writing is akin to the paschal mystery and no less: passion, death, resurrection.

Serious writers go the same way, the way of this mystery: they succumb to pathos or they suffer--or if they don't suffer and become pathetic in reality, they invent suffering and pathos or inflict pain on themselves. Those who go through suffering and pathos in a real and 'normal' sense are the luckier ones if they know how to invest upon the suffering and pathos they go through, when they are able to evolve a certain self-reflexivity.

And then, of course, serious writers go through the tropes of death, day-in and day-out.

Finally, if they find the way out, if they have the discipline to get out of suffering and death, they come back to life, resurrect like the way the savior did in his act of redeeming mankind.

I think again of these figures of speech, like a powerful metaphor and metonymy to the informing creative power in serious writing, in living life with authenticity and seriousness.

So instead of wallowing in sadness today, I look at the Sugiyama garden.

It is the garden fronting the kitchen sink of a sister's house. This house is where I am finding refuge at the moment, while waiting for the school year to begin with its own circle of frenzied activities.

It helps that the sink is draped in mini curtains in hues and shades akin to summer colors, the lacy curtains opening wide to the back of the next house owned by a retired couple who have always been kind to me whenever I came over to visit. They always had the ready smile on their faces, the sincere greetings, the easy laughter, and the quick 'thank you' when you tell them how beautiful their garden is. Their countenance and disposition, to say the least, is like their garden: ever-giving.

I look at the garden in this early morning of Tuesday of deadlines and more deadlines to beat. I spot the morning mist in the surroundings, a result of the evening rain. The dewdrops glint on the blades of grass carpeting the garden and the dark green leaves of bonsais perched on garden tables speak of lives lost and then regained, like my own. There is a subtle sway on the crowns of trees, as if a dance is going on courtesy of the breeze from the mountains and from Pearl Harbor in the east, as if the dancers are creating a beautiful chaos on stage.

The summer birds have come in early, making music I have not heard in a long time. The chirping came from the dense foliage of a mango tree, from a lychees tree, from the bushes hedging the backyard garden. Why the couple chose to have their garden at the back instead of the front part of the house is clear to me now: so the birds can sing to their hearts' content each hour of the day, minus the noise of people and vehicle that pollute the streets and the air and break the contemplative silence of flowers and gardens and gardeners.

The various flowers in their riotous colors compete for attention: the hibiscus on one side, the bougainvillea on the other, the lily on the pond, the orchids hanging on the branches of the pruned trees.

I throw my sorrows away, towards the garden in its colorful garb.

I throw my sadness away, towards the flowers in their summer bloom.

Today, I promised myself, like this garden of happiness, I permit myself to go through the paschal mystery with all its mysteries of endless falls and springs. At the end of the day, I will claim my coming-to-life-again, my resurrection, my renewal, my self-redemption.

I think of happy thoughts and happy poems.

And so I write this piece.

A Solver Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
July 25, 2006

When Astrology Meets Free Will

Today I think of the classic divide between predestination and free will, that divide seen in that vacuous chasm between prayer for resignation and the individualist quest of man for his own sweet destiny.

I think again and again of the consequence of this divide: man has posed forever that challenge to the forces that signify an end already finished and completed; he has resisted that idea that the only thing he can do is to go and look for that route that leads to that end that is already finished.

I ponder these and other myriad thoughts as I drive through H-1, that other freeway that connects the island of O’ahu to all the other points: the downtown Honolulu where cosmopolitanism is the key word, with its skyrises, its sand, its surf, its sea, its sun; the plantation towns that bring you to the North Shore and there connect with the kababayans of old, their skin as dark—or as “perfectly tanned”, using a touristy term—as yours; the other freeways and highways that bring you to a number of lookouts and other scenes that are always ineffable, beyond words, beyond language, the scenes of nature always invoking some kind of a higher power, a spirit of the ages, that spirit that is boundless, forever, eternal; and the university campus down on Manoa that will serve as haven and home to my teacher's soul.

I hit Lanakila to get my medical clearance for submission to the university, a requirement for new hires.

So that is my identity now: a new hire: liminal/liminoid, here-now-but-not- yet-so because the first paycheck has yet to arrive, the paycheck the almost certain indication of your employment in these parts. In this America that you have come to know—you admit you do not know the other Americas yet, well, not yet—it is the amount in the paycheck that matters, in response to that question, as famous as Hollywood and its corruptions and convoluted logic: “How much money do you make?”

I cannot understand this question yet, this obsession for money, this penchant for that which outlasts your mortal life, as if you do not believe in the heavenly mercies of the spirit of life. I think of the birds of the air, the lilies of the field and the fishes of the sea, the biblical injunction in the trope clear to me.

I understand the pressure and stress posed by rent and other bills, of course, but when a country and its people have put money as the standard for seeing life, for valuing it, and for living it, I begin to have my doubts about many things. Do we ever live life in this country—a life lived in fullness, lived fully, kindly?

I remember I have worked hard all my life and I have never put money as a premium for all the work that I have done—not that I know of. (Somebody, please tell me that I am lying!)

I want to be paid for my labor, for certain, remembering that I have children to feed, to send to school, to bring around and make them see culture when they see one. But always, money had never defined our life and our lifestyle.

I think of destiny in this light, the kind of fate that you owe to the spirit that gives you life, the spirit that has nurtured you, has given you hope, has sustained you in your darkest of hours.

I get into the university, the medical clearance in my hand, walking with briskness in the mid-morning sun after finding, for the first time, a space in the visitor’s parking lot. Today, I tell myself, I am pocketing two dollars as my savings for parking fee.

I walk with hope to my duilding that is now getting some kind of a landmark status in my mind.

I listen to what my heart says: I want so much that this teaching appointment will formally start soon. Poverty is not something that no one wishes, and the past year was one of poverty to begin with. There was that grand vision that I was part of and I was willing to give it a go, all of my own, drop everything for and in the name of that vision. It did not work, at least for the last several months.

With bills mounting, and the cost of relocating prohibitive, I need to start earning a decent living and start a decent life anew, in simplicity and in virtue—or so I pray.

I get into my department, look into my pigeonhole, and there are the memo sheets that affirm my teaching appointment: that I have to attend a ceremony for two retiring faculty who had put in more than 70 years of teaching between them and that I need to attend l’affaire with the chancellor, the getting-to-know-you event for new faculty and administrators of the university campus.

It hits me now, these twists and turns of my lot in life: as I get in, some two others from my department are calling it quits, having had the time of their life nourishing and nurturing young minds. This is the famous circle of life, I realize now, a freeing and liberating circle of life the way the Lion King in the movie “Lion King” defines it: when others go, some others come in. And I am one of the "some others" coming in.

I sign up in all these academic activities for new faculty members. I have to find my way in, learn the ropes, and learn as fast as I can and link up with comrades in the battlefield called excellent academic pursuit that has not been so kind to me at the start of my migrant life.

I get down the Spalding, the building that will house my books and book projects in a long while. This building will be the refuge of my soul, the haven of rest for my tired mind even as I try to think of more creative works to be written, like the novels that have yet to be finished.

