The Day After the Three Kings

The day after the three kings,
he goes around his city of thieves,
cheats, liars, praying politicians,

preying presidents, smirking saints.
Some holy men come in handy
from dingy bars and dark cinemas

of the lowest kind,
those for laborers whose lives
have been cheapened by lack of work,

jobless carpenters who are about
to forget the feel of a hammer
patient vendors with their amulets

on their wares, three calamansi
to enchant the best of luck and buyers,
sunburned jeepey barkers

on the take for what mercy is
like those ever-willing pimps
on the ready to transact business

with those who while away
the night's secrets, as this city's
with its chambers on its alleyways

cemented streets leading
to urban jungles without the foliage
and the chirping of birds.

No one among them, these city people,
can tell you what happens
to the three kings, what wisdom

they have got to follow the star
in Bethlehem with its bedlam as in this filth
of a land pretending to be a country

of our difficult, dreary dreams.
No, we cannot find anything
else from middle aisles

where the mandarasal
say what we need to plead with the gods
of our blighted lives by the Quiapo

by the blessed sacrament, the church
or the exposed sacred bread
one where there, this man on a furlough,

he washes his sweet sins away
with the holy water that comes
in drought, its vessel,

huge, granite pale, and warm
from being empty. He dips his fingers,
the one by the left hand that touched

the bony woman's word by the Avenida,
sullen woman, sunken and sad,
offering the body of a fresh one,

someone else's far into the recesses
of kept places, the prospect of loving
to wrap up his waking day,

spent from walking, sleepwalking almost,
to remember what was, what was there,
when he had not left this city, his

nor imagined he would after the revolts
requiring the massing up of courage
the massing up of fears and prayers

on street pavements with the Black Madonna
watching from her perch, with her sorrows
a benediction for the aggrieved

like him who has come away
to rekindle what fire is left
with his memories now kept

cages, in his mind as in his heart.
A box of votive candles awaits him
with the admonition of a donation

for seminarians who pretend
to be unsexed, virginal, innocent
like them angels with wings strong

and flying high against the strong winds
of shame, desire, temptation
and all those the bind the body

to the earth, this one, with the dirt
that make him remember many things:
the women by the church entrance

offering relief from the humdrum
of reciting a long novena for the lotto
the men lined up by the Plaza Miranda

begging to come, sit down by their stool,
and journey with their aces and jokers
and diamonds and black hearts

to go figure what is in store for the year
for those who go on looking for regrets
and walking the streets of the filthy city

to bring home the images in another land,
another country, another love, lifetime.
He look for where quiet is. There is none.

The three kings are not here,
he says, and he lines up to dust & kiss
the feet of the dead, black Christ.

A Solver Agcaoili
Manila/Jan 3, 2009

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