Saudade for Starry Nights and Ivy

I come again upon the road
that we had slandered,
and its moon whose name
we had called in vain.
There goes again
your eloquent ardor
getting entangled with
the perfection of my mimicry.
What do I have left after
the ripples have subsided
and the surface returns
to being a flat sky?
I have cut out the stars,
made a ransom note out of
our old constellations, and
put the black void through
the paper shredder.
It is cold in space, after
it’s been ripped from the place
and time where the possibility
of our paths crossing
ran rampant with the ivy
on the century-old wall.
Around the bend, past
the lives of trees,
me in my trusty ballet flats
and you in your red car.
The acacias always
seem immortal, until
some southwest monsoon
decides to pull one from
the earth on its way out.
We were loving
on a changing landscape
that was elegant in the facade
of its permanence. And then
the ripples start again.


For one of our Humanities II discussions in the summer of 2001, our professor, a burly, bespectacled man with geometric tattoos on both arms, talked about classic Oriental literature being adapted into productions intended for Western, and westernized, audiences. The most glaring difference in the translation, he said, was how some major characters who died in the original text got to live to the end, in the rewrite. He said Eastern cultures were more comfortable with the idea of death, so that being on the other side of the veil still meant a happy ending was possible. That it was part of our heritage to subconsciously regard the afterlife as a beautiful place, and the crossing over as a non-tragic, natural process.

I don’t know what I think about that now.

So much grief in the streets now.

So many deaths.

So many abrupt endings.

It’s like they’re paying someone to keep the veil parted and just unceremoniously throwing bodies across the threshold.

And the only thing transcending the divide is the profoundness of our rage.

Self-Discovery is a Tree-Lined Winding Path

They built an amphitheater
in the place where I’ve chased
hundreds of sunrises
back when there was dawn
in my step and the rest
of my life was still a secret
that fate was withholding,
all the probabilities glistening
on the edges of each blade
of grass and I could hear
the impeccable pink hum
of time in that two-foot gap
they left on the footpath so as
not to disturb the running creek,
a constant reminder to always
look where we’re going. Every
morning during typhoon season
I would rescue the snails that had
wandered onto the damp concrete
and reverently place them back
in the safety of the green earth,
away from crushing death by
running shoes or bicycle wheels.
Those creatures’ lives were
little petals of karma I collected,
and after six years exchanged
for a lush garden of good favor
from the cosmos in the form
of thunderous applause for my
then boyfriend, who was an
aspiring reggae singer and
got to perform in campus
the songs of revolution we had
written together. It was that
place where one late night I
witnessed a bullfrog the size of
an adult human head battle a snake
to the death, and I was mesmerized
and paralyzed by awe and drunk
from the cocktail of discovering
life and traversing the Science
Complex Park with Diana Cerzo,
who was brilliant in graduate level
abstract algebra, a field that both
terrified me and enslaved me with
its perfect beauty. It was also
that place where a professor, who
twice humiliated me and once made
me cry in class, tried to talk me
out of my decision to quit
mathematics as we walked
side by side to the jeepney stop,
which short circuited my heart
because he inspired both despair
and hero worship in it. And I can
pull out a dozen more memories that
liked to call that place home, but
suffice it to say, they built
an amphitheater in the center of it,
and it is glorious, a hat tip to
the genius of ancient construction
and understanding of acoustics,
a landmark on a timeline
parallel to mine, a world that
excludes me, that I will always love.

A Path of Silk

One of those delicate things—
Japanese folding fan
with zigzag creases and
opens up like a pond lotus
into the shape of a cardioid,
r = 1 – sin θ, 0 ≤ θ ≤ 2π,
stirring in the humid Midwest air
sleepy, slow motion memories of
the summer I lived with
undergraduate calculus,
fretful about the future
and drunk on dreams.
An icon from another world,
image of a leafless
tree branch in the winter
unsymmetrical and gracefully twisted
and the perfect moon a little
to the side, rendered in
calligraphy ink or watercolor
or some other medium that gives
the illusion of bleeding.
It’s the heart of geisha era Kyoto
translated into English
a time when they achieved
the ultimate artistic rendition
of human souls and the flesh,
draped in painted silk,
danced to epiphanies in the
whispering glow of lanterns
and breathed in moments that spoke
to painters in alluring tongues
of the unpaintable

The Vagrants Inside My Head

Sour and slovenly old words
from memory ambling across
the otherwise quiet of my reveries.
I hold a grudge against a past
that changed its course
without warning. Sometimes
I still hear what was said,
designed to hurt as deeply
and permanently as possible,
and think about the bridges
they set fire to. Camouflaged
among sticks and stones
were death threats and
the death traps of intention;
I have been broken in places
deeper than bones.

In Memoriam

When a place burns down to the ground
the memories attached to it
do not go up in flames
the way heavier,
more tangible things do.
The vestiges of the past are made
almost of fresh spun spider silk
right before it dries.
They drape themselves onto
the souls of walls
that may no longer be standing,
and dance in an earnest pattern
of believing and forgiving
of belonging and fleeing
crossing itself every so often
at points that glimmer in the sun
when seen from the right angle,
at the right time of day,
of one’s life,
vibrating in the wind and
ever so delicately holding
the imagination hostage
ruminating past lifetimes
catching glimpses of a future
that has already arrived,
back when it felt natural to assume
that coming back would be
inevitable and effortless
like calling a dear old friend
by his first name
not anticipating that missed chances
could come in many forms:
caved in roofs,
books reduced to ash, and
hallways that have replaced
generations of scholarly voices
with the long, painful journey
to recovering their former selves

the memories survive, pristine
sharper, even, than the real gritty
scenes they were taken from
like a ghost facade
overlaid on the more recent
horror and tears

crossing the threshold, though,
is another story…

An Indelible Map of my Sky

I am haunted by roads
those I had danced with
on heavy tread
and carefree feet
on cruising rides
and breakneck speeds
a million times before

like sleepwalking my way home
along edges of places
faces of things
the highways and footpaths
paved towards destinations
I’ve repeatedly arrived at
and once-coveted states
of past minds
a mile at a time

certain bends and smooth turns
of Ikot jeepney routes, for instance,
under the indomitable acacias
the last few manicured blocks
before the stops of the Fort bus
the knotted bridges
and tunnels along historic EDSA,
the gnarled shadows of Dimasalang
punctuated by incongruously bright roses
a view of sooty, disheveled Taft
from up the train
and the steel and glass cradle
that is Ayala Avenue
adorned with little palms
and glitzy billboards

the abused roads
and the preoccupations that made me
blind to seeing what was around me then
taking for granted
those same flames of color
that gleam of once-ordinary light
that unspecial nick on the sun-faded wall

they come back,
like the flipping of old pages
perforations on my life’s
worn rolls of music
so known to the piano’s hammers and pins
so often caressed at the soul
so long ago

I’d enter the Dan Ryan
or emerge from a dimly lit car park
or idle to a pause
in a strange suburban intersection
and there it would be,
a patch of old road
the heart of a young me
becoming everything
until nothing else is real

and none of these places
this wanderlusting spirit now traverses
is ever new,
only the same music
and glimpses of what
had always been there,
waiting for me to notice.