All I the brat of eight the brat of Death
itched to write were elegies. One for
the bitch among three dogs at home
I stroked the most: the summer evening toast
of all Pateros mongreldom. The next
town’s camp of soldiers drowned her crisper bones
with coconut wine. Another for my great
great etcetera grandfather Quim
Suy the merchant later known as Don
Lorenzo Quiogue of whom the waterlilies of
tres siglos obstructed most recall.
Nevertheless he must have himself
forgot the cry of the ducks & the Pasig’s swell
& the profit & the loss who had
taken a Christian martyr’s name: Saint
Lorenzo who roasted by the Romans quipped
one side of him was cooked. “Come & eat. Then turn
me on the other side.” Lorenzo too
Saint Martha’s & the river’s thin & gray
dancer: whose heart at eighty flying fell
with food hurled by sterile women on
a crocodile! the crocodile. When
forty my father died my mother’s clan
the mostly impoverished principalia marched
through bridges’ throats & intestines of streets
to the home of white! where black veils
blindfolded aunts. Uncles squinted: shut their eyes.
At the coffin halfway through the niche I stared
as at the duckling of balut: dark
as the spirit possessing pale virgins: as Death
my foster father my second name my other side
my favorite word my great etcetera Death.
Open Letters to Filipino Artists
A poet must also learn
how to lead an attack.
—Ho Chi Minh
Invisible the mountain routes to strangers:
For rushing toes an inch-wide strip on boulders
And for the hand that’s free a twig to grasp,
Or else we headlong fall below to rocks
And waterfalls of death so instant that
Too soon they’re red with skulls of carabaos.
But patient guides and teachers are the masses:
Of forty mountains and a hundred rivers;
Of plowing, planting, weeding, and the harvest;
And of a dozen dialects that dwarf
This foreign tongue we write each other in
Who must transcend our bourgeois origins.
—South Cotabato May 1st, 1975
You want to know, companions of my youth.
How much has changed the wild but shy young poet
Forever writing last poem after last poem;
You hear he’s dark as earth, barefoot,
A turban round his head, a bolo at his side,
His ballpen blown up to a long-barreled gun:
Deeper still the struggling change inside.
Like husks of coconuts he tears away
The billion layers of his selfishness.
Or learns to cage his longing like the bird
Of legend, fire, and song within his chest.
Now of consequence is his anemia
From lack of sleep: no longer for Bohemia,
The lumpen culturati, but for the people, yes.
He mixes metaphors but values more
A holographic and geometric memory
For mountains: not because they are there
But because the masses are there where
Routes are jigsaw puzzles he must piece together.
Though he has been called a brown Rimbaud,
He is no bandit but a people’s warrior.
—South Cotabato and Davao del Norte November 1975
We are tribeless and all tribes are ours.
We are homeless and all homes are ours.
We are nameless and all names are ours.
To the fascists we are the faceless enemy
Who come like thieves in the night, angels of death:
The ever moving, shining, secret eye of the storm.
The road less traveled by we’ve taken—
And that has made all the difference:
The barefoot army of the wilderness
We all should be in time. Awakened, the masses are
Here among workers and peasants our lost
Generation has found its true, its only home.
—Davao del Norte January 1976