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CSAR RUIZ AQUNO

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ABOUT CSAR RUIZ AQUNO


[PLEASE EDIT AND/OR ADD. THIS IS HORRIBLY WRITTEN]

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Csar Ruiz Aquino , Sawi, Sar (short for Cesar, subliminally, Tsar), by friends. He
was born on December 14, 1910 in Zambuanga City Phiippines. He loves to play
with words. Maam Myrna Pea-Reyes a couple of years ago commented, He is a
wordsmith. He also loves to play chess and as like in playing with words he is a
master. He usually calls Dumaguete Dumas Goethe a place that exists mostly in
the poetry. According to Dr. Evasco The [poet] stereophonically [sees] one thing
and all things, [refuses] to fix things into dead forms, and always [plays] with risible
and sensible, sentient language. In Zambuanga he became DJ in a radio station in
the evening. Naturally I am extremely good-looking on the radio, not to mention
tall and dark. He admitted himself. And because of this girls flipped to his
reverberating voice.
Early Life
Csar Aquino is fondly called Sawi by his friends and contemporaries.He said:
My father is the one who gives me the name Sawi and no one seems to
remember anyone explaining whence the name . The priest would not consent t
insisting that I be given another, Christian, name: Cesar, which is originally pagan
in fact, emperor of pagans.. Nonetheless Sawi is what I am called at home. I hear
my Auntie Guiling explain that sawi in Ilocano is a bird that swoops down and
snatches the eggs from frantic and helpless mother hens. As a crawler, her
explanation goes, I am seen crawling and plucking objects deftly from the floor
which is what makes my father name me after the bird. For years even as a grown
man I more or less give this account credence, until I find out later that there is no
such bird in Ilocano. One day I believe the real explanation reveals itself to me. My
father is fascinated by the Tagalog song Ibong Sawi (hapless bird) which tells of a
bird that has been hurt and can no longer fly. Auntie Guiling gets it garbled to
exactly the opposite! But only because magical unconscious on her part prompts
her to reverse the dark implication of the name, paving the way for me to later on
invent the pen name Sawing Ibonaccent on the first syllable. He has no wife
but he has an adopted daughter named Michele. He is an award winning Filipino
poet, fictionist, teacher and a regular panellist of the Dumaguete National Writers
workshop. He was born and raised and got his basic education in Zamboanga City,
Philippines. Aquino started his literary venture when he was in high school in
Zamboanga, winning the campus poetry prizes and eventually breaking, as a
college sophomore, into national print in 1961 when Vicente Rivera Jr. of Graphic
magazine published his story, Noon and Summer. . This story became his ticket to
the Philippine literary world.. At age 19, he received a writing fellowship to attend
the 1st Silliman University National Writers Workshop with Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez,
Wilfrido Nolledo and Jose Lansang Jr who seemed to steal the show from the fellows
because they were writing passable, publishable promising, really hooray stuff with
Edilberto& Edith Tiempo, Franz Arcellana and Nick Joaquin as the panelists in 1962.
From there, he studied at Silliman, at the Ateneo de Manila (on Padre Faura) , and
the U.P. Diliman in the sixties .He then taught at the Ateneo de Zamboanga, the U.P.
Baguio, Maryknoll College, Lyceum of the Philippines and Silliman.He obtained his
doctoral degree. He studied creative writing under Edilberto Tiempo, Edith Tiempo,
Francisco
Arcellana
and
Nick
Joaquin.
Ruiz Aquino has mentored many students, teachers, artists and writers at Ateneo de
Zamboanga, the University of the Philippines in Baguio City, Maryknoll College,
Lyceum of the Philippines University, Foundation University and Silliman University.
He earned his Ph.D. at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, where he has been
teaching creative writing and literature since 1981. He is also a regular lecturer-

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panel member at the Annual Silliman University National Writers Workshop. Writer
Anthony Tan once dubbed Aquino the Peter Pan of Philippine literature, as the
poet is largely known for his frisky, unfettered experimentation of the literary art.
Like the cosmic wonder child, fearless in the art of flying and settling into new
experimental
grounds.
LIGWURGOWYGOIWYGOIWGPIYGYQYOEYGYQE

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CHRONOLOGY OF THE LIFE OF CSAR RUIZ AQUNO


[TRANSFORM THE INFORMATION BELOW INTO A LIFE CHRONOLOGY]
19__

Born in Zamboanga City.

1988

Published Chronicles of Suspicion, a collection of short stories.

The following are Aquinos published books:


Word Without End (poems, Anvil Publishing,1993)
Checkmeta: The Cesar Ruiz Aquino Reader (poems and stories, Midtown
Printing Company, 2004).
Like a Shadow that Only Fits a Figure of Which it is Not the Shadow(2015)
Recently, on February 21, 2015 ,he launched his latest book Like a Shadow
That Only Fits a Figure of Which It is Not a Shadow, that consists 151
poems .
The awards and prizes he has received include:
Writing Fellow, 1st Silliman University National Writers Workshop (1961)
GawadPambansangAlagadniBalagtas for Lifetime Achievement from the
UnyonngmgaManunulatngPilipinas (Writers Union of the Philippines or UMPIL)
in 1997
Palanca Award in both poetry and fiction: poetry in 1978 and 1987; and
fiction in 1979 and 1989.
National Fellow for Poetry by the U.P. Institute of Creative Writing (2004)
National Book Award for personal anthology from the group that is composed
of literary writers and professors, and whose members include Alfred Yuson of
Ateneo de Manila University and the Philippine Star; JuaniyoArcellana,
Philippine Star; Cirilo Bautista, Isagani Cruz, De La Salle University; Ofelia
Dimalanta, University of Santo Tomas, and national artist VirgilioAlmario, a
press release said.
He has won the Free Press poetry prize and the Graphic short story prize
Southeast Asia Write Award he went to Bangkok in October 2004 to receive
his award from King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit of Thailand.
Dumaguete-based poet and fictionist Dr. Cesar Ruiz Aquino won First Prize for
Poetry for Jerahmeel,
In 2014, he was named Poet of the Year by the Philippines Graphic Magazine
during the 2014 Nick Joaquin Literary Awards.
The legendary word-and-chess assassin of the South wrote Alfred Yuson in
The Philippine Star
The most difficult to write and the most ambitious in this collection is Cesar
Aquinos Stories, a Palanca award winner. Said Mr. Edilberto Tiempo
By turns rueful lover, gentle cynic, overgrown and sorrowful Werther, and
fatalist, Aquino is no trailing string from the Romantic school but very much a
poet of our time. Philippine Free Press

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Inimitable lyricism...pioneering adventurism in the crafting of modernist


short fiction in English provocative UMPIL
In a veritable horror of dwelling in the obvious, his comments discover how
the poems do display the constituents elements of the of the magical, of
wonderment, of amazement or startlement in the face of the paradoxical and
mysterious inexplicable of the awesome meeting which events and
manifestation that are occult and even bizarre in nature Edith Lopez Tiempo
National Artist of Literature
Superfluous it will be to use hyperbole in describing Sawi. Wrote Bron
Joseph
Teves
He is himself the hyperbole, the suspension of disbelief in real life. Not
because he is not realistic, and fails to dwell in the human condition, but
because to the unfamiliar, he seems to be too good to be true -an
exaggeration, until one gets to know him up close.
He was not only and effective writer of poetry and prose but he also know
how to produce and direct not just an ordinary play but a one of a kind Greek
play and it was entitled Medea. He used the residence Albert Faurot . He used
every part of Mr. Faurots house as a his stage. and three others: Waiting for
Godot in Zamboanga at Fort Pilar; Sepang Loka in UP Baguio; and Kwerdas
at Woodward Little Theater in Silliman.

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AN APPRAISAL
[PLEASE EDIT AND/OR ADD. THIS IS HORRIBLY WRITTEN]
Most people would describe Mr. Aquino as a hyperbole himself, a walking figurative
language, his mind filled with wonders that leaves people to ponder on something
that shape-shifts, his imagination. People who are first-timers to read his writings
would probably say that everything is so random. It jumps from one idea to another.
But that is part of the beauty of Mr. Aquinos works. Not because he is unrealistic
and cannot cope with the settings of human conditions but because in a sense, he is
an exaggeration that seems too good to be true. He can apply magic to ordinary
situations and turn them into unique, unusual ones. While we read, he brings us to
the world he is describing and opens our eyes to the impossibilities that could be
made possible. Upon knowing him, one could really say Dont judge a book by its
cover. Honestly, the first time we met Mr. Aquino, we concluded that he was a man
of few words, strict and never really socialized. But beneath that look lies a
thousand mysterious and unusual ideas that he can always put into writing. As what
Mr. Anthony Tan said about him, being the Peter Pan of Philippine Literature, he
brings his audience to Neverland where anything can happen. He flies, he glides
while we become awed by the grace he bears. Then, suddenly we become inspired
and start to follow his lead as we struggle to squeeze out random ideas from our
own imaginative minds. As a human, he is not perfect too but he writes through his
feelings and writes for himself, to express the things which can only be concrete
through his writings, not for fame nor for money. Leave the people who criticize his
just writes whenever he can. It is a part of Mr. Aquinos essence in writing in which
he is not Cesar Ruiz Aquino if his works does not have the beauty of being queer
and unusual. In Philippine Literature, each writer has their own style and identity.
Mr. Aquino surely did his part on shaping his own identity in the world of literature.
Whats also nice about him is that he keeps his feet on the ground because even
with his fame and everything, it does not bloat his ego. He says You dont write for
money or to win literary contests. You only write to worship the Muse.
His mind is also considered as a quicksilver. The word comes from the sense
of quick that means alive. One with this kind of character is totally unpredictable
because one could be cool and wilful at one moment and then utterly fragile the
next. He is widely known for his frolicsome, unrestrained experimentations in
literature. Others might say that he has forgotten the essence of practicality but it
must be in his experimental works where he finds great joy.
Remarkably, we can easily distinguish Mr. Aquinos main themes in his works.
In his poems, it is usually romantic and bizarre while his short stories are mainly
autobiographical. These themes can be found in poems like Samarkand. In his
poem, Samarkand, a heavy feeling of love can be felt. It might just be part of his
imagination and all but the way he expressed it felt so real. The memories and the
way he depicted the place Samarkand was so concrete that you cannot help but
wonder if how was he able to let those out from his mind. In Memories, one could
feel the strong emotions he felt and it was even more intensified because the
language he was using was Cebuano. English cannot cope with the deep words and
feelings only the native language can properly express. One poem that is
considered to be difficult to decipher is Word Without End. If you would see the

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poem on the outside, you would say that its all based on wordplay and figurative
language, a mixture of ideas without any internal logic or defined structure.
WORD WITHOUT END
East, the horizons and all the learning
Lost. Sick for Siquijor or Avalon
O I could for the sheer sight of her throw
Verses away! Let the Virgins carry
Virgule widdershins upon the fairy
Earth, the same that on the worlds first morning
Left her traces, her face an eidolon
Of whiteness for the chilled blood to know
Or for one word and one word only go
Void as days all misspent for the starry
Echo of a night come without warning
Like a thousand thieves stealing on and on
Love, tongue-tied, is my Tetragrammaton
Opening no door, giving leave to no
Vendaval that, priceless, she might tarry
Even as the sands and theres no turning

But delving deeper into it, taking a much closer look and deeper reading of
the texts, there is a hidden storyline underneath all those metaphors and wordplays.
In one of his short stories entitled Stories, which we have learned in class, was
most likely an account of a part of his life. It was unusual for a normal story because
it contained three stories of different settings and characters but is somehow
connected with each other with a certain metaphysical force. The connection of the
three stories is metaphorical. It contains three stories about confronting evil. It
definitely plays with your mind, especially when you are trying to find the logic
behind the connection of three diverse stories. Kalisud A La Dante Varona was
also an autobiographical story. It was about his escapade to Leyte for the first time
because he was a mentor of chess to a student who was going to have a contest in
the said place. It was mostly a recount of his experience there.
We once conversed with Mr. Aquino in Facebook and we were amazed by his
remarkable personality. We did not even expect that he would reply to our message
and the first message he gave to us was an inspiring quote for poets by Petronius
which goes:
If greatness, poet is your goal,/ the craft begins with self-control./ For poems
are of the poet part,/ and what he is decides his art./ With character true poems
begin./ Poet, learn your discipline.
-Petronius

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He was a funny and open-minded person. We even exchanged Cebuano


songs to listen to through the night because according to him, it was to ease the
lonely night. He even gave his regards and good luck for this reader. We asked him
five questions and these were his replies:
1.
What or who is your inspiration when you write?
2.
How do you feel when someone disagrees with the point of views that you
have written?
3.
What is the reason why you are here in Dumaguete when in fact, you are
from Zamboanga?
4.
What is the biggest thing that people think they know about your subject or
genre, that isnt so?
5.
What is the most important thing that people think they know about your
subject or genre, which they need to know?
#1 The Muse. Even at my age I still see her now & then.
#2 I say to myself its better if my knowledge of this character self-destructs into
oblivion. But if its someone I admire, respectOK lang I can more than live with it
(his disagreement).
#3 I discovered, in 1972, that my mothers father was from Negros & had some
property here. My grandmother and he separated when their daughter, my mother,
was a child.
#4 The process of poetic creation. The majority of literary people tend to believe
that the writing of a poem is wholly a matter of technique, method, skills.
#5 The role of inspiration in poetic creation. What is absent is a serious reading or
re-reading of (put in meditation on) Platos theory.
We may not recognize the Dumaguete that Mr. Aquino shows in his writings,
even if we are Dumaguetenos ourselves. There are, of course, the landmarks and no
doubt, they definitely add to our sense of place. But these places do not mean much
if there were not these unusual encounters that institutionalized in the city itself.
Having been part of the SUNWW, a panelist to be exact, one can see that this place
is also a part of a common thread that runs through most of his stories. His writings
are filled with strange watery light of lustrous imagination. At the same time, vague
and it makes us wonder more as we flip through the pages. His works are more of a
thing of feeling than of physical specifications. In this case, Dumaguete is
transformed into the inner terrain of memory.

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THE LITERARY WORKS OF CSAR RUIZ AQUNO


From the Sillimanian Magazine
1967
To a Girl Remembered, poem [MISSING]
1968
Figure of Orange, poem [MISSING]
Panic, poem
The Loneliness of a Frustrated Chessplayer, essay [MISSING]
1988
Botticelli Blues, poem [MISSING]
1990
For Alexandra, poem [MISSING]
Kalisud a la Dante Varona, short story [MISSING]
1993
Ars Poetica, poem [MISSING]
The Poem as a Flower, The Flower as a Poem, poem [MISSING]
Sands and Corals 1963. Edited by Rhoda J.B. Galima. Dumaguete City: Silliman
University, 1963.
The Everyday of a Lark, poem
Sands and Corals 1968. Edited by Elsa Victoria Martinez and Eliseo P. Baas.
Dumaguete City: Silliman University, 1968.
Point of View, poem
Dancers, poem
Sands and Corals 1969. Edited by Merlie Alunan. Dumaguete City: Silliman
University, 1969.
Song, poem [MISSING]

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Sands and Corals 1973. Edited by Jaime An Lim. Dumaguete City: Silliman
University, 1973.
Provisional Revision of Panic, poem [MISSING]
Poem, poem [MISSING]
Sands and Corals 1974. Edited by Ma. Paloma Alburo. Dumaguete City: Silliman
University, 1974.
Clear Water, short story [CHECK TYPOS]
Ultimately She Couples With the Sun, poem [MISSING]
Sands and Corals 1976Silliman University Diamond Jubilee Issue. Edited by
Leoncio P. Deriada. Dumaguete City: Silliman University, 1976.
Song, poem
All in All, poem
Notes for a Poem in April, poem
Point of View, poem [MISSING]
Poem Written at Twenty and Never Going Beyond the First Two Lines Until
Four Years Later, poem [MISSING]
Sands and Corals 1981-1982. Edited by Marjorie Evasco. Dumaguete City: Silliman
University, 1982.
Image of Flesh, poem [CHECK TYPOS]
Sands and Corals 1989. Edited by Antonino Salvador Soria de Veyra. Dumaguete
City: Silliman University, 1989.
Panic, poem
Chronicles of Suspicion. Manila: Kalikasan Press, 1990.
Proheme, short story
In the Smithy of My Soul, short story
And Sunday Morning, short story
Two, short story
Jerahmeel, short story
Proheme to Zamboanga, short story
Crazy in Ermita, short story
Assault in Dumaguete, short story
Anak Bulan, short story
Dog Bite, short story
Sublunary Advertising, short story

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The Great Filipina Navel, short story


Touch Move, short story [MISSING PASSAGES]
The Reader, short story [MISSING PASSAGES, BAD ITALICIZATION]
The Fourteenth Fool, short story
A Tale of Two Diaries, short story [MISSING]
The Browser, short story
Lapuz Lazuli, short story
A Fine Madness Named Pepito Bosch, short story
Bisayan Binignit, short story [MISSING PASSAGES]
Alihs in Wonderland, short story
Last Exit from Malatapay, short story
Chronicles of Suspicion, short story
Stories, short story
The Bulbiferous Blurbs, short story
Proheme to the Blue God, short story
On the Beach, short story
Deep Purple, short story
Kalisud a la Dante Varona, short story
Fischer, the World Chess Champion Who Never Was, short story [MISSING
PASSAGES]
Kabilin: Legacies of 100 Years of Negros Oriental. Edited by Merlie Alunan and
Bobby Flores-Villasis. Dumaguete City: Negros Oriental Centennial Commission,
1993.
Heres Writing About You, Dumaguete, essay [MISSING]

Word Without End. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing Inc., 1993.


[ALL POEMS MISSING / PLEASE FIND THE BOOK, LIST THE POEMS HERE, AND ENCODE
THEM]

Sands and Corals 1995. Edited by Noel C. Villalba. Dumaguete City: Silliman
University, 1995.
Sun, poem [MISSING]
Sands and Corals 1996. Edited by Dinah Rose M. Baseleres. Dumaguete City:
Silliman University, 1996.
Postscript, poem
The Seventh Floor, short story [MISSING]
Stories Revisited: Reply to a Critic, literary criticism

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Sands and Corals 1997. Edited by Sheilfa B. Alojamiento. Dumaguete City: Silliman
University, 1997.
Flaming Sword Poem, poem
Once Upon a Time in Dumaguete, essay [MISSING]
Sands and Corals 1997Writers in Their Environment: Voices in the Wilderness
Special Issue. Edited by Douglas C. Crispino, Dennis S. Cruz, Nino Soria de Veyra,
Jean Claire A. Dy, Victor John L. Padilla, and Ellen May T. Sojor. Dumaguete City:
Silliman University, 1997.
She, poem
Once Upon a Time in Dumaguete, essay [MISSING]
Sands and Corals 2001Silliman University Centennial Issue. Edited by Douglas C.
Crispino, Jean Claire A. Dy, and Ellen May T. Sojor. Dumaguete City: Silliman
University, 2001.
Summer of 1962, et al., essay
Green Poem, poem
Tribute: An Anthology of Contemporary Philippine Fiction. Co-editor with Timothy R.
Montes. Pasig: Anvil Publishing Inc., 2001.
Stories,short story
Philippine Star, 11 April 2004.
The Son According to Gibson, essay
Checkmeta: The Cesar Ruiz Aquino Reader. Davao City: Midtown Publishing, 2004.
The Reader,short story
A Tale of Two Diaries,short story
Dog Bite,short story
Writers,short story
Checkmeta, short story
Stories,short story
Sailing to Byzantium,short story
A Fine Madness Named Pepito Bosch,short story
Kalisud a la Dante Varona,short story [MISSING]
X Sight,poem
Sun,poem
Baguio Blues,poem
Panic,poem

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Song,poem
Point of View,poem
Verb Lovely Flesh,poem [MISSING]
Poem,poem
Poem Begun at Twenty,poem
Indeed All Things Go,poem
Memory,poem
Regrets,poem
Going Japanese (For Kauro),poem
Flesh of Image, Image of Flesh,poem
Caroline in Cubao,poem
She,poem
Ars Poetica,poem
Kalisud a la Rizal,poem
Advice to a Young Poet,poem
Notes Towards a Poem in April,poem
Sketch Towards a Portrait,poem
Lines Towards the Bigger Bang,poem
Name,poem
She Was Trance Itself,poem
Green Poem,poem
Lunar Petition,poem
Senior Blues,poem
Cellphone Poem,poem
Romantic Manifesto,poem
Eyoter,poem
from Dreaming the Real, literary criticism [MISSING]
10 Single Poetic Theme Readings, literary criticism [MISSING]
Mr. Mxyzptlk Pops Into the Room, novel excerpt [MISSING]
In Samarkand: Poems & Verseliterations. Manila: University of Santo Tomas
Publishing House, 2008.
X Sight,poem [MISSING]
Set-up,poem [MISSING]
Like the Moon,poem [MISSING]
Samarkand,poem [MISSING]
Leonardo to ML,poem [MISSING]
Tendril,poem [MISSING]
The Line,poem [MISSING]
She Comes with Horns and Tails,poem [MISSING]
Sensor,poem [MISSING]
Sight,poem [MISSING]
Huntsman,poem [MISSING]
Genesis,poem [MISSING]
Gold,poem [MISSING]
Miguelitito,poem [MISSING]
Lady Luck Doctor to Absurd Patient,poem
Tarot,poem

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Signs of the Times,poem


Going Japanese,poem
The Raider Raids,poem
Laugh/Tear,poem
Memories,poem
Translating Phiux Kabahar,poem
Eyoter,poem
Agon,poem
Mr. Two Minds,poem
Shall I Compare Us,poem
Kalisud a la Dante Varona,poem
P. & G. Revisited,poem
She,poem
Manifesto,poem
Man of Letters,poem
Workshop Algebra,poem
Shock of Recognition,poem
Safe Conduct,poem
Lucida Console,poem
Apologia,poem
The Ballad of the Ampersand,poem
Riddles Inc.,poem
The Wind,poem
Retro,poem
On a Sonnet by Rimbaud,poem
World,poem
In the Sign,poem
For JL,poem
For NJ,poem
Philippine History,poem
Kalisud a la Auden,poem
Riding the Cycle,poem
Continuum,poem
Green Poem,poem
Sun,poem
Anak Bulan,poem
The Camelephant,poem
Kalisud a la Superman,poem
Midpoem,poem
Jerahmeel,poem
NOTE: In Samarkand introduces the next section with the following:
Two mid-twentieth-century Philippine poets, Jose Garcia Villa, and Jose Lansang, Jr., started the
practice to the best of my knowledge. I have the dimmest memory of one example by Villa that
I read, only that it taught me a bit in my understanding of poetry.
The aim is to transform a prose passage into verse, free or otherwise.
(Lansang never believed in free verse. It seems to me that verseliteration, my own
coined word for it, is proof that indeed there is no such things as free verse.)
This is done by collage. The way I do it, I cut it up the prose and paste the resultant line
onto the white pagemeaning, I write the poem with those lines. Extreme care is taken never
to add or change a word, nor even to rearrange the sequence. The original punctuation marks

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too must retained whenever possible. The verseliterator may drop phrases and clauses though
(he has hardly a choice). Also, he may re-sequence when the lines involved are far-flung from
each other. Since he cuts out plenty in the original, he gets ample opportunity to re-sequence
or re-assemble. He will be able to rhyme and to work out a rhythm, even a tone (and therefore
a meaning) not in the original.
The bottom line is to have, when the work is done, a poem on the page, not a prose
passage. I was the happiest when working with an original that was not particularly ppoetic
or lyrical. Thus I avoided the great passages of the prose wizards like Joyce, Durell, and
Nabokov. At the same time, I could not resist verseliterating from the prose of the poets
Holderlin, Yeats, Stevens, Merwin, Hughes, and Snyder.

Origin of the Gazelles,poem


Words,poem
Continuum of Three,poem [MISSING PASSAGES]
Still Life,poem
Landscape w/ Figures,poem
A Portrait of Picasso,poem
Revealing the Secret,poem [MISSING INFO]
The Unprintable Word,poem
The Tree Where Man Was Born,poem
Execution Site,poem
The Restoration,poem
Toad,poem
Glacial,poem
The Hunt for Plums,poem
Continuum of Two,poem
Alone,poem
Sirius,poem
The Morning After,poem
Dream,poem
The Birds,poem
Marvel,poem
Poet and Girl,poem
War,poem
The Sight,poem
Pascolis Odysseus,poem
The College Sits Down,poem
Because The Woman Was Too Beautiful,poem [MISSING]
Parable,poem
Dedication,poem [MISSING]
NOTE: In Samarkand, the next section is labelled Old Poems:

Word Without End,poem


She Was Trance,poem
Botticellli Blues,poem
A Portrait of the Artist as a Mangyan,poem
Kalisud a la Rizal,poem
Lost,poem [MISSING]
Araby Revisited,poem
W.,poem
Memory,poem

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Caroline in Cubao,poem
Fragment,poem
Haiku Luck,poem
Solitaire,poem
Idea,poem
Plain Blues,poem
Regrets,poem
Stronger than Love,poem
Text Muse,poem
Name,poem
Poem in April,poem
Point of View,poem [CHECK TYPOS]
Riddle,poem
Panic,poem
Poem,poem
Patty Poem,poem
Poem at Twenty,poem
Verb Lovely Flesh,poem
Poem at Fourteen,poem
Dactyls at Twelve,poem [MISSING]
Song,poem
X Sight,poem

Dark Blue Southern Seas 2009. Edited by F. Jordan Carnice. Dumaguete City:
Silliman University, 2009.
Miguelito,poem
She Comes With Horns and Tail,poem

The Dumaguete We Know. Edited by Merlie Alunan. Mandaluyong City: Anvil


Publishing, 2012.
Dumaguete, Summer of 62, essay [MISSING]

Silliman Journal 54(2)Special Issue Dedicated to Edilberto K. Tiempo. Edited by


Anthony Tan, Marjorie Evasco, and Grace Monte de Ramos, July-December 2013.
Amorous Support, poem
Getting Willies Rizal, Getting Rizals Willie, essay
Kibitzer Kings, poem
Memo, poem
Personal Spell, poem
Shout and Whisper, poem
Two By Two, poem

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Caesuras: 155 New Poems. Manila: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House,
2013.
[ALL POEMS MISSING / PLEASE FIND THE BOOK, LIST THE POEMS HERE, AND ENCODE
THEM]

Sands and Corals 2011-2013Celebration: An Anthology to Commemorate the


Fiftieth Anniversary of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. Edited by
Ian Rosales Casocot. Dumaguete City: Silliman University, 2013.
The Pink Monk Writes,poem
Serpentine,poem
Near & How,poem
Girl on a Sandbar,poem
Much Ado About Ness,poem
Go Flying,poem
Like a Shadow That Only Fits a Figure of Which It is Not the Shadow. Manila:
University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015.
[ALL POEMS MISSING / PLEASE FIND THE BOOK, LIST THE POEMS HERE, AND ENCODE
THEM]

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|21

THE LITERARY TEXTS

NOTE:
Csar Ruz Aquino is fond of revising his works
many times over, so no two or three published
versions of the same poem, short story, or essay
are ever the same. In the interest of following the
stages of development of these pieces, we have
endeavored to encode their various published
forms. All pieces have been arranged in
alphabetical order for easy reference.