In the warm rays of the midmorning sun, I gaze at the building with its backdrop of summers showers in full bloom: it is the same building that will afford me the view of the mountain ranges that dot the landscape in the east going west, my teacher’s desk positioned to have a generous serving of the magnificent scene each day.

I will surely love this rendezvous, a daily rite of reunion with the chi, the prana, the anito, the spirit of life.

I get past the door on the first floor, near the fountain and there I saw, for the first time, a Honolulu Weekly. Having been a writer, I am struck by the paper: unassuming, tabloid-type, and in print. But I sense something more than its looks, some intellectual stimulation with less of the academic pretensions and rigor of posturing writers and scholars and journalists—and academics as politicians; orpoliticians as journalists; or journalists as politicians—some even grandstanding to make up for their lack of abilities to deliver the goods they promise.

I skim read, speed reading the news, one on the money to be spent to search for the University of Hawai`i Manoa chancellor, the money more than two hundred thousand dollars just to search for the next chancellor. I count my take home pay against the fee to be paid by the university just to search for the next chancellor of the Manoa campus, the university’s flagship campus. It is going to be my campus as well.

I imagine myself, petty ambition and mendicant thoughts and all, applying for the chancellor’s position so the university will save that amount and instead give it to new faculty members so they can start to work on their dreamed-of books looking for publishers and grant money to subsidize their writing and research.

I skim read the culture section first and learn of the Hawaiian royalty’s practices based on some research, with male monarchs keeping a stable of male lovers, and the practice is normal, a regular fare, day-to-day, a fundamental score point against the Western notion of sexuality and gender and human freedom, with the Judeo-Christian notion imprisoning this sexual practice and its practitioners and branding the practitioners as something else.

And then the horoscope with that Honolulu twist grabs my attention, staying focused on Aries, my zodiac sign. It reads:

I’m pleased to announce the imminent arrival of a new chapter in your own personal soap opera. It could include any of the following plot twists: midnight confessions, madcap sex farces, thumb-sucking saints, an invitation to play leapfrog with a unicorn, work turning into play and vice versa, a showdown between the reptile brain and the mammalian brain, a chance to bob for lollipops in a fountain, a thunderstorm coming just in time to douse a raging fire, samurais wearing pajamas, a supernatural ham sandwich and opportunities to tinker with your “Me Against the World” attitude.

I investigate the details, look for specifics to pin down this unscholarly and funny piece on fortunes and fame and faith: it is Rob Brezsny. It is his “Free Will Astrology”. I look for dates and other citation clues: July 19-July 25, 2006, page 38.

Ha, these randomnesses!

And this hodgepodge we call life.

I think of attitudes that I have yet to learn in order to remain faithful to my life work. Live life simply, dude, I remind myself.

A S Agcaoili
UH Manoa & Waipahu, HI
July 24, 2006

Distances and Departures

We measure distances in terms of feelings, memory, love, passion, and poetry.

Departures, oh, they are measured the same way, including the tears that well from the eyes of children who are growing up, who need you day-in and day-out, who crave for your voice, for that authority in that voice.

Those that you miss should include the morning sermons that reminded the children of the past, the present, and the future rolled into one as you drove them to their schools, you becoming a ritual driver because once again, once again, they missed their school bus because, once again, once again, they woke up late.

You missed these as well: the daily exercise of the vocal chord, the stretch of the veins on the neck, the warming up of the temple, and the cracking of the voice because you simply were tired practicing for the next fatherly speech the following day.

You have to include, of course, the fact that you put food on your family's table speaking to a bunch of awake and half-awake as if you knew something, and as if the students also knew that you knew something.

That was the teacher in you, explaining to your students the metaphor of a metaphor, of failure, of success, of life, of death, real and imagined, like that one when human flesh challenges metal and one student picked that metaphor up, created a poem out of that death, and then recited the verses before her classmates. She spoke of the distance between living and dying, and the departures that all ought to take to get into a life in the eternity of time.

Like memories of peoples and places that touched our lives, our hearts, our souls, keeping the memory in the mind that does not permit the corruption and vicissitudes and vagaries of time.

You remember, you will pick up the same ceremony again, the same rhythm, the same rite, the same ritual, the same access to young minds, young souls trying to break free from the shackles of the world.

Even as you try to get settled in this new land of your fortune, praying that fame, if it will come, will give you humility and simplicity and virtue and the extra time to write more and more, finish that Ilokano Quartet of novels that declaim the terror and torture of your people, you sit down and relax under the generous canopy of the summer showers filled will orange and yellow blooms, with only a handful of leaves jutting out from the cluster of petals reaching out to the sun, the wind, the rain, the hills, the newcomers like me.

You realize about distances: the distances in your poetry. You need to write some more of metaphors of migrancy the way others did to document these tragedies and joys of being exiles and migrants.

You realize about departures: the need for you to good back to your art, one life you have left behind temporarily because of other concerns, concerns that bogged you down, concerns that murdered your sensitivity, concerns that gave you courage to move on after hanging on for so long.

You pray to your God: Here I am, here I am at last.

You give thanks to your God, the God that redeemed your art so you can write once more.

You put a closure to the distances, to more departures. You remember you have arrived.

A. S. Agcaoili
July 18, completed July 23, 2006.
Written in Manoa and in Waipahu, HI.

Honolulu's Liquid Sunshine

It was in Williamsburg, Virginia that I first heard of the phrase.

"Liquid sunshine," says Dr. Josie Clausen while we were walking to a restaurant down on Lafayette, a stone's throw away from the fenched off entrance to the acres and acres of Colonial Williamsburg. There was drizzle in the midday sun.

"Liquid sunshine," I repeated, trying to let the phrase sink into my head. I allowed the words to stay for a while in my tongue and imagine the memory of sun, as solid as the earth.

Liquid sunshine.

Liquid sunshine.

I permitted my mind to wander and I was in Ilocos-land--or Ilokoslavakia if you will--and I was back to the times of my children in the homeland and I saw fallowed fields and parched fields and fields overflowing with the verdant color of the universe, the green one of a grace promised, with the strong stalks of rice plants eager to face up to the challenges of the north winds which were all too strong over here, the stalks eventually bearing fruit, the grains full and huge, as if they were all pregrant women on the verge of giving birth to a generation of heroes of the sad, sad homeland.

When I went to meet up with my department chair, the meeting to formalize the first steps to my appointment in the university, liquid sunshine came about, showering me with the blessings of the universe down here in Manoa, the campus a universe unto its own, with its copious rainbows welcoming me in the midmorning of my appointment with my chair, the teacher who took me in her fold long before the search and interviewing committee decided that I could be the next best bet to filling up the shoes of other, more accomplished people in the history of the department and the college and the university.

The university itself is hedged by mountains intertwined to form some kind of a great wall to protect it from all intellectual intruders of all kinds.

It pays that my office will face these mountains and I will have the full view to myself.

On the fourth floor where I will hold office, I imagine the mornings and afternoons that I will have to have an endless date with the muses of forests, the wild, the wildnerness, the crowns of trees, the showers in full bloom in the summer months that the heat will reach the 80's, still colder than the hundreds or so in the Mainland and the Philippines.

