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Three Filipino poems: John Iremil Teodoro and Rebecca T. Añonuevo

April 25, 2011 1 comment

translated by Luisa A. Igloria

Umaga, Sa Puerto del Mar, Isla Guimaras

by John Iremil Teodoro

Palaging may nakatagong dalampasigan
Sa aking dibdib
Kung saan buong taon ay tag-araw
At iniimbitahan lamang
Ang tag-ulan kapag ako’y nalulungkot.
Subalit ngayong umaga
Nasa totoong tagong dalampasigan ako,
Lumalangoy mag-isa sa tubig-dagat
Na may linis ng pinakamagandang binalaybay.
Siguro ang tarangkahan ng langit
Ay isang dalampasigan
Na simputi ng mahahabang damit ng mga anghel.
Siguro ang koro ng mga anghel
Ay sinlamig pakinggan
Katulad ng dalisay na lagaslas
Ng maliliit na alon.
Kaysarap sigurong malagutan ng hininga
Habang nakahiga ako sa dagat
At ninanamnam ang yakap
Ng kasisikat pa lamang na araw.
Ang kaso maraming tula pa akong
Dapat sulatin.
Mga tula ng pag-ibig.
Pag-ibig na katulad ng dagat,
Makulay at malalim
Ang mga misteryong iniingatan.

*

Morning, Puerto del Mar, Isla Guimaras

Always, there is a hidden cove
in my heart
where all year it is summer
and the rain visits
only when I am desolate.
But this morning,
I am truly at the sea,
swimming by myself in waters
whose lines are clean as a poem.
Perhaps, heaven’s jetway is a shore
with sand as fine and white as the long dresses of angels.
Perhaps the chorus of their voices
is cool and pure as the lapping tongues
of the smallest waves.
How blissful it would be to take my last breath
reclining in the arms of the sea,
wrapped in the warm rays
of a just-risen sun.
But I have many more poems
that I must write.
Poems of love.
Love like the sea,
deep and color-changing,
custodian of such mysteries.

* * *

Simbang Gabi

by Rebecca T. Añonuevo

Si Nanay talaga.
Ipinaalala niya kagabi na simula na ulit
Ng siyam araw na nobena ngayong adbiyento,
At kung mabubuo ko raw iyon ay matutupad
Ang anumang hihilingin ko sa Diyos.
Alam ko ang gusto niyang hilingin ko
Na hinihiling niya para sa akin kahit mangitim
Ang tuhod niya sa pagkakaluhod
Araw-araw kahit hindi Pasko.
Simple lang ang sagot ko, pigil ang pagsinghal,
Habang pinaiikot-ikot ang bilog sa mata:
Kung ibibigay ng Diyos, ibibigay Niya. Sa isip ko’y
Hanggang ngayon ba’y kaliwaan ang areglo sa langit?

Ang totoo’y di sinasadyang sinasadyang buuin ko
Ang simbang gabi ngayong taon nang di inaamin sa ina.
Hindi ko alam kung ang mundong kasabay ko
Ay dumadagsa dahil may mga hinihiling din sila
Katulad ni Nanay para sa hindi nag-aasawang anak,
O may ipinagdarasal na maysakit, kaaway, kapatid,
Lumubog na negosyo, petisyon para sa Canada o Australia,
Pagtama sa lotto, o kahit man lang sa cake raffle sa parokya
Na nagpapamigay ng pulang scooter at mga bentilador.
Sa pugad ng mga Heswita ay nahabag ako
Sa puto bumbong dahil ang pinipilahan ng mga bihis na bihis
Ay ang churros con tsokolate at donut sa magkabilang tabi.

Gusto kong sabihin kay Nanay na ang pagsisimbang gabi ko
Ay tulad ng panalangin ng puto bumbong habang sumasagitsit
Sa nagtatanod na buwan: salamat, ulit-ulit na munting salamat
Sa pagkakataong maging payak, walang inaalalang pagkalugi
O pagtatamasa sa tangkilik ng iba, walang paghahangad
Na ipagpalit ang kapalaran pati ang kasawian sa kanila.
Salamat sa panahon ng tila matumal na grasya,
Sa sukal ng karimlan, sa budbod ng asukal ay husto na,
Ang di pagbalik ng malagkit na puhunan
Sa kabila ng matapat na paninilbihan at paghahanda
Sa anino ng Wala, luwalhating kay rikit! Tikom-bibig.

*

Simbang Gabi

You’ve got to hand it to my mother.
Last night she reminded me
that the nine-day simbang gabi masses begin this advent,
and that if I manage to do the whole thing,
any wish I have will be granted by God.
I know what it is she wants me to pray for—
It’s what she constantly implores,
not caring that her knees have darkened from
her daily supplications, and not just at Christmas time.
I held my tongue and rolled my eyes
but answered simply:
If God means to give me something, He will. Could it be
that after all this time, slanted deals are still made in heaven?

