Your first act in going to places
is smell the morning if you came
in early. Or if the afternoon
finds you an alien, you search
for churches where you can imagine
what it is to live like a pilgrim
in faith, kneeling and bowing
like the sea to the moonrise.
In Iligan, you do the same thing
after bargaining with the PU
for that holy ride to the temple
of your God. The singing, in English,
of the praise songs by chanters you
do not see fills the air even as
two candles you buy from a tubercular
lady vender keep their light for you
in this late afternoon that you came
around to seeing Iligan for the first
time. God's place is decent and simple.
The opulence is by Saint Michael's
on the other side of the street
and the businesses laying bare
what goods and services they can offer
to make our lives better and better.
From there you walk the stretch
of the highway brimming with people
that leads to Gaisano, this box
of a building like the American
temples of goods to make you feel good
if you buy them most of the time.
Jollibee here is proud with its colors
and invites you to get in and partake
of its array of meals only a few can afford.
You believe in these lies, in the commerce
of eating fries and chicken with crispy skin.
Children, old and dirty and tired of the city
stretch out their arms to passersby with the looks
of kindness about them. Night falls in Iligan
and you walk once more even as you hear
stories of two dead people at the recent
fiesta carnival. Other stories you hear
are the four habal-habal young drivers trying
to earn a living like the way old proud men
do only to die in young people's hands:
robbed of their earnings, their motorbikes
stolen for what value they can give
their young bodies that knew hardship
left to rot in the city's dreary streets.
This is life over here, a narrative of flight
as well. You run to the bus terminal
kilometers away, with the stars guiding
your way even as you count your blessings
on the PU that brings you back to the city
two hours away. Night falls, and then morning.
Iligan City, The Philippines