And now this liquid sunshine, as if they were the waters cosmic priests and priestesses would use to bless those who come here to seek refuge, redemption, relief. For more than three years, I scratched a life in the Mainland, the life was both good and not, especially during the first two years when I was at the mercy of fortune and fate and Filipinos who would not know the meaning of fraternity but opportunism, seeing oppression as a naturalized ethos in these parts where migrants have to outdo other migrants.

I left my car down the road at the back of the university theatre, that old relic of a plantation past in these parts.

Earlier, I had gone to the university visitor's parking, paying the obligatory three dollars at the entrance only to find out that the lot was full, as always. I asked myself: perhaps this is a university that does not think much of visitors and new faculty?

The theatre is a rundown kind of an establishment that must have seen better days.

The parking lot at the back was about to be filled up, as always, when you go to cities that have forgotten to walk but have used cars to accomplish anything at all.

The parking fee made me cry: five dollars or two hundred fifty pesos. I thought in terms of how much kilos of rice the parking fee cost me: about ten kilos, enough to feed a hungry family for a week. Even after more than three years in exile, I still think in terms of pesos. The dollar currency does not hit me hard, strange as it is in my way of looking at demand and supply, production and consumption, greed and poverty, war and peace.

I took the ticket, looked for the best place fronting the university so many blocks away past the formidable H-1 that linked the ends of the islands from east to west.

Despite my having here to Honolulu and the other islands many times, I could yet figure out the character of this city that has catered to tourists long before businessmen and imperialists connived to annex the islands to the Mainland U.S.

I got off the the maroon van a sister lent me to use, its gas consumption twenty dollars each trip, or your equivalent of a regular sack of rice for the not-so-rich in Manila, the kind I know of so well, so darn well. I have never believed in the graces of fancy rice grains: they are an invention of the greedy and the cheats, commerce men and women all who take advantage of the misery of others.

As if on a lunar walk, I covered my head with my hands while the liquid sunshine went on with its ceremony of giving blessings to the newcomer of this land. I prayed I was one of those being blessed.

I looked at the mountains ahead of me; I looked at the drizzle, the liquid sunshine forming rainbows above the western hills, green and welcoming.

I thought of the god of good fortune, the spirits of salvation. I heaved a sigh, believing in the great mercies of the universe around me.

A. S. Agcaoili
Honolulu, HI
July 17, 2006, completed July 23, 2006, in Waipahu, HI

Reunion, Poetry, and Commitment for Relief

I could go on and on. But this is one reunion that I will always remember.

Amado Yoro the poet and Estrella Pada Taong the educator were awarded illustrious members of their school's list of graduates. That is point one.

Point two is this: how this alumni association has linked itself with a noble cause: the medical missioning in Ilocos-land where the poor and sick are given the chance, many for the first time in their life to see a doctor, to see a nurse, to see a medical personnel. You hear Manang Estrella tell the story of how they did it and you say to yourself: charity comes in full circle.

Point three: I read a poem, "A Dream of Drums and Drumbeating." It is the story of my father and the poverty and famine and hunger that came in 1968 and 1969.

The story is familiar and I recall the scenes now, vivid and overwhelming.

I recall the scene because Manang Estrella talked of the life in Sinait, Ilocos Sur, the very life that I have come to know in all of Ilocos, in all of the homeland, in Ilocos and elsewhere, in the past as well as in the present.

The 1968 and 1969 events of famine and hunger have not changed.

We are still eating the cowhide meant for making drums, as was the intention of my father who probably had heard the frenzied beating of the drums he was to make, imagining perhaps the callused but nimble fingers of young drummers dancing on the drum's cowhide surface, the dancing of the fingers creating the primeval music of ancestors and anitos long gone, the ancestors as anitos, the anitos as ancestors remaining with us and seeing and seeing so much what we have become as a people.

We read the news and stories from the homeland and we remember all of them even as we partake of sumptuous dinners over here, like this dinner that we partake of in this reunion. There is abundance, and you cannot eat abundance when you remember hunger.

I feel sad even as I try to be happy attending reunions like this one of the Sinait National High School, the reunion feting two good friends and life mentors, recognizing their exemplary contribution to serve our people and minister to their needs.

I see poetry in all this, the contradictions coming in as intense and as real as we put our hands together in recognition of their humanitarian deed, with Manong Amado remaining forever a poet of our people, with Manang Estrella remaining forever an educator reminding us of what we have yet to accomplish to serve and keep on serving.

There are lessons here, profuse lessons about life and living.

It is as if I am hearing the sounds of drums being beaten by drummers young and old who have just partaken of a full meal of food and dreams pursued.

A. S. Agcaoili
Honolulu, HI
July 15, 2006, at the 11th anniversary of the Sinait National High School, New Empress Resto, downtown Honolulu

Rethinking "Wowowee" From Afar

The show makes you cry. And sick and tired.

No, it is not because of the show. It is the making of poverty and misery as a spectacle for all the world to see, for all the Filipino exiles to see, here in Hawaii and elsewhere. I even hear my sister now dreaming of going to this show when she takes her vacation and 'give something' to help alleviate the burden of the poor. I look at my sister quizzicially, seeing in her a genuine desire to take part in that spectacle concocted by scheming capitalists of charity.

The scenes are sickening, the tears profusely wetting the confused faces of those seeking the pesos to tide them over, to make them overcome their sad sad lot in life.

These scenes you understand well. Exile made you learn. Im/migrant life made you understand the ramifications of having nothing in your pocket except that secret prayer of deliverance recited over and over again.

We have Robinhood models of goodness like this one, like the traditional churches that literally take the excess of the rich to give to the poor.

The churches use a psychological blackmail by its institution of the rite of cleansing that gives a bribe of indulgence and an eradication of their guilt for having so much while many others have so few. Or none at all. This is alms-giving, in another sense, alms-giving with the applause of the viewing public.

On TV, on this most idiotic of all media invented by man, this medium that makes you slouch and equate the sofa as your place of rest and tranquility despite, or because of, the noise and the empty discourses and rhetorics of announcers and hosts, the capitalists of charity make this sense of guilt, this feeling of guilt as something close to an IPO at the stock exchange of the show of love and charity, the stock exchange that does not respect economic borders and national boundaries but goes beyond to reach out to the vulnerable hearts of the balikbayans who have the dollah, the great mightly dollah.

Human misery and depravity as public offerings and spectacles: these are the very stuff of human kindness and goodness that we would rather keep to ourselves.

For one thing, the biblical injunction about the right hand remaining oblivious to what the left hand is doing is violated, the "V" in the "violation" word stressed, capitalized, underscored even.

The show makes you puke even if you empathize with the pleas of the poor, like yesterday's episode that truly broke your heart, you, exile and im/migrant of another land where food comes overflowing on tables that do not know the meaning of hunger, the smell of want, the intricacies of dream for food that is never abundant but simply sufficient to get you by each day. The poor do not dream to overly stuff themselves in order to vomit so that they can feel hunger again like the way the excessive rich Romans did and which we now do, ritualistically, in the United States. The poor only dream of having something in the stomach before they go to sleep.

Here, here in this im/migrant land, they throw away the leftovers. There, there in the homeland, that act is 'ugaw': grace will go away and that is unforgivable. You cannot afford to have grace run away from your humble table.