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THE ESSAYS AND LITERARY CRITICISM


10 Single Poetic Theme Readings
[From Checkmeta, 2004]
[MISSING]

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From Dreaming the Real


[From Checkmeta, 2004]
[MISSING]

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Dumaguete, Summer of 62
[From The Dumaguete We Know, 2012]
[MISSING]

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Getting Willies Rizal, Getting Rizal's Willie


[From Silliman Journal 54(2), July-December 2013]
LOVE IN TALISAY
By Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez
Thats how I came to love you,
you are mine
though I pity the man that
cannot know his blindness
from his love. May you not blame
me, sweet Josephine, for putting you
in this terrible mess.
You call me Joe, and I for joy
tremble at your innocence
and what of it is left? You and I,
perhaps in abundance of knowing,
and also in revenge
God teased when our backs were
turned, in an absolute way
in your body I knew the guidings
of my dream.
Towards night, we would walk
streets away into the woods
for you are all my virtuous sisters
seeking me in vain.
Im lost time and again in
illuminated roads.
The world owes you a hearing,
but my pen is late.
Josephine, we shall write no words,
but only walk in rain
so I may feel your breasts,
and kiss your feet
and in a blaze of madness wake
the buried spring.
When did Rizal say this?
And I mean really Rizal, the self-same Rizal of history who, as it were, had
written a memoirthis.
(Just another way of saying the I in the poem is not necessarily fiction.)
If so, how is it the hero had written the texta highly, or deeply, expressive
onein English not Spanish?

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Well, since he is addressing a girl with an Irish mother and British father and
American stepfatherhe talks to her naturellement in English. Since I heard your
lilting laughter, its your Irish heart Im after, if you ever heard Mitch Miller. Besides,
admit it, like the girl we dont know Spanish; so its our fault not hisor if you do,
the fault is not his or yours all right but neither is it mine. Es la culpa de nuestra
historia. Makes good historical sense to suspect polyglot Rizal had learned all those
languages with an eye on Miss Universe, eh?
More serious, how is it possible that Rizal, over a hundred years ago, had left
a text the author of which is Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez, Filipino poet in Chicago? The
black magic of poets obviously.
I suspect the poem to be autobiographical; Sanchez had transmuted his own
story into the seamless one of the hero such as we have itin exactly the same
manner that John Keats, in La Belle Dame Sans Merci, had drawn a story from
antique tradition and disappeared, as it were, in the persona of the knight. The
personal is transformed into archetype or myth is another way of putting it, the
process rightly compared to the Great Work of alchemy. As Fanny Brawne, in John
Keats life, was the belle; the belle in John Keats poem is Fanny Brawne. But Keats
had to work it, and when he succeeded there was no need for the reader to know of
Fanny Brawnes existence, as well as of John Keats.
I took this as the power of myth to validate a personal experience until the
expatriate poet, in our correspondence, called my attention to the correct order.
Didnt I rather think, he asked, it is personal experience that validates myth?
Overlooked that!
Indeed Sanchez made it jell with a vengeance. Not only has the authors story
been made invincibly invisible/ invisibly invincible in the poems story; but the
episode in the life of Rizal which is the poems story is turned into myth, in fact the
monomyth. And in double fact creative lightning struck twice, the miracle is twofold. First, Rizals life validated or authenticated or gave life to or became the
monomyth; then Willies personal occultation gives the one story and one story only
a new translucence.
Jose Rizal was born in the summer solstice, when the sun is at its brightest,
and died in the winter solstice, when the sun is its own ghost, as Thomas Mann in
one of his stories describes it. Moreover he died in pure droumenon, executed
facing the guns, though they wouldnt let him, in full view of his people and stirring
the mythopoeic sense forever, especially as his death sparked the revolution.
So heres to oblige our own rhetoric. When did Rizal put those words
together? A good while after he and Josephine Bracken had become lovers.
Thats how I came to love you,
You are mine
Note the retrospective, post-coincidence, even post-honeymoon, mood of the
poemif the word may be forgiven; that is, as if the love affair of Josephine Bracken
and Jose Rizal were not in fact a star-crossed one. Moreover honeymoon is no match
for the intoxication alone of days when, strangers to each other, Joe and Jo
(coincidence or synchronicity? I prefer coincidence) exchanged glances in the
perfect if dangerous night of Taufers blindness. (The variations both positional and

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|27

combinative of the situation, as you can see, are well-nigh infinite and all lead to
mate. But of that, later.)
But the mood is not post-crisis either; not at all. If the surgeon general were
to take his pulse at this point in his story I would put all of Luneta on the line if it
were mine dear Joe would be advised to take a sedative. Although the two have
learned to live with it (this terrible mess), it continues to be a thorn on their
bedside.
One of them takes to bed, yes, and though its Josephine who does, the
ailment that interests us in the poem is not hers, since her character is subsidiary,
but Rizals. However, at this point that is again to digress.
Sweet Josephine, shifted to Spanish, is Dulce Josefinawhich could be what
Rizal called Josephine Bracken, not just Josefina, long before he came to write the
Mi Ultimo Adios. Either that or it is a beautiful invention of Sanchezs to intimate
that Rizal already had an intimation or premonition of the phrase, the most beautiful
in his legendary poem of farewell, not to say death: dulce estranjera, sweet
stranger.
In any event it is improbable that Sanchez hadnt heard Sweet Caroline a pop
song that was a hit around the time he wrote the poem1969 to be exact. If Im
right about it, the song played into his hands, insofar as the poem, I believe, makes
allusion to it. To demonstrate this, I will cite parts of the song, along with those from
film-writer and poet Pete Lacabas clear, unencumbered rendition of Rizals exile (a
dominant aspect of it).
From Lacabas synopsis of the screenplay Rizal sa Dapitan:
It is 1892. The sun has not yet set on the Spanish empire, and the
Philippines is its prized colony in the Far East, the last outpost of the
Spanish Inquisition. On a rainy day in July, Dr. Jose Rizal arrives in
Dapitan, a backwater town in the province of Zamboanga, on the
southern Philippine island of Mindanao. He is an internal exile,
deported there to isolate him from the revolutionary ferment in Manila
a ferment stirred up in large part by his anticolonial writings.
Though Dapitan is a paradise of bucolic charm, it is still a prison
paradise. Into this Eden of profound loneliness now comes his Eve, in
the form of an 18-year-old Eurasian orphan named Josephine Bracken.
Her blind stepfather, George Taufer, has heard of Rizals fame as an
opthalmologist in Hongkong and seeks treatment. The 34-year-old Rizal
is smitten by her beauty.
From the essay When Joe Met Miss J. by the same author:
When Rizal met Josephine Bracken during his exile in Dapitan, he was
34 and she wasnt quite 18.
From Neil Diamonds song Sweet Caroline:
Where it began
I cant begin to knowin
I only know its growin strong
Twas in the spring
And spring became the summer

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Whod have believed youd come along


Note how the two parallel continuums coincide.
Lacaba, the same sources:
Josephine suffered a miscarriage while she was living in with Rizal. The
child was premature and did not survive.
In an unfortunate confrontation, Josephine suffers a miscarriage,
and a grieving Rizal buries his stillborn son.
The song:
And when I hurt
Hurtin runs off my shoulder
How can I hurt when holdin you
The match or correspondence is still exact.
Lacaba once more:
Nevertheless, the nearly two years spent with Josephine are largely happy
times.
The song:
And now I look at the night
And it dont seem too lonely
We filled it up with only two
Oh yes thats him, mutant king (after Alexander, Jesus,Von Kleist, Van Gogh,
Kant, James Dean, Bobby Fischer et al) after Josephines miscarriage.
Looking at the night is the lingering last thing I see Willies Rizal doing, in
deep thought. Here is the son we sent to study in Europe, our one and only
Renaissance man, Filipino heir to Goethe and Da Vinci, to all intents and purposes a
scion of the civilization of the westat the premature twilight of his life, repudiating
that civilization somewhat when he confesses:
Im lost time and again in
illuminated roads.
The lamps in Dapitan he himself has installed in the goodness of his
European engineers heart; but on a deeper level a metaphorical reference to the
civilization and culture of Europe that he ultimately finds inadequate, unavailing.
The shadow of modernism is upon him.
The 1890s are only just discovering the unconscious, although the
acknowledged discoverer of the concept, Sigmund Freud, acknowledges the poets
to have known it long before he came. And perhaps its really Henry James big
brother William who had come right before. En espaol, el cerebro de un centenar
de aos antes de Robert Ornstein, if we may profit from online translation.
Meantime JRs faith in reason, which may be what drove him away from the church

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|29

into the lure of secret knowledge of the mysterious Freemasons, has come to
nothing.
This is what ails Rizal.
But ailing may be too strong a word.
Even out of sorts would exceed.
Listless is a little more like it.
What vice or, graver, what inner weakness could he possibly have felt himself
sunk in, that his nine sisters, nine-fold virtue itself, were all of them alien to his
innermost core, as the Irish lass was, virtue being, in the latters case, vestigial
innocence that could yet stir and arouse and make a man to tremble, for all that her
lavisher, the unfortunate Taufer, had lavished on her stepdaughter by way of not so
much upkeep as education, i.e. savvy in the ways of the world?
The world turns and because it does we have light and darkness and their eternal
alternation; knowledge and ignorance, wisdom and innocence, being and
nothingnesstheir alternation and their variancea variance so irresoluble ancient
Persia invented the end of the world by fire, the Big Bang except they were looking
in the opposite direction.
But where in the poem is this coming from?
You and I,
perhaps in abundance of knowing,
and also in revenge
God teased when our backs were
turned, in an absolute way
My italics.
Our ambidextrous universe, at least the human or anthropocentric one. is
also unfortunately one-faced; i.e. we can only see whats in front of us, the other
the one behindis the realm of the unseen and unknown, the dark, a condition the
ancient Greeks, fools for light forever, apparently found so unacceptable they could
not be content with spin or twist or turn and they invented Janus.
The idea (of two faces looking in opposite directions and therefore covering
both) sounds like overreach, overkill, overdose. In other words, fucking fantastic and
futile.
Its in the nature of everything that we cannot see it. On the opposite side,
there is not a moment when God does not see everything that we do.
Therefore, enabled by love to become children again, Joe and Jo avenge
themselves, teasing hapless sightless Taufer whose back is always turned as it were.
Literally the English act of darkness.
But the syntax of the poem twists or spins when, instead of the normal and
expected You and I teased God the clause is You and I God teased.
That we cannot see God is God teasing us absolutely. Our backs, as it were,
are always turned and thus we know nothing in an absolute way. Vengeance is
mine, said the Lord. Every man is Taufer.
Happily, in Rizals case, in Josephine he discovers the primacywhich had
been in truth lifelongof intuition.
In your body I knew the guidings
Of my dream

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At the final split moment Rizal makes a heroic effort to twist, spin, turn
around and see the sun, the firing squad, the guns, maybe even the bullets coming,
the lone shooter whose gun had no bullet, the moth, you and me, the child grown
instantly into a handsome son of a bitch, everything.
However, brilliant and sublime our intelligence may be, it is scarcely
more than a small spark which shines and in an instant is extinguished,
and it alone can give us no idea of that blaze, that conflagration, that
ocean of light.
(Rizal in a letter to Father Pastells.)
And in a blaze of madness wake

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Heres Writing About You, Dumaguete


[From Kabilin, 1993]
[MISSING]

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The Loneliness of a Frustrated Chessplayer


[From the Sillimanian Magazine, 1968]
[MISSING]

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Once Upon a Time in Dumaguete


[From Sands & CoralWriters in Their Environment, 1997]
[MISSING]

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The Son According to Gibson


[From Philippine Star, 2004]
The story of Christs Passion as told by the Gospels is powerful, fascinating material
for the creative filmmaker. It took one to really see and show us just how.
Mel Gibson does a cameoor more correctly, makes a statementin the
movie: his hands are shown nailing Christs hand to the cross. The statement: The
Passion of the Christ is a work of creative passion as well as Christian piety. The
statement is justified. You cant help feeling he has felt his material with some
depth.
But thorny seems almost every aspect of Jesus Christnot just his crowning.
And the thorns may be insurmountable for the novelist or the filmmaker, who must
ask himselfis his intention to give us history or His Story? If its the former, people
are bound to howl impious! If the latter, anti-Semitic!
Theology students put it this way: the former would give us the Jesus of
history; the latter, the Christ of faith.
The twain does not meet. Or does it?
Never mind when exactly but somehow a monstrous question stirred in the
Christian consciousness in modern times and it was no longer Was Jesus really God?
but Was there really a Jesus? Off-hand one can say it was rationalism muttering
hmm hmm. After all His Story contains one wondrous thing too many, not the least
of which is that Jesus raised the deadand not only raised the dead but himself
rose from the dead, and not only rose from the dead but ascended to Heaven, and
not only ascended to Heaven but sat at the right hand of God!
Did all this really happen or is it all only a story?
Historical investigation of the life of Jesus began in the 18th-century with a
German scholar named H. Reimarus and ended in 1902 with Albert Schweitzers The
Quest of the Historical Jesus.
At the outset, the questing scholar is up against a horrendous problem: the
New Testament was not written as history. Its on a par with stories like how
Zoroaster of the Persians was born laughing and how Buddha turned the arrows
flying towards him into flowers. But its not that simple, much of it is history. Can
one be certain of this? Yes. Two historians from antiquity, the Roman Tacitus and the
Jewish Josephus, mention a Messiah Jesus, who was crucified in the reign of
Augustus Caesar. But very briefly. Yet, this precious little is the rock of historical
certainty that the quester can cling to. Armed with this certainty he can then go to
his prime source, the New Testament, and here he can sift history from metahistory.
For the New Testament was not written by a Tacitus or a Josephus. At times Paul
sounds like a poetJesus, all the time.
The Jesus of history was a healer, miracle-worker, holy man, prophet, and
claimant to being the long awaited, prophesied Messiah or King but who suffered
crucifixion by the Romans. The Christ of Faith is that self-same man but thereafter
more than Messiah evenhe was deified. Soon the faithful prayed to him, beginning
with the Jesus Prayer of the Eastern Orthodox, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon
me, a sinner.
In that great transit Jesus the man disappeared. At the Resurrection, Jesus
became the Lord whom one may no longer touch. He became the Christ of Faith.

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But the Church, as if itself reacting to this, felt the need for another council.
After the Council of Nicea that declared Jesus to be divine, the Church had to
declare that Jesus was a man!
Truly man and truly God, said the Councils.
Yet buttressing the fact of Christs humanity by making it dogma may not
have been just a reaction to whatever heresy was going on at the time. The truth is,
since Jesus is divine, believers cannot picture him doing certain human things.
In the 1960s there came out a poster of him laughing heartily. The picture
shocked. He looked devilish.
Lately theres a Jesus film packaged for TV during the Holy Week showing him
dancing in the street. This makes historical sense since he may have been a Hasid
but is not likely to be taken well by the pious.
Then there was Martin Scorceses movie that deeply offended Christian
sensibility because, even if it was only a scene from a dream, it showed Jesus
making love to Mary of Bethany.
The dogma that Christ was a man can therefore be perceived as a safeguard
against a natural tendency of the believer to think that He was not.
Two thousand years later it is a testimony that Jesus really existed.
But who was the man? Was it possible to see him not through the prism of
the believing community? As he was before he became deified?
This was the quest and it was a Protestant undertakingthat ended, to
repeat, in 1902 with Schweitzer. It ended because Schweitzers epochal work
shattered the expectations of the rational pious.
That book concluded that Jesus was a failed Messiah and thats the farthest
we can see into history. Beyond that it becomes a matter of faith, not historical
knowledge.
Jesusaccording to Schweitzeraccepted that he was the Messiah who will
bring in the long awaited reign of God (Thy Kingdom come). At a later stage, he
came to the conviction that he would have to suffer greatly before the present age
would violently end. In more concrete terms, this means God would step in and wipe
the Roman Empire out. But nothing of the sort happened (My God! My God! Why
hast thou forsaken me?) and Jesus expired on the cross.
The Christ of Faith rose out of this defeatfirst as the scattered circle of
disciples that had re-grouped and soon prevailed against great temporal odds. This
was the circle that waited for Jesus to return while, as he promised, some of them
would still be around. When that too didnt take place, the circle became the
Primitive Church, sustained by the spiritual power, namely the belief that Jesus rose
from the dead, that would continueand will continueto sustain it across the
centuries (I shall be with you always).
But is it possible to ever recover the Jesus of those who lived in his own
lifetime? Schweitzer said no.
Amen, said the Spanish existentialist Miguel de Unamuno, a Catholic. The
quest was a lost cause. For there is no recovering the Galilean, Unamuno wrote in
Paradoxes and Perplexities, like an imprimatur to Schweitzers conclusion.
For the Catholics had not joined in the quest. While Protestants regard the
Bible as sole authority, Catholics hold Tradition as the necessary guide to reading it.
In the Catholic view the New Testament is a fruit of or complement to Tradition and
a meditative aidwhich must be why he is not too fond of reading it! As for the
problem of Christs historicity theres always Tacitus and Josephusand the Church.
Theres always the dogma established by the Church at the Council of Chalcedon

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|36

to wit, that Christ was truly man, meaning of course that there really was a man
named Jesus. Where did the 5th-century Council get this? From Tradition dating back
to people who personally knew Jesus. For the Catholic the problem of Christs
historicity is not a problem. Its either you believe it or not. What do you believe?
The Creed.
In the Creed the historical Jesus is almost nowhere to be found. But hes
there, all right: suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
The man just wont go down.
The autumn of the twentieth-century saw the returning spring of the quest. In
1994 a contemporary theologian, the late G.B. Caird of Oxford, could say those
who accept the humanity of Jesus as a dogma...do not grasp it as a historical fact.
The quest continues and it is not modern hunger for facts but rather timeless
hunger for the fascinating. For the fact is the story of Jesus is a fascinating one.
And indeed the quest has the habit of coming up with the darndest ideas!
Jesus Christ was a magician. No, he was a Tibetan Buddhist. No, he was a
hukbalahapor maybe just a Liberation Theologian? No, he was a mushroom!
The crucifixion was a hoax. He was married and had children and his
descendants are very much around.
No, he was not a Jew but an Egyptiana la Moses according to Freud! But
much more shockingly so than even the pan-sexualist father of depth psychology
could ever have imaginedfor Jesus was not married to Mary Bethany or Mary
Magdalene in the way we know married. He was her consort in the fertility cultus of
Egypt! In other words, he practiced Tantric sex!
Even a comparatively more disciplined biography as I. A. Wilsons Jesus can
play with an intriguing idea: Paul may have met Jesus. Not only that, the servant of
the high priests, Malchus whose ear was cut by Peters sword, may have been Paul!
Says Wilson: If I had the chance to return in time and meet Paul, I should take a
close look at his ears.
Its almost as if the historical searchers were competing with the novelists
and saying to the them, Look, the historical truth about Jesus is stranger than
fiction!
For just as bizarre are some of the things we read in the novels.
If the Jesus quester can relax, there are the works of the novelists, the latest
of whom, Norman Mailer, is so improbable one review bore the title He Is Finished.
In Fyodor Dostoevskys The Grand Inquisitor, Christ has returned.
Immediately the Grand Inquisitor arrests him. His crime? Rejecting the Three
Temptations and now interfering with the work of the Church!
In Nikos Kazantzakis The Last Temptation of Christ, Paul not only meets
Jesus, they collide in the novels great penultimate scene. Paul is telling an incognito
Jesus about the good news of Christs resurrection. Jesus naturally cries Liar! I was
never crucified! Paul replies in panic, Shut your mouth! When finally Jesus
identifies himself, the apostle flees shouting, Who cares what really happened? The
world needs visions not facts! And Jesus weeps, saying he could not bear the
knowledge that the only way to save the world is through Pauls lie.
In Jose Saramagos The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Jesus looks down
from the Cross and pleads, Men, forgive Him for He knows not what He has done.
In Mikhail Bulgakovs The Master and Margarita, Jesus appears to be some
kind of idiot-savant.
In Robert Graves King Jesus, Jesus is the sole legitimate claimant to the
Davidic kingship by reason of his being the secret son of Herod Antipater! He is

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|37

doomed, however, by his understanding of the meaning of the kingdom. Seeing the
sheer impossibility of overcoming Rome by force, he came to the conclusion that
only if one of his disciples will slay him with the sword, to fulfill Zechariahs
prophecy, will the Kingdom of God be realized. He did not convey this to his
disciples directly, veiling his message as usual like a riddle. They did not catch on,
except oneJudas. Graves book bristles with insights. One particularly brilliant
instance is his version of the famous Render unto Caesar what is Caesars and unto
God what is Gods. Graves proposes that the original is Do not pay God what is
Caesars, nor Caesar what is Gods.
The current rage is a concert of scholars called the Jesus Seminar; its most
impressive scholar, John Dominic Crossan.
The Seminars avowed aim is to collect all the acts and words ascribed to
Jesus and to determine which are authentic. Their most solid work appears to be
The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. Five, not four? Yes,
the fifth is the Gospel of Thomas. The Jesus Seminar has kissed the idea of
canonicity goodbye. It will give everyone a chance to be heard, including the mortal
enemy of the Orthodox in the first centuriesthe Gnostics.
Crossan is an Irish Catholic like James Joyce, a priest until he left the order.
His most controversial work is Who Killed Jesus? the most shocking idea of which
is that we cannot have certainty that Jesus body was not in fact eaten by carrion
birds and dogs. Crossan is not playing the iconoclasthe calls this possibility a
terror in which the present-day believer must live.
But the real import of his book is the answer he gives to the question.
Crossan says it was the Romans, not the Jews.
The thesis is not new though Crossan may have brought it up to date. In fact,
it has been fairly intellectual mainstream for quite some time. Ben-Zion Bokser, a
rabbi, presented the case with exceptional clarity and plenitude in his 70s or was it
80s book Judaism and the Christian Predicament.
Why did the writers of the four gospels distort history?
The reasons advanced are two. One, Christians were writing the gospels
while still under the Romans. It was impossible to write to the latters faces that
they, the Romans, did it. Two, the Christians who wrote the gospels were projecting
the deadly antagonism between Jews and Christians in their time to their
recollection of something that had happened half a century or so before. Thus the
Jews shouting His blood be upon us and our children!
But even a casual glance at the political picture in Judea at the time makes
one uncomfortable with this long-held traditional view.
There was poverty all over the country and while the people groaned under
Roman taxation as well as additional Temple dues, the Sadducees were wealthy and
Herod Antipas positively decadent. Caesar was Rameses and Nebuchadnezzar all
over again.
In the late 1940s the filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer of The Passion of Joan of
Arc fame wrote a script for a movie which was to have been his masterwork. He
died before he could film it. But the script was published in 1971 under the title
Carl Theodor Dreyers Jesus. In the book, Dreyer relates how he could relate to the
story of Jesus because Israel under the Romans was exactly like his homeland
Denmark under the Nazis. Dreyer might be said to have a first-hand knowledge
of how the Jews hated the Romans.
The Jewish populace hated not the occupying Romans alone but the Jewish
collaborators, specifically Herod Antipas of Galilee and the high priests or temple

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|38

officials in Jerusalemthe Sadducees. Inversely they took favorably to the prophet,


the one who keeps alive the flame of Gods ethos as well as pathos for the trampled
and the dispossessed. Such a one was John the Baptist and after him Jesus.
And all awaited the Messiah which meant, if you push the word to the limit,
the legitimate blood heir to the vanished kingship of David. Israel was waiting for
the return of the king.
Jesus fitted the bill. Robert Graves suggests that Pilate instructed his soldiers
to place the inscription King of the Jews above the head of the crucified one
because he knew Jesus was the legitimate claimant to the Davidic throne. He was
truly mocking. His job was to wipe out any semblance of a threat to Romes
presence in Israel. When Jesus did not deny that he was the Messiah, his fate was
sealed.
The dolorous Christian belief is that indeed Jesus knew he was the Onebut
no longer in ordinary termsnot even in those of Robert Graves.
Historically considered therefore it doesnt add up to say the Jews crucified
Jesus. Of the mob that shouted for his blood, both the scholar and the novelist have
a ready explanation. Bokser says minions of the High Priests were planted in the
crowdhakot! Scholem Asch says it was remainders of the bands of Bar Abba.
Whatever. The point is that neither the mob nor the ruling hierarchy was
Israel. Thereforewho crucified Jesus? The Roman occupants of Israel and their
Jewish collaborators.
But Dreyer, taking the liberated view that Jesus was crucified by the Romans
for political offense, totally exculpates the Jews! The scene where the Jewish mob
shouts for Jesus blood and forces a reluctant Pilate to pronounce the death
sentence is missing. As for the high priests, we see them saddened by Jesus
decision to answer in the affirmative when asked the necessary question Are you
the Messiah?
That politically correct film would not have been as powerful as Gibsons.
Gibson decided to tell His Story, not history.
With imaginative touches of his own, true. In one swoop the camera takes us
to two gardensthe Garden of Olives and the other, where it all began. Talk about
in media res! The face of the Apostle John as he takes it all in, the shot and the
angle of the shot telling us what the Church means by the word Tradition. The
flashbacks that really flash. The cuts that really cutand make whole.
But in the quarrel between the historian and the faithful or the pious, he took
the latters side. The Son according to Gibson is the Son according to the New
Testament, according to the Creed, according to the Councils, according to the
Church thats more Roman Catholic than Eastern Orthodox or Protestantthe
Protestant Son being the preacher and healer and friend, the Eastern Orthodox Son
being the Risen Lord, and the Catholic Son being the man of sorrows. Perhaps
because he is a believer, Mr. Gibson put stock in the violent visions of the German
mystic Catherine Anne Emmerich. But it is safe to say it is because he is a visual
artist that he took to theseand took thesewith, I can see it, flaring eyes.
This Son is not only physicalHe is luridly physical.
True man, says
Chalcedon. Crucified says Tacitus, says Josephus, says the Creed. Shown shaking in
agony and terror on the movie screen, He rivets the viewers. The paradox is that,
though Gibson chose Sacred History over history, it is the crucifixion that, according
to the scholars, is the one undoubted fact in the history of Jesus.