To tell the truth, I did not mean to complete
the nine-day masses this year without eventually letting Mother know.
Could it have been because I felt in the crush
of people around me, the weight of a whole world’s
requests: including Mother’s prayer for her still
unmarried daughter to please find someone, including those
praying for the sick, for their enemies, their siblings,
for a business gone bankrupt, for petitions to migrate to Canada or Australia;
prayers to win the lottery, to win even just the parish cake raffle
(which also gives away red scooters and electric fans as door prizes).
But then, in the Jesuit compound my heart went out
to the lowly puto bumbong, because well-dressed churchgoers
were making a beeline for the stands selling churros con chocálate and donuts.

I wanted to tell Mother that my going to simbang gabi
was like the little puffs of steam exuding heavenward from the puto bumbong,
as the moon, austere, kept perfect watch: manifold in even its smallest aspect,
such gratitude as the chance to feel part of the whole, without thought
of having been short-changed, without regret for the concern that others did not show,
without wishing to swap fortunes or even the pains one has been given.
I give thanks for such finitudes that are nevertheless imbued with grace,
for the powdery cone of darkness and its just-enough dusting of sugar,
for the succulent body that will soon disappear.
Faithfully we serve, preparing the feast presided over
by the shadow of Death. And yet, how beguiling! The promise of fullness cupped
and brimful in the mouth.

*

Translator’s notes: Simbang gabi (literal trans., “night masses”): in the Philippines, nine-day masses celebrated at dawn, preceding Christmas. Puto Bumbong: a rice cake traditionally prepared at Christmas time, associated with simbang gabi. People coming from the dawn masses buy them to eat from vendors who set up makeshift stands by the church. The rice cakes are steamed in cones or tubes of bamboo over hot coals; they are dusted with a mixture of coconut flakes and sugar, or sugar alone. 

* * *

Anumang Leksiyon

by Rebecca T. Añonuevo

Nagpapantay ang araw at dilim
sa pangangalumata ng isip—
ano’t may di-inaasahang panauhing
dumadalaw at pumapasok sa mga sulok
na kahon-kahong salansan ng mga mortal
na pangarap at paninimdim.

Wala iyon sa layo o lamig na nakabalot
sa paligid. Wala sa pagtigil o pagtakbo
ng oras. Wala sa pagkapagod ng katawan.
Wala sa pag-iisa o dahil naliligid
tayo ng mga bata at halaman, o may babala
ang hangin, o umaalimuom ang lupa.

May panauhin pagkat nakikinig
ang labi ng mga rosas, buko sa buko;
nabubuhay ang pagkain sa mesa,
halos magsayaw ang mga kutsara at plato;
nililinis ng huni ng butiki ang agiw sa bintana;
sumisigid ang ulan sa mata ng buong bahay.

Maaari nga nating hamunin ang tadhana
para magbiro sa tulad nating parating lango
at sala-salabid ang hakbang sa pagsuyo:
dagdag na mga tanong na walang kasagutan,
kaliwa o kanan, munti o labis, isa-isa,
sabay-sabay, sa bakuran ba o kusina.

Magpapantay pa rin ang dilim at araw.
Gigising ang liwanag na bagong hangong tinapay.
Mag-aantanda ng pasasalamat, susuong sa siyudad.
Muli, uuwi sa tahanan, maghahain para sa hapunan.
Ang panauhin ay nakabantay at nangungusap
sa kanyang katahimikan. Gayon ang kagalakan.

*

Whatever Abides

Consider how the mind holds
daylight and darkness now with the same
regard, ever since the unexpected guest’s
arrival, its unbetokened entrance– How
it’s come to take up residence in your inner
life, its series of boxes nested and full
of such mortal longings and fears.

None of this is an effect of distance, or the cold
that begins to enfold everything in the landscape in its embrace.
It has nothing to do with the stasis or movement of the hours, nothing
to do with the body’s arrival, exhausted, at the limits of anything
it has had to endure.  It has nothing to do with being alone, or being
surrounded by the clamor of children and growing things, or whether or
not the wind is listing its warnings, or the earth its humid and dark
glimmerings.

You know the Beloved has arrived, because even the mouths
of roses are shaped to listening, moving from epiphany
to epiphany. As if miraculously, food appears on the table,
and the cutlery and dishes could just as well dance, suffused
with a sense of grace. The lizard’s tiny call is enough to banish
cobwebs from the windows, and rain washes clean the house’s many eyes.

It’s true, we tempt the fates to take
a capricious delight in the ways we are so bent on walking,
magnetized, in the wake of our own longings.  Mumbling our endless
questions without answers, how do we know whether to go right
or left, take smaller or larger steps, take one step at a time, or rush
headlong, all at once, into the yard or back into the kitchen?

There is a moment when even darkness and light are allowed to touch
at their edges. Then light breaks new like warmly risen bread, offering
itself like gratitude or a blessing over the whole city, only to return
home at evening, as if obeying the call to prepare the evening
meal.  And between this passing, night and day, the Beloved waits
patiently, speaks to you even in the silence which is its gift,
mysterious joy.