There, there in the old country, the poor make do with the "fried chicken pagpag": the fried chicken the fastfood chains of the better off Filipinos discard and which the poor await to reclaim from the garbage bin, molds and mildews and microbes and all, have that fired chicken washed of the dirt it gathered and have it re-cooked by a starving mother or a starving father and then offer to the kids as if in a feast, with the shrieking of children hungry for more.

As an im/migrant that has seen both, the scenes come off as conflicting. And the raw emotions come off as conflicted. You can only choke, clear that lump in your throat and say, C'est la vie!

I remember a line from a novel I read, about an account of the poverty and resignation of the people of a third world Bhutan: "But what to do?"

The poor contestants pleaded: "Arnie, pagbigyan mo na ako, parang awa mo na!"

And Arnie's response: "Eto, eto, nangangailangan ito. Hindi kayo uuwi ng talunan. Basta meron kayong iuuwi!"

Two beautiful and young lady contestants that do not have any vestige of poverty come forward. Arnie says: "Etong mga ito, hindi nangangailangan ang mga ito. Hindi ko sila pagbibigyan."

This is a miserable play.

And the moneyed balikbayans and im/migrants like it so.

I like the act of generosity, the spirit of kindness.

But I puke when it comes to the spectacle.

This is plain feudalism and the television capitalists are laughing their way to their bank.

This feudalism had become international as it takes as its audience the visiting im/migrants with all their monies; the show goes on to the channels in im/migrant land, on the TFC, for instance, that the poor mistake as CFC or KFC and all those words that rhyme with copyright owner's name, all, on a sad note on the power of the subconscious/unconscious, suggesting food and more food because the acronyms are food brands.

Paging all the real freedom fighters of television so we are not going to resurrect this play on our miseries. But when? When will all this spectacle of sorrow end?

Ah, cry the beloved country! Cry because this is the only way to lighten the load on your shoulder for the centuries of the rich capitalists yoking the poor with their TV images of charity and Christian love. Whew!

A. S. Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
July 15, 2005

The Constancy of Comradeship

The constancy of comradeship is always, and always so, salving in the land of exile.

Perhaps the worst thing that could ever happen to an exile and im/migrant is when he has no real and authentic friends to run to when the going gets rough.

Being so damn alone in a new land is a double punishment as you learn to hide your fears by wearing that mask of courage until you are blown away by the wild winds.

I have seen exiles in that paranoia mode: not trusting, never trusting.

You program your mind: not to share secrets with those who pass themselves off as congenial members of the exilic and im/migrant race.

I remember that among the im/migrant races in the United States, the Filipinos are the only race known for its ability to destroy each other. And they are so good in doing this abominable act.

And they have learned the myriad ways to destroying each other, one of them--with the booty to boot--is to tell on each other.

In vulgar terms, the Filipinos have this penchant to "report each other to the immigration services."

Once they say that there was a has-been actress who made it her occupation to report to the authorities all undocumented Filipinos she came to know of.

People became wary of her.

There are other creative ways to destroy other people, all because, it seems that exile has taught us not to mind each other, not to act as our brother's keeper, but to end up as a world unto our own, with only us as the world, with only us as the resident of this world.

We end up insular as ever in mindset in a world that is as geographically continental as our knowledge and valuing of each other should be, ought to be, must be.

As an im/migrant and a voluntary exile, I have not been spared of the tragedies that are twin to being one.

But I have been spared of many of the paranoia that has befallen many: I have had the good fortune and blessing of having struck a friendship with a handful of people.

It was enough that they are a handful.

An exile needs only a few trusted friends, committed to seeing things the way you see things and having the boldness to say you are wrong sometimes.

You only need a few friends anyway, friends who are constant, their comradeship a kind of a wellspring for spiritual renewal, for seeing that life has offered you so much and that you must recognize that. And now.

The are friends that are always reminding you that you have been blessed.

This seeing of your blessings in im/migrant and exilic land is more than enough blessing to start with in your joyous journey to a healing as an exile and im/migrant.

A. S. Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI, overlooking Pearl Harbor
July 15, 2006

Life Lessons in the Warfront

These are life lessons from from the warfront, if the metaphor for surviving and making it in life is that of a war.

Or a game of cards.

Or one in a cockpit, snakepit, the lotto house, the betting stations of all kinds.

What defines all these and lays down a common ground is the play of contradictions, the play of opposites, the contradictions awaiting synthesis, the opposites awaiting fusion, uniting.

The reality of these metaphors are more heightened in exile, when the circumstances of daily life are not necessarily normal, and when the senses are all attuned to watching for the clues and cues of making it past the war ground, the place of battle, the site of conflict within and outside the self.

You get to be more sensitive to many things, and sometimes, just sometimes, you get to be overly sensitive, as is the psychological state of all peoples who are disenfranchised, dislocated, displaced, deprived.

Yes, for all the claims to financial success of any exile, there is always that tradeoff: that in this new land, you are always the alien however you try not to show the signs of being one, however you camouflage the reality that you were once an outsider coming in and tresspassing into this sacred ground of the original claimants of the good life.

However much you flaunt your success, with that characteristic statement--"Look at me, kaya ako yumayaman ay ismarte ako at negosyante at hindi umaasa sa blah-blah-blah"--you cannot deny, can never deny, well, not a whit, that you are a newcomer over here and that you get no inherent right to lord it over those who just came in and are finding their way to win this battle, to come out a victor in this war.

For such is the case of the many of those who have made it here.

You have seen them, sizes, shapes, mindsets, and the company they keep.

There are always the braggart kind, with their superiority complext intact, their survival trophies on display for all to gawk at and see and envy.

There are always the namedroppers: sinong kakilala mo, sinong kakuneksyon mo, sinong politiko ang kakabit ng iyong bituka at kawalang-hiyaan?

But there are those who have remained human, all too human. You count your fingers though.

There are, of course, many contours of selfhood and self-knowledge even in immigrant land as they are many configurations of that selfhood and self-knowledge in the homeland.

People are always people everywhere.

People are always a bundle of surprises. And shock.

But the fact of the case is that one when an im/migrant like you throws his weight around and makes you feel and sense and accept that, well, here you are, the newest of the newcomer who has not made it yet, not yet, while he, the old newcomer has made it with his wealth and connections and the names of this-and-that that he can always drop at an instance, the namedropping a callous act to account his security blanket.

Exilic life, im/migrant life, and diasporic life is a a conflicted psychology unto its own.

There is one thing that has taught you as a writer and novelist: your serious study of people.Who they are? Their motivations, the fears and troubles lurking in the deepest crevices of their heart?

They say that every novelist is always an applied psychologist, one who is always on the ready to see people as they present and re-present themselves in public spaces.

In all these, you learn.

You pray for humility that you learn more in life.

The learning is not easy but the learning is itself the prize.

You start life anew and you look around again with the lens of an illumined mind. And then you see.

A. S. Agcaoili
Honolulu, HI
July 14, 2006

A Soul in Anguish--or How Deliverance is Spelled Out

Exile, you have not gone through this anguish before, no, not in this manner and mode.

You admit: the anguish of the soul is necessary for cleansing, deliverance, purgation. It is hellish, certainly, but the fire--The Fire--is needed to purge the gold of the dirt of the earth. It is this going-through-the-fire that releases the glint of the gold, the shine in its sheen, its goldness.