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A little more history wouldnt have hurt (though of course it would the
conservative believers). A pity Gibson couldnt take his cue from the Creed:
suffered under Pontius Pilate. The Creed mentions neither Annas nor Caiaphas.
As a consequence, the historians are howling anti-Semitic! Fortunately
Gibsons cinematic rendition of the idea that no one felt and no one can ever feel
the pain of seeing a crucified Jesus as much as his own mother is a wonderful
argument that the movie is not as the sticklers for political correctness say it is.
Flesh of my flesh, heart of my heart. Let me die with you! cries Mother Israel at
the foot of the crucified Jew.
The movies arguable sin, which may not be original as I have not read St.
Catherine Annes work, is not one of omission. The high priest takes a dig at Pilate
and the crowd laughs. This touch conveys an image of a Sadducee so sure of his
standing as a reliable collaborator. But a Pilate so genteel he can be trifled with
may be a bit too much and the gibe could be on Gibson. One could wonder a bit
just a teeny weeny little cynical and uncharitable and fantastic bitif this treatment
of the Roman isnt in fact a subliminal whitewash of a latter-day imperialism. Or
maybe it is an unconscious remembrance of an earlier-day Hollywood centurion?
That centurion drawled: Truly this was the Son of God! Well, the Aramaic and the
Latin are certainly a hellI mean heavenof an improvement.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|40

Summer of 62, et al
[From Sands & CoralCentennial Issue, 2001]
Because the Writers Workshop began in 1962 we somehow thought, wrongly, that
the world of writers came to Silliman also at that time. I was in the workshop, a
callow youth from the Zamboanga who had come to Dumaguete for the first time,
unaware that his grandfather, whom he never saw, was Negrense.
Well, in the time we learned that Dumaguete had been some sort of Southern
writers Shambala forever, Ricaredo Demetilllo was here in the 50s. Hes the poet
who gave Sands and Coral its name. Like the Tiemposs and Franz Arcellana, a
graduate of the Iowa workshop. The book that we knew him for at that time was The
Authentic Voice of Poetry, the first book-length attempt in the country at formal
literary criticism of the Filipino poets then on the scene, pre-eminently Villa, Joaquin,
and Lansang. Others wh had been on the campus Aida Rivera-Ford, Dolores Feria
who was later to become my teacher in European Novel at U.P. Dilliman, and
Antonio Gabila. In fact Gabila was very much on the campus when we came, only
people were not so aware of him because he had stopped writing. In June after the
workshop I returned to Silliman to enrol as a college sophomore. I only stayed for a
semester and Im afraid I dont have enough literary memories to regale the
interested reader with. Edith Tiempo was my teacher in Creative writing.Not one of
my classmates in the class turned out a writer, though Ephraim Bejar became a
theatre director and, in a notso defined, rather general fashion, some kind of
awareness. I lived at woodward Dormitory and for a week or in imitation of the
prose style and manner of Ernest Hemingway. He had a real writing talent but he
stopped writing when he left Silliman. I was not to see him again until 16 years later
in Manila when he had become a man of piety, having had a fundamentalist
American pastor for a foster father whose boat, which I never had the good fortne to
ride or even just see, he inherited. Marquez kept company with Eph Bejar and a
certain Bert Ferrer, campus editor both, who held the Tiempos in respect and
affection, these being their literary mentors and of national fame. I remember Bejar
walking into our Woodward Room carrying a paperback by Henry MillerA Devil in
Paradise. That was the first Henry Miller book I ever saw and, I think, browsed,
Ferrer always wore dark glasses and when I saw his eyes for the first time I
remember that tey looked as disarming as his voice. He was an Ilonggo.
There was alsoMyrna Pea-Reyes whowrote exceedingly clipped, terse, imagist
poems a la Emily Dickinson but, in person, was unliterary and so unarty (though I
think it was an effort) taht I do not wonder why we never became friends. In Myrnas
choice of a model poet and Willamors of a model writer we seeof course the
influence of the Tiempos. But how account for Bejars reading of Henry Miller? And
Ferrers dark glasses? Not to mention Marquezs somewhat droll habit of going to
and coming from the Woodard bathrooms in the nude? Surely these were not the
New Criticism.
In the very early 60s the new thing in literature, the phenomenon, were the
beatniks of America and the Angry Young Men of England. Actually they came in the
50s but the cultural time lag delayed their shock wave here and, anyway , I dont
think we really got to read them in depth. It seems the virus was transmitted to us
through the movies in, or by, Marlon Brando and James Dean. Two new names in

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Philippine letters represented this trend or quality. These were the gifted young poet
praised by Demetillo in his book, Jose Lansang,Jr., who lived on the U.P. Diliman
campus and who had been to Greenwich in New Yorkand Wilfrido D. Nolledo who
was writing very conspicuously, very self-consciously eccentric short stories taht
amounted to a revolution in Philippine letters. Really the quality of Nolledos prose
was so excitingly new, that the others who were writing at the time generally paled
into immediate pedestrianism. NOlledo and Lansang both came to the Silliman
writers workshop as writing fellows, The other fellows included Greg Brillantes and
Gilda Cordero-Fernando (the two great noshows0, Petronilo Daroy, Virgilio Samonte
and Socorro shows), Petronilo Daroy, Virgilio Samonte, and Socorro Federis-Tate. All
the fellows had published short storiesin the national magazines. Moreover, Daroy
had published a book of criticism, The politics of the Imagination. Looking back on
the names now, one cannot help seeing that the Tiempos hat sat down carefully
chosen the definitive list of the top young writers of the time. Too bad, Brillantes
and Fernando were unable to come. They would have enforced the judgement that
this workshop, the first ever, was also the best ever in the country. In the panel
were Ed and Edith Tiempo, Nick Joaquin and Franz Arcelana. The Jun Lansang then
wasthe Jun Lansang who wrote 55 Poems , to thisday still the book of lyric poems in
this country. The Brillantes who faled to show up wasthe Brillantes who wrote The
Distance to Andromeda, Still one of the authentic Philippine short story master
pieces, written when the author was in his early or middle twenties, and adjudged
first-prize winner in the Free Press.The Nolledo who came and stayed for the entire
three weeks was the Nolledo who wrote Rice Wine, Of Things Guadalupe, and
Kayumanggi Mon Amor, stories that influenced , quickened, and sent a
generationof future Filipino novelists crashing into the sky.
Repeat, the fellows in 1962 were not as workshop fellows go these days,
campus writers. They were published writers and national prizewinners. By todays
standards, the fellows then should have been panellistsor at least the best of
them.
And sure enough, there were not the Silliman English teahers who all
attenddedbut the handful of youngsters whose stories and poems were actually
taken up and two of whom enjoyed, since they were not from Dumaguete, free
lodging at the Alumni Hall where the fellows stayed. These youngsters were
Williamor Marquez, David Martinez, Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez and myself. Marquez
was Sillimans bet, Martinez was from St. Pauls College Dumaguete, Sanchez was
from U.P. Diliman and I was from Zamboanga City. WE were all four of us teenagers
and it seemed we stole the show from the fellows beacuase we were writing
passable, publishable (all four of us in fact contributed stories tha Joaquin, thn also
the literary editor of the Free press, published), promising, really hooray stuff. I
remember Marquez voicing his objection to Nolledos experimental writing after the
panellist had discussed a Nolledo story in a uniformly appreciative note.
Nolledo was then thirty. It was as the 50s waned that he started publishing
those strange, or strangely written, stories of his and zoomed to local stardom
shoulder-to-shoulder with his contemporary Greg Brillantes, Nick Joaquin and Virgie
Moreno and FranzArcellana took turns saying how good and baroque and brilliant
the young man was. Nolledo seemed to embody the new things then like the
Sputnik, the first rocket successfully launched into space. Joaquin was saying
something of the sort. How the young writers like Lansang and Nolledo were a
different, new breed writing with the Bomb in their subconscious and you could feel

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it in their rhythym and in fact the Bomb, Joaquin said, was not only a subliminal fear
and anxiety but had actually exploded in Lansangs mind.
Nolledo subsequently, in the late 60s, went to Paul Engles Iowa workshop
andstayed there for about ten years. He became a friend of the Chilean novelist
Jose Donoso whose The Obscene Bird of the Night ranks with Marquezs One
Hundred Years of Solitude (Columia) and Infantes Three Trapped Tigers (Cuba) as
the three great novels from latin America in this century. But recently Nolledos
novel, But for the Lovers, produced during his stay in Iowa, was published anew in
an edition that bears a word of introduction from Robert Coover(or Robert Stone I
cant remember). The intro says that Nolledos novel is a neglected masterpiece. It
also says that Nolledo was writing magic realism a good decade ahead of the Latin
Americans.
In conversations at the 1962 workshop, Nolledo told Sanchez he liked Dylan
Thomas. Indeed Dylan Thomas seems the literary artist likely to have influenced
him. The title of his novel is quote from a Dylan Thomas poem. I suspect that
Nolledos heightened language, his extravagant prose, was done under the
intoxicating influence of Dylan Thomas and Nick Joaquin, particularly the Nick
Joaquin who wrote the prose of May Day Eve and The Summer Solstice.
After the workshop, Dr. Edilberto K. Tiempo wrote a paper which had occasion
to read at some literary gathering in Manila later of that year. Taht paper dealt with
what was done in the workshop by three young writers. These were Nolledo,
Sanchez and myself. The late old man (not really that old, he was younger then than
I am today) perfunctorily saying a good word or two for the new direction these
young writer were taking, proceeded to build a critical stand against it. He
particularly took to task Sanchezs Moon Under My Feet. I still think that story, the
work of a sixteen-year-old, an amazing masterpiece. And that Dr. Tiempo may have
been right in his critique of The Summer Solstice but was wrong in his opinion of
the Moon Under My Feet. Ive read the story through four decades and my
admiration for it has grown with each reading.
How swiftly Sanchez came upon the heels of his namesake, the erstwhile
daring young man of the Philippine literary trapeze, Nolledo. After Sanchez, the
literary scene was never the same again. Amd not only because he revealed
himself, at the 1962 Silliman Summer Writers Workshop, as the new sensation in
the Philippine writing, taking the new fiction farther , much farther than Nolledo who
now appeared to be merely a precursor, but because along with Sanchez came a
whole new bright bunch of literary youngsters, Erwin Castillo and Ninotchka Rosca
and Alfred Yuson foremost. At the UP campus, Sanchez was idolized by an inner
circle of coevals who were themselves gifted albeit more shyly so. Rosca was writing
opaque (a description popularized by Teddy Locsin, editor of the Free Press when he
applied it to Willy Sanchez), rather murky precious prose in imitation of the Sanchez
which she later consciously discarded in her activist, political years. Before this
change from Frenchy bohemianism to the literature of commitment (you can say
from Genet to Malraux) she had written a story called Diabolus of Sphere which
won her a prestigious Free Press first prize. The storys title could have come
straight from Sanchez . Like Nolledo, she subsequently migrated to the US. In 1976,
I saw heragain at some party in Diliman where she noticed the book I was carrying
under my arm. Count Julian by Juan Goytisolo, Spains celebrated expatriate writer,
and sort of chided me for it, saying it was the same stuff we used to indulge in back
in the 60s at the U.P.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|43

By the 90s, Ninotchka published three novels in the US> The first of these
appears to be the bestState of war, wildly praised by our women writers and at
least two men, Edgar Marananwho confessed his admiration for Ninotchka as a
writer from his formative years the early 70s and Juaniyo Arcellana who is a
practitioner of what might be called magic criticism. Nick Joaquin gave State of war
a sober review in his Column, the gist of which seems to be that Ninotchka succeeds
not a novelist of our history (she commits a historical howler or two, Joaquin
showed) but as a playful writer, imaginative fictionist, or poet.
Now why do I write at some length about Ninotchka who was from
U.P.Diliman? Well, firstas I saidshe was one of those who belonged to a
movement that Nolledo initiated. Second, she came to the 1964 Silliman summer
writers workshop. Third, not many people know it but she had been briefly ward of
the Tiempos. And really it may be false to draw a dividing line between North and
South even in a literary reminiscence that is more or less private. I think thats one
of the effect of the Silliman Summer Writers Workshopobliteration of such
boundary.
His holds true, too, in the case of Willy Sanchez. Sure, Willy was the literary
wunderkind of Manila in the 60s and the 70sbut in Dumaguete? In Dumaguete,
yesit was in Dumaguete that he met Jun Lansang,Ding Nolledo, Nick Joaquin,
Franz Arcellana, Pete Daroy and of course the Tiempos of Silliman. It was in
Dumaguete that his story. Moon Under My Feet was first read. And yes, by the
way, he had a sisterat Silliman who eventually married her boyfriend, a nephew of
the Garcias of Amigo Subdivision. Thers also the fact that he attended the Silliman
workshop three timesin 1962, in 1964 and 1970.
The blinding thing, as Erwin Castillo put in our mature, revieweing years,
Willy Sanchez too left for the US in the golden (if false gold) years of the Marcos
regime and there incredibly stopped writing altogether. Today, more than twenty
years after, one still asks, is this really true? Is Willy Sanchez really not going to
write again, ever? I think he will just surprise us one of these days. And I wouldnt
be too surprised. After all Ninotchka came out with her novel well into the 90s.
Before that they were all saying she was a 60s thing, to talk about whom was to
mumble in the time-warp, wake up man. Well who woke up?
Anyway it was Erwin Castillo who won the race in the 60s , at least in the
considered opinion of the Free Press literary editor. While Willy wrote stories that
grew more and more opaque and impenetrable, Erwin offered an alternative
metafiction rendered less inaccessible by a neo-primitive, Hemingway quality. And
how many times was Erwin Castillo in the Silliman workshop?He Successively
attended in 1063 and 1964. Then returned as a grizzled veteran in 1972. I was not
in any of these workshops. But i was in closecontact, even actially worked in the
same advertising office, with him in the ater 70s whenlike the rest of his
generation, the generation most injured by the dictatorship, Sanchez, Rosca,
Mojares, Madrid, Lacabahe drifted into Silence, into Remontadoism. He came
again successively in 1992 and 1993 and I couldnt believe the telegram that came
taht May of the presidential election. He came because he wanted to finish a novel
he was writing at Dostoevskyan speed: The Firewalkers. He needed, one surmises, a
breath of the workshop atmosphere of the old to keep going. Even if that workshop
atmosphere of old to keep going. Even if that workshop atmosphere consisted solely
of a drinking buddys company. But he did attend the sessions for a
weekinteracted with the fellows. The novel was serialized in the Graphic that

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|44

same year. In the book form, it had a blurb each frm National Artists Nick Joaquin
andFranz Arcellana.
There were other bright young writers in the 60s. Not all were of the styleor
temper or manner set by Nolledos coeval who preceded him by a year or two,
Gregoriio Brillantes, was writing from an opposite pole. It can be said that to be a
young writer then was to choose between two poles or two pathstwo write like
Nolledo or to write like Brillantes. Brillantes was winning the top prizes earlier than
Nolledo. His writing tended towards sure, solid, balanced craft. What we cann
conventional or traditional as opposed to experimental or new wave or futurist.
Edith Tiempo favors the art of Greg Brillantes over that of Nolledo. It is the style of
Timothy Montes and Charlson Ong and Susan Lara. Carlos Cortes and Juaniyo
Arcellana and Bimboy Pearanda on the other hand are children of Nolledo. In the
60s the young writers who were in the Brillantes mold were Resil Mojares and
Renato Madrid, both based in Cebu, who were giving the Manila young writers
decent competition. Unforgettable were the 1966 Free Press awards in which
Castillo won first, Madrid second, and Mojares third. It was the coming age of a
generation. While the Free Press helped to foster a forum or even scene for the
writing then being done in the country, Silliamn maintained a proudly independent
enclave of sorts. The Tiempos conducted, besides the Summer Writers Workshop,
semestral classes in literary criticism and creative writing. Silliman naturally
suffered from sheer numerical limitation, but there were very good times. I
remember a 1967 class under Dr. Ed Tiempo wheremy classmates were Kerima
Polotan, Antonio Enriquez, Darnay Demetillo , Voltaire de leon, and myself. I
remember a Georgia Jones from New York who introduced Exuperys The Little
Prince to me. There was Dale Law also taking up his MA, looking at the Zorba the
Greek that I carried and telling me P.A. Bien, one of Kazantzakis translators, was his
teacher. There were the British boys, Terrence Ward of London and Roger Wade of
the Isle of Man, like Law nonwritters but serving to enhance the English
Departments reputation though the British noys did not even belong to it. The
English majors then also had the advantage of being in the neghborhood of the
Speech and Theater department that had Amiel Leonardia and put on plays like All
My Sons, Death of a Salesman, Sleep of Prisoners, Six Characters in Search if an
Author, Rashamon, Waiting for Godor, Romeo and Juliet, and Zoo story. I remember
first meeting the theatre people at the 1967 Summer Writers Workshoppoetry
reading at Faurots studio (as it was called then, not yet the Endhouse of a later
day).
The 1967 Writers Workshop was my second workshop andI attended as a
fellow. Again the Tiempos hosted and from Manila the guest panellist wer Kerima
Polotan and N.V.M. Gonzales. The Participants came from various places in the
Philippines. Bobby Villasis of St. Pauls Colllege and Elsie Martinez of Silliman were
the hometown fellows. There were Jun Caizares, Ric Patalinghug, Eddie Yap, and
Nelson Romy Virtusioand two guys from Zamboanga, Tony Enrquez and myself.
TwonunsSister Delia and Sister Imelda, the latter of a beauty that I fear far
exceeded that of the works submitted to the workshop. A girl from Manila, Joy
Dayrit. An observer who later became a poet herself and coordinator of the Silliman
workshop: Merlie Alunan. Lately I came across an article by Merlie in which she
writes that she was in the 1963 workshop where Bert Florentino, Andy Afable,
Raymond Llorca, Rojer Sicat and Erwin Castillo attended. This puzzles me, unless its
alapse in memory on Merlies part or else she is experimenting with history as

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|45

fictionor is it fiction as history. There was also Edgar Libre-Grio, Sands & Coral
Editor and cousin to two other girls from Manila, the Osario sisters.
Elsie Martinez outshone her elder brother Danny who appeared to have
stopped writing after 1967, though he has recently made a comeback by winning
top Palanca prizes in both the short story and poetry categories. Elsie wrote poetry
in the 60s and one short story that won her the Palanca first Prize All About Me.
She was a dear friend of Bobby Villasis and both turned playwrights in tha 80s. This
seems to some a desertion, the literature of thheater being somewhat remote and
inaccessible in our country. No matter that the greatest Philippine literary work in
English so far is a playA Portarait of the Artist as Filipino. I think myself that the
Filipino writer must always write with his fellow Filipino writer in mind. If I am correct
in this then the Filipino writer must sooner or later face the challenge of the novel.
Rosca of my generation has made three bids. Krip Yuson has two. Resil has hinted
he will write an alternative Leon Kilat novel. Erwin has published one, withheld
another, and will soon blow our minds with Cape Engao, his third, which I have
read in parts and found better than many of these touted magic realists of Latin
America. As for Willyits as his name indicates, WILL HE? Will he write again?
Postscript : To say, as I did early in this essay, that the literary current in the
air then (early 60s or even late 50s) werethe beatniks and the angry young men
may be misleading. The actual stuff that were being raed were not Osborne or
Sillitoe or Wilson or Ginsberg or Kerouac. At Silliman it was Hemingway, Faulker,
Yeats, Housman, Frost, Eliot, Joyce, Conrad, Thomas, Crane, James, among other
names in the modernists tradition and noticeably Ango-Sazon. At the U.P. the names
to read and to drop were predominantly European: Federico Garcia Lorca, Rilke,
Kafka, Mann, Proust, Camus, Sartre, etc. It was in the 60s of course that Barth and
Pynchon and Barthelme and other postmoderns emerged in the USA but we did not
get to read them until the 70s. The avantgarde authors there were Jean Genet,
Henry Miller, and Samual Beckett, figures who came at the tail-end of modernism.
The list can include Lawrence Durrell and Vladimir Nabokov, to whose dazzling prose
it was so natural to take if you were already addicted to Nolledo.

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Stories Revisited: Reply to a Critic


[From Sands & Coral, 1996]
Stories, the title of my short story which was fortunate enough to get published
abroad in 1990 and receive a nice word of praise from American novelist Kelly
Cherrry, got a bad critical beating recently fromof all peopleDr. Edilberto K.
Tiempo, my own mentor in English through all the lean, romping undergraduate,
graduate, and postgraduate years at Silliman. Dr. Tiempos commentary, reprinted
in last years Sands & Coral, was part of a larger article which served as the
introduction to Mindanao Harvest, a fiction anthology compiled and edited by
Sillimanians now teaching in Iligan.
Dr.Edilberto K. Tiempo belongs to, in my opinion, the most achieved
generation of Filipino writers in English, a group that would include Villa, Joaquin,
Arguilla, Arcellana, Santos, Gonzalez, Alfon, Polotan, Angeles-the group that was fat
her and mother to my own war babies generation. Tiempo is one of our classics in
the short story and the novel. But what most people dont know is that he is one of
our very few competent practitioners in that rather neglected, in the Philippine
setting, field: literary criticism. What serious Filipino students of literary writing can
forget his fifties criticism of Nick Joaquins shorts story The Summer Solstice?
I read his review of my story with mixed, but rather mild, feelings. Here
goes my replyor is it repliestogether with texts from Dr. Eds criticism.
The most difficult to wrte and the most ambitious in this collection is Cesar
Aquinos Stories, a Palanca award winner.
Ahem. Thank you.
He begins with a wrong premise: What I am about to set down consists of
three stories which I had originally wanted to write separately. Actually there are
four stories, not three: [1] that of the mad woman whose baby was eaten by a dog;
[2] the boy-husband Kip whose girl-wife disappears for a couple ofdays while he is
hospitalized for a disease the author has withheld from the reader; [3] William, an
ex soldier and a CAFCU, who speaks Chavacano...who comes from Zamboanga; a
few days later William is murderd; [4] a mad woman...from La Carlota looking for
Marj. Why he mentions, initially, only three stories when there are really four, is one
thing that invalidates his story-telling.
First: the author, who is neither omniscient nor completely the I-persona or
speaker n the story, did not withhold Kips disease from the reader. He did not know
it himself, being only the recipient of one of the stories-that of Rimando.
Second: if the I-persona, who is not necessarily perfect duplicate of the
author, has got faulty arithmetic and thinks there are three, not four, stories-that is
a legitimate character in the story. If come fictional, and resemblance to anyone is
purely coincidental.
But the truth is, even granted that, the I-personas arithmetic is not faulty, He
expressly says there are three stories because he treas the William story and the
Esther Lim story as one, the two incidents being linked together tenuously by his,
the I-personas, jacket.
In the last paragraph the author says William the CAFGU might have sired the
mad womans baby devoured by the dog. the narrators black jacket which he had
gallantly put around the shoulders of the other mad woman Ester Lopez because

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|47

she felt cold is now bullet-ridden on Williams body. How did this happen? Had Ester
Lopez given it to William, or had she asked him to return the jacket to Aquino? We
dont know. Kip, the boy-husband, and his girl-wifewhere and how do they come
into the jigsaw puzzle? In this last paragraph Kip is described as hapless; there is
no indication about this haplessness when we see him in the hospital; in fact the
college girls who came to visit find him fascinating. And then from nowhere comes
Emy (It served youthe narrator refers to the narratorwell when Emy could
not have loved you.) Who is Emy? The first and only mention of her was when the
narrator said she was the only one who correctly answered that a babys gurgling
laughter was the best sound in the world. All the characters appear, as in reprise, in
this last-paragraph soliloquy that is really a maundering sentimental drivel and that
sounds ultimately meaningless because of the coercive manipulation that found the
material too divers to coerce.
This is the mixture of keen detection and surprisingly careless reading on the
critics part.
Williams siring of the mad womans baby is a playful, figurative play with
ideas, and is not meant to be literal by the author/narrator.
The black jacket could not have been bullet-riddled. William was not shot, he
was stabbed. After being stabbed several times, he managed to pull his gun out and
fire a few shots.
After Kips short-lived happiness with his visitors (nursing students, not
college girls which would have been less specific), he lives through a bad time
two or three dayswhen his girl-wife disappears, clearly pained with jealousy, and
leaves Kip by himself in the hospital. He weeps when she finally returns.
The narrator adds that he never knew what happened afterwards to Kip,
whether Kip went home cured or not.
Who is Emy? She is the girl in the narrators part whom he once loved and
obviously remembers with regret, and whom he obviously regrets not having won
and married, now that he is middle-aged and is spending his ripe years with a pair
of very old, decrepit parents. I felt, not think unreasonably, that I did not have to
bring in too many details about Emy. Minimal, given the sort of experimental story I
was writing, being optimal. (And Emy is mentioned three times, not twice as the
critic emphatically claims.)
The narrator was not referring to the narrator! It is William, the ghost of
William, talking to him. Inaccuracies like this, which rather abound, as I have shown,
in his critical piece, convince me that Dr. Tiempo was off form when he wrote his
piece. Nevertheless he catches me momentarily pale with the sharp observation
that the story fails to account for the jacket being worn by William when William is
killed! I did fail to depict the narrators retrieval of the jacket which he has
momentarily lent to Esther Lim. A close re-reading would reveal, however, that
there was no way the jacket could have found its way back to the narrators hands
unless it was returned to him the same night.
My ex-mentors real, really serious, missile is the perception that the author
may have coercively manipulated his material:
By coercing some metaphysical linkage he thought he could make four
absolutely disparate situations cohere... Indeed the last paragraph is a mumbojumbo attempt at meaning definition by coercively melding four extremely
disparate situations...
The angry old man of Philippie letters may be right! But I am hopeful it is an
open question. The saving point for the story may be that the author-narrator has

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|48

himself become a character in the story so that he can be allowed to maunder, wax
and wane sentimental, perhaps drivel, even somewhatyeahcoerce. If this is so,
then the story is all of a piece.
Experimentation within the story form (such as was find in Stories) is
always a formidable preposition and is therefore to be applauded.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|49

THE SHORT STORIES


Alihs In Wonderland
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
As to the Zaratan, I never met anyone who actually saw it with his own eyes.
~ JORGE LUIS BORGES
Tuesday lunchtime at Silliman University cafeteria. I see Alex, a news
correspondent, fall in line with his tray. I approach and tell him: Rizal Alih is alive!
Two girls from the registrars office laugh behind him.
Hes going to hold an international press conference in Cairo this Friday. With
Nur Misuari.
The girls are laughing hysterically. Well buy our plane tickets right away!
one of them says.
From the caf to the DYSR newsroom, just a slingshot away. The news
transcriber, Jimmy, looks up from his typewriter. You want a scoop? Rizal Alih is in
Cairo. Hes with the MNLF and they will have a press conference on the 27 th, Friday.
Androgynous Jimmy props his chin on a languid hand and asks. What is your
source?
I dream it.
Dreams, Jimmy pronounces, are a bad source of news.
On the Creative Writing Center. The writers group, made up of seven, is
huddled and not a member is speaking. Rizal Alih is alive and well in Cairo. He and
Misuari are giving a press conference on Friday.
Jojo de Veyra, Cairo? Cairo is pro-US When I first heard this commotion
about Alih I rushed to the sports page . . .
I didnt dream it. I got it from a friend in Zamboanga whom I had just called
by long distance. Whether it was rumor or fact I had no way of knowing. The
following, however, is true.
When the Philippine Armed Forces started to bomb the building where Rizal
Alih was trapped, the renegade policemans Faculty X rose to a perfect pitch. He
had leaped from room to room like a monkey and the bullets, coming from all
directions, couldnt hit him. When they did, they couldnt seem to affect him much.
Absurd black indentions on his belly were all there were, and Rizal looked fit to
dance. True, he gasped and grimaced, but it seemed more from a maniacal
determination to survive, than from pain or anguish. Now he heard a voice inside his
head saying, When the bombs start falling, everyones tendency is to fall on the
ground for safety. Its when you make a dash for it.
Rizal suppressed a shout of ecstasy. He recognized the voice, it was that of
his dead brother whom he loved more than anyone and anything yeah, even more
than his guns and his four wives. He braced himself, clenched his teeth, and
whats thiskisses what appears to be a bronze figurine

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I never knew the Bengali kids. I took my virtual last exit from the city in 1972 to find
my fortune or misfortune as a poet in Dumaguete, in Baguio, in Manila, andof late
in witch-haunted Siquijor. When martial law was declared later that year,
Zamboanga became no longer a memory lane but a labyrinth of death and violence.
Dont you go back to far Zamboanga!
In 1980 I was a confirmed loser. I floated in Manila like a bedlamite. Somehow
drifted into the UP Film Center where I acquired the habit of concocting fantasy film
scripts which I never cared to write down. It was around this time that I heard of a
killer cop in my hometown who was becoming a legend.
I went home to Zamboanga for the first time in December. The killer cop,
described as a strikingly handsome Bengali mestizo from Jolo, had only passingly
caught my interest and Id forgotten about him. But back among Zamboanguenos I
noticed that his name was ubiquitous.
One bright morning for perhaps it was a sunless afternoon. I happened to
drop by the city police station and someone nudged me: Thats him, thats Alih. I
saw a man in plain clothes standing in the yard and then sauntering with a curiously
lulling slowness. Andhow about thatreturning my steady gaze. He had a way of
tilting back his head when he looked at you and it gave the effect that he was
looking back at someone taller, though he was in fact six feet. Perhaps that was
how he looked at strangers, senses alerted, scanning the air for a sniffable hint of a
shoot-out. Perhaps it quite simply came from his physical structuretorso, arms,
neck, chin, nose, deep-set eyes, etcetera. Perhaps it was an acquired dandy habit
which means he had something of the actor or film star in him. Perhaps, closely
related, he was conscious of his of his reputation and knew, read what was on my
writers mind and was kind of posing for the camera. Choose your Wild West. I have
my owncrazy but viable enough for experimental romances: I think he must have
felt that of all eyes he had looked into, mine were the queerest.
A queer fantasy was to haunt me quite persistently after that. Back in Manila,
when I was at the Film Center, when in the company of Krip Yuson or Jose Nadal
Carreon, when I ran by race chance into Peque Gallaga or Butch Perez, when Id
occasionally hear people talk of Kidlat Tahimik (the international film prize winner
Eric de Guia) it would play secretly in my mind. I dreamed of making a film (never
mind how) of my luckless, loveless, aimless life in Manila. All seven years of utter
smallness and ordinariness. But theres a girl. Perhaps at the Film Center. Perhaps at
the sari-sari store where I buy cigarettes. Perhaps a landladys niece. Perhaps a
staffer of a magazine where I publish a poem. Perhaps a friends wifes kid sister.
Perhaps one of my students in the teaching years. Perhaps shes all of them. Of
course shes all of them. Of course beautiful and, always, mere wink in times
stream.
The movie ends this way. I am able to borrow (never mind how) Erwins 45
caliber and pack it with me to Zamboanga.
The final scene is at Fort Pilar, in front of the shrine. Across from me is the
killer copAlih, him with the eyes of Death at their steeliest. The witches help me
but I havent held a gun before in my whole life! The place is deserted, theres only
the two of usand her. Shes there too of course. And they say, ever since I can
remember it as a kid, that as long as shes there, Zamboanga will never fall.
Camera shifts and closes up reverently on her image. The question is: which one of
us stood for Zamboanga?

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|51

I know as I write this, that he did. I know that romance and faith and wonder
bloomed in this city on account of the way he expressed his madness, not the way I
did mine.
Indignant Reader: But its a movie. They make em taller in the movies.
Amused Reader: Its not Rizal Alih. Its the otherAbdurasal.
Right. In the seventies and the early eighties in Zamboanga when you said
Alih you meant Abdurasal, Rizals elder brother. If you meant Rizal Alih, you said
Rizal Alih, full name. rizal was devoted kid brother who stood in his famous, or
infamous, big brothers shadow. Only after the recent incident with the general did
he step out of that shadowand out of the shadows. Into the consciousness not
only of Zamboanga but of the whole country. Eat your heart out, Abdurasal.
But for that, Abdurasal is easily the prospective filmmakers dreamboat. The
usual problem of the actor being too good-looking for the real-life character he is
playing turns curiously around if that movie were to be made. The problem would be
that there may be no local actor whose looks could do justice to Abdurasal.
Handsome, no matter how handsome, is not enough. He possessed a charisma that
sent shivers down the lovely Zamboanguenas spine, as well as that of the little kid
next door and even that of the grown man who harbors a dormant killers instinct.
But even as sheer physical type, his dark gypsy good looks make him hard to
recreate. The 18-year-old Ronnie Poe who was introduced in Anak ni Palaris would
be the nearest, though still too far to speak of resemblance. The young Jolico
Cuadra of Philippine letters is a step or two closer but hes not as tall and, being too
cerebral, doesnt have the right gliding id quality.
In my fantasy film I had no casting problem. I intended to play myself and
persuade Abdurasal to play himself. When I think soberly of this now, I know that at
the sight of him across from me, even if his gun were loaded with blanks, even if all
the real shooting there would be is the film shootingmy knees would turn to water.
The Zamboanga of my youth was peaceful and as idyllic as its bougainvilleas.
All we knew were strees rambles, and at dances. Teenage Zamboanguenos
pummeling each other with fists. Sometimes with bottles, clubs, chains. Shouting
courses like Mexicans when they fight. Full of, as they call it, anino. Once in a while,
we had a glimpse of the real, unbreakable thing in pictures of hacking victims in the
remote barrios on display at the photo studios. And we shuddered in speechless
horror.
The teenage toughies got bawled out or belted afterward by their omnipotent
fathers or stemly disciplined by their school principals. Perhaps a rare one would
eventually graduate into the status of having knifed a man to death. But even such
a one feared the mayor whenever he was around.
I remember my only two encounter with the man. I was 16 when I saw this
man sitting in his parked jeep. Our eyes met and I didnt recognized him but since I
didnt take off my gaze I found myself locking eyes with a pugnacious-looking man. I
hastily look away, recognizing who he was and realizing that I had been
disrespectful.
The second time, many years later, was on the phone.
Hello.
Hello, may I speak to Desy Climaco, sir?
Speaking!
Its Delora I want to speak with, sir
Ah, hold on.
The gruff pugnacious fathers voice told me it was him.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|52

I guess when the man was killed, the old Zamboanga too finally.
You cant ever go home again now. Except in fantasies.
What do you think killed the old Zamboanga? How did it all start?
I asked a Zamboangueno publisher-editor who was visiting Negros, as chance
would have it, right after the Rizal Alih incident.
The barter trade. It all started from there.
He couldnt tell me much about the Rizal Alih incident. Nor about Abdurasal.
However he told me if I wanted to know more about the latter I should read a
bibliographical book about him: The Hitman, written by Bar Jubaira. Baryamin
Jubaira! I exclaimed. A former classmate. The son of the writer Ibrahim Jubaira.
The population explosion came like an incurable, fatal disease. Boom city, the
hapless Zamboanguenos soon found out, meant literally boom! Population explosion
meant literally guns, grenades, bombs exploding. Still, some could see the bright
side of boom. Wrote one: At the barter trade center, you can buy all the goods you
want to your hearts contentgoods coming from the ports of neighboring countries
like Malaysia, Sandakan, Jesselton and others. All these the people of Zamboanga
are enjoying thanks to the wisdom of our good President, Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Marcos, yeah, of course hes the one who killed the old Zamboanga. The
Mindanao war, an outcome of Martial Law when the Muslims refused to surrender
their firearms, made Zamboanga the Rest and Recreation Area for the military
forces in Southcom. Soldiers coming from Luzon and the Visayas who are assigned
in this area take their holiday spell,a relief of seven days, in a city famous for its
seafood and pretty girls.
An ex-Military Police officer tells me this is what makes Zamboanga the gunhappy place that it is. Not to mention the militiamen, the underworld, the Muslims
and the loose firearms, you have all these peoplethe PC, the Army, the Navy
living it up in disco pubs and more especially, in minus-one beer gardens. They love
to sing and out-sing each other. We in the MP were always tense about this, the
minus-one singing competitiveness among them. They sang very well too. Big,
strong voices that could rise very high. Caruso could shatter glasses with his voice.
They couldnt but even a sergeant with laryngitis could shatter the whole place if he
wanted. Next to rivalry over a fancied girl, thats the chief cause of trouble. The
minus-one singing competition, this thing of who could sing higher notes.
Well, fancy that.
He tells me of two fine Military Police moments. One was stopping a collision
on the streets between the Army and the PC, complete with tanks and grenades and
machineguns. Another time was negotiating the surrender of an Army sergeant of
the 1st Tabak Divisiion, a Muslim, who after he was beaten up by a Navy group
retaliated by ventilating a Navy boat in Recodo with a caliber 50 machinegun.
When I visited the city in 1981, after a seven-year absence, I couldnt think of
walking any of its streets. When I finally did, to visit old friends at the Ateneo,
walking from Pilar Street to La Purisima was a veritable adventure, though entirely
in my feverish mind. But after a while I was back to my old night-outing with friends.
Willie Arsena, the sculptor-painter, seeing me somewhat nervous, reassured me by
asking: Can you name anyone you know who got killed? Sure, the killings are
rampant but name one, just one.
That was before the newspaperman Porfirio Doctor was shot dead in board
daylight. And before Climacos. In a 1985 letter, my friend was singing a different
tune:

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|53

Last night a grenade was thrown in front of the La Merced Funeral Parlor. A
militiamans head was blown off. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, teeth, and brains cannot
be found. Two weeks ago a lady doctor seven months pregnant was brutally
butchered in her own house in Tetuan. Her grade school children coming home from
school found her lifeless body decapitated. And the perpetrators were two students
(high school) 13 years old of the AE College. What a trauma! And these insanities
are committed daily. A rotten corpse was found in the Cawa-Cawa, a doctor was
found dead with stab wounds at the back of the State University, a student was
stabbed dead on Guardia Nacional. While another shot in Guiwan. Two dead bodies
shot in the head were found on Veterans Avenue. While three were found in
Luyahon. Apoliceman was ambushed in Governor Lim while five military personnel
were sprayed with bullets on Magno Street. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. (sic)
The ambushed policeman in Willies letter was Lt. Abdurasal Alih. For all the
glamorous legend that he was, his death was just another item in a long catalogue.
Heres Abdurasal from the point of view of a man I couldnt have dreamed of
interviewing but did.
My dad, a man now nearing 70, was a decorated veteran of World War II. Like
most fathers of my generation, he was uncommunicative to his children. Naturally,
we never knew his experiences in the war. But sometimes wed pick up stray bits
from listening to him talking with the other olds. I, for instance, overheard him say
how, during the war, they would execute captured enemies with knives to save their
bullets.
I picked up another (presuming it was true) from the security guard of DXJW
where I worked as a newscaster back in the late sixties.
They were executing Japanese prisoners but the man ordered to do the task
couldnt pull the trigger. My old man grabbed the gun from him and, as if
demonstrating how it was done, shot the Japs down.
I supposed there were other incidents. I understand, however, that violence
almost exactly like love is private.
After the war, he joined the Zamboanga police force. And retired from service
in 1982. Yeah, he knew the Alihs, particularly Abdurasal who was under his
supervision.
The guns of Lt. Abdurasal Alih were an Armalite rifle and a caliber 45.
He was a social charmera mans man as well as ladies man. The kids saw
him as some kind of real life hero, a movie fantasy come true. If grownups spoke to
him with owe, theres no reason they could celebrate him in their little tales of
magic and power. A Tausug boy told me they call him Dirty Harry, and one of his
henchmen (all relatives) First Blood, which must have been Rizal.
Abdurasal went after his victims like a one-cop crusader, with zeal, perhaps
with fanaticism. It was calculated to give him the necessary killers image he
needed to rise to the top of the protection game. He killed and killed and killed. Two
PC sergeants. An alleged Ilaga. A suspect that he had arrested and brought back
from Cebu. A department store thief as he was running off with his loot. A convict in
a city jail riot. This last deserves more details.
My old man rushed to the city jail with Abdurasal, another policemen, and
about five members of Alihs group. One of the prison cells was broken when they
arrived and a hundred convicts, armed with knives, had gone out of control. Two of
them fell, one fatally, from Alihs bullets.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|54

Though Alihs mode of operation did resemble Dirty Harrys, he was no lone
wolf. The blood relatives, armed with their gold teeth, trailed and lurked in the
shadows behind him when he took off for a kill. The case with the Tausug security
guard seems to be the one that best reveals his reptile coldness.
The Tausug entered the police premises and, combine aimed and ready,
dared Alih to fight back. Abdurasal had arrested another security guard, also a
Tausug, who was a friend of this one now raging with the famous Moro ferocity that,
it is said, prompted the Americans to invent the calibre 45 pistol. Alih was, apart
from his eyelashes, unable to move. So were the other policemen who were around.
If anyone had moved, said my old man, Alih was dead.
It was not to be. His passion somewhat spent, the Tausug went back to his
post at the Shoporama six or seven blocks away. Abdurasal picked up his Armalite
and followed. Minutes later, my eight-year-old nephew John-John ran to the police
station and told his grandfather that Alihs contrallo was dead.
The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges might have included him in his beautiful
book. A Universal History if Infamy, brief tales in which human villainy becomes a
victim of fate, enchantment or its own perversity. There was plenty of that in the
life and death of this Samal-Bengali from Siasi, Sulu. The Tans of Silliman who hail
from the same place. Anthony who teaches literature and Armando who teaches
philosophy, told me that when Alihs exploits as the dread killer cop made him
famous, the people in their hometown could not believe it. They have known him to
be pleasant and peacable young man. He may even have been myedutin (fainthearted), to use a word from the city to which they has migrated. If so, he had
metamorphosed.
Not so the kid brother who lived in the eldest childs shadow. According to
Armando, who is Rizals coeval, the teenage Rizal Alih once tossed dynamite into
the Siasi municipal building to give vent to his anger at the authorities.
When Abdurasal was moved down one night on his way home from the
casino, an Alih sister supposedly said: They killed the wrong Alih, Rizal is the
braver one.
This has been the perception of those who are in the know, staggeringly
borne out by the sensational drama with the general. The older Abdurasal was
flawed by the stuff of fantasy, flashiness, illusion; where Rizal is genuine, if brute,
grit. Nevertheless it is the former who haunts the imagination. The appeal of illusion
is in its diabolic quality, its power to make us play with the substance of things. Alih
is well, I am the guard.
Dumaguete, 1989

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|55

Anak Bulan
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
[NOTE: Dr. Aquino has a similarly titled poem.]
I first meet Ernie Yniguez in 1967 in a beer garden on the ground-floor of the Manuel
Wee Sit Building in Zamboanga. Before this, I know him as the small-town journalist
who is so prolific and so cadgy in his articles, that I somehow think he shouldif he
doesntwrite shortstories, But as I am to find out when I get to know him, he
does not have any literary bent, which seems a pity because even in conversation
he is a natural story-teller. I find it inexplicable that his favorite write is Anton
Chekhov. When I learn further that Chekhov is in fact the only writer he reads, I
know he is something of a lunatic. He cant possibly be just modest and secretive
about itmodesty is not fact one of his qualities. He writes for the local papers and
the radio stations and has never seemed to think of writing for the national
magazines. He doesnt have a regular job. He is in his thirties and lives with his
parents who are well-to-do. The eldest, he is the only one who has not married.
Sometimes I see him walking down Guardia Nacional at night, together with some
friends, drunk and laughing raucously. He is rather short, always sleekly dressed,
down to the gloss of his shoes. Faint traces of the Spanish in his looks, prominent
stomach, eyeglasses, a slight waggle when he walks. He appears to be the sort who
finds the insulation in a town like Zamboanga so comfortable and so perfect it never
occurs to him that Zamboanga is a small, parochial town. In this respect, he is a
typical Zamboangueno.
1966 is my last full year in Zamboangathat is, if I equate Zamboanga with
my adolescence, which will not be arbitrary. Of my adolescent years, only two are
spent outside of Zamboanga. I study in Silliman for one semester in 1962. The next
semester I quit school and go to Manila for the first time to attend a writers seminar
under Leonard Casper at the Ateneo on Padre faura. When the next school year
opens I am back in Zamboanga. I finish my A.B at the AE College. I g to the U.P. at
Dilliman for graduate work. I am twenty-one and very adolescent. I see James Dean
for the first time at the Lyric Theater in Escolta. The movie is East of Eden and when
the movie is over I want to bawl like a child inside the comfort room. I go home
during the semestral break and beg to be allowed to quit school for a while and stay
home. My mother will hear nothing of it. I do not have the courage to tell her I am a
delinquent in school and I know the second semester will go absolutely the same
way. I leave the university after a year with no units earned except in one subject
under Mrs. Feria. Now nothing can make me go back to school. My mother yields
helplessly, as though I am ill or have had an accident. I am in fact completely dazed.
But I am back to my old habits in the twinkling of an eye. I visit the public library in
the mornings. From our house on Pilar Street, it is one short perpendicular street
away. At the end of the streetyou cross Marahui pass through the skating rink,
enter a small building from the American period which has survived the war and the
year with patches. After lunch I roam the streets. I browse in book stores. I run into
old friends. I beer it up with Willie Arsena.
This goes on for about a month. In July, I join a radio station as casuall
announcer. I disc-jockey in the evenings. I use a pseudo name. The pseudo name

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|56

becomes popular. People wonder who the young man behind it is. At parties, they
are surprised to meet me. Naturally I am extremely good looking on the radio. I
become at once shyer and shyer and more and more conceited inside. They cant
make anything out of me in person. I am the ultimate in uncommunicativeness. But
quite swaggering on the radio, and on the phone when the girl s call up. They all flip
over the voice. One cant wait to meet me and comes to the station. When she
enters the booth I put on a long-playing record and start kissing her outside the
booth. Mortified, she stops calling me up. In March of the following year, I transfer to
another station. In December, I get fired, I kick a chair in the office and let go a right
sealing my adolescence with a black-eye. Zamboanga wears it for a week. I keep
saying to myself it is an exorcism. Im through with the town. I buy a typewriter.
I have all the while kept my real self alive by retaining my melancholy habits
and corresponding with Willy Sanchez in Manila. Writing has been torture. My vain
opinion of myself contributes to my block, poisons whatever real ability I may have.
But really I dont know. Maybe I just cant write. I only vaguely feel that it is conceit
that leads me astray and makes me shirk the actual job of sitting down to work. I
dissipate myself on delusions. I dont even really read. I buy or borrow a book and
keep it in my room like a miser, reading it a little here and there, but never get to
read through. Im hungry for life, but life as it is in books. I dont want to just read it.
I want to live it. But Zamboanga will never read like a book. Ill have to be a
magician. Thus, neurasthenia or else plain, unmitigated sloth. Thus it is 1967 and
Manila is luring me again. It is back of my mind all the timethe book of my life
which I dream of living. Willie Arsena says we shall die talking in Chinese. I decided
to leave for Manila. Look for a jobbegin. Begin, I plummet and sink. I somersault
on a cloud. I meet Ernie Yniquez.
Protocol Montercarlo is a local publisher and editor of a Mindanao monthly. I loiter
frequently at his office on the second floor of the Manuel Wee Sit Building. He has,
like Ernie Yniguez. some literary inclination. I am told that he keeps receiving
rejection slips from literary editors of national magazines. He once shows me the
first twenty pages of a novel. But also unlike Ernie Yniguez, he obviously doesnt
have ithis grammar and syntax need a great deal of mending, and nothing breaks
through it. When he isnt busyhe treats me to beer or coffee downstairs, and his
enthusiasm for Philippine literature in English spills and scatters all over the place
like halitosis.
- Who?
- Ernie Yniguez
- Hes a friend of yours?
- Yes.
- YesI suppose so, Id like to meet him sometimes. Whats he like?
- He drinks like a horse. He drops by often. We talked about you once.
One Sunday at lunch-time I get a phone call. It is Ernie Yniguez. He is drinking
beer at the beer garden on the ground floor of the Manuel Wee Sit Building and he
wants to meet me.
I come an hour late. He has two companions. The empty beer bottles are
piled neatly to one corner of the table. There are four unopened bottles in front of
the vacant chair. My fine, he tells me as I sit down.
I have a hard time catching up. By three oclock we are drunk and I am still
one bottle behind.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|57

Ernie Yniguez tells me he has a fellowship to a journalism workshop in


Silliman the coming summer but he doesnt feel like going to Dumaguete without a
friend along and he is chucking it. Anyway, he knows I studied at Silliman and asks
me what Dumaguete is like.
At night, the sea in Dumaguete is more sinuous and misted than in
Zamboanga. Perhaps because of the absence of the Badjaos, it also gives the
Zamboangueno the odd impression of being less salty, as if diluted a little with fresh
water, or with coconut water. The coconut trees, too, look somehow different here.
They blend with the rest of the town in an essential, ubiquitous way. Of course, one
may find himself in a section where there are no coconut trees to be seenbut even
in such a section, the sensation of coconut trees is there.
It seems so long ago, so far back.
I tell Ernie Yniguez he should go, then add that we can go together. I tell him
of the Silliman summer writers workshop which, coming to think of it now, I may like
to attend. I ask for a few days in which to make up my mind.
But already we talk as if there is no doubt we are going to Dumaguete
together. We split before six oclock.
We have become friends, though I walk home still rather irritated by the
fine of four beer bottles and his constant hurrying that I catch up.
I tell my mother about it. She gladly gives her consent. I do not tell her my
plan to proceed to Manila.
I visit Ernie Yniguez at his house in the evening four days later. I meet his
mother. She is pleased to meet me and is as excited about the trip as were are.
Two weeks later, we take the boat. It is the middle of April. Ernie Yniguez sees
to it that we have a supply of beer bottles for the trip. We buy a case and deposit it
under the cots.
We arrive in Dumaguete at eight in the evening. We take a room in Miramar
which is on the boulevard a little past Silliman. We settle ourselves for beer in the
small dining hall which is empty. Ernie Yniquez phones the director of their
workshop. He returns to the table telling me he has made arrangements for us to
take our quarters in one of the dormitories in the morning.
I call up Doctor Tiempo.
I hang the phone up and bound between the tables. I tell Yniguez I just been
granted a fellowship to writers workshop.
At past ten we decide to do something else. We take a pedicab and tell the
driver what we want. He tells us theres a place at the airport.
The cab shoots along the highway
We meet another cab at Daro. The two cabs stop. We u-turn.
The drivers talk. There are two girls in the cab.
Ernie Yniguez trades places with one of the girls.
We head back to town.
From our cab, I see Ernie Yniguez turn around to look at us laughing. For the
first time I notice that his eyes often glitter mischievously when he laughs. The
eyeglasses intensify the mischievous quality disarmingly. As I catch it, I almost
forget that the drivers are racing dangerously.
There is only one room vacant in the lodging house where the pedicab driver
have taken us.
It doesnt stop us.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|58

And then the light from the hall outside comes in through the opening above
the walls. We asked the attending boy if they can turn it off. The boy says they
cant.
It doesnt stop us either.
I cant help taking a look at Ernie Yniguez and companion. I suppress a laugh.
Like a horse is straight. Beneath the potbelly and the slight waggle, he is a horse.
He comes. They lie still.
I keep coming back as if trying to even things off a bit.
I fall asleep with a joke: Ive outrun a horse, three Sundays to one.
In my sleep I dream I am riding a horse in my grandfathers land in the
mountains and the horse is flying. The flight is slow. After a while, the horse is a
giant butterfly. It becomes harder and harder to fly. We draw nearer and nearer to
the ground. When we land, there is a small nipa hut on the spot. A woman is giving
birth inside. From the foot of the stairs, I see the midwife come out of the room and
talk to my mother. She is one of our tenants. I go up and tell her my butterfly has
sprained its wing, can she heal it.
The journalism workshop is over in a week. I invite Ernie Yniguez to sit at ours which
still ahs two weeks to finish. He stays and transfers to our dormitory.
He makes fast friends with the writers. His boyish and boisterous self further
enlivens our meals at the cafeteria and the evening of getting together. During the
workshop sessions, he listens quietly, his face looking intent and absorbed. After
sessions, the waggishness comes back instantly and the mischievous glitter in his
eyes is clearly directed at everyone in the workshop. He lampoon Dr. Tiempos
accent and everybody elses jargon and idiosyncracies, fellows and panelists alike.
He takes to the habit of saying like the moon. She walks like the moon. His anger is
like the moon. He eats like the moon. She laughs like the moon. He snores like the
moon. She spreads her legs like the moon.
But everyone likes him.
Three days before the end of the workshop, a story with the title Fire and
Lung Sports is taken up.
At breakfast, I take a look at the story, completely unaware of who the author
is. The title is seductive. But after three of four paragraphs, I find the pose
pedestrian. I blitz through the rest of the pages looking for purple patches. A stickler
for skill in language, I drop a story if I dont spot it anywhere.
I drop the story.
During the session, however, I become interested as the discussion
progresses. Mrs. Tiempo seems excited over the story. Soon everyone is discussing
the story hotly. While it is going on, I read the story through silently. The dull prose
is still there, but the writer has obvious narrative skill. Moreover, the prose does not
seem so bad now. After a few paragraphss, I turn around all of a sudden to look at
Ernie Yniguez. Our eyes meet. He looks flustered, but I can see faintly the waggish
glitter of the eyes beneath the blenching face, ready to come forth anytime. I smile
at him instinctively.
The story is set in Zamboanga during the liberation. It tells of a family, halfSpanish, known for its wealth and the good looks of a children. The focal character
is the eldest son, a very emotionally repressed, tubercular man of forty, who is
tormented by the sight of American soldiers wooing the local girls. He watches his
youngest sister, a girl of sixteen, being courted, and his jealousy, unequivocally

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incestuous, turns to madness when he discovers that she is pregnant. He rapes the
girl, vomits blood, and kills himself.
Dr. Tiempo qualifies his admiration for the story by pointing out the rather
sensational material and the authors apparent tendency to indulge in it. He then
thanks the fellows if they think the story is not merely lurid. He calls me. Some of
the fellows know who the author of the story is. When I say with a poker face that
the man in the story is deranged like the moon, they burst into laughter. This
puzzles the panelists somewhat. I go on to say that the man is not merely mad but
tragic, giving allowance to the possible imperfection in the writers execution. I point
out that the characters act of madness is a heroic quality. These remarks have the
effect of making Mrs. Tiempo smile which, in turn, makes me feel very good.
Ernie Yniguez eyes are glittering now but he still looks a little rattled. By the
time the name of the author is announced, everybody knows it is Ernie Yniguez.
Ernie Yniguez says only three things: its his first attempt to write a shortstory, hed like to write some more, he does not understand the critical comments,
for instance, the remark that the phthisis is symbolic.
When the workshop comes to a close, however, he is one of those who are
offered a graduate assistantship in the English department by the Tiempos.
I get the offer too.
Manila bursts like a bubble.
The confessional writer is hopeless as a social being. The best of what he does is
inescapably obscene. Things, whether fragrant or feculent, when they get printed,
imply a violation the degree of which varies accordingly. If this bothers him, he will
flounder at the simplest fact, affect a pseudo delirium and an inconsequential
cubism. I wish I could write like Ernie Yniguez, whose first story, so disturbing, us a
relative triumph of pure invention. He was a natural feel for the craft. Whereas I,
counting in grace alone, go down trying to invent him, invent the moon, invent
Dumaguete.
After Dumaguete I am never quite the same boy again. I metamorphose, bit
by imperfect bit, from adolescent to adult.
Ernie Yniguez and I share a cottage inside the campus for one semester. It
does not take long for us to see that our personal differences rule out a really close
companionship. I even begin to dislike him a little. His beery air arouses my
distaste. His supposedly primitive qualities strike me as actually so much crudeness.
Above all, I notice that he is recalcitrant to my dreamy moods, does not seem to
have any romantic interest in women. Unable to hold myself, I tell him he cant
possibly go on doing the way he does forevera man ought to have a wife. I dont
know if this hurts him. He is not exactly the sort who gets wounded visibly. He never
ever mopes. But something between us is soured. We drift apart. He finds other
friends. I do too. Even here, we are irreconcilable. We dont take to the same people.
Then fate plays a little joke. Ernie Yniguez gets married.
At the start of the semester we get to know a group of girls who live together
in a neighboring cottage. Ernie Yniguez meets a girl named Dolores.
The first time he visits the cottage alone, he comes home near midnight. He
comes in quietly and briskly, all potbelly as he take his shirt off. Before he can sit
down, I ask him how the visit was, framing the question very ribaldly. The eyes
glitter, but to my slight surprise, he says he cant answer my question, the girl
might become his wife.

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A week later, he comes home one night with her framed picture. I look at him
in disbelief. Aware of my gaze, he does not meet my eyes first. Then the
mischievous smile comes on his face and we burst into laughter together.
And so our paths diverge and the years come and burst like bubbleswhose
balloons of memory that do not include Ernie Yniguez. Dumaguete swallows and
digests us separately. He becomes just one of the faces that I see often on the
campus from time to time. Dolores bears a child. A boy whom the father names
Dmitri. Space wheels, time drops like a crescent moon. All of a sudden I run into
Ernie Yniguez one Sunday evening. The night is young. It is October in 1972 and
there are no memories.
We are both teaching in Silliman.
Dolores and Dmitri are in Spain. She is taking further studies and will be away
for a year.
Ernie Yniguez is on his way to Looc, near the wharf area. He asks me if I want
to come along.
The place is quiet when we arrive. Its a small place with painted walls. The light is
dim because of the colored bulbs. There are three girls I ever kissed. If I live to a
ripe old age, I would wish for no other benefit than that the scene would persist in
my memory. Perhaps then I would not be so senile and withered. If Zamboanga, as
Ive said, is the world of my life, perhaps Rima is the rhythm of my personal
immortality.
The girl who serves us beer drops a few coins into the jukebox and after
pressing her selections sits with us and talks to Ernie Yniguez.
Ernie Yniguez introduces us to each other and tells the girl to sit beside me.
After a while, she asks me if I care to dance. I shake my head and offer her a beer
instead. She gets up for it and when she comes back I rest my hand lightly on her
lap.
She keeps pushing my hand gently off her lap.
Theres a cluster of empty beer bottles on the table when the girl we are
waiting for shows up. Shes fairskinned and hefty. She stands beside Ernie Yniguez
and slings her forearm on his shioulder, their hands meeting in a clasp. He tells her
to get some more beer but she answers that she wants to get home. Ernie Yniguez
introduces me to her. She smiles at me. I reach out for a handshake and Ernie
Yniguez eyes glitter when I kiss her hand.
The four of us leave the place and walk through an unlighted neighborhood.
The home is not far. It has two storeys. The girl with me occupies the downstairs
portion.
She tends to the kitchen straightway while the two sit down on a single
upholstered seat, their hands still locked. Im sitting on the bench at the table
wondering what the time is.
She takes out some eggs and a can of corned beef.
We buy some more beer after dinner. After a while, I ask what the time is. No
one has a watch. She says it must be very near twelve.
Im sure its only around ten-thirty.
I drink my beer quietly, still trying to decide whether to go home or not. I can
feel my body aching to get some sleep.
Ernie Yniguez and friend slip out to go upstairs.

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When they are gone, she tidies the bed up. Theres a smaller bed in the
kitchen, folded up against that wall to which it is attached.
I sit in the bed, take my shoes off. She comes out of the kitchen with a
blanket and makes for the door. I ask her where she is going. She says she will sleep
upstairs. I get up, overtake her and close the door. Smiling, I tell her Im dead tired
and I wont disturb her. I add that if sleeps upstairs it will look like Im driving her
out of her own place and I wont feel very nice about it.
She yields.
When the light is out, I lie trying not to moan. The nights of staying up very
late are telling on my body. I bury my face in the pillow as if my whole head is a
wound and the pillow is the balm.
An hour passes. Another. All at once I know I will pass the whole night
sleepless if I dont get up and go to her.
In the dark, I make her form out. She is lying on her side, facing the wall. I
shake her gently. She pushes me away abruptly. I tell her I want to know where the
water is, I need a drink. She mumbles where it is. I grope for a glass and the water
container. I pour the water into the glass soundlessly.
I go back to her bed, sit on the edge for a little while. I watch her, relishing
the sight of them breathing deeply, tense with waiting.
The bed is too small and it squeaks. She asks to transfer to my bed. We get
up. She turns the light on. I feel funny standing, waiting for her to get onto the bed.
She strips the gown off.
In the light, I discover that she is pregnant.
Afterwards, I stroke the slightly swollen belly gently. My touch is hesitant at
first, as if her belly is a strange animal that might bite.
I ask her if she knows who the father is. She says she isnt what I think she is.
Theres a little girl washing clothes in the kitchen when, I wake up. The little
girl looks up at me quickly and shyly.
I ask her who the little girl is. She says the girl is from the neighborhood who
comes every morning to her place to wash.
She tells me Ernie Yniguez left early in the morning. I ask her what the time
is. She says its past ten. Is ask her in a whisper if the girl stays in the place all
morning. She says the girl will be off in a little while.
I make some coffee and smoke. We sit at the table saying nothing.
The little girl leaves, saying nothing and glancing at me again.
I get up and lock the door. I pulled her to bed.
Afterwards, I stroke the womb again.
I have an urge to squeeze and hurt the rest of her body. My hand stops and
rests on her womb.
I tell her to name the child Rima, if its a girl.
She is silent.
If its a boy, I continue, Andre is a good name.
She laughs at the name, saying it like is a word she does not understand, but
adds that she doesnt like Andres. I tell her its Andre, not Andres, and that its
French and it sounds better.
I begin to be aware that Im playacting to make her feel good but actually I
loathe the place and have no intention of coming back. I suddenly regret that I have
no money I can spare. I think of the food last night.
I leave the place feeling sorry that I wont be coming back to spare her some
money.

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Week pass before I get to see Ernie Yniguez again.


When I see him, he tells me the girl keeps asking about me. I say nothing and
merely laugh with him.
Whenever we chance to sit at coffee together, the girl crops up in pour talk. It
becomes a sort of habit.
After a while we get over it. I see him more and more rarely.
A year after I see the girl again. I am strolling on the boulevard with Butch
Macasantos. Butch Macasantos is twittering, firing away at the readings he has
been doing lately.
Someone pokes me from behind.
She gets past up in a half-run and not turning to look at me. I recognize her.
I stand motionless for a moment, then run after her.
I ask her where shes going. She says shes going home. I ask her if I can
come home with her to her place. She says an uncle is at her place. She is walking
fats, as if the night is propelling her feet.
I ask her about the child.
She says she had it aborted.
I walk back to Butch Macasantos. He asks me who the girl is.
I begin telling him the story.
- Who?
- Ernie Yniguez.
- Hes a friend of yours?
Butch Macasantos is at Silliman for graduate work. He is a young man of
twenty-two. He comes from Zamboanga. His poems and critical insights have
impressed me. Sometimes we visit the Tiempos in the evening to show Mrs.
Tiempo his latest efforts. They get into a very involved discussion in which I
feel a little left out, a little inferior to Butch Macasantos. Yes.
Id like to meet him sometime. Whats he like?
Manila, 1976

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And Sunday Morning


[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
It is better to act than to think.
~ KLEIST
From Camino Real, main street of the town, the police station was four more blocks
away. I stood at the crossroads, lingering a while before crossing. It must have been
two in the morning; I had no way of knowing exactly. I had forgotten my watch when
I left the house in the afternoon, rather yesterday afternoon, a Saturday afternoon in
March. It was Sunday already and the loudness of my football, in the full moon, told
me I should have called it a day with Noel hours ago. No other soul in sight any
more. Lat one was the driver of a solitary horsecab homeward bound some eight
minutes back. Noel who lived in the outskirts had called it a day at around eleven.
He had boarded a taxi and was well on his way when I thought of how we had
really grown old, how we had n fact become used to our having grown old. He was
twenty-three; I was older by a year. Somehow we were not quite the same boys that
we were six years ago, and each time we went out for a drink, we were both aware,
each to himself, how it was becoming less and less the innocent, wild and carefree
whack it used to be. Something was amiss. Youththe adventure of youthwas not
quite there anymore.
I had known Noel since I was eighteen. We both painted. Then we wrote
poems a little and dabbled in ideas. But painting was the main stuff and we were, to
all practical purposes, absolute lunatics. We both felt we did not belong in our town
our small townand thought of going away, of self-exile somewhere where art
perhaps could thrive. Thus Europe and America lay vaguely ahead. Even Manila
would do at the moment.
The year after I got to know Noel his father died and then he had a job with
Blocks and did not care whether he would be able to resume college which he had
to quit. I had just about as much passion for school as he had, but I was going
through the undergraduate program anyhow. And then, although I never had a clear
picture of how my life would be in the years ahead, I later proceeded to Manila for
graduate work in history. Painting somehow had to take the backseat. To start with I
was not exactly driven by a demon as far as dedication to art went. So Manila was
not the Manila of my bohemian dreams. I was at it for two years and when I came
home I still had my thesis to do. I found Noel still tied up in his job. He had a bigger
pay and never got around to enrolling in night school as he had said he might.
Much water had, so to speak passed under the bridge. We could not of course
sense at once anything in the nature of a transformation in each other. It was a slow
unfolding. And then it was perfectly clear that our close friendship was a thing of
the past. Something in him smacked of retractiona retraction from our wild early
ideas. For my part I seemed to have become a trifle too quiet and secretive, it was
quite possible there was something else in my manner that my friend saw and
disliked. Anyhow, as I was saying, I was less capable of disowning the romantic and
fatuous dreamings of my youth than he was.

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At any rate we still drank together, mostly on Saturdays, on him, say a couple
of times in a month, and I w2ould think how it had always been on him that we
drank since the start. But I had always been the jobless one. It was now five months
since I came home. Sometimes I felt like going back to Manila and going through the
thesis bit and then finding a job. It seemed a handy course to take eventually. But I
stayed on obscurely for the time being. And so yesterday it was Saturday and Noel
called up towards five in the afternoon. I was finishing a letter for a girl friend in
Manila and realizing it was Saturday afternoon and the post office was already
closed. I decided to finish it Monday. We started to drink between six and seven,
making rounds of the town bars, and broke it up near midnight. After Noel left me
on the walk I went on roaming, drinking alone. I had thought of going out that night
even before he called.
Turning left from Mabini, I finally reached the place. I found myself pausing at
the door, a great wooden structure of Spanish times which had survived several
renovations through the years. It was a thing of beauty, looking forlorn and
forgotten. Every time I had chanced, in the past, to pass the place the door seldom
failed to catch my attention, though I never felt any curiosity about the interior of
the house. I could not in fact remember the impulse of entering the place ever
occurring to me.
One half of the great door yielded noiselessly and I ascended a flight of stairs,
went through a short and narrow corridor again and pausedat the entrance to a
large room.
From where I stood I had a glimpse of the chess pieces and the chessboard
beyond one of the players. Two men in plain clothes were profoundly absorbed in a
game of chess. I must have walked in very carefully indeed, for they did not heed
me straightaway. The one half-facing towards where I stood, who should glance up
any moment and see me, was a very old man. Over eighty, I thought. But no, I must
have been mistaken, he must be younger or he would be out of service by this time.
A pure fancy flew through my mind like a starwhat if I had been absurd enough to
bring, presuming it was manageable, the dead mans body, carrying it in my arms
as I stood here? The old officer, who would see me first, would be obliged to jump
up from his chair a little, notwithstanding his old age and office. God! he would cry
amid a jumble of words which, although directed at this devil of an apparition, might
well be an absentminded remark on the chess game going on.
I made haste. I approached and saw the old officer look up and regard me
fleetingly. Obviously they were used to it. People coming in at any hour, even this
late. He quickly resumed what must have been a protracted appraisal of the
position, clearing his throat a little. The other officer was much younger. He turned
around, suddenly aware of an intruder, and looked at me a bit more keenly but
otherwise much in the same manner as the old officer did. They went on, no doubt
expecting me to kibitz, or perhaps loiter about, scrutinize the place out of idle
curiosity.
They had no clock. Once more I grew conscious of my bare left wrist. It was
uncomfortable. It happened sometimeseven if I was not in any haste. The four
walls, painted a light green, which looked quite old, were bare, except the one
behind the old officer, which displayed a small reproduction of Lunas Spoliarium. An
orange bulb illuminated the room from over their heads. Air came in from the lone
window to the left, which revealed sky and a section of the town.
Excuse me, I said aloud, Itheres a man

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|65

He was a large old man who squinted, his totally white hair cropped severely:
Both of them faced me now as I went on as though I had upturned the chessboard
and disrupted the game.
I spilled it out as briefly as I could.
The young police officer rose from his chair and told me to sit down. He
hurried to an adjoining room close to the window. The old officer was apparently
waiting for him to come back at once, as he did not budge, merely looking at me,
and was in fact still, for the larger part, studying the chess position. He was in need
of glasses from the way he squinted, but did not seem to possess any. At length he
got up and peered at me again in the way that made me think yes, appearances
can indeed be deceiving sometimes and he had an excellent eyesight after all. He
lumbered forward with some strain to the other room and spoke to the young officer
without getting in that door. Call up the doctor again, he said. I am calling him
up! the young officer yelled back inside.
The old man panted somewhat as he sat down once more. Something about
his great hands, when they moved in the air with a heavy numbness, drew a soft stir
in my heart. I thought of how I was capable of feeling tender with some old people. I
suppressed smile as I recalled how, in my thoughts a moment back, he had leaped
up and assumed the look of an idiot. I thought it myself how, for the rest of my life,
there would always be old men like this one to whom I felt a reverent sort of
kindness, and there would always be this naturallypreternaturally very childish
streak in my psychology.
It appeared I had to wait a while.
I was about to move my King away from the attacking Knight when you
came, the old officer said. As you can see, my position, in spite of the check and
its ominous suggestions to the amateur player, is hardly in any danger.
Nevertheless I would say the balance is tilted a bit in his favor, from the
psychological viewpoint. You see, I fear, very irrationally, the enemy Knights. The
piece has a certain mystique of dread and terror for me. And yet I do not have the
slightest flair for my own Knights. I prefer the Bishops. He drew a compartment
open before him and took out some sheets of paper. I had meantime taken a close
look at their game and saw that he was losing. He was playing white and the castled
white King was under steady pressure in a closed middle game; a state of affairs
that was incompatible with the way he so articulately analyzed his game. But
maybe he was merely indulging in it and was in fact taking himself offhand. I
refrained from making a comment and merely listened to him attentively. Youll
have to fill this up, he said as he handed me the papers. He drew his pen and gave
it to me. The sheets were blank; there were no forms to be filled outI was to write
a tentative confession obviously.
The young officer had come out of the other room smoking a cigarette. He
stood beside the old man. He exuded the detachment of a tough, hard-working
expert at his routines. He was not more than thirty-five, I thought, as tall as the old
officer but not as thick-set. He held his pack of cigarettes across the desk to me. I
politely took one and stood up reach for a light.
The young officer said that I could, if I wished, tell them the rest of it later,
after a good sleep. He said I looked very tired, especially my eyes, and I might
prefer to rest first. I could go home and come back when I was ready, probably in
the morning before noon. I answered, returning to my seat, that there was nothing
much to remember really, and that I did not quite agree with him. Outside of feeling
a little cold, I was okay. Alright, he said, but he added in a warning sort of way that

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|66

my story might have to be retold all over or elucidated here and there, at their
pleasure, until they had a clear picture. I was told that at the moment it was in fact
rather hard for them to take me seriously, although certainly it would be
inconceivable for them not to investigate the matter. I had described the dead man
correctly, all right, and the man was killed at about eleven in the evening last
Thursday, just as I said. All nice going, but all that didnt mean much. Those things
had probably leaked out. Besides, the doctor still said it was suicide. He paused,
rather abruptly, after this, his eyes shifting somewhat, and I quickly caught his
sudden hesitation. Since when had it become the doctors job, in a case like this, to
tell whether or not there was foul play? But before I could as much as voice my
objection the young officer had resumed. What he meant was that upon some
prompting the doctor had expressed his agreement with the police over the case
when the police thought it looked like suicide. The fact remained that there were no
fingerprints on the gun but those of the victim, and there was nothing in the
autopsy to lead them anywhere else.
There were some things that were funny about this case at any rate, he
admitted as he dropped his cigarette carefully to the floor and stubbed it out
underfoot, giving me a look. Until now they could not find out who the dead man
was. The landlady did not know, and there I was not knowing anything in this regard
either. No one knew who the dead man was and, as he was obviously a stranger in
the town, where he came from. Only a couple of monthsthe landlady saidwas
out most of the time. So how come no one, but no one, seemed to have known the
fellow existed, outside of her and me. People were behaving very strangely, he said.
Whoever had heard of a landlady who admitted boarders without bothering to find
out who o earth they were? He then went on to observe. Smiling, that ours
nevertheless was not a town of mystery, even if that was the impression sometimes
of convent girls who read the dailies with a gasp. At this remark I was prompted to
smile back, acknowledging the rhetorical turn. Quite so, I said.
Very well, start writing, the old officer said. He had been rummaging
through the drawer and rearranging some things. I was curious to see any trace of
his reaction to the young officers earlier suggestion. But he said nothing more and
seemed in perfect accord with his companion, looking at me with a peculiar
expressionone I couldnt quite placerather senile and rather intense and
inscrutable with that squint.
I bent over the sheets and concentrated on the task before me. I was not
enjoying my smoke. Not that it did not happen to be my brand and I did not like it. It
had a fine taste and it was even likely that I would be patronizing it in the future.
But I was in some difficulty. I got up to throw my cigarette out of the window.
I thought of noel. In the cool night air I thought again of how for years now I
had been avoiding something the a craven fashion, and how I would always seem to
be doing this in essence no matter what I did. But I loathed him too, not so much for
the way he went about his own dissipation. Something else galled me. I could never
give up my illusions, if indeed they were so. I was bound to some invincible
faithfulness, as it were, and I was holding my ground. I was sticking to the agony in
the simplest for one could, with an awareness that perhaps what I was doing tock a
courage of some sort too. It was Sunday morning in March, and here I was in a
proceeding fairly out of hands as far as my competence went. To be sure I had never
been much of a hand in anything in life. But then there was more to that, it was
more than that. It could not be my own doing entirely. A large share of the crime, of
the sin, must ultimately belong to someone else, belong to him as much as his own

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|67

skin and the weight of his own stupid skull. So my life was a joke. So here I was. I
was doing something with great lucidity and there was no taking things back. Where
did one go from there?
I looked at the sleeping, quaint houses outsidethe trees and the black posts
and electric wires that seemed to float with the moon when one walked quietly
alone in the streets and dreamed and himself floated, floated in the sky with the
moon. The moon was there still, and Sunday morning, the month of March and April
as well, soon to come, to follow, delicious to shoot one like that, to drag the carcass
in by the collarto see the smile still there even when the bullet had broken the
skull, still intact and sweet and full of filthto shoot away at all the smiles in the
world, at all the filth in the world.
I started to walk back in the desk without looking at the old man who must
have been watching me with great interest. The young officer had gone to the other
room again. I looked at the sheets of paper and the chessman that were still in their
place. They had not tucked it away and probably had in mind resuming the game
later. The outcome of the game, however, seemed quite clear enough. The position
was lost for the old man. But I did not feel like saying anything as he quite probably
knew it himself. And whether they would resume the game or play another one
instead did not mean anything to me.
Dumaguete, 1968

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|68

Assault on Dumaguete
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
How many times have I called you up? At most five times. Its possible you suspect
Ive seen you. I havent. though it wouldnt be entirely untrue to say I have indeed
seen you know what you are, who you are. You are Cyclops, adopted daughter and
Im Ulysses. I phoned you because my boredom with both life and death had
become a matter of life and death. Now the thought of you stirs me to write a pronovel. I bet I love you, Josie. You are my seventh solitude and my Latin Quarter.
~ JULIUS THE FOURTH
We shall seek to safeguard our impartiality against the invasion of history by desire.
~ BURCKHARDT
A concatenation of pseudo fantasies. I am compelled to make it out inyes sir no sir
fictional terms. No act of striptease, this. Self-out-pouring is water of facts seeking
poetic level. Done out of love for the living day, none other.
Really some days are made for coupling. One hears it almost in the blue sky.
But things are caught in some evil inertia. Of course, the motels are never empty.
But that doesnt mean anything. Fags not infrequently sire children. Weeks back, I
met a catamite. Some artists are rightone has to be undemocratic to stay healthy.
Ones hand is neither earth nor the eyes sun. makes me long for the age of kings.
Its an old story. Still, who knows? Perhaps our mistake is that we did not cook the
French Revolutionthus the universal diarrhea.
Money is like Gods infinity. It frames our mortal limits and thereby becomes
the eleventh commandment. Im a Catholic at heartI dont believe in a classless
society. Here I am incomparably loyal to the Philippine poor folkwhence, as far as I
can empirically tellI spring. I grin like an idiot when told that for centuries my
people have been duped and exploited. Nay, we owe the Spanish friars our
deathless gratitude, in a word, decency. Poverty is God-given. And it would take a
bat not to see hierarchy as an organic condition of the world. Although its true that
the Spanish friars went too far. We have the hopping qualities of frogs.
To ensure the success of the operation (I dont mean literary success), I shall
devise a sort of split-person point of view. The name of the character is Julius the
Fourth whom we have just quoted. Julius is necessarily the authorme!but much
of him insists on being fictitious. This I hope is not too much of an addition to the
worlds desperate confusion. We shall have renditions of Julius 1Julius himself
speaking, writing. This opening portion is in fact already Julius speaking. Julius is
fond of quoting himself? Yes. Let it be said at once that he is superb craftsman in
the art of flattering oneself.
After obtaining a masters degree from Silliman in 1971, Julius taught another year
at the Ateneo de Zamboanga. In 1972, restless as a periwinkle, he went back to

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Silliman to teach. On the second week of classes he was admitted to the hospital on
Silliman Avenue obscurely ill. He had all the signs of a nervous collapse. Insisting
that he had ulcers, he went through a complete check-up and was astonished to
find out that his stomach was as sound as a rose in bloom.
Once, made to strip, he had an illusion that the attendant smiled sidelong, as
though the rose was in bloom, in more languageas though the organ was in a
state of perceptible tumescencebut since it wasnt the smile could have been only
on account of the mole. She was slightly cross-eyed, wore colored glasses. Anyway
the mole, which was indisputably there, was, to coin a word, a mismole. For it must
be said that Julius lovelife went against the grin of the popular superstition about
moles. If the attendant thought he was a devil with women, then she was crosseyed indeed.
At twenty-nine, Julius had a knowledge of women that was not even
rudimentary. His nave understanding of the ways of women was positively freakish.
Needless to say, Julius had never been in love, not even in his fantasies which were
so proliferous as to be almost apocalyptic. For he had, not surprisingly, a gluttonous
interest in the aesthetics of sexual passion. And he couldnt look at a prepossessing
woman without ravishing her in his mind. He read the psychologists, and insights
into the psychology of loving was one of the yardsticks with which he approached
novelists. His brain thus teemed with imaginative insights, all derived from
literature, which never saw the light of his own conviction. In courtship or seduction,
Julius was, as a matter of fact, a mongoloid. He knew it too. But this did not deter
him from the habit of improvising lectures on love to his studentsan expedient he
had frequent recourse to whenever the torpor of his students became total. Sure
enough, the eyes of the girls would turn lucent, something which, for Julius,
redeemed the wretchedness of being a Filipino English teacher, of being, in a
phrase, buried alive. Julius on love had a classroom eloquence born of coital
malnutrition.
But in Silliman, the girls yawned. Julius noted it with an alarm he barely
managed to conceal. Oh well, he reasoned, after all it was the seventiesfetuses
were sprouting on every campus. At Oriental Hall, dormitory for girls, the gossip was
there were twelve pregnancies in one semester. The boys from Manila were making
like buccaneers. Julius, a chess tactician of auriferous potential, switched to being
unspeakably horny. To no vail. He had become soporific. The girls simply knew
better than he did on his favorite topic. For the first time in his life, Julius had
something of an original insight into love: only pristine women, particularly old
maids, like listening to discussions on the subjectonce carnally initiated they fall
into a sort of bigoted omniscience. This put an end to a facet in his classroom
career. He seldom took up the topic of love again, and when he did, it was always by
way of accentuating his weariness with the world. Not that he felt he had finally
come of age as far as women was concerned. On the contrary, he knew how to
receive the illuminations of modesty.
There was one girl whose interest in him was sufficiently apparent for one to
say she was begging for it. In a summer misadventure, Julius met her by chance at
a Dance to where he had somehow strayed. You know how people dance these days
they dont dance, they entwine. A way of dancing that would have apoplexed Fray
Salvi. Julius, who had not had dance I n twelve years, gave himself up to the
pleasure of fondling his former students waist all evening, then, throwing all
caution to the wind, inhaled her cheek with a kleptomaniacal kiss. In the dark, Julius
perceived her blush.

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When he saw her at the cafeteria a few days later, she was aloof all of a
sudden, her face darkening as though Julius were a passing cloud. It was the
summer of 1974, she wore the memory of Julius boldness like a silent anger. Julius,
had he not spent all his time playing chess, would have racked his brain for a
complex psychological explanation. But, being as we have said preternaturally
stupid in such affairs, the chances that he would see the girls feeling as possibly a
delicious concrescencejust one more spontaneity away from, say, removing her
sandals to walk barefoot in the parkwere nil.
Faye visited him on his first morning in the hospital. She came with Rose and
Adelita, her constant companions. The three girls were high school seniors in
Silliman. Faye was Bing-Bings kid sister. One day he saw her frolicking at the beach
in Silliman. That was in 1969, when Julius was given to venting the impotence of his
life on the sea. She was thirteen then, and ion the pale of gold afternoon her skin,
darker gold, made Julius nostomanic. He got up from the sand and went to where
she was playing nimble footsy with the water. Watch this, he said, and as she
turned to him he slid down to one knee at her feet, closed his eyes, and held his
mouth open to the sky as if to catch a drop of rain. But it was the rainbow he
swallowed and the young girl gasped, too astounded to laugh at one. When Julius
opened his eyes, a cascade of nervous laughter sprayed his face and she saw how
she was taking to him, like a squirrel. From there on Julius watched the girl blossom
and knew she basked in the gentleness of his inward eye.
The girls shrieked with laughter when they saw his age on the bedtag. Rose
called him grandpa, which stuckthenceforth thats what she called him, though
Adelita and Faye didnt follow suit, except during the visit.
He noticed that after a while the two girls had drifted to a distance while he
was talking with Faye, as if Faye and Grandpa were sweethearts.
The girl never ran out of things to say, though she wasnt the talkative sort.
She had a manner of looking at something else when talking to hima magazine, a
picture on the wall, a box. She seldom looked at him in the eyesmore often caught
her glancing in silence at him. When particularly animated, there was something
split about the way she carried the conversation: one half of her was talking to him;
the other was talking about himto her companions, as though it was one of the
sessions in which she talked to them about her sisters strange friend.
She buoyed him up.
The next day, Father OBrien came. He visited the hospital to talk to the
patients once every three days. There were two other patients in the rooma
nondescript college student and a little boy who didnt look sick, completely obvious
to people, sitting up in bed and looking out of the window into Hibbard Avenue,
waiting for his mother to come. When she came, he ate the things that she brought
with a mute joy. Julius never heard him talk. When the boy left the hospital, Julius
had fallen in love with the child, haunted by the boys solipsistic silence. A youngish
man, slightly younger than Julius, took the childs place. For some reason, Julius did
not notice this one, even when the college student had also left and there were only
the two of them sharing the room.
As his bed was nearest the doorthe door opened to itFather OBrien went
to him first. For a mad instant, Julius was under the hallucinations that the priest
had come to the hospital just to see him. He was quickly disabused, but not after he
had absurdly sat up and uncoiled his heart somewhat.

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Five years back, Julius had ceased to be an agnostic. He frequented the


Divinity Library, gripped by the theological writers. His favorites were the Protestant
theologians Bultmann and Tillich, and three Jewish authorsBuber, Baeck, and
Heschel.
An idea caught his fancywe cant tell exactly when. He wanted to have, like
James Agee, a priest for a close friend, who would also be his confessor. He
contemplated this with a choosiness verging on idealism. Its easy to guess what
sort of priest he wantedone with an intellectual bent combined with depth of
character, and yet youthful, youthful and sensitive enough to take a keen interest in
the wayward aesthete infidel such as he was. For five years Julius was eluded by his
phantom. At the Ateneo de Zamboanga, where he taught for two years and where
he had some experience with the priests, would-be priests and ex-seminarians, both
the stony conservative and the radical jelly repelled himsome of them were
midget Raputins, too feeble, too patently furtive for their not too secret inclination.
It was even more difficult than finding an ideal girl. At Silliman he found the pastors
more congenial. Dr. Pierre Jordan, though their age gap precluded the friendship he
wanted, was a little chapter in his life. And Harry Lee, the Korean was perhaps just a
shade too wholesome, too spiritually antiseptic. And so his wish slumbered beneath
the surface of his anarchy. When Father OBrien entered the hospital room and
came to him, Julius dream woke.
I told him I wasnt so sure any morewhether or not I was still a Catholic.
Ive read some Jewish philosophers and some of the things they say disturb
me, I said.
Whenever I am confined in a hospital I become really romantic. I float upon
the orbiting stillness of things. The sun is clouded. The day is veiled as though by a
womans eyelashes in a love-sated dream and my soul like a fish knifes the sleeping
water. The boy was a pearl of an incident, a deep-sea dive, a ripple of reflection.
And now Father OBrien, a momentary delirium. Even as I spoke, I had a
blotting sense of the inconsequence, the queer abruptness of what I was saying,
which came like a wave that had forced itself to swell and blunder upon the wrong
bather. Already I knew I was blundering. My imagination had gotten the better of
me, talking as though I was reading a book in the course of a particularly intense
passage the author had materializedor, more accurately, as though I had entered
into the books world and the authors cogitation could accommodate my responses.
Father OBrien had rotund knitness that made him look short. He looked an
energetic fifty, the sort of eternally bust man of whom a business executive, even
more a college dean, would say I have confidence in his judgment. To rescue him
from the usual dullness of these two, I hasten to observe further that he gave the
air of having little time, his manner I his shoulders suggesting something heavy, like
the impediment of armorsevery moment a meeting point of physics and knighterrantry. He struck me as one who se daily moral exertions were so rigorous as to
enable him, at the end of the day, to sleep at will, and to sleep a sleep so controlled
that he also could wake up at will.
Sitting upon in that hospital bed, febrile and worn-down, long-haired,
unkempt, slightly rat-eyedI too was all of a piece. Gradually I felt more and more
that something repelled him, perhaps a mounting gibberish.
When he spoke it was like he had cleared his throat (he didnt). he said each
man had to decide for himself. That theres no forcing of the religion I was born into

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on anyone. In a moment, he had gotten up and it was only the one I saw that he
was making his routine rounds of the patients in the hospital.
The first thing I felt upon his counter abruptness, coated with ample civility
and gentleness, was one of disappointment. Years later, it would occur to me that
Father OBrien answer amounted to a snap ex communication.
Vaguely, I looked forward to his next visit.
Bing-Bing had dropped out of school. She was a willowy girl of twenty, with long hair
reaching down to where she was all fish. She sang folksongs and visited the barrios
to talk to the peasants. Sometimes Julius would tell her he loved and they would
both laugh because they both knew it was not true. That was how it was too
whenever Julius, dizzy with feeling, would attempt to kiss her. If Julius ever kissed
her, that too would have been not quite true, at most a half-truth, even if the kiss
were, lets say, a study in exploration. And perhaps they would have laughed too
afterwards, though Bing-Bings eyes were the shining of truth itself and Julius was
crazed with feeling.
Once Julius felt lonesome. Night had fallen, the sky swore an untainted
loyalty. All time and space lay like an empty memo made flesh. Julius phoned BingBing, bought a bottle of gin, and waited for her at the amphitheater, among the row
of green-painted seats facing the Silliman church. Bing-Bing came with Faye and
Butch Macasantos and Franz, Julius younger brother.
She had her guitar. Franz asked for his favorite. She sang it, her voice named angel
of the morning. Franz sang along, as flat as mineral, then gave up, chased a passing
dog. Butch showed me his latest poem, then seeing I read it carelessly read the
passage he liked most and explained what he meant then seeing I was still listening
half-heartedly pocketed the poem and fished out his harmonica and accompanied
angel of the morning. When he played his loneliness was like Charlie Chaplain when
I drank I said to myself I was drinking the gin to him not to Bing-Bing nor Faye nor
my brother Franz nor the passing dog. Bing-Bing stopped singing and laid the guitar
on the grass. Franz took the bottle from me and talked to Faye. Butch abandoned
Charlie Chaplain and joined the bottle. I asked Bing-Bing where were her poems.
She said how many times did she have to tell me shed never show her poems
because she felt bashful about it, just as she felt bashful about singing in front of
Darnay Demetillo. I said well then Id take a look at her paintings. She said shed not
show me her paintings either. I persisted. Her eyes rolled up to the sky and its
loyalty, fed up with mine. Her gesture suffused the gin with dangerous feeling. Give
me one picture I promise I wont look at it. What would I do with it. Id keep it in my
room inverted on a wall for three weeks. Julius youre crazy. And during the allotted
period Id write a story.
And when the story is written Id turn the painting around and look at it.
I thought you said you wont.
Not until the story is written, in three weeks.
Then I wont give you my painting.
Okay, I wont look at the painting. Just let me keep it for three weeks.
No.
Not even if I wont look at it?
Yes.

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Yes?
NO!
Come on, Bing.
No.
Come on.
Youre not going to look at it anyway.
Oh, you want me to look at it.
No.
Then I wont. It will hang on the wall with its back to me. It will help me write
a story.
Crazy.
It will neutralize the effect of the star thats crossing my life pinioning the
open that otherwise would proliferate with putative pain.
Wheres my hat?
It either eloped with a wind having a velocity of from 32 to 63 miles an hour,
a gale, or it fell and went back to the void trying to salute me because you
wouldnt.
Good grief.
The story begins at the point when you painting. That ought to be quite a
scene. Then onwhat happens in three weeks. In a way, the story will write itself. A
mirror. I look into myself hard. Two mirrors admiring each otherJulius and his story.
Things are happening. People come and go. You. butch. Others. Everybody. Then I
look at your painting inverted on the wall.
Thank you.
-How Ill never see it. The day comes. I give it back to you. I kept my
promise, and the story fades out slowly, lingering to a few more days, the few days
after. Im alone on the beach in the afternoon. Im thinking of your painting that I
never saw.
Supposing you got tempted and looked at the painting?
I might see an empty canvas, see that you knew I wasnt going to keep my
word and you decided to make a little joke. I look at the empty canvas. Long.
Thinking. Looking back on those three weeks and comparing memory with fiction,
loneliness with words.
Thats exactly what I thought I might do, give you an empty canvas!
I dont knowI guess it would be a better story if you really gave me a
painted picture. But Im not going to look at it anywayI think Id keep my word
how then would I know its not an empty canvas? Im not going to use the
omniscient point of view. It will kill the story after one sentence. Wellwhen you
give me the painting Im going to make you give me your word its not an empty
canvas.
Youll take my word?
Yes,
Really, you will?
Yesand the painting. Ill take it tomorrow.
No.
When?
Im not giving you any ever.

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Julius caught again, like a dart and like a ribbon, Fayes glance. He touched her face,
as if to touch her glance, a ribbon. It lay under her eyelashes as she looked at the
grass. He glanced at Bing-Bing and saw her looking as if suspended by a slight
surprise, but looking as if early that morning she had given Faye a ribbon to wear.
Now in the hospital, alone, Julius remembered this ribbon that was never
there, and the painting. He wondered if Bing-Bing would have taken his word when
he returned the picture and said he kept his wordhe hadnt looked at the picture.
But before her answer could crystallize in the room filled with absences, Faye came
again with Rose and Adelita and the visit was very much like the first, except that
after a while he saw her looking at something on the floor and he remembered the
night her eyes were veiled with her eyelashes completely at the amphitheater and
the ribbon again and now, propped on a pillow, he touched he r hair and at that
exact moment Father OBrien came in and Julius saw the priests eyes turn away
from what he saw and he went towards the other patient. Julius blushed like a fish
and Faye saw it and blushed too and the two other girls and it seemed everyone
was embarrassed and Julius had a vision of his hand torn to ribbons, then to fish
flinging about flinging for life inside a church and of a crucifix that fell into the sea
and bobbed back and floated the crucified manform turned into a skeleton and
Jesus walked upon the water.
The only time you ever shocked me was when you said you couldnt believe Jesus
did not masturbate. I didnt looked shocked at all then, did I? Im fairly good at
dissimulating, especially when caught off-guard. My face I imagine, becomes as it
were cryptic, like a shell locking up a pearl. At chess, its when my opponent makes
a superb move, when I feel Im about to be beautifully outplayed, that I become
very composed, so in control of myself its like I could will my heart not to beat. Had
it been anyone else who said it, I dont think I would have been shocked. Nine out of
ten I would have said to myself, This town hasnt changed a bit, it still hasnt gone
beyond the jukebox. I dont mean Dumaguete. Or any other town. Im not thinking
of any town. Im merely trying to suggest how I feel whenever liberated people
rattle their handcuffs. How sure your touch was. It was as if, in your best form, you
had done an exquisite watercolor of Jesus, the details of which we shall consign to
the readers imagination. Of course, my golden one, you dont paint. Or do you
now? If you do, pray paint a portrait of your Hamlet your Heathcliff and your Rip van
Winkle, and paint him as the Tarot fool balancing on the seawave on one hand, with
only his left eye intimating ever so slightly of love and squalor. Lately Ive really
become serious about writing a novelor, if that sounds too emboldened, perhaps a
novelette. Ill call the central character Cesar Ruiz Aquino. Does the name sound
verisimilar enough? It occurred to me, complete and spontaneously, as though
somewhere theres actually a man with that name. Of course it partly spring from
my name. Ive always felt like changing my name from Julius to Cesar. My name
gives me a way too muchI mean my natural disposition which makes me walk in
the street like, always, it were the Fourth of July. I havent ceased to regret its been
changed to June 12. It still makes me feel like pinning history like a girl and kissing
her against her will. Speaking of kisses, let me tell you in advance that the
character in my novel has always wanted to kiss yourather autobiographical on
my part, as you can see. But I guess that is one of the few moments in the novel
which I am particularly faithful to history and, consequently, perfidious Aristotle and
your parents. Ive often confided in you concerning those dreams I dreamt circa

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|75

1973. Dreams wherein we kissed. My two favorites are the one in which we were
swimming in the sea at the wharf, it was World War II, everyone was restless about
the Japanese in town. I kissed you a lot then and we were literally floating, until
William Butler Yeats came and saw us. In my dream he was a little boy. Did it mean
it would take a world war for me to do it? Did it mean I ought to have done it as
early as 1962? But you were then only eleven and I saw you only once, at your
placeI was correcting papers for your mother who was my teacher in English 51.
You came to the table and asked me what would an emperor be doing with testpapers. I saw at once that you were gifted and precocious, you struck me like some
fabulous young creature caged in a world that was all of your own, a world I had
accidentally entered, I who walked in Silliman like a youth walking in a magic forest.
Time has done tricky things to that first impression, modified now for instance by
the secret halfswoon I feel whenever, sitting next to you, I catch a whiff of the
incense that is your body. Dreams take their troll. The other dream was more
naturalistic, to use the language of literary criticism. There was another of those
parties at your house. I kissed you gently among the windfall and the lotuses and
you laughed and said Why not? Why not indeed? Well, the truth is even in the
realm of phenomena we were always kissingour times together had been nothing
but kisses. But that this is all figurative makes me feel like a tadpole; on the other
hand you yourself told me I read poems aloud like a Welshman. You once baptized
me Hamletthough I insisted I was Heathclifffor weeks I wondered why, thinking
in the end that it must have been because you had perhaps found out I was writing
Marilyn impossible love letters and I was cracking up here and there. Whenever I
made a joke you always found it funnysometimes it astonished meyou
reassured me like a constant moon. Remember the time we were waiting for the bell
to ring, looking at the milling youngsters and I casually said that I was feeling Rip
van Winkle? Your laughter made me feel like I had brought Hibbard Hall down. It got
to a point where I wanted to be always clever when you were aroundand when
you were not and you crossed my mind I kept investing jokes with which I could
waylay and ensnare you. But ever now Im still sluggish. I cherish the day when
even my sorrow would be a trick with which to make people laugh. But that would
be a miracle. I would have to be a prophet. You dont really believe in miracles, do
you? Literally? You cant even believe Jesus was chaste to the end. I do. Lets not
wrangle over the word chaste. I mean it in St. Pauls sense. Here, perhaps, we part
ways forever. In other respect, Silliman seems so far away to me now. I cant blame
your old mangenerosity to renegades has its own limits. Or was it my eternal
maam, she who conceived you twice, who, in my delirium, was a sort of intellectual
Hindley to my Heathcliff and your Catherine? God, how can I swim in my own
gibberishIm still there Weng, plucking my brain like a guitar without strings,
though lately I seem to have grown so ancient and decrepit-looking Im
embarrassed when I cough and Im inventing a girl named Josie, gold and large eyes
of my sorrow, threshold of Tangier. If Im lucky I might pull it yet. Theres one
danger: my silences are so ripe I might turn out lacking in originality. Still that
should be the day. If I manage it, I shall be a footnote to the words stealth and
tenderness. So far its all tentative exorcisms, tentative spalling. Think of a sick man
who goes to a doctor and gets himself completely cured first before committing
suicide. My ailment is called memory. These are big words, particularly for a grown
man who squeals when going through a blood test.
Manila, 1976

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Bisayan Binignit
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
It was called Isla del Fuego by the Spaniards because, according to the popular
explanation, the island was once covered with molave harboring swarms and
swarms of the brightest fireflies. To this day, natives refer to it as Isla. How it
came to be called Siquijor, variously spelled in the archives as Siquijor, Siquihor,
Seguiyod and Seguiyod, is not known.
The poet JolicoCuadra went on a punning spree when he visited the island in
1973. Siquijor, he said, was sexy whore and Lazi, one of the bigger towns,
lascivious. He would have made another one had he known the original name if
the town of Maria: Cangmeniac.
Outrageous puns, but on the right track. The sexual force is the nearest
thing to magicto the supernaturalthat human beings ever experience, wrote
the Englishman, Colin Wilson. Sex is the greatest magical force in nature, wrote
the Italian, Julius Evola.
Siquijor has a twin island: Camiguin. Look at the map. About the same size
and shape, these two tiny islands seem headed for the ravages of tourism. They
would be a blink away from each other by jetplane. (But why oh why do we choose
to blink away distances when little journey could mean the storyor at least a
chapterof our lives?) the twins sort of flit over Mindanao like a pair of gems on an
invisible crown. If you turn the map upside down (a good thing to domy advice to
anyone bored with the Philippines of for that matter with the whole world), they are
like eyes. Mindanao forms the hair, Bohol the nose, Cebu and Leyte the beard. The
Philippines looks at you with eyes of fire! Islas del Fuego! The eyes of witchcraft!
Eliphas Eushenko, a Boston balikbayan, visited it in June of 1988. Steeped in
the lore of the Lamas and the Sufis and the Perdurabo faction of the Golden Dawn,
he found the opportunity of raiding the island, a mere hour and a half away from
Dumaguete by motorboat, too much even for his powers of resistance which are
legend to his Igorot friends.
I went along as guide, having gone to the island twice. The first time was in
the summer of 1973, in the company of the same JolicoCuadra and yet another
poet, Felix Fojas whose name alone, rhyming perfectly with the arcane word ojas,
meaning spiritual energy, perhaps entitles him to be the Merlin, or at least he
David Copperfield, of Cavite. The second was it the realm if fiction: A Tale of Two
Diaries, written in 1986, EDSAprovoked but Siquijor-inspired. In the ensuing search
for comparisons I was at a loss as to which of us was Zorba and which was Nikos,
which was the Knight of the Woeful Countenance and which was Sancho, which one
was the raw, young anthropologist and which the Yaqui man of knowledge. Which
was witch! Lets just say the God Director behind our trip had an insoluble casting
problem. I was set on assuming an identity of zero, since Eliphas was the one who
had the power; but quite often my friend insisted on the being the foolas when he
hired the Silliman University pumpboat for 800 pesos to take us to the island. Which
could mean the magical lawthe fool shall have powercan apply in reverse: the
powerful shall be foolish.
So it seemed. Everything boded well otherwise on the morning of June 26, a
Sunday. Siquijor was clear blue in the distance and the sea was like the smile of a

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woman profoundly sated. Moses Sycip and wife Joni, the Boston magus physician
inDumaguete, took us to the Silliman beach where the pilot and his assistant, a boy,
were waiting. The lady doctor saw to it that the boat was laden with foodstuff
enough to last us in case, she joked, our boat conked out and drifted to Borneo,
somewhat clairvoyant as it turned out, though not quite.
One of the problem Siquijor visitors face is the transportation. Heres how it is
straight from the seahorses mouth:
We can no longer bear the shock and revulsion that will come if another
maritime tragedy will occur because of the inadequacy of vessels plying the CebuDumaguete-Siquijor-Mindanao routes.
Siquijor Governor Ben Aquino was alluding to the sinking of M/V Christopher in
1987, one of the three ships then serving Siquojorians. The two ships left, like the illfated one, are of World War II vintage, frequently repaired even while on voyage.
M/V Christopher sank because (1) it was not seaworthy, (2) it was overloaded, and
(3) there was a storm.
Because the passengers cannot be accommodated by the present
schedules, there is always the tendency to overload to almost twice the allowed
number of passengers. Overload boats are allowed to leave after a closed-door
negotiation with authorities in charge of issuing departure clearance.
Governor Ben was crusading for improvement of the situation. His statements
came out in the papers early in 1988. The subject was topical, for Dona Paz, a much
bigger ship, had just sunk.
There are other shipping companies applying for new shipping routes to
Siquijor, but it seems that the Marina (Maritime Industry Authority) gives more
importance to the profitability if shipping companies presently enjoying a franchise
rather than to the convenience of the public.
By the middle of 1988 a cute luxury vessel, M/V Princess Joan, was launched.
Cheerful news to Siquijor visitors.
But much transporting is still done by the pumpboats. In this cowboy manner,
too, did Cuadra and Fojas make their way to the island in 1973, guided by Odelon
Ontal whom Rowena Tiempo called the Rimbaud of Dumaguete and Siquijor street
fighting. (A friend of writers, this native of Lazi does reciprocal justice to the
description of Siquijor and its people by a seventeenth-century European traveler:
Tho small, tis inhabited by people of valour, and dreaded by those of Mindanao
and Jolo.)
I tell Eliphias of Jolico Cuadras pun on Siquijor. He comes up with his own: Seek a
whore!
I return, the fireball: Suck a whore!
And into the literature of exhaustion
Psyche whore!
Psycho war!
Seel a war!
Psyche ore!
Sexy war
Seeker!
Sicker!

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|79

Sucker!
Succor!
Sugar!
Shaker!
Score!
Scar!
Scare!
Square!
Sick whore!
Seek cure!
Sick cure!
Secure!
Sick war!
Sick gore!
Seek gore!
Suck gore!
Sexy gore!
Sexy core!
Sexy hour!
See queer!
Sea queer!
Sea cure!
Sexier!
Sexy ear!
Sexy here!
Sexy her!
Sexy year!
Six a year!
Seek yore!
Sexy hair!
Seek one!
Seek her!
Suck her!
Seek ye ore!
Seek ye her!
Seek ye her island!
Seek ye your island!
Seek ye here!
Suck ye her!
Suck ye here!
Seek your island!
Seek her island!
Suck ye her island!
Seek cure island!
Suck her island!
Scare island!
Secure island!
See queer island!
Succor island!

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|80

I can think of only one in Spanish: Si! Que horror! And two in Cebuano:
Sakiyodi! Sige yud! both faithful to whats probably the original spelling and
pronunciation of the islands name, and vindicating Jolicos pun.
As if licensed by this torrent of horrible puns, rain turns up from the islands
southern tip, rising (it doesnt really fall until youre in it) from the sea like some
gigantic sea-creature dispatched to teach us a lesson in reverence. Eliphas, used to
snowy American cities and airconditioned Manila, beams like a frustrated flying fish.
After a week in Dumaguete, I saw that he was ready to be bored. Siquijor seemed to
promise resurrection itself. But I warned him that the night-life of Siquijor was going
to be worse. If Dumaguete was a sleepy town, I said, Siquijor was in a state of
suspended animation.
The pilot ask me in a low voice if Eliphas is a Japanese. People mistake him
for one everywhere he goes, even in Japan. Its not just his skin and his looksits
his way of gradually growing stock still in front of you, eyes narrowing into Zen slits,
as though the while world had, for no particular reason, turned into a temple.
I tell the pilot bits of my catch as catch can weather and climate lore. This is
the vendeval, the wind that at this time of the year, blows implacably from Jolo,
Sulu, northbound as my heart at Sandys voice. The man welcomes the topic with
Elan. He knows the winds and currents and seasons of the islands like the fingers on
his hands, perhaps even better. I try to top the things he tells me with a chunk of
esoterica, without the slightness scruple that Im stealing. The vendaval in history
was the death wind of our race, for not only did it bring destruction to our crops and
habitation but on it rode swiftly the virgin-eating Moros of Mindanao with hands like
talons and blades shaped like lightning! I rattle on, not caring whether I am wide of
the mark with regards to important details and even essentials. In December,
during the other half of the year, the wind blows from China and it brought cheer to
the hearts of our ancestors, for it made delirious caravels of the harvest songs upon
our fields, but half a year later this wind returned, this time as the fearful vendeval
with its raiding Moros, from the south back to the north, full circle, or rather full
figure eight, a la Yin Yang, the cipher if infinity. And so we Filipinos know the cylclic
nature of this universe with authority. Its in our geography. In our elements. (see
erwin Catillo. He knows more about it than I will be able to in five reincarnations.)
Either for sudden shyness or because it couldnt countenance my myI was
too absorbed in my plagiarism to notice. Lesson: never talk loosely about anithing
while its happening, be it the rain, some music playing, or love. Never seek to tell
thy love! Love that nevertold can be, as the poet William Blake puts it.
I make the pilot talk about M/V Christopher. I am hoping he will tell me
something hes a letdown from the papers and the radio. But havent known. The
only thing new is his sounding as if he had been there. A big wave splits the boat in
two. A screaming comes across the sea. Two American women, Peace Corps
volunteers, swim to the island pulling along a little girl plucked in the dark at
random, the wind taking them to the part if the island near Cebu. Some survivors
are carried all the way to Bohol! A ten-month-old baby girl floats easily in the
snarling water, clutched by her mother who swears not to let her go even if the sea
swallowed the whole world itself and morning never came. (The mothers name
couldnt have been more appropriate: Mercy. The father was an Austrilian.(The baby
from down under refused to go under.)
M/V Christopher was three kilometers from the island when it sank. On July
11,1987. Yeah, the vendaval did it. It is invitable at a certain point that I ask, About
this farhereI guess? and just as automatic is the courteous about herethis

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|81

faryes! About this time of the year and about this far. A second or two of silence,
someone perhaps straining in vain for an instantaneous feel, if not some mental
image, of the dreadful scene. Or perhaps, in my case, waiting non sequiturnon
Siquijor! (stream or sea of pun and consciousness, you know) for a whale or a
submarine to suddenly surface, either of which I sometimes do when far out to sea,
ever since my painter friend Darnay Demetillo told me they saw a whale once on a
trip to microscopic Apo island between Siquijor and Negros, and ever since a
fisherman relative of mine slighted a submarine off Pagadian in the early seventies.
I do nothing of the sort. What occurs to me is that we should land on the town
of Siquijor instead of San Juan as originally planned. The reason we planned it so
was because we wanted to spend the morning on paliton beach before deciding
where to base ourselves. But the town of Siquijor is nearer. I then tell the pilot to
head for it, a change of mind that proves lucky for us.
Some green-winged insect alighted on Eliphas hand. The islands oneman,or oneinsect, welcoming party he said,amused. He took out his wallet and was counting
the money when the engine conked out. Nothing alarming, I thoughtthe pilot
could fix it in no time. But could he, really? After a good while it turned out he was
helpless. The engineor genie(almost an anagram there)refused to work. Now
had we proceeded to San Juan as planned, we wouldnt be as close as we were to
the island. Moreover, the sea wouldnt be as still, a current would be pulling us.
Since the town of Siquijor occupies a portion of the island directly on the opposite
side facing Mindanao, we were harbored and the sea was as calm as a dead
prophet. But for this, Joni Sycips joke about drifting to Borneo wouldnt have been
too far from being fact,for thats where the current, at this time if the year, heads
southwest. Barring chance of help from another boat, we would have been in a real
fight.
Eliphas said something about pulling out the money bills too soon as though
the trip was over and done. We were a kilometer away from shore, in the heart of an
incredible stillness of water as it were. Perhaps it was natures intention to show us
how still she can get at times. But we were about to see something else.
I asked the pilot if we had paddles (bugsay in Bisayan). We had two. We took
turns paddling. Eager to show off, I took the rear and boasted to Eliphas that I grew
up near a fishing village in Pagadian, and though I was remote from the village
boys, I did pick up a native skill or two, like paddling.
Paddling to Siquijor said the embattled Magister Arcanorum. He was
alluding aloud for my benefit, since one of our reasons for taking the trip to Siquijor
was because I wanted to write about the island. The allusion was to Spalding Grays
book Swimming to Cambodia, though you couldnt help thinking of William butler
Yeats line, slouching towards Bethlehem.
After a while the sea turned green and we could see the bottom. It wasnt
that shallow but the water was unbelievably clear. Then we saw the strfishes
starfishes of all sizes and colors, strewn on the seafloor as infinitely as the pores on
your skin. No alliteration meant but the sight was enabled you to behold the
unconsciousness and it wa saying yeah, as above so below. I told Eliphas thios was
why our boat conked outso we would be forced to paddle and not miss them. They
wabted to be seen. Months later he would write to me from Manila and tell me how

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|82

a friend of his who was knowledgeable on marine life was astonished to hear of this,
of the starfishes, I presume, not of what I said.
Perhaps one could make a wish on a starfish?
The nineteenth-century French historian of magic has this to say of the star or
pentagram: the star which conducted the pilgrims is the same Burning Star which
is met with in all initiations. For alchemists it is the Great Arcanum, for Kabalists the
sacred pentagram the study of this pentagram did itself lead the Magi to a
knowledge of the New Name which was to be exalted above all names and to bend
the knees of all beings who were capable of adoration. Thus wrote my friends
namestake, Eliphas Levi.
But what magical,adorable child waited for us on this island?
Think of the island as a mandala and a ziggurat. The six towns are on the rim of the
base which you can round on tricycle within an hours time. If you circle so and its a
clear day, you can see Mindanao from San Juan and Lazi, Bohol from Maria, Cebu
from Enrique Villanueva ana Larena, and Negros from Siquijor and San Juan. The
Philippines dances around you, as it were. The ray roads lead you into the heart of
the mandals and the top of the zigurrat.
We took a tricycle from siquijor to Larenanorthward and clockwisehired it
for fifteen pesos. We were to learn afterwars the face is only two pesos per
passenger for this route. Since a tricylcle would normally carry five people, ten
would have been most we had to pay. Well, we made the first human being we met
on the island happy.
We decided to make Larena our base, since its the only poblacion with an inn
the government-owned Tourist House. Cottages are available on some of the
beaches but I felt them gloomily withdrawn and isolated. After brunch, we tricycled
back to siquijor and hit Dumanjog beach.
Here Eliphas swarn without end, capering like a Japanese swordsman. Or to
keep the imagery simple, maybe I should say like a swordfish.
Drinks were costly at the beach disco-house. Eliphas drank like a Japanese
swordfish ana I ate like an African one-man piranha. From the bars transistorized
radio came the sound of a Cebu Station. The Cebuano version of a Beatles song.
May Pamatay (Dont Let Me Down), had Eliphias laughing literally in stitches (he can
show you the scar).
The beach wa not consistently sand, but you could tell the clear sand areas
by the green color of the wateerl.except for a group of children spearfishing
[MISSING PASSAGES]

apprehensive over how we would make her look if we printed her photograph in the
papers. It seemed that a newspaper had juxtaposed her picture with that of a
human skull or some other weird-looking voodoo paraphernalia and the sinister
effect horrified her. I couldnt talk to her and ask questions to my hearts content
because of the presence of the others. With us were the driver and two other men
from the Capitol.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|83

According to Bosya, Imeldas legs developed what looked like fish scales. Her
diagnosis sounded more like poetry than medicine. Bosya said that San Juanico
bridge in Leyte, during its construction, had hurt a merman or manfish (okay in
Cebuano) with a falling object. Since the bridge was her brainchild, Imelda was
responsiblefor the mermans injury. Thus the strange fishscales. Bosya exorcised the
evil and in a few days the fishscales dissappeared.
I asked her when and how she acquired her occult abilities. She said the was
a midwife in her forties when she had a dream of the Virgin. From that time on she
fount out she coud heal.
But healing is not Bosyas only activity. People in Negros say she is an adept
in the black art of barang (kulam in tagalog), the sorcerers deadly ability to inflict
fatal and hirrivle injury on a person miles away with the help of crawling creatures,
e.g. centipedes, crabs, spidersthat are able inexplicably to travel halfway across
the world if need be and lodge themselves inside the victims body. I find this hard
to think of the goodnotured,wraith-like wisp of an old woman who leaned on me
when we got up for picture-taking outside her hut. Not even the black map and the
large bruise on her perpetually startled fave made her look like the Death mother.
She seemed to be the incarnation of all the grandmothers Ive clung to in the
childrens park of my mind, as krip Yuson might say.
Shes genuine, said Eliphas afterwards. He pointed out Bosyas self
possession and gracious sense of humor when facing people. That can only mean
shes confident, sure of her powers. A fake would not be able to act that way.
On to the islands highest peakMt. Bandilaan! From where in good weather
you can see Mindanao, Negros, Cebu and Bohol. Unfortunately for us the island was
wrapped in mist. I wanted to shout love from the very top. But not only was there
nothing to see, there was also no one to think of. And even the cool mountain air
could not evoke a single sudden memory of Baguio. I was magicless at the peak of a
magic island.
From Bandilaan to San Juan. A great rain loomed, but somehow we were able
to elude it. On the way we picked up an American hitchhiker. I was amazed at how
well he had picked up the Bisayan accent when he
[MISSING PAGES]
of Divine Providence Church and look at the image of the Virgin. Perhaps it was her
comb I carried? I promised myself Id spend more time in Maria next time I visited
the island. It seemed the quietest and most unassuming of the six towns. Salagdoon
beach had a certain physiognomy that appealed to me most. Eliphas and I were
comparing and rating the beaches and the towns. I told him Maria was the one after
my own heart. Paradise if you can bear it, as Gertrude Stein described Majorca to
the young Robert Graves. A good description, come to think of it, if transposed to
womeni.e., a woman is paradise if you can bear her.
As we passed Enrique Villanueva, pressed by time and weather and unable to
come down and sight-see, we began to worry about our scheduled departure the
next day. The sea was like one of those Son of Satan or Damien movies.
We ate and beered at the Larena wharf that evening with Governor Ben and the
other guys, in the eatery which is his hang-out and whose owner, Mr. Douglas
Ybaez, is leaseholder of the land on which the Swiss-owned building at Paliton will

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|84

perch. I cant remember how and why now but I had the impression Mrs. Ybaez
had the impression Eliphas was a Japanese tourist interested in investing in the
island.
Eliphas made it clear that he was a cosmic citizen who could express himself
only in Tagalog and English, and that he could express himself rather wellexcept in
love. Drunk with the islands charm, particularly with the wind that whistled and
hissed among the trees, he raised his glass to the night and the witches and
cheerfully said he was going to marry on the island.
When talk drifted to the subject of witchcraft, I could sense a trace of
embarrassed qualm, though finely concealed. Happy Eliphas explained that the
word witch was originally not disgraceful, its true meaning being a person who
possesses ancient knowledge or science. That it was the Church in the Middle Ages
that persecuted such persons and called them agents of the Devil but the truth was
they simply happened to perpetuate the old religion. That witches therefore were
the dispossessed old priests and priestesses, the antique dispensers of the grace,
as well as the wrath, of the power. Or powers. Which meant wise. True, said the
Mormon beside him. This is true.
Since Siquijor has always been well-known for the malign practice of barang,
or paktol (a variant), people from Siquijor naturally feel it as a stigma. And feel
defensive, Governor Ben, in a feature article that came out in one paper, typically
adopts the enlightened, modern stance, saying this is old-fashioned and outmoded
superstition, butalso typicallytends to be a proud believer when it comes to
white or benign or right hand or healing witchcraft: Although the governor
dismissed the practice (barang) as a false belief, he expressed wonder that while
some cases were declared by medical practitioners as hopeless, the same cases of
illness are cured by witch doctors. He then points out, in this press article, that
Siquijor has the least health problems in Region 7. I thought of the eighty-year-olds
and ninety-year-olds Id seen on the islands hilly streets, without walking stick or
youngsters on whom to lean.
There are many stories about Siquijor sorcery just waiting to be collected or
compiled. Of two or three years vintage is the story that tells of how an old man
came from Siquijor to Dumaguete to vend his lato (an edible seaweed, formed like
graped but green and tiny a droplets) on the shore near the boulevard. He had the
ill luck of running into a group of drunks who first tried to extort money from him,
thenrealizing he had not a single centavoasked if they could have his lato which
was good for pulotan and chaser at the same time. The old man begged to refuse,
saying his lato was his only means of staying alive in Dumaguete. The drunks then
offered to buy it, but at a price much cheaper than the old man wanted. The old
man had to yield, but reading his disgruntlement, one of the drunks beat him up.
Days later, the drunk fell ill. His stomach would distend, fill out like a balloon
with no one could tell what, very painfully. The hospital he went to didnt know what
to make of it. But, back home, someone noticed that the way in which his belly
swelled and subsided and swelled and subsided so many times in a single day
corresponded with the rising and ebbing of the sea. The old man and the seaweeds!
The drunk was dead in a week.
Because of the expected inclement weather, Governor Ben suggested that
we postpone our departure to Wednesday and attend a dance at Enrique Villanueva,
his hometown, on the night of Tuesday. Eliphas chance to meet some of the girls
and perhaps find the right one if he was serious about what he said. Ninja in the
witches island said he was but he wanted to marry five.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|85

Five? Why, of coursethe pentagram! A girls body is a pentagram, more so


than a mans which is more complicated. Or maybe he meant Limasawa. Thats it,
Limasawa. Is it coincidence that the Samaritan woman whom Christ spoke to on the
way to Galilee had also five husbands? Graves says Jesus was speaking in parables
and what he meant was she was enslaved by the five material senses and therefore
was not worshipping the true God who was Spirit. Well, you can say that Eliphas!
And you can say that of the Filipinos before Magellan came. In fact, you can say that
of Filipinos to this dayworshippers of the five senses, Limasawas all of us! Erwin,
Recah, Jolico, Nick, Fernando Modesto, Johnny Altomonte, Danny Dalena, Fernando
Poe, Bencab, Krip Kilat (aqui sila tumba!), Pepito Bosch, Butch Perez, Pecque
Gallaga, Joecarr, Butch Bandillo, Bimboy Pearanda, George Estregan, Romeo
Vasquez, Dolphy, Arsenio Lacson, Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, Manuel Luis Quezon,
Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez, Jun Lansang, Franklin Osorio, Romy Diaz, Amado Cortes,
Charlie Cortes, Eddie Garcia, E.K. Tiempo, Franz Arcellana, Armando Malay,
Leopoldo Salcedo
M /V

Catherine leaves Siquijor for Dumaguete at seven in the morning. We were up at

six.
A light rain was falling. Half-way to Siquijor town, we easily caught sight of n
enormous rainbow ahead (Larena is more elevated than Siquijor). It was the hugest
I ever saw in my life, linking Negros and Siquijor. I felt reassured at the sight of it,
interpreting it as a good omen, a charm against evil, though afterwards I was to
learn that rainbows presage storms. It was my first time to see two islands, miles
apart, connected by a rainbowand the very islands we were travelling to and fro!
What else could it mean but that we were welcome and bon voyage and take your
pick of the carpets color next time! That this island had something I didnt know
what for me, more than Darleys island promontory had something for Darley in
Durrells Alexandria Quartet. Durrel could spin words that glitter like the planets
rarest stones but I did not have to spin a single imaginary detail in our three-day
stay in Siquijornot the lazy galaxy of starfishes under its pellucid seawater, not
the little girls white comb spewed by a stormed-horned sea, not the lovely
apparition that made Limasawa Eliphas forget the nymphets of Borobudur, not the
old woman at whose secret rite merman and crab and seaweed advanced or
retreated, not the obscene madman that reposed like a bat at the church door in
Lazi, and certainly not this rainbow that seemed larger and brighter than both life
and scripture.
We were settled on the boat when we learned that it couldnt leave due to the
hoisted storm signal. And indeed the disappointed passengers were excitedly
pointing to a titanic black net of a raincloud advancing from Mindanao. We got off
the boat and ha breakfast at one of the stillhouses in the wharf. We watched the
storm pass between Negros and Siquijor. The sea vanished and the part that
remained visible frothed, but in my lyrical frame of mind I thought I saw sampaguita
and white orchids. As a matter of fact, I saw Bosya dressing the hair of a radiant
child, though her comb was in my pocket.
We went back to the Capitol trying to take stock of our situation. The storm
had passed but the boat trip was cancelled just the same. One of the guys told us
we could take a smaller launch, actually a motorized banca, that was leaving at one
in the afternoon. We decided to take it. We killed time by visiting the dormant
airstrip in Cang-alwang, narrower that the one in Dumaguete but longer. Then, on

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|86

the hope of confirming Eliphas epiphany, we went back to Larena and visited the
Larena Vocational College. An amazing small campus. There are classrooms perched
on sea-cliffs just like those castles in Europe, from where you can see Negros.
No trace of the girl. I looked at stockstill Eiphas and wondered, for the first
time, if the girl was a koan.
Everytime a wave struck us I thought we were done for. The faces and demeanor of
the women looked like omen itself. I sensed that they were frightened and sick and
probably praying since their heads were bowed though their lips were not moving.
Times have changed. In the old days, they would go into their litanies and orisons
loud and clear, surer of their roles as mediators between heaven and earth. Now,
not even a wild kittenish susmaryosep!
The lady, in front of me, however, told me that it would be smoother once we
were past the midpoint between Siquijor and Negros. Another passenger, a man,
unperturbed as an unopened newspaper, said the waves were nothing.
Nothing compared, I took it, to the storm in which the boat got caught that
morning as it came from Dumaguete. As I set foot on the ground, I looked back at
Siquijor. I wanted to find out if it would lookif it would feelthe same as the one
that, for over ten years now since 1962 when I first came to Negros, among other
strollers and promenaders on the boulevard in Dumaguete, I would gaze at,
especially with the white afternoon moon full as unmelting ice cream over it. But a
fog thick as proto history obscured the view and there was no Siquijor. The island is
within you, the mist must have been saying. Or, somewhere you have never
travelled.
There was something else. Back on the boat I was not exactly up to my neck
in morbid thoughts. Out of nowhere had come a feeling that some dj vu detail in
our Siquijor adventure had completely escaped me. And now, though I couldnt put
my finger on it, it was, so to speak, at the tip of memorys tongue. As we hailed a
tricycle, I knew what it was. It was with us all the time, or rather we were on it. The
Ford feral I could have been mistaken but I had a gut feeling it was the very same
Ford fiery that was featured in an advertising copy I wrote for J. Walter Thompson
back in 1979.
So then, did it mean that the story I was going to write about the island (this!)
would be some kind of ad? Heaven forbid! But on second thought, yeah, why not?
Anything to give Erwin a gallop for his beer. SOMEWHERE YOU HAVE NEVER
TRAVELLED.
Or, THE ISLAND IS WITHIN YOU.
Dumaguete, 1988

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|87

The Browser
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
Im thirty-five and, alone in life, my own biggest disappointment. Very early in
youth, Id wanted to be a writera gift, a hunger, found early. A few stories which
got published in the national weekly magazines when I was in my early twenties
justified my ambition. I was a young writer of promise.
In the seventies, when young writer was a description no longer quite
applicable, my writing became even more infrequent. There was the martial law
eclipse of writers general, but I cannot be sure if it was the political situation
responsible for my own inability to fulfill myself.
I think the truth is I had given up at some point in my wanderings. One day, I
dont know when exactly, I just thought it was foolishness to go on. I concluded that
even the most mediocre American author of pulp had to his credit an honest craft
that enabled him to produce a novel in a matter of months; whereas I was hobbling
through decades still in search of the bright word, the indelible phrase, the perfect
paragraph.
Of course it was not easy to say good-bye. I never really got to. I went on
playing, if not the would-be writer, at least the man with a literary mind. I moved in
literary circles. I continued reading, both the dear classics and the current
sensations (which is more than I can say of my contemporaries who, in their youth,
similarly blazed like the morning star and then blinked, conked out when they got
married). These were not pretensions. I entered and browsed in bookstores as the
pious enter and worship in their churches and temples. I loved to touch, to run my
fingers over a paperbacks flaxen cover as if the blurbs which I adoringly read were
rosary beads. I loved the sheer eyeful of letters so finely arrayed and woven on the
pagetheir fixed life and dance on the page as it wereat times feeling that to be
more wonderful than even the order of the stars. I loved the smell of a paperbacks
newness. I loved the lightness, the feel of its thickness in my palms and just before
returning it to its shelf, I would clasp the volume tightly shut, and then bring it to my
lips! All this sprang from a sense of tremendous secret force that could hold lifes
multitudinousness within so delicate, so ethereal a frame. I coveted that magic
power and incomprehensibly shared it whenever I held in my hands the work of a
particularly gifted author, e.g., Peter Suskind, Thomas Pynchon, John Cowper Powys,
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Malcolm Lowry, Stanislas Lem, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, G.
Cabrera Infante, Robert Graves, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, J.G. Ballard. . .
Dumaguete, 1989

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|88

The Bulbiferous Blurbs


[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
Jorge Arago:
Recollocating!
Perfecto Tera, Jr.:
A perfectionist
Juaniyo Arcellana:
Anak ni diablo! Ti magus!
Alfred A. Yuson:
Aqui sila tumba!
Vicente River, Jr.:
But next time send me a real story with character and incident!
Rowena T. Torrevillas:
Why not?
Victor Jose Penaranda:
Yo otro!
Pepito Bosch:
Thing!
Virgie Moreno:
Itim aso!
Jose Nadal Carreon:
Murmuring marmosets!
Fernando Afable:
Ineffabie!
Jolico Cuadra:
Him dogstar till the phoenix hour!
Jose Lansang, Jr.:
As winds ravage leaves of trees
Whod only muzzle in her hair!
Wilfredo Paschua Sanchez:
Hindot ni Mallarmel!
Edilberto K. Tiempo:

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My goodness!
Cirilo Bautista:
Pajama alas Siete!
Wilfredo B. Noledo:
Kayumnggi, mon amour!
Erwin E. Castillio:
Iba ang may pinagsamahan!
Ninotchka Rosca:
The book of gook!
Greg Brilliantes:
Quid pro qoul
Nick Joaquin:
!!
Jose Garcia Villa:
,
Dumaguete, 1989

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Checkmeta
[From Checkmeta, 2004]
It was close to midnight and the loudness of my footsteps on the centered sidewalk
told me I should have called it a day with my friend Larry hours ago. No other soul in
sight anymore. Last one was the driver of a horsecab on his way home. Larry, who
lived in Sta. Maria, had taken a taxi. See you later, my friend for some ten years
now said as he sat in the front beside the driver and grinned, five rounds of beer
and pulotan and the magic of art and literature shinning in his face, through the cab
window. I said something hilarious and Zamboanga lay in sleep under our
triumphant laughter, two young men each one fatally betrayed, even when he had
begun to suspect it, by the illusion that one was going to be young and promising
forever.
Turning left, I reached the place. I found myself pausing before the door, a
great wooden structure from Spanish times which had survived renovations through
the years.
Everytime I passed it, the place never failed to hold my attention, though I
never felt any curiosity about its interior. Now I was about to enter and see it.
One half of the great door yielded noiselessly and I ascended a flight of stairs,
went through a short and narrow corridor and again paused at the entrance to a
large room. The door was open. From where I stood I saw two officers in plain
clothes sitting unnaturally immobile across from each other. Then I saw the
chessboard and the pieces. For a spilt-second I thought I was hallucinating and was
about to enter aches club. But I saw that there were no other tables. It was a lone
chessboard and there were no other people in the place except the two. I must have
climbed up and walked very carefully indeed, for they sat there for a long while
before noticing me. The one half-facing towards where I was, who should glance up
any moment and see me, was considerably old, but seventy. An involuntary thought
crossed my mindwhat if I had brought the dead mans body, carried it absurdly in
my arms as I stood here? I could see the old officer, the first one to see me, jumping
up from his chair despite his advanced age. Holy God! hed cry profanely amid
some other unfinished words directed not at this devil of an apparition but at the
chess game they were playing.
Nothing of the sort happened. I approached and saw the older officer look up
and regard me fleetingly. They were used to it. People coming in at any hour, even
this late. The other officer was much younger. He turned around, suddenly aware of
an intruder, a looked at me a bit more keenly but otherwise much in the same
matter-of-fact fashion as the old officer did. They went on playing, no doubt
expecting me to kibitz, or perhaps loiter about, scrutinize the place out of curiosity.
But there were virtually nothing for one to gawk at idly. Except for the clock and
reproduction of Lunas Spoliarium, the walls were bare.
Excuse me, I said. Theres a man
I spilled it out as best as I could.
The younger officer rose from his chair and told me to sit down. He hurried
into an adjoining room close to the window. The older officer was apparently waiting
for him to come back at once, as he did not budge, merely looking at me, and was
in fact still, for the large part, studying the chess position. He was in need of glasses

