A Republic of Grief

MANILA, Philippines -- An overseas workers welfare group Tuesday appealed to the government to work for the immediate repatriation of at least 111 Filipino workers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, many of them camped in tents under a city flyover because they were duped by illegal recruiters. Inquirer, Feb. 25/08

The numbers are testaments in stone,
desert stone, desolation, desire.
They could be marble slabs
from the cold nights we counted
out of the screeching of cars.
The slabs cover our tombs
while we are alive under
this monster of a walkway
where people can go
where they should
while here we are in this tent
city of our exile. We have
no destiny nor destination
and count the ungodly hours
as soon as morning comes alive
and the fierce light of day bathes
us with some warmth, fanciful and tentative,
in this cold bed, sand on our back
dust on our nostrils, and we breathe
with the rhythm of rain remembered
back home, the fields pregnant
with rice plants, their stalks heavy
with the gold of grains gleaming
and gleaming so, with the promise
of the gaming granary in abundance,
the pile of sacks dreaming of meals
for children shrieking with delight.
Here, two children in these tents
live off the weariness in our hearts.
Could they ask for milk
when we are not from these places
and our passports do not tell us
where life is in its earnest
in riyals or some other currencies
we can collect from some people's mercies
to bail us out from this grief that kills us?
There are one hundred eleven of us
and our number is increasing,
o republic of our sorrowful lives.

He sweet talked us into taking
the trip. She had grace and bearing
and the two, their necks heavy
with Jeddah gold ang gaiety
and all the city of oil can offer.
Or so they say, these recruiters
as they duped the only wisdom
we have got, the one fear
in our hearts telling us, Do not go,
Do go, Do not go, Do go.
Coup d'grace, they told us:
we are veterans of wards
of this selling of our skins
and noses and pride.
We are veterans of labor for sale
to the highest bidder, and here,
here, look at us. This diamond
in the index finger, this diamond
in the thumb, this diamond
in the ring finger, this diamond
in the index finger, this one
in the opening of the nose
so we can always see
what we have become.
Our starving fields do not know
the dance of our fingers when touch
granite on our flloors, our house
concrete as concrete is, withstanding
the punishment of wind and storm
and our children's spirits are fatherless
motherless. Even then, choices
have to be made, and here we are,
awaiting tresspass and forgiveness,
or the deportation of our grief
so we no longer can fear anything
except the memory of grief itself.
Diamonds and the dream!
Who can say no?
Who can say no
to filfilling that promise
of decency? For a long time,
I have looked around,
asked the heavens,
and I never found one.
So we are all stuck up here,
one hundred eleven of us.
We could have been praying
in our homeland's mossy shrines.
In the meantime, we try
to repatriate the remains
of our dizzying hopes.
We assume, of course,
that our republic is never broke
so it can pay for the cheap coffin
for these dreams in diaspora
the candle for their ashes
to get to heaven, this one on earth,
this one, mud and soil,
and this sadness.

A Solver Agcaoili
Hon, HI
Feb 5/08

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