You know all these now as if you know the back of your hand, the knowing familiar and comforting.

Each day is as difficult as the days before and yesterday, you had the news again.

There is no let-up for this anguish, it seems. Today, it cost you your sleep in a sister's home, in your own bed. The night was long last night and in this early morning hours, right after you were jolted by that dream that was symbolic of the washing of hands before an adoring public.

The sorrowing is longer for all the pains and sacrifices that you and your conscientious collaborators put in to make things work.

One word hurt you so, leaving an unnamed ache somewhere in your mind.

People who think they think better say there is mismanagement somewhere.

You remember the ethical adage on human act:

Who, what, where, with what ally
In what condition, when and why?

Oh, well, people. They amuse you, they give you joy, they give you sorrow.

You need to accept things as they come now, change those you can.

Those you cannot, leave them as they are.

There is virtue in this, in this rite of resignation to assuage the aching soul.
You need to heal yourself, exile, heal it many ways now.

A. S. Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
July 13, 2006

How to Slay the Shadows--Or Some Lessons on Organizational Dynamics

For more than a year, we kept on with these shadows.

Perpetual and pestering, they were there in all the months that we tried to keep the organization intact.

Because the organization was The Organization.

A symbol of what was real.

A realization of our vision, our hope.

Our silent way of reclaiming our muffled voices as a people.

There were several people who saw it all: the vision, and the sacrifices that the pursuit of that vision required. Only several, because eventually, the many dwindled to a handful, to a few, to a number that saw all what it took to go after a grand dream.

They would know the difficult road ahead, the road that was long and winding, the length going on into dark nights that cast long shadows on all the light reflected.

It is these shadows that brought fear in the heart, the fear of the night, the fear of the dark, the fear of the unknown, the fear of the road less travelled, the unfamiliar, the terrain that is yet to be explored.

In all these moments of shadows, you had only one resort, and only one: a firm belief in what life offers to the ardent seeker of deliverance from all what the shadows stood for.

You lighted candles, you burned incense, in the beginning till the end.

Even in the beginning, you have sensed the negative energies coming in to home in The Organization: the grandstanding that ended up like one bad, big, bold fart; the misunderstanding that went with some sense of entitlement and privilege; the bold words that were not bold at all but were empty promises; the nights that brought in more nights that scared you out of your wits.

Like the few who knew it all, you served.

Like the few who knew what dedication was, you dedicated yourself to the pursuit of that one goal that was to define The Organization for what it was to be.

But the shadows were dark and were casting longer shadows as the night came and went, came and went, and bringing forth more nights that came and went, and came and went.

You called it quits, this hoping against hope.

You called it quits to renew the faith.

You called it quits to allow the spirit to discover the way to slaying the shadows that were bogging it down.

You called it quits to put an end to the vulgarity of claims that had no basis, claims that did not understand the meaning of sustaining and allowing The Organization to grow, mature, and bear fruit.

You called it quits to put a halt to the misuse of speech, that speech that talked about what one could have done but did not do, what one could have accomplished but did little to do it, what one could have pursued but did take only some steps but not all the steps to the pursuit of a beautiful dream.

You umansk youself before the shadow and the shadows are lost in the night, never to appear again, never to intertwine again with all claims to what-was and what-has-been and what-could-have-been.

Ah, people, your tell yourself.

People will always be people, some claiming the first right to wash hands before the hour of atonement, the washing of hands as biblical in magnitude and dramatic power for some effect but never effective because it is a lousy excercise of a ritual with neighter sense nor meaning.

You smile, knowing, and knowing more.

You realize you are calm, as calm as the words of the man you asked for calming.

'Why worry about so many thing?' was all the word to arrest your panic, this panic on panic.

You remember you owe yourself some good, deep breathing.

You remember you still have some good people to thank, they who always remind you of your duty to live.

A. S. Agcaoili
Honolulu, HI
July 12, 2006, night

Honolulu: Have Come, Am Here

By eleven in the morning, we have landed on the Honolulu Airport.

We were early by 30 minutes, with the summer sun in these parts welcoming us with its brazen rays.

The pilot announces our arrival, the plane on a touchdown mode negotiating the air and then the runway with speed and subtle grace, the plane's rubber tire connecting with suave motion with the hot cement.

We were told by the pilot that Honolulu International is a special airport because it has been designed as an alternative landing site for the country's space shuttles. The pilot becomes a tourist guide, telling us of all the islands, the volcanoes erupting, the history of the Hawaiian monarchs, the blessings of the surf, the benedictions from the valleys.

This is how important Hawaii is, at it always has been in two of the country's fundamental interests: military power and tourism economy.

With the plantations all gone and the housing subdivisions sprouting in the countrysides in all the islands as if these were mushrooms after the August rains, Hawai`i as a state survives, and it does still, because of unabated coming over of tourists from all over and the continuing presence of the U. S. in the Pacific and, by extension, all over the world.

Even with the nuclear and missile ambitions of North Korea that went pfft, Hawaii takes centerstage in this military drama. Hawaii, veritably, is not immune from possible aggression, as in the second world war. So the NK missile had to be tagged as such. As a future Hawai`i man, I take all these to heart.

I land here, come over.

I declare: Have come, am here--but I have come, and I am here in the midst of all these concerns.

I am another statistic, one of those Filipinos looking for a land of the heart outside my heartland, a land of the soul outside my soul-land, a home outside my homeland.

These are the ugly ironies of exile.

The ironies hit me hard as I step out of the plane, put all this memory of Flight HA 1M away, and take that long walk to Baggage Claim B several thousand steps away from where the belly of the huge plane vomited us all, we seekers of fortune or fun or both, passengers all on one morning on July 11 when the summer heat of Redondo Beach in California was both balming and nostalgic.

Balming because the warmth of the California summer sun warmed the brown skin seeking some healing from all the memories of a brown land.

Nostalgic because I knew, I knew, life would not be the same again as I try to find something in Honolulu, in these islands, in the dizzying midst of sand and sea and sunshine.

I can only heave a deep sigh now, and I remember this sigh for always.

I gather all my memories of California, the Mainland U. S., the first three years of struggling it out as an exile, the three years that made me bolder and braver.

My eyes get misty as I face the almost noonday sun.

I write all these things in my mind, only in my mind.

A. S. Agcaoili
Honolulu, HI
July 12, 2006

Letter to a Firstborn

(Note: I am sharing with my readers some letters that I have written my family in the course of my im/migrant life in the United States. While the letters are really personal, they are political, and thus, public as well. Im/migrant life ceases to be a plain personal matter as the text of experience drawn from such a life is a text that is intertextually linked with other public texts, such as government policies that provide reasons for our people to leave the country for awhile.)

July 28, 2005

Dear Son,
I read your e-mail today--and the raw and fresh emotions in your letter and the poem you attached touched me so. In a funny and ironical way, the emotions are a cocktail of joy and sorrow. They are the same emotions, it seems, that every immigrant feels when he gets to the point where he is not just any longer a faceless and nameless immigrant but someone who can now see his worth as a person and as a worker in this land of opportunity and limitless possibilities. The emotions are a testament to what palpable fortune is open to him now that he has gone past the initiation stage--now that he has gone through that rite de passage of uncertainty, doubt, aloneness, despair, and worthlessness.

Yes, in a new land, you feel all these. The immigrant feels all these as he reaches out to the ground to take root. After the honeymoon with the idea about the mountain of gold and that fantabulous tale about California as a land of milk and honey and gold, the immigrant has to get down to his knees and pray for quiet perseverance, for knowing patience, for abiding faith. Because like all the rest of the professionals who came here on a working visa, the immigrant has so many things to prove not only to himself but to this land that has adopted him, sort of. Is he competent? Can he deliver? Is he willing to walk the extra mile? Can he be trusted as a foreign, alien worker? Are the skills he says he has sufficient, adequate, and at par with his peers?

The proving goes on and on.

Each day, the professional skilled worker trying to give his best must keep on trying to give his best. In other countries, there are many professionals waiting to take his place if he forgets to work on demonstrating the best of his abilities. There are only about 65,000 professionals like him that the entire country allows to migrate each year. And the number is easy to come by if we put all the best brains of the world willing to come here and pursue the dream the Ellis Island immigrants came here for centuries ago.

Anyone who steps out of his birth-land, anyone who goes into another culture and clime, and anyone who commences a life lived differently is necessarily stepping out of his comfort zone and out of the logic of convenience the familiar affords him. In a new land, you feel a certain tinge of alienation in the beginning, a certain estrangement that engages you into mustering enough strength and boldness and daring to explore the limits of the unfamiliar, the unknown-as-of-yet, the uncertain.

I am at this stage--and I am still trying to take root. This is the reason why you might realize that I am still weighed down by this reality of exile. This is the same reason why my poems--even those that I dedicate to you such as "Ayi, a firstborn," contain a lot of sadnesses without names, sadnesses only exiles know. The going through this ceremony of sadness with the alien's world is salving and soothing. No, the sadnesses do not pin us down. They make us see the promises of the brilliant sun the following day.

You wrote in your latest poem, son, about the uses of raw emotions. In the language of our native land, you wrote about "naked feelings redeeming us." How true! And as always, let me assure you that in the silences that bridge us now--father and son, two struggling poets sundered by a strange song about art and poetry and life, and divided, in a tentative way, by a dream of a place where we will be afforded the change to sit down in the quiet of our writing rooms and write to our heart's content about mankind at its earnest, about the redemption we all have to earn--in this tacit understanding that I will make it here and that I will be able to blaze a better, brighter trail for us all--I see clearly the hidden truths of your poem. I see the gore and glory of the courage that we need for us to name that pain that we have to pay for this search for a life that, we hope and pray, makes sense to us. It is ironical and tragic that we will have to search it here in California, in this land of the fantastic and the illusory, this land that is 8,000 miles away, about 14 or so hours away by plane, with several time zones to check if there are layovers. This distance makes us gain or lose three hours, four if the gracious actor-turned-governor, an immigrant like us, declares a daylight saving time.

I heard from your mother that you went to the towns in Quezon and Aurora, the towns ravaged by the three storms that whipped our country last month. She is worried aobut your political and social awakening. But she is glad too--glad that you are now becoming a person-for-others. You need this pain from seeing the wiped out dreams of communities to write your next poem. But, please, write about our California dream too.

May the poet's muse come and visit you.


The Meaning of Longing and Lack

The meaning of longing and lack gets more frightening and terrorizing as you prepare for the trip to another city your heart will have to learn to like and love.

As in the case of the Los Angeles of your early im/migrant years, you will have to find a way, find the hard way to liking the place and loving it as soon as the heart begins to beat the beat of love. To prepare for that trip, you buy the Los Angeles Sunday Times because it is Sunday and in your mind, this is always the day that you have reserved for grabbing some downtime for yourself, only for yourself.

There are the rituals, of course, some familial obligations that have something to do with securing the bridges between miles and miles of distance, these miles and miles keeping you and your family apart.

You buy that phone card, and you do not care if you get the one that cheats on you in terms of time.

Only one thing is certain now: the voice of your youngest that cross-examines you each time with so many questions a four-year old can think of: When are you coming home? Have you sent the Dora dolls? Did you buy the Dora clothes? Did you find the stethoscope so I can cure Dora when she gets sick? Why are you not coming home often? Why are you staying in America for so long you do not see my handwriting and how I write my name and the numbers that we are studying in school?

Ha, I get past the possible interrogation. The issues have been the same for the last several days and I know these will be the same issues that the youngest will bring out when I call.

I look at the paper, flip through the horoscope page, finds Aries: "You're the sign of beginnings, beginners' luck and being first. Every new thing you try renders you more energetic."

Tough words, sweet words.

Tough thoughts, sweet thoughts.

I like them.

These are ominous signs of good beginnings, grace-filled beginnings.

Or so I pray.

So Hawaii, here I come. Have come, am gone, but here I come. Welcome me in your arms with your benediction and love.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
June 10, 2006, 1:30 AM

Wising Up, Once More, Another Time

I tell myself: there are no regrets.

The year is over, this year of deep sorrow but never one of regret.

There is one thing that makes me delineate these feelings, however intertwined they are: I have simply wisened up.

I am, in fact, wising up.

Running the Inquirer was simply tough odds. Tough time. Tough work. Tough thought. And the deep sorrows are not yet over.

Executing the newspaper's vision and turning ideas into something concrete always needed a perennial amping up.

No lackadaisical moves here, no indecision.

The life you go through in running what purports to be a respectable newspaper is one of a fastfood store, with everything on the go, with everything measured in instant.

And then, you have to be precise, mistake-free. One error in the articles and you are a goner. It paid that I had co-workers who were always on the ready, rain or no rain, shine or no shine.

Always, you have to be ready to substitute your 'sleep of the just' in the night with the 'best newspaper in town' ideal by not sleeping at all.

And then the other non-newspaper tasks that you have to balance: the ritual of bringing the newspapers in bundles up your second floor office so they get to be safely stacked up there for distribution the following morning; the ritual of making it certain that circulation is done; the ritual of planning for the next issue--oh, well, the cycle begins--and the cycle begins at the very time that the week's issue is coming out of the press.

Week in and week out, you and your co-workers did this.

Collaborators came and went; some for some time, some stuck it out with you till the end.

Well, some were big mouths, loud and rowdy.

Many were silent workers, doing things on their own, without being pushed around, needing no pushing around, needing no coaxing, always doing things on their own and never becoming a headache.

For many months, we watched the Inquirer lived the good life, and the good life got better and better each week.

We watched it lived more beautifully each week.

We watched its growth, and then, and then, one day, it died.

Just died.

I want to live. I am wising up.

A. S. Agcaoili
Carson, CA
July 9, 2006

I Have a Thing for Sunsets

I have a thing for sunsets.

Anywhere. Anytime.

Sunsets make me see things, and seeings things make me think, and thinking things make me remember my dreams burrowed deep in the heart and soul, permitting there to rest in the crevices of the future that is as fragile as the present. In sunsets, I see roads meandering to high places, to cliffs and beyond, to the edge of mountain fastnesses, to beginnings of new boundaries open to the seeker, the searcher, the one who does not cower in fear for the promise of the best days ahead.

Ha, sunsets, sunsets.

I count them here in Virginia: in Williamsburg, in Richmond.

I count them in Texas: in El Paso, in San Antonio, in Dallas.

I count them in New Mexico: in Deming, in the Columbus International Border; in Albuquerque.

I count them in Phoenix, in Blythe, in Memphis, in Knoxville.

I see it here now, in this beutiful river of life in Jamestown.

I watch the ceremony of the orange sun giving in to the forces of the young evening, the ceremony reflected by the placid waters.

Sunsets, sunsets, here in the River James in Jamestown, Virginia or elsewhere: they all make me wonder; they all make me wander.

The wondering is more of a rubric of faith in the universe as immense as the thoughts that come in a rush.

The wandering is more of a rite reserved for exiles, whether voluntary or forced by circumnstances. But, isn't it that we are all forced by circumstances, that all our thoughts and actions and dreams are by-products of life's circumstances? Beats me.

I see the sun setting now in this old settlement hedged by forests of pines and other primeval witnesses from the wild abandoned by men and beasts; in the afterglow, I sense the pristine faith the settlers came with, on this same river, blessed by the same sun setting now. This is the river with the sun setting in 1607, the Virginia with the same sun setting of 1607.

This is the same river now, the same river that makes it possible for the past to present itself to the present, this huge river of dark green and blue waters that come from the sierras, from the snow-capped mountains, from the benedictions of the night and day coming in full circle in a ceasless way.

The river, with the sun rising and setting, go to that eternal ritual of allowing itself to be dredged into the vast sea where there, the waters from all the other rivers and rivulets and brooks one with each other, become indistinguishable, salt and freshness becoming both salty and fresh.

I sit down to watch the sun letting go of its last bright lights.

I watch the sun letting go of its luminosity or its claims to one.

I watch the sun fade into the dark, into that dark dark night.

I watch the sun hide in the horizon only to appear again in that new rite of birthing, its glow vomiting light, pure light.

I think of religion in this sense, the religion of the senses, the religion of communing with the universe, the religion of seeing what am I in the cosmos as huge as my dream of making it in this exile's land, the way the settlers did in their anchoring on this river of sunsets and sunrises.

I say a prayer to the river, to the sun, to the forest, to the coming night, to the hoped-for dawn.

In this river with the Virginia sun setting, in this Jamestown of seekers of truth, beauty, light, faith, I pray.

And I pray hard.

A. S. Agcaoili
James River, Jamestown, VA
June 30, 2006, 8:00 PM

Susunduin Ako ng Payong ng Aking Mga Magulang

(Kay Nasudi Francine, ang bunsong iniwan sa bayan upang hanapin sa dayo ang panahon at pera para makapagsulat ng malayang-malaya.)

Nagsimula sa e-mail ng kanyang ina.

Nagsimula rin sa aking naging reaksyon nang mabasa ko ang nakakatuwang e-mail.

Ang sabi ng kanyang ina tungkol sa narinig mula sa bunso ay nakasentro sa kanyang pagmumuni-muni sa mga bagay-bagay na nagaganap sa sariling tahanan at nitong narinig mula sa bunso ay dala ng pagkagulantang pagkatapos magising ng wala sa panahon.

At lahat ng ito ay tungkol sa 'panata ng makabayang payong'.

Ito ang mga eksena:

Ang bunso ay tila tumutula, tila may kinakausap, subalit higit na mainam kung sabihing bumibigkas ng isang ideyang kayhirap arukin ng isang apat na taong gulang na ang mundo ay imiikot pa sa mga kulay ng krayola; sa damit at ipit ng Barbie, sa paglalagalag ni Dora, ang manikang kinagigiliwan na tila bumasag ng pagiging 'puting lahi' ng bansang Estados Unidos, kung puwedeng tingnan ang aykon ng kulturang popular sa ganitong paraan; sa pagsulat ng pangalan sa may guhit na papel na hindi na lampas-lampasan; ang panonood ng anime at/o cartoon; ang pagsasayaw ng pa-isplit na akala mo ay ballerina sa isang entabladong punumpuno ng 'paying audience'; at ang pagsasabi ng 'Papa, nami-miss mo na ba ako?' tuwing tumatawag ako sa telepono.

Higit sa lahat, itong bunso ay kakambal niya si Dora, si Dora na laging nasa tabi niya kahit anong ginagawa.

Si Dora na ginagawang dakilang alalay, guro, estudyante, kasama sa panonood ng telebisyon, kasama sa pagkain; si Dora na nagkakasakit kung kaya ay nagiging pasyente ng nagduduktor-dukturang bunso na ngayon ay nagpapabili sa akin ng istetoskowp; si Dora na kabuuan ng kanyang pagbatid sa mundo bilang isang malaking laro.

Sapagkat si Dora ay isang pasyandong batang babae, at laging naghahanap ng kaalaman, ng kabatiran, ng kapantasan sa wikang Ingles at sa wikang Kastila.

Sapagkat maituturing na Ingles ang Amerika at hindi Kastila di tulad ng Timong Amerika at Mexico, ang pagsasalita ni Dora ng Kastila ay mapagbasag na gawain at nangwawarak ng katahimikan ng kaisipan.

Sapagkat si Dora ay may angkin talino sa pagsasawika ng saloobin.

Nakakaluntang ang promesa ng mga sorpresa mula kay Dora.

Mapangwarak din sa nilulumot na isip ang kanyang wika at isip at kamalayan.

Tulad ng pagwawarak ng bunso sa mga bagay-bagay na pang-araw-araw.

Isang hapon ay buong puso niyang binibigkas ang Panatang Makabayan ng Pilipinas, ang panatang ikinakabesang parang loro ng mga bata pagkatapos ng Lupang Hinirang.

Sa kanyang sariling paraan, na kung tutuusin, ay tila hindi konektado sa panunumpa sa watawat ng bayang pinagkapanganakan, meron isang nakakagimbal na naganap.

Ang sabi ng bunso ay ito: "Susunduin ako ng payong ng aking mga magulang..."

Hindi ko alam kung ano pa ang pinagtambling-tambling ng kanyang kamusmusan subalit sa aking isip, malinaw ang konsepto sa kanyang parilala: ang pagmamahal ng kanyang mga magulang, ang proteksyong ibinibigay ng payong laban sa mga elemento ng kalikasan, ang aksyon ng pagsundo sa kung nasaan ang bunso.

Ang siste ay ito: Hindi na ito panunumpa sa watawat kundi paglalahad ng nasa puso gaano man ito tumatakas sa mala-musmos na pagbatid sa mundo at sa mga ugnayan ng tao.

Ibig kong pagtawanan ang mga pangyayari--subalit kung tutuusin ay hindi rin talaga nakakatawa.

At para sa isang amang lumayo tulad ko, lumayo upang makipagsugal sa dayo sa pag-aakalang magkakaroon ako ng pagkakataong magsulat ng walang sagabal sanhi ng usapin tungkol sa pang-araw-araw na alalahanin, ang alaalang iniiwan ng bunso sa akin, kahit sa e-mail lamang ng kanyang ina, ay sapat na upang maibsan ang lungkot ng mga araw na dumaraan na hindi kapiling ang nagsabi ng: "Susunduin ako ng payong ng aking mga magulang..."