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from the way he squinted, but did not seem to posses any. At length he got up and
peered at me again in a way that made me think yes, appearances can be
something deceiving indeed and he had an excellent eyesight after all. He lumbered
forward with some strain to the other room and spoke to the young officer without
getting in at the door. Call up the hospital again, he said. I am! the young officer
yelled inside.
The old man panted somewhat as he sat down once more. something about
the way he wore his age, accentuated by the nature of his job, inevitably drew a soft
stir in my heartwhich made me wonder, given therefore the natural softness
people have for the old, at how, a moment back, it was hard not to laugh at the
image of him jumping up and looking like an idiot, even when it was purely
imaginary.
It appeared I had to wait for a while.
I was about to move my King away from the attacking Knight when you
came in, he said. The old man had correctly judgedI think from the way I looked
lingeringly at the pieces on the chessboardthat I played chess. I even felt that
somehow he knew that I played it so well. Was he perhaps aware that I was the best
in the city when I stopped playing at eighteenthat in the truth nobody could have
stood up to me in a match three years before when I was fifteen and had just
learned the game? Could he have any inkling of what I was and what I could do and
not just in chess either? That the year I stated playing chess I was reading, all on my
own, sonnets by Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and Keats? That at twelve I had seen
the devil? Because honestly I didnt and still badly needed, even now, guidance and
directionin fact deliverance from a bad situation.
As you can see, my Kings position, in spite of the check and its ominous
suggestion to have the amateur player, is hardly in any real danger. Nevertheless Ill
give it to mu opponentthe balance is tilted a bit in his favor, from the
psychological viewpoint. You see, I rather irrationally fear the Knight: Which is funny
because I do not have any special flair for my own Knights. I prefer the Bishops.
I had taken a quick look at their game and saw that the position was
incompatible with the way he so articulately analyzed his game. He was one of
those! But maybe he was just talking and actually knew. I refrained from making a
comment and merely continued to look at the board. From the configuration of both
the white and the black pawns I could see that the players were not illiterate.
The young officer had come out of the other room smoking a cigarette he was
not more than thirty-five, not as tall as the old officer and not as thick-set. He had
the air of a tough, hard-working cop who looked busy, perpetually at his job, even
when he was just playing a game of chess or smoking cigarette.
He said if I wished I could go home and come back in the morning to tell them
all about it later, after a good sleep. He said I looked very tired, especially my eyes,
and I might prefer to rest first. I answered that there was nothing much to
remember really and that I did not quite agree with him. Outside of feeling a little
cold, I was OK. Alright, he said, but he added in a elucidated here and there at their
pleasure, until they had a clear, complete picture. Then I was told that at the
moment it was in fact rather heard for them to take me seriously!
Certainly, he went on, it would be inconceivable for them not to investigate
my story. I had described the dead man correctly, all right, and the man died at
about ten in the evening last Friday, just as I said. All nice going, but that didnt
mean much. Those things had probably leaked out. Besides, the doctor, who was on
the phone a while back, still strongly insisted it was suicide. He paused, rather

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abruptly, after this, his eyes shifting somewhat, and I quickly caught his sudden
hesitation. Since when had it become the doctors job, in case like this, to decide
whether or not there was a foul play? But before I could as much as voice my
objection the younger officer had resumed. What he meant was that the doctor had
expressed his agreement with the police over the case when the police, not without
his, the doctors, encouragement, thought it looked like suicide. The fact remained
that there were no fingerprints on the gun but those of the victim, and there was
nothing in the autopsy to lead them anywhere else.
There were some things that were funny about this case at any rate, he
admitted as he stubbed his cigarette out on the ashtray and gave me a look. Until
now they could not establish the dead mans identity. The landlady did not know
and there I was not knowing anything in this regard either. No one knew who the
dead man wasthough he had been a lodger in the room for almost a year. So how
come no one, but no one, seemed to have known the fellow existed, outside of her
and me? People were behaving strangely, he said. Whoever heard of the landlady
who admitted boarders without bothering to find out who on earth they were? And
there I was claiming he didnt finish, shaking his head and smiling. His face
radically alteredbecame oddly disarmingwhen he smiled. Ours was not a town
of mystery, saideven if this was the impression of the convent girls who read the
dailies with gasp.
I could not disagree more and I guess in away the old man was on my side.
Just their game I was on his.
The check on his King was part of a winning attack but of a winning defense
true, his King was not in any danger, but his game was doomed. The old man,
playing the white pieces, was conducting an elegant attack or the black King in a
semi-open positionhad sacrificed pawns and a piece to get a position in which a
white was poised for a brilliant Queen sacrifice to overlooked an interpolatory move
by Blackthe Knight checkwhich whether white captures it or not, would then
allow the saving move. White will never be able to carry out the Queen sacrifice,
much less checkmate the Black King, and sohopelessly down in material and its
attack repulsed, white was headed for defeat.
In such a game as this, the creative chessplayer cannot sympathize with the
loser. It is a case where heroic human efforts gets upset by an unforeseen event, a
purely contingent flaw that ruins the otherwise inspired vision. It is blind matter
tripping up the spirit which, in this case, had evidently been al over the place, i.e. all
over the chessboard, for all the fact that the old man was seventy.
I wanted to let the old man know this. Perhaps, when the nightmare of an
impossible, tragically flawed story had passed and we had become friends, I would.
Maybe we could even play some chess. And, if I found out that hi literacy extended
beyond the chessboard, that he read poems and stories, I could explain to him what
this was all about.

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Chronicles of Suspicion

[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]


You have accused me of stealing from one of your less known chronicles:
Helen, published anonymously in the defunct Manila magazine, Ermita (August
1976 issue, page 49). What hurts irreparably, you say, is that I have made some
changes and alterations and now you are tormented by the suspicion that I may
have rendered the thing better.
Let me recall your chronicle briefly.
The first time you saw her freckled face was under a tree in Ermita where
her mother had grown up, as well as his grandmother. The first and the only
time. She had shown up for the interview you need to write your piece, after
which you never saw her again. Her name was Elena Maria, sixteen and, in the
words of a song from a region where her mother was born: pagkatam-is unta nga
handumun.
You wrote that Mariel would have been an arcane anagram of a nickname.
(Ma-ri. the fruitful mother; el, good.) But it was Helen and the name provoked
you to quoted from famous poetswords you, the internal quota, would have
quoted in her presence if you could. (You couldnt but nonetheless she was going
to read your piece when it came out.) You quoted:
1. Sweet Helen make me immortal with a kiss. From The Tragical History of
Doctor Fautus by Cristopher Marlowe.
2. Helen was not a mortal woman; she was Helle, or Persephone, a Goddess
of Death and Resurrection. From the white Goddess, Robert Graves.
3. Heaven is in this lips Marlowes Faustus once more, before Helen.
4. Stay, thou art so fair, Faust Goethe. This was not said by Faust to Helen,
who does not exist in Goethe play. It was what he wished he could say to
each fleeting moment in our lovely but ephemeral lives. But it therefore
struck you as apropos since she, your Helen of Ermita, was bent on going
back to US for her studies.
She said she wrote poems herselfas a hobby. Which meant not the way
in a bygone area Jesus Balmori had done it who was known to his race as
Batikoling and who was her great, great grandfather. Noryou felt with
understandable certaintythe way she danced. She had danced the Binaylan,
the Muslim Dance of Viels last year in Wisconsin.. at church service
Here I come to my own defense. I have heard the last in ghostly ellipses
and haunting italics not only in order to evoke her voice out but because that
piece of information mysteriously led you to foretell with head long whimsicality,
unmindful that someone could be fool enough to take you seriously: Someday
perhaps, when you find the street, youll see to it that all time and space will
hear of that, and of how a secret, vertical river wakes and rushes with her smile
when she says Wisconsin, neither Zamboanga nor Negros nor Ermita was
beautiful. Though you didnt know me at the time, I am certain that you were
addressing me. For no one has cared to remember those words, not even you,
but I whom perhaps a more complete and less deserved oblivion awaits. I,

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anyway, have found the street. I have slipped under the same waterfall that you
have elusively described and which I found envelops her like a transparent veil
(not content to wait and watch till she steps out in a lightning of freckles).
Madder than you, I have whispered words of fire in her ear, all of my own
coinage, but some of which may soon pretend to have written, like a death wish,
as now, under my name.
*O for the memories of what might have been. (My rendition. You had not
bothered to translate if for non-Cebuano readers.)
Dumaguete, 1898

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Clear Water
[From Sands & Coral, 1974]
I recognized two women across from us when were seated. They smiled when my
eyes met theirs and I thought of their smile, that it was good despite their calling
and the jeepney was warm with the fullness and the drivers joke and the rain and
the gin I had drank.
It had rained very suddenly and very hard and the wind was just as hard as
all the people who had come to the places on the boulevard to spend the evening
had gone except us and when the jeepney came it seemed to have come out of
nowhere and it had been a while getting wet under a spare roof and thinking the
rain would stop anyway despite the sky.
In the rain her eyes were deep green.
Now we were inside a still open space not far from the hotel where she was
staying with her father. There was a group of young men who spoke Tagalog very
fluently, Manila youngsters studying in Zamboanga. I had my back to the group and
knew one or two were staring at her, from the way her eyes moved. They were the
only people inside the place and they talked very loudly and I felt uneasy. But after
a while they were gone.
And the rain and the wind too were gone and now it was almost midnight and
we were on the way to the hotel and on the street, bluish and hushed after the rain,
I kept kissing her again and I had the odd sensation of a thief to flee with his loot
but held back by an urge to improve on a detail of the house he has broken into.
She must have sensed it for she laughed vaguely.
A small laugh, smaller than her small voice, that had a shyness in it that
surprised me.
He would, as we say, pass the time on the boulevard. From there the restlessness of
Friday afternoons lingered into Saturday mornings. He would feel sick from all the
cigarets he smoked and he would lie, lying as if the nicotine were a bullet in his gut.
But he would rise and fill the pails because there would be no water when he woke
up. And the bullet would turn into a longing. He longed for the metaphors that did
not tumble out of his longings. The sea spewed a white swirl of orchids. If one had
come like that, it ended lying half-abandoned in a corner of his mind, contextless,
melancholy as a pared fingernail, though always a possible title for a story. And the
Dark Sea Spewed a White Swirl of Orchids. He had, as a matter of fact, a flirtation
with whole sentences for titles. Of Love, a Thief, and the Beautiful Country of
Summer. Because There is No Word Beautiful Enough to Be Your Nickname. Like the
Rest, My Love, Your Name is Written, But in Italics. When Silence is Not Golden Nor
the Word Silver.
Eddie Sevilla, born in the forties, drank to the dregs what it was to be thirtyish in his
case. At twenty-seven, he subsisted still, economically, on the tight means of his
parents and, spiritually, on the loose ends of a dubious talent. He was a man trying
to wake from a bad dream, trying to move his toes that he might come to. He

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|96

thought continually of loving and perishingpaired, as Nietzche said, from all


eternities. Less often, and as fruitlessly, he thought of life and chaos. Life he
thought as something hardwon, effort, lucidity. And chaos, the deferment of effort,
the opposite of lucidity. Eddie Sevilla, the central character in a story he still had to
writethough, if he were the one to say it, he would say a story he thought of
writing, was alive, an old young man, a survivor of youth, and prevailed like ash at
the core of an apple. For always there were more cigarets to buy than time to write,
and the butt-ends of his conscience stared at him like little monk men that lay about
lifeless from some disease. The long of days and nights, he spat, was meant for
coupling, though this coupling, like his story, was elusive, was the scent and skin of
the apple without the apple, and perishing took a lopsidedly greater puff of his life
and all the butt-ends were after all the proof, unmistakable as scars, of a warped
brand of fidelity. What seemed the flaw in Eddie Sevillas character was that,
suffering sufficiently for writing as he was, he wouldnt suffer sitting down to write
all day and erasing the outside world from his thoughts. The mere thought of it was
quite unendurable. So that in the evenings, after the boulevard and the supper
downtown, he would find nothing to do and his legs took him, as we say, back to the
apartment. He lived in an apartment which, because the other three were vacant,
looked more like an abandoned house that made one see there were no ghosts
unless one lived alone. Then he would be the ghost. The place had been rented by a
ghost of a friend who had gone home and left the question of settling the bills of
five months to no one. But his friend had given him the key and told him he could
live there if he wanted, and wait if he could because it was possible he might come
back at once. About nine every morning, Eddie Sevilla woke up to the gentle rocking
sea of possibilities. He swam at the beach in the morning, drank in the afternoon,
read in the evening, and when the night had deepened he was not too tired to see
how thumbnail his life was, how impossible, and he, as we say, dragged himself and
filled the pails because the faucets were like his life in the morning.
He was contained in some Chinese box.
The first thing he saw when he woke up were the posters all over the place,
and he thought of the prohibition in Islam against reproducing the human figure in
art.
This association roused him somewhat.
He looked a long time at the beautiful faces that stared without end at every
detail of his privacy, looking at him in the eyes.
Summer.
He had finished the thesis: Cubism In Poetry. The impulse to wire that he was
coming home winked from a corner. A thought of staying peeped from another.
When he saw her at the beach in Silliman for the first time, he went up to her and
then he felt sure something was going for him. That was last year. Last summer. At
Insular, he saw her one more time and then he was back in Zamboanga and he
thought it had slipped by. When incredibly she turned up, on a trip to the towns
farther south of the country she was born in, it was almost as if she were still an
uninhibited mental acthe had fantasied a few timesutter was the ease in which
in the three days she stayed, their bodies slid into each others license.
He was startled by the thought that they were essentially strangers. An
impregnable essence. Going to bed only refined it.

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She would always be the American girl he saw on the beach who was at once
easy and hard to talk to and whose long black hair and smallness fairly stunned
him.
She had green eyes, but some things about her, he thought, were not
American. Her first name, her slow movements, the long black hair, the smallness.
When two strangers go to bed before a firm acquaintance, the status quo,
being strangers, is sealed, so to speak, with semen. One could gloat over the
impurity that as thus been made more impuremade, that is, a purer impurity.
They would always be strangers to each other, not so much because she was
American and he was close to thirty and she was seventeen as because in the town
where he had grown into the loneliest boy in the world, she went, on the day she
came, past Israel, as he did, and had come as he had on the day she left, if the
hyperbole and the pun and the metaphor and the syntax could be forgiven, from
Africa.
Unpinning myself from the womb I havent quite kicked myself out, hankering
for a dead present, one in which there would be no way back, I sometimes catch a
glimpse of the lost townstreets of Nick Joaquin. At night, past the waking hours, men
piss out of their windows into the streets, and the act, far from being an insult to the
magical tone in which Joaquins stories are woven, is a radical enhancement of the
towns nineteenth-century beauty. I am drifting, taking stock of myself, watching the
sky reflected on certain mornings. In the afternoon, the yellow dust of horse-shit. I
think gazing at the dunes and the dark sea at the beach, of Erwin Castillos Ireland
the sheer inspiredness of its writing. Modifying the view of Franz Arcellana:
Castillo does something with language that makes Mojares more obviously the poet
and Villanueva more obviously the matter. My dear country, my adolescence is
finished. Better so godawfully late than never. I regret that in my dream of exile I
thought of you in London beneath the sea, together with your literature in English.
But thus can the very sky plummet to rid the planet, not of our rhymes, but
ourselves, smelling too much of beauty soap.
And when it seemed that May too was going, the grass its eyes languidly like
some sensous green animal. One never saw the neighbors descended from the
Spaniards who came to the island to become rich long, long ago. That is something
about the big old houses they live inyou never see them at their windows.
It rained when the sky was not blue but that was rare.
Then the sky was lavender.
In February, when the typhoons came one after another, the town hardly
noticed. It did not show, except a little in the streets when it rained and where, just
before the rain fell, the winds howled like a dark angel. One knew of the typhoons
from the radio and the papers and the way the beaches were. And only the habitus
of the beaches minded because the water was rough and cluttered and killed all
zest for swimming. But even then, there were days when, out of the grey, the sea
lay tightly like a beautiful woman asleepa bather splashed as heartily as one
would release an arc of pellucid urine.
The soft, sun-strewn haze of a foggy morning! The water so lovely it was as
though one floated in color. Colorthat is what the world is. The secret that men
have quested for in their heroic lunacies. And what indeed is the color of color? A
girls otherness. A plume of silence.
It seemed a strand of her hair had caught in his face as flotsam in the sea,
and he saw once more the green of her eyes, the ripple of her name, tasted the

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|98

seawater of their kisses, felt her nipples in the sand with his fingertips, the spray of
her fingertips.
I like men, she said, her small voice and her sweet young face unbelievably
sweeter and younger than what she said. She was leaning over me, as if asking me
to sign a contract.
It was a schoolgirl saying she was not a schoolgirl.
But maybe I didnt know, wouldnt know.
The thing was she could have been from another planet, or from another
species, if that were not too gruesome. He, in any case, was ready for it again.
I thought of life and chaos. Of my father who was recovering from the pus the
doctors bled out of his liver. I thought of my mother who was awkward that
afternoon hen Tita Plohner appeared at the door. As awkward as I was. As awkward
as Tita Plohner was.
Out of the blue sky of her promiscuity, real or imagined, she asked if he loved
her and fell into a piece of plagiarism, became herself a sort of plagiarism.
I said it didnt mean anything to say I loved her.
I had misplagiarized.
In Camuss LEntranger, Meursault is asked that question qice by Marie
Cordona:
Then she asked me again if I loved her. I replied, much as before, that her
question meant nothing or next to nothingbut I supposed I didnt.
I phoned on the morning of their plane.
Yes, the voice, neutral, came. Her airport voice.
Good luck, I said.
Thank you.
At twenty-six, I had a feeling of having been routed in life. I had a part-time
teaching job at Ateneo, teaching for the first time. Silliman at Dumaguete was a
loose end, a thesis I meant to do the next semester.
Tita Plohner, who grew up in the Philippines, was on her way back to Manila.
From there she would proceed to America.
I said I loved her and then she thanked me again and her voice thanking me
had an effect I couldnt make out. She had a very small voice on the phone that
always struck me.
It was Sunday.
In the afternoon, I felt depressed, and the feeling grew and it was hard to
believe.
Towrards lunch-time one morning I came home from a swim and vaguely
noticed as I began to peel my shirt off that some clothes hung on the wall were
missing.
Then.
I had turned around absently, with the queer faint apprehension that some
thief had broken into the place and made off with some things.
He stood, cornered, where the mirror had been. His right arm held the
clothes, and his left hand held the oval mirror uncertainlyhe had, it appeared, just
disengaged it from the wall. Then with a greater shock, I saw that the shirt which
fitted him was mine.
It would be best to say that, a thief, he looked like a thief. And to add that it
was though he were beholding something that had sprang alive from the mirror if

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the mirror were not in fact in his handor from an evil-looking poster he had not
noticed in the past. The mans lower lip fell slightly, and he perceived him biting
something tiny, as if grasping with his teeth the fact of his having been caught.
Something faintly obscene assailed him from their facing each other thus, both
wishing they had never seen each otherthe thief in sorrow for having been broken
into the place, and he for having caught him without meaning to. It could not be
said of course that the thiefs sorrow was his, and his the thiefsa thief is a thief
only when caught in the actonly then would he feel that sorrowhe would see
himself, a thief, in the one who catches him, see that he is a thief. Curiously enough,
the shirt that the thief wore was his, and he had been in the act of taking off his
shirt as if it were not his. But it was sickness he felt at seeing the thief that was a
queer counterpart of what froze and impaled the thief to where he was: the thiefs
fear of what he, the owner, would dowhich was the fear over what he had done.
He was, to the thief, what the thief had done; the thief was, to him, what he could
not do. A shape of anticipation trembled in his mind like a monad: he would let the
thief go and even allow him to have the shirt he was wearing.
I had often wondered what it would be like. There had been times in the past
when I tried to do it, swimming far outinto the deepinto a fear of the deep that
lurked deeponly turn back each time, overcome by the fear. Now here I wasor
here it was. The water had turned dark, thick, and, opaque, smooth, seemed
something alive, capable of moving on its own volition. I tried to slow down, to make
my strokes deliberate; but I kept arrowing with an almost painful excitement, like
one in the middle of coitus, and it was fearthe same fear that had made me to
turn back in the past now driving me on wildly, unmanning me, draining me of
principle until I stopped and, I didnt know how it was, I turned on my back and
floated and did the unreal thing of looking into the sky and I saw the white, thin slice
of fingernail that was the moon.
Then I closed my eyes and the crescent had looked like a clasp that held the
dark side like a precious stone when it seemed as though the sea moved beneath
me and the crescent fluttered like a wild white afternoon insect of the mind in the
sky and it was my heart become pure impulse and I had opened my eyes and
turned and couldnt be still in the water and it was the nether moon until my eye
caught with a dreadful clarity the enormous stretch of water that had caught me, a
dark circle turning like the enormous silent roar of the world suddenly audible and
all about me and the enormity of what I had done was as stark as the enormity of
what I could do and I dove under on a sudden uncanny whim to look at the bottom
but instantly recoiled from the dark gasping. There seemed absolutely no reason to
die, and the coldness of the water made me feel like crying. I looked landwards and
saw in a rush of joy that the land was not too far away, watching me like the faithful
sentinel of some secret it knew was in no danger of daring to discover.
At eighteen, a friend had asked him, also eighteen: What is the color of color?
The question, steeped in the bittersweet of lost youth before they had lost
youth, was in due time thrown away like an old coin. Or like a pretty stone from the
sea that one had picked up and kept until it had become what it was. An ordinary
stone. Life passes without unity, and life is very rich; we, very poor.
Once the same friend told him of a dream; the two of them stood before a
transparency.
It seemed as if his friend was telling him about it again, still astonished by his
dream of clear water.

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When DXJW, the first radio station in Zamboanga, went on air in 1958, it gave
Zamboanga the epithet city of flowers.
This epithet was used every station break, being part of the station break:
This is DXJW broadcasting from Zamboanga, the city of flowers.
Sta. Maria and Tetuan are the two barrios that are presumably the
Zamboanga of this epithet, abounding as they are in flowers.
A more accurate epithet would have been city of fishes. The sea in
Zamboanga abounds in more kinds of fish than can be found else in the world. But
in radio accuracy counted less than euphony.
In any case, in Sta. Maria where he was born and raised, Willy once dreamed
he sat on the stairs and a monkey declared to him with a stupefying breadth of
gesture: Dont you remember weve across all that?
He kept having dreams of the same ineffable absurdity, but they were never
quite like the time we rambled about the seawalls of Fort Pilar, eighteen and taller
than DXJW could ever reach.
Each stroke a cheer for life.
In our lost youth in Zamboanga, Willy Arsena, imperishable friend of my
youth, asked what the color of color was, and the words slid away from all of youths
planetary yearnings.

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Crazy in Ermita
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
Sartre once observed in Exupery that he, Exupery, made of the airplane a medium
of perceptionan organ of perception, to be exact. The airman as a stage in
evolution, Earlier, the Futurists saw in the automobilepresumably more so in the
airplanea symbol for their aesthetics that called for lightning associations,
thunderbolt syntax, forms blurred by motion, the abandoning of the ordinary modes
of logictheir own unmystical counterpart to the Surrealists psychic automatism
and, in the nineteenth century, Rimbauds systematic derangement of the senses.
In the sixties space travel, moon travel. The exquisite experience of being able to
behold our planet as in a mirror. Then the late sixties and the early seventies. An
ancient thing becomes in the west a voyage, more or less perilous, to inner space.
You dont have to ride a rocket, you simply swallow or smoke or inhale. Aldous
Huxley espoused it in his essay, The Doors of Perception, putting the mescaline
eater in the same genus as the Hindu mystican argument that Martin Buber, of
Hasidism and therefore himself no mean tripper, couldnt swallow. At any rate the
weed seems older, anthropologically, than either the cross or the Star of David. And
what about that which seems as old as mans navelthe boat? Theres Rimbauds
Le Bateau lyre. The poem seems to me the definitive contemplation of the boat. But
strike the literatures of the world at almost any random pointyoull find the boat.
Its as pervasive and as old as the moon in the sky. I suspect myself I had seen a
boat before I ever set my eye on a fish. Maybe I can even write a story in the
current trend about a submarine taking a nap in Egypt, inside an air-conditioned
pyramid. Either taking a nap or contemplating, in lieau of a navel, its periscope.
Putting aside the movies, there are really only two kinds of boats: the boats
you have visualized in literaturee.g., The Odyssey, The Ancient Mariner, Moby
Dick, Lord Jimand the boats of your life, like for instance the last boat you took
from Davao to Manila. If you take the plane its like you will miss a part of the trip;
its like you wont be taking a trip to Puerto Princesa completely. A boat you never
took is like a woman you never had the good fortune to love, by whom you are
properly torn to pieces. Its more simple if youre a womanits like a man who
never. . .
People are either boat lovers or not. Nick Joaquin finds boat trips unbearable.
To him, journeying by boat is an ordeal, even if the conveniences were perfect. Its a
pity because I imagine that if Joaquin ever writes a poem about boats, he will more
than hold his own with Eugenio Montale. But perhaps Joaquin is as incapable of
evoking boats on the Marne as Montale is of evoking horsecabs on cobbled streets.
And the truth is our inter-island boats, particularly the ones whose food is almost a
sin against the Holy Ghost, rank with the bangungot as a national expression, a
veritable Philippine artifact on the dark side of the pan de sal. If I had, among other
things, Joaquins cogency, I might attempt to illuminate Philippine culture by writing
a thesis on our inter-island vessels. Thats what all those