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John Iremil E. Teodoro is a Filipino writer, university professor and freelance journalist. He is also a multi-awarded poet and playwright, one of the country’s leading pioneers in gay literature and the most published author in the Karay-a dialect to date. Born to a middle class family in the province of Antique, among Teodoro’s first distinctions were the Literature Grant of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Gawad Ka Amado in 1993 for his early attempts in Filipino poetry. His first full-length play in Filipino Ang Unang Ulan ng Mayo (The First Rain of May) won 2nd Place in the 1997 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. He writes in four languages, English, Filipino, Hiligaynon and Karay-a. He is a member of the Alon Collective and the Tabig/Hubon Manunulat Antique. His poetry book Kung ang Tula ay Pwedeng Pambili ng Lalake (If Poems Could Buy Men) was shortlisted for the 2007 Manila Critics Circle National Book Award.

Rebecca T. Añonuevo is a poet and author of five collections of poetry, the latest being Kalahati at Umpisa (UST Publishing House, 2008). Other titles are Saulado (UP Press, 2005), Nakatanim na Granada ang Diyos (UST Publishing House, 2001), Pananahan (Talingdao Publishing House, 1999) and Bago ang Babae (Institute of Women’s Studies, 1996). All collections have won numerous awards for poetry from the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Her study on Philippine literature titled Talinghaga ng Gana: Ang Banal sa mga Piling Tulang Tagalog ng Ika-20 Siglo (UST Publishing House, 2003) won the Gold Medal for Outstanding Dissertation at De La Salle University-Manila and the National Book Award for Literary Criticism from the Manila Critics Circle. She also writes children’s fiction, essays, and reviews. She teaches literature and writing in English, and chairs the Filipino Department at Miriam College in Quezon City. She resides in Pasig City.

Luisa A. Igloria (website) is the author of Juan Luan’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame, Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005) and eight other books. Luisa has degrees from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. Originally from Baguio City, she teaches on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program. She keeps her radar tuned for cool lizard sightings. 

There’s That Old Chestnut, Again

May 28, 2010 3 comments

by Luisa A. Igloria

A hardy Bouche de Betizac, at prime,
begets a robust dozen to fifteen
castañas per pound; the Willamette
docks in one handful more
(eighteen to twenty-two). In Austen’s novel,
Fitzwilliam ponders Elizabeth’s dark brown curls,
good grosgrain ribbons ironed chaste against
her serviceable frock. Carriage rides or walks
in the woods were de rigueur back then. Time for verbal
jaunts mostly, then a curtsy and a bob. Meanwhile,
kestanecis in Istanbul scour the bottoms of iron vats,
ladling the hot goods to passersby. Under her veil,
Manouk desires more than this sweetmeat, this
nestled kernel housed head to toe, brown husk like a burkah.
Overhead, that lit-up, leafy canopy; on each side, avenues made
princely by rows of trees. The perfect set! Lovers have kissed,
quelled that thrashing business variously called compulsion, allure,
rapture, distress… What are its other names? Those old
saws rasp back and forth across the grain: Look before you leap,
think twice before you bribe a cop or make that hasty
u-turn, get a room in which to darn that stitch before its time…
Very, very crazy, say my daughters. The clicking in my ears
will not abate. It’s said that Spanish dancers’ castanets
excite the fleshy little heart caged in a wooden box.
You hear it rattling as the coals are stoked. Flambéed by
zealous, patient fire, the hardest shell does crack.


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Originally from Baguio City, Luisa A. Igloria (website) is a poet on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program. She has published Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry, University of Notre Dame), Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005) and eight other books.

Categories: New Classics Tags:

What We Ate After Passing the Cape of Eleven Thousand Virgins

May 21, 2008 24 comments

28 Noviembre 1520, Antonio Pigafetta

My Lord, it was the Feast of Saint Ursula.
Thus was Fernando moved to name the cape
we rounded after passing the straits

of Tierra del Fuego. There were of course no such creatures
to be seen. Only the sea, always the sea,
its tangles of kelp matted like hair

wanting the ministrations of a tortoise-shell comb…
It is many, many months since our last memory
of women: candled fingertips touched to holy

water in the basin, pale ankles glimpsed as they ascended
dark stairways leading to rooms suffused with the mingled
scent of rancid sausages and violets…

The hardships we have endured! Three months
and twenty days since we laid bare the last of our provisions.
All that remains we eat: old biscuits ground to powder,

sifted with grubs and sawdust. We soaked
strips of ox-hide from the main-yard in sea water, then
roasted them on coals. This is how

we entered the Cape of Desire—retching and heaving;
and those calm waters which Fernando christened
Pacific. The horizon a line

clean as a hem of bleached muslin, rippling in the wind.

by Luisa A. Igloria

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Categories: Water Tags: