Monday, May 29, 2006

weather talk.


Dark skies tell us something else
of unspoken warnings: a threat
to impede our sunny disposition.

Along with it, perhaps, our peace of mind.

What looms above our heads isn’t
exactly picturesque: Circling shades
of gray, retreating to a stretch of

burgeoning blackness. That’s rain at a distance
anytime soon. The weatherman says
it’s another monsoon. Puff upon puff,

clandestine clouds make their way
to a rendezvous – celestial convicts
on the loose, ready to strike with the first

drop of rain. Will it be just a slight drizzle,
or perhaps a thundering torrent?

We do not know.

The impending darkness blurs our thoughts
and turns off the sun, downing rays
one by one. They disappear

into the void. The air around us quivers
in the infinite silence, only to be shattered
by reluctant raindrops. We’re a little beyond the present

here. But then, all we really need
is a little intuition to predict what’s near.
I hurry to close windows, just in case.

You prefer to keep still, a glum expression
on your face. Your mood is overcast
just like the sky.

Rain begins to fall.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

from poetry and back.

You Should Be A Poet

You craft words well, in creative and unexpected ways.

And you have a great talent for evoking beautiful imagery...
Or describing the most intense heartbreak ever.
You're already naturally a poet, even if you've never written a poem.
I confess I was a little taken aback when I read the results of this test (I seem to be having this thing for Blogthings lately) not because poetry never crossed my mind, but because it triggered an instant nostalgic feel – almost like returning to my writing roots, actually. My very first entry into the literary sphere, armed only with a keen interest, was indeed through writing poems, mostly on nature, banking on grand hopes of eventually having these land on the pages of the school paper (luckily they did, three of them on one issue alone). That was way back to an eight or nine-year old me, and being raised on cassettefuls of nursery rhymes, I insisted on the typical, classic rhyme scheme; free verse was a total no-no.

Funny that almost a decade after, it was the complete opposite: I began experimenting with what was previously my childhood taboo and found out much to my delight that the name said it all – it made me “free” and allowed me to better explore the more distant horizons of poetry. This time around I wanted to cast my poems on vessels of thought and interaction, to somehow provide an audible voice to our hearts’ rumblings. It surprised me that topics just naturally drifted out of my head one by one – from the pains of writing an excruciating hand-written report to a faked bomb threat in school, from a next-door fire days ago to my personal chagrin at the R-18 label of the “Da Vinci Code” (unfair for prodigy minors like my younger brother). More to come, I guess, for flexing my poetic fingers that have finally broken the surface.

As for the test results, here’s what I really think: I believe everyone’s “naturally a poet”, even if one has never written a poem. You just need to write from the heart.

The Businessman

Who says making business is all bed of roses?

Nowhere was this a simple matter
to reckon with, not just mere counting
coins or bills that flow in and out.
It was a game of chance not even
you or I could keep up with, unless
acumen and alacrity pulls
us to our catch. So let’s see how things
work in this dog-eat-dog match

to rake profits. Here there’s no room
for error, nor is there space for
second chances. A single wrong move
can earn you pity glances. Therefore
it’s a must that you keep this in mind:
That before you raise prices, or fix up
the sale that would draw in more faces,
think of what lies beyond these surprises.

You are, after all, engaged in a trade
where there’s no knowing what comes
of the deal that you’ve made. As you stare
at the sheets that await your approval,
so too do you wonder if you’ll
strike gold, or find things plunging
down tenfold. Your signature is all
that spells the difference. Still it’s

business as usual, and everyday lies
in the palm of your hand, an option
to gamble those shares or not. If
the die is cast, there’s no turning
back to the step that had witnessed self-
contemplation; straddling the fence
between claiming your prize, and paying
the price, in this dog-eat-dog bout –
counting coins and bills that flow in and out.


The MTRCB has stamped an R-18 label on “The Da Vinci Code”, claiming that the movie is bound to shatter the faith of young Catholics. But I say otherwise, in behalf of those children whose faith and thinking are resolved enough to be easily shaken by just another supposed thriller.

It was clear from the start: They were
equivocal, blinded, blinkered,

lopsided. No philosophy
explains this, a question unasked –

though I’d say it was no more than just
a privilege of age; a secret

attempt to curb the hungry mind.
In between pleas and discourses

they never sought to know what you
had long known; except for the fact that

you’re not yet eighteen (or at least
that’s what they think), and because few

ever read the silent story,
they’ll settle for a label both

you and I detest with a firm
conviction. Sadly, no one bothers

to shake this hostile proposition.
As hoary adults saunter their

way to cushioned seats, we are never
content with our invasive sneaks – through

eyes that startle, divulging the lie
that could have easily earned us our

ultimate chance for a moment
of rapture. But now we must contend

with this corporal fixture: A face
barely lined, and hardly weather-beaten –

that if one of us dared touch and
caress it in earnest, the query

of time would erase itself and sink
beneath a sweaty forehead. Who cares,

by the way? Age was never an
absolution, except perhaps

a token for admission, an
issue of second thoughts that would’ve

otherwise led to a truce, an
agreement. But no, it was always

a cause for some infringement, a bone
of contention. While lawmakers dwell

on the pending criterion, we
linger at a loss and seek mutual

emotion. Though eyes and lips sealed and
muted in convention, our minds spin

wildly with the promise of a vision:
Should we get past those guards and hurdle

the gates with tickets clutched tightly,
we’ll find ourselves seated on rows

and seats, swapping bottoms too many.
The movie starts rolling, and all that

has been, is a somewhat blurred envy
of those not yet eighteen.

Next-Door Fire

Around early afternoon of May 25, 2006, the storage fan of our adjacent establishment caught fire and spread a cloud of smoke over the neighboring stores, generating public panic. The flames were fortunately halted a while later and there were no serious damages done to property.

At someone’s first mention of the
dreaded word, nothing was at a
standstill. One blurt was enough to buzz
in people’s ears, echo in their minds
and confirm fiery fears; symptoms of
a monotony unwillingly

broken. What we thought we hear only
of heroes and firefighters, we see
before us, tumbling from fire trucks that blare
with sirens decibels too alarming.
So starts another round of hormone-pumped
motions, adrenaline implosions,

a drastic plea for action. Though high-pitched
voices consume us faster than the flames,
we know there’s more than just smoke billowing
from across the next-door building. Nothing
here is certain: Since it’s almost well-known
that this zone’s fire prone. Perhaps even walls

may fail to do the job here, wooden as
they are. Otherwise we’re left with something
better than regret: The last reckless race
for a roundabout rescue. Yet suppose
it were all just déjà vu? A tinge of
news items safely tucked within our heads –

crossing the familiar: Smoldering homes,
fleeing families, tentative shanties –
going down in smoke. This time it’s for real.
We may have seen similar scenes, or felt
the same misgivings; an unforgotten
remembrance, somewhere in our histories.

Each time is always different, almost
another deterrent – extinguishers
dousing fire. Everyone’s eager to know
the story of what has sparked the first spark,
while time remained sleeping; afternoon naps
taking over full stomachs. Who hinted

the combustion sprouting minutes after?
A thousand possibilities conspire
for an answer, concealed out of sight in
the sweltering wake – mere wisps and whispers –
fires telling their own stories, constructing
theories, leaving behind embers in
someone else’s memory.

Friday, May 12, 2006

strumming the strings of life.

You look real serious. Try to relax.”

My instructor’s words instantly brought me back to earth. I had no idea how grim I looked, only that I was too focused on getting those chords right to notice anything else. Intense concentration almost made me forget that I was practicing my guitar, not studying for an exam. Unlike the latter, there are no failing marks; only words of encouragement.

Accordingly I loosened up and took a deep breath. I tried again.

With nearly everyone bitten by the acoustic bug, I knew I just had to learn to play the guitar when some of my classmates began showing off their jamming skills one after another. “It’s easy,” they remarked. “You try it.”

Hooked on the idea, I was convinced that I’d breeze through my lessons without much difficulty. A wave of excitement gripped me at the prospect of my first foray into musical instruments since age four, during which I almost left my piano teacher incapacitated by banging down the piano cover during my very first session.

Luckily there were no more pianos to destroy this time. After watching my instructor pertly move his fingers with the gait of a master, producing rich tones in the process, I expected I could easily do the same. Do-re-mi is supposed to be child’s play.

How wrong.

My initial attempts were a little more than total disasters. Upon giving it my first strum, a dull twang vibrated off the guitar and filled the air. Strike one.

“No, don’t place your fingers directly on the frets. Allow for around 1 mm of space.”

My hopes for a faultless start were immediately dashed. Still, I heeded my instructor’s advice and proceeded to try again. A slightly different sound emerged, but nevertheless just as lame. Strike two.

“Press harder. Look, your middle finger is barely pushing the string down,” he pointed out.

I hesitated, and then pressed as forcefully as I could until I felt a cutting pain as the nylon strings dug into my skin. I realized that my wobbly, inexperienced fingers were no match for what appeared to be effortless, uncomplicated actions that in fact required much skill and deftness. I strummed once more and listened.

Being too preoccupied with my left fingers, I was unaware that my right thumb was plucking a different string. I only discovered my blunder the instant “do” came off as “mi”. Strike three.

So went a vicious cycle of frustrations and repetitions. Before long, I was staging my own comedy of errors, my pathetic hand-eye coordination earning me the lion’s share of embarrassment. Deep inside, my patience was running out and my self-worth deteriorated with each silly mistake. I wondered if learning to play this instrument was such a good idea after all.

Vestiges of my first session manifested themselves in deep red marks on my left fingers and a sore right thumb. My thoughts didn’t help much, either. Here I am at step one. Success lies at step infinity.

It was more or less a similar scenario back home. Doing the suggested hour’s worth of daily practice only rubbed more salt to an already bleeding ego. For several minutes I remained stuck in a quandary, trying to make sense of the myriad noises I was unconsciously producing, poring over pages of notes and staffs in vain.

I just couldn’t understand. Music was supposed to be some form of relaxation, a temporary breather from life’s stresses. What then am I doing with a guitar that gave me more headaches than happy thoughts?

After what seemed to be an eternity of alternately plucking and groaning, I could stand it no longer. My pent-up frustrations found release in the form of a scream that echoed throughout the whole house. I was ready to smash the instrument into pieces.
My mom came down and promptly gave me a telling-off.

“That’s the problem with you. Always in a hurry. Remember, there are no shortcuts here. Go ahead and practice some more.”

Her words rang like alarm bells. It was true that many times in my life I had played hide-and-seek with the success game which fortunately had cheeky detours. It looked as if my smart-guy-of-a-guitar doesn’t want to be outdone, too.

Frowning, I reluctantly picked up the instrument and practiced again. No luck. The notes bounced off like a six-year old blowing his New Year’s trumpet. Not to be discouraged, I checked my fingers, firmly placing them where they should be, and strummed. Better. Prodding myself on with each tiny bit of improvement, an hour passed and before I knew it, I was coolly producing C-majors and A-minors and getting the hang of it. Sighs turned into chuckles, and there were no more agonizing screams. Suddenly, learning to play the guitar was such a good idea after all.

From then on, it was a promise of patience and optimism that I kept to heart every time I drew out my guitar and practiced. Less grumbling and swearing, more persevering and stretching of my patience for as long as I can hold it. I still commit mistakes and my fingers would hurt after every sitting, but I have come to accept them as part and parcel of the learning process.

As I stare at the set of notes before me and position the guitar on my lap, I had a heartening insight: Whatever step you’re in, step “patience” will always be there to lead you to step infinity.

I began to strum.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

banahaw and rizal's legacy.

(Around this time last year, we trekked to Mt. Banahaw and interacted with members of a Rizalist group, learning all about their ways of living and their idea of religion. I must say it was truly an enlightening experience.)

The road leading to Mt. Banahaw is not exactly an appetizing one. After a butt-scraping two hour bus ride from the metropolis, you alight at Dolores town in Quezon and board a jeepney plying the thirty-minute uphill route for a nonstop spectacle of dust, dirt and disconcerting bumps. You instinctively whip out your hanky as the vehicle chugs and teeters along the narrow potholed lane, and finally when you get off relieved and visibly shaken, don’t forget that you still have to endure the walking part – certainly not for the weak-kneed and faint-hearted. But all this becomes nil when you see it before you: the real thing, the mystical marvel.

That’s what they often say, that Banahaw is a mystical mountain, and they’re not saying it for nothing. If this were so, how then can the feelings of awe and wonder be explained as one slowly beholds the sight of this peak towering up into the clouds? How else can one not reach its summit, not even set foot on its slopes yet still become very much inspired and captivated by its grandeur from a distance?

It's one of the holiest and most revered places in the country. Holy in the sense due to the mountain’s aura of sanctity and stillness, making it a favorite site of pilgrimages from all over; yet holier still if one sets aside communing with nature and admiring the scenery per se for a sneak peek into the beliefs and traditions of a people who have made Banahaw the core of their being, whose ways of living have given rise to a striking and perhaps subtler definition of the word “holy”.

Enter the Iglesia Ciudad Mystica de Dios, a millenarian movement centered on the area. From the name itself (“Mystica”) it might sound a passable inference at first, though greatly unsupported, to say why the movement was based around Banahaw, and conversely, why Banahaw until now remained largely mystical. With tenets primarily ascribing to nativistic Christianity, what’s conspicuous about them is that they emphasized the heroism and invaluable contributions of Dr. Jose Rizal, considered the Filipino epitome and who appeared to have taken over Christ’s place in 19th century Philippines preaching and promoting goodwill among his compatriots. A sprinkling of other heroes follow suit, a select few reckoned to really stand out and were termed the “12 Lights of the Philippines.” It might be interesting to note that as I perused the pictures of the 12 Lights in their chapel, erstwhile president and revolutionary general Emilio Aguinaldo was obviously absent, as the movement did not consider him a true hero for being the master brains behind the treacherous murder of Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio and his brother.

The group was founded during the American period by a woman named Maria Bernarda Balitaan, believed to be sent by no less than the Lord Jesus himself to the world in preparation for his second coming. She lived during a time when the Philippines witnessed Rizal’s martyrdom and suffered successive foreign hegemony, her lasting words an assurance of religious salvation: “That a white dove shall descend from above and land at several chosen places to sow the seeds of change; that one day, a piece of bamboo would suddenly shoot up from the top of Banahaw from which a golden Philippine flag shall emerge, and from which a New Jerusalem similar to that of St. John’s vision would be formed.” To the ordinary bystander who knew not an inkling of this prophecy, it seemed grand enough; and I was only able to gain a satisfactory foothold, fortunately, when someone from their lot patiently explained the course of things.

The bamboo symbolized the concept of genuine brotherhood, which essentially revolved around natural worship and heartfelt prayer; while the golden flag represented the act of reaching out to the populace about this true concept of religion. True religion, we were told, is founded on a spirit of selflessness and wholehearted dedication to God, since it was pointed out that the pre-Hispanic native religions didn’t exactly base a large chunk of their worship on fiestas and processions, and on religious ornaments and images of saints (except the wood carvings of anitos, perhaps?) Ironically, this brings to mind the memory of what I had seen earlier that day, somewhere back along the heart-stopping stone steps leading to the Sta. Lucia River where a statue of the saint stood surrounded by numerous floral offerings and myriad candles burning in the wind.

But whether or not to tolerate images of saints, I guess that’s a thing best left to experts. More than that, I learned about the group’s principle of doing good works on earth by merit of conscience and pure intentions and not out of fear or sheer force. Most of Ciudad’s funding relied heavily on its members who felt it their duty to shell out some of their blessings and share it with the community. They also believe that man only does what he is meant to do, i.e. merely work out things on his own and has neither the right nor the responsibility to judge others. It is God who punishes; He alone can see one’s true intentions deep inside. So whenever they feel that a certain member has not been aptly performing his duties, they leave it all up to Him to carry out the necessary retributions.

Although the Ciudad Mystica de Dios is still a form of Christianity, this does not mean that they wholly and blindly accept the present Bible as it is, what with the centuries-long revision, restatement and deletion of items in the original version which were deemed offensive and detrimental to the growth and progress of the Church. (I'm getting shades of Dead Sea Scrolls cum Gospel of Judas here). This is one aspect of modern-day Christianity which the movement hopes to rectify. They have attempted to modify the Bible in such a way that its deviation from original sources is more or less minimized, which together with the teachings of Rizal and the other heroes, serve as the group’s collated ideology and guidelines for living.

While this ideology serves as the group’s cornerstone and furthermore keeps them aiming for a “reform” in religion from a materialistic and concrete perspective to one that is more spiritual and abstract, its mosaic nature does not necessarily make it intact. On my part, it would be hugely unthinkable for one to successfully reconciliate the doctrines of Rizal and most of our national heroes who were liberal freemasons with that of the Church which adheres to its strict, unbending and conservative doctrines. Add to this lack of coherence the fact that a realistic movement would endeavor to “seek a major and rapid change in society”, but the Ciudad does not – for the change that it seeks is rooted passively, one that it believes must come from every individual and shall reach its crowning zenith at the given period stated in the prophecy.

Indeed, everything was all about change. And for this particular experience, it was especially a change of heart – change of heart towards one’s outlook in religion, towards discovering once again the significance of true worship in its simplest, least elaborate form. Just like the people of Ciudad Mystica de Dios, I know that Banahaw will continue to leave me pensive, with its trademark imprint of mystery and sacredness. I might not have raced to its summit before sunrise just to drink in the breathtaking view from a decidedly vantage point, or even just stepped on its hallowed slopes for posterity, but then, I was there. I had succeeded in deciphering the silent yet all-encompassing message which it brings to humankind.

Rizal couldn’t be any happier in his grave