This poem comes straight from the times
you abduct from watching Dekada 70
for the nth time. You hide your citizen's tears
as you watch, dabbing your estranged eyes
with the hanky of memory we could have lost
of the years that deprived us of young love.
It was Martial Law and we know full well
the fear the warm evenings give birth to
or the suspicion from fascist poets who dream
of careers in verse to pronounce hail to the king and queen.
That poet, in the beginning a card bearer, and his warriors
are his protectors now, his art of the nation, with that language
we can never call our own: its words are not us, will never be us
its syllables roil our souls: the everyday television is key
to this idiocy and so are the noontime shows that insult us,
we who are poor, and now impoverished of living poems
by the show about us: our inability to speak a language
the way the Manila people do, or those farther south
they who have said that we cannot be Filipinos like them
without knowing how to spell our ignorance in the curlicue
of what Manila and its environs got: greed in fresh flesh
and blood, in the freedom that hums as well as in the lullaby
we sing our hearts to comfort us from all these alien desires
to save us from ourselves, including our forgetting
that we have never really become us the last 80 years.
Quezon betrayed us, his lieutenant Recto equally so
and their nationalism is one bland idea Constantino
got it all wrong as well, with his English and his nation the center
as all the others like us who did not see the homeland as our own
through the eyes of our othered fathers and mothers and children.
It is a sacred ritual with students
taking a course on our filmic lives
back home and over here:
La Visa Loca, Goodbye America,
Savage Acts. And now this, this:
Dekada 70. It is late afternoon,
in the sweet silence and muted weeping
of the screen, in the Saunder classroom
darkness, you jotted the first long line
of your pretending poem: you weep with Amanda,
you cry with Julian Bartolome, and you sob
with all the people who died giving up their lives
in the streets and mountains and those who refuse death:
the clenched fists are all that matters, and the refusal
as well, to roil the fire, its red ember getting
into the concrete pavements of the palace,
the plastered walls crying of our pains as well,
and the iron gates remain unmoved, locked
before a new day comes alive, and locked still
before another day is born to give us the light
to go back, cardboard placards, ourselves, and our anger,
and the calculating courage that does not well up easily:
the paid protectors of our people have become
their murderers, and this is how it is, as it was.
The road to Malakaniang has eyes, and it has seen
what cruelty a truncheon can inflict upon our lips
upon our name and honor, upon our famished flesh
upon other flesh, young and filled with dreams of dying
of faithful loving and lusting for the only land we know
the only land of our people we know is not loving us back.
You go with Jules Bartolome, join him in faith abiding
in his trek of his temple hills and hungry country and together
belt out a chorus with his people, living, remembering, and dead.
Like the woman, old and bent, who cared for him
made him the son of the revolution, gave him food, and clothed him
with the boldness and blessing to go on fighting for what dreams are
made of even if those who had them a long time ago
are now poets of the nation and they sell our pride and poems
to those who are willing to listen to their self-flattery.
And platitude. You go with Mara too, a sing of the cross for her,
and the parent in her always touches you so: would she leave her
rebel's child behind, let him walk the road of the sun coming
into the world and in between silences of steps on trails we follow
for the first time, accompany them to the peak of mountains
with their sacraments of refuge, of their journey even as they weave
of more stories for our people to listen to, and own up in the end?
You sit there, your back to the door, and you touch
your drunken soul in strange lands where you eke
out a life of your own description. You touch commitment
somewhere in your pulse, and the pen you write your name
with refuse to write the letters in red. You see the word
'impostor' on the wall and you hear Julian cry, you hear
your man in your loin cry. The walls with the barbed wire
are thorns for your head, and your imagination is complete.
You suffer as you watch more of our people telling you
of the words they cannot own, the words they cannot keep.
You look at the screen, and the image
jumps into your heart, seeing the twisted
limb of a real prophet in red, his miserable life on the run,
and those who who carried wooden and iron crosses
unto the golden altar of madmen and mad women
give the offertory of blood, how many gallons
you would not know, blood you need to wash away
the unhappiness of homelands we leave behind.
A Solver Agcaoili