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
Hulyo 8, 2006

The Home We Wish to Remember

It is the night of a Friday when things seemed to have gone wrong--and then right.

It is the night of that unplanned talk.

The talk is about small things and big things.

The setting is as real as life's social drama: a silent home in Corona standing watch of the proceedings of this small talk among friends who are also colleagues in the organization you have put up to advance the cause of giving space to the immigrant voice in America.

The cause was--is--also a vision.

The talk is unplanned.

Because a genuine talk among conspirators of communion and communication is beyond planning.

It is beyond planning because it is more of a demonstration of gratitude for a person giving ear to your plea of seeing things differently, opening up to other possibilities, making a clearing for other views, and holding fast to that sense and meaning in which reason can have its reason to be so, fragility and all, but a reason nevertheless with a heart and soul.

A reason that is palpable.

A reason that is plausible.

It is a conspiracy, this: the conspiracy of talkers communing, oneing, uniting, finding ways to meet somewhere to search for the possible and feasible for something grander and bigger beyond that which is mundane and everyday.

For a vision that does not know extinguishing as its fire catches fire on and on.

For a dream that does not know eradication even in those traces of memory that are left there in the mind to roost and remain afresh, blooming with force and power.

There is a lesson learned here: that anywhere we go, human relations and human relationships ground all relationships.

There is a lesson in organizing work: That anywhere you go, there are always obstacles but these obstacles do not define the vision and dream but the kind of action you do to build and rebuild.

For veritably, this immigrant organization that was home to our vision is one kind of a home that we will always remember.

It is a home we remember because it provides the framework for a new and envigorating vision, this relationship marking the beginning of a new life for an immigrant organization in the United States of America included.

We keep trying to find ways to succeed, and the trying makes sense, as always.

The night wears on and we keep on with the small and big talks, falling into a conversation as evening gathers its dark energies to give birth to an eternal dawn, luminous and light.

A. S. Agcaoili
Corona, CA
July 7, 2006

Words Wounding

Call it this: the conspiracy of communion.

Or communion in conspiracy.

Or conspiracy in communion.

All these are possible when minds meet in space and time, when minds of various energies meet to look and see at issues that need so much appraising.

It is like reading a book on your long journey and you never cared whether you get to finish reading it on time or not.

In this instance, the reading and journeying are one and the same, inseparable, one aspect of the other in that equation we have drawn up: the silencing of the soul is equal to the soul of silencing.

You can even sleep while reading your book for as long as you keep others at bay, especially those who get to buy books only from a garage sale in these parts.

Some can be so snooping-like they want to know the words that catches your heart.

The garage sales, oh, you go to them as if these were rites and rituals of a religion, the skimming and fast-reading some kind of a rubric of a ceremony for the elect, for the priesthood of readers and book-people.

You go to these events hoping that the better books bought by those trying to impress others but only to dump them unread in these garage sales held by churches and other civic-minded groups are there for the selling to the highest bidder, the bidding not in money terms but on the ability of the mind to go figure which book matters and which one does not.

As a student of human relations, you keep your tools on the ready by looking for clues and cues as the conversation begins in every event of what I call the "conspiracy of communion".

Who says this word?

Who reacts this way to which word?

In what context some word was said?

But more so: when would words begin to wound the heart, wound the soul, wound the spirit, cut the sinews and fibers and cells and muscles of the mind and let the mind bleed with blood, thick and sticky, red in the color of a revolution or a war or a murder whether in the warfront or in peacetimes?

You realize: there is more to sound in words being uttered.

In immigrant-land, words are blades.

Words are bolos, bullets, bayonets.

They harm when not used properly, slashing the flesh, leaving it with raw wounds, open, and invitatory of infections of other words, other sounds, other hurts, other verbal pus and phlegm, other wounded memories.

They kill when not used properly, ripping off the person's soul, spirit, self-respect, self-esteem--all those that make up the man.

Or the woman.

Or the child.

Or the immigrant in this immigrant-land.

For in this immigrant-land, the words are clues to the binaries: clues to inclusion, to exclusion, to a combo of both, to a negotiation, to an engagement, to a commitment.

I wonder why newly-arrived immigrants tend to be more sensitive to these cues and clues than those who have been here for quite a time.

Perhaps, Americanization is the reason?

Or is this just plain crap?

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
July 7, 2006

Four Days On the Road to Home

I cannot even call it home now, this Los Angeles of my mind.

You expand the situs of where you have found yourself, at least temporarily, and you have Gardena in your mind, you have Torrance in your mind.

In a few days, I will leave Los Angeles for the challenge of another place.

It is the same way I left Williamsburg, a colonial city of settlers running away from religious persecution in order to find something new, something called religious freedom.

They looked--the 1607 settlers of Williamsburg--to the lands beyond the seas, the future beyond the present, their dreams the same stuff that makes the dreams of today's im/migrants of America, Filipinos included.

This time around though, the idea of freedom being pursued is far larger in scope than the one sought by the Virginia settlers.

I think of all these from the lens of my being an immigrant of this country, a liminal condition of existence, something that sets you close to that which is possible but something that which reminds you as well that this land has yet to be claimed by you.

So you begin the days of the journey back to where you have found some temporary home in the heart: to the Gardena of your settling months in 2003.

And then to the Torrance of your early im/migrant years, the Torrance of tears and terrors, the Torrance of sweet surprises and sweet sorrows, the Torrance of your being a part-time writer, fictionist, researcher, teacher, and even a government man.

You hit it home, man. And you prayed a lot. A lot.

You begin the trip back in Williamsburg at the Transportation Center down on Lafayette, close to that Colonial Williamsburg where a president of the new nation being imagined and founded in the mind was to get his 'tavern drink' that eventually became his favorite.

The accounts say George Washington thought that the arak in the tavern was good for the nationalist heart, for the soul that imagined a new country to be founded on political imagination and religious dreams.

You remember that afternoon walk on a Friday that you wrapped up your work with a government agency and there, in the heat of the summer sun, with the military parade giving you some kind of a hard lesson in history, you are transported back to Vigan of old, to Laoag of old minus the monstrous new buildings that cannot offer you anything enlightening about your country's historical past.

You wait for the Carolinas, the coach (read: the bus; read, the bus in these parts is called coach and not bus, remember this) that would bring you to Richmond less than a hundred miles away and from there get a Greyhound that would bring you to Dallas about a thousand miles away.

Such is the fate of the alien--the immigrant who wants to see something everybody calls 'country', the heart of America, the heart of the American people that know still because they know where they come from and where they are going.

Sadly, on the road, you see and you see well: that not all Americans have this consciousness of what is it to be an American.

But this is not the lot of this nation only; it is the same story we have back there in the home country where politics and religion mix so well and then the brew gets to be mixed with the economics of opportunism and avarice and greed.

That, to me, is the most perfect concoction to perpetuate the same story of social injustice we have known for so long as a people prior to our settling over to the Americas.

The proof is not in the icing; being an immigrant of another land is itself a testament to this long road to freedom, like these four days that I had to put in to be able to go back to Torrance, to the Torrance of my thoughts on how to love a land that seemed to have forgotten how to love its people.

A. S. Agcaoili
Richmond, VA
July 1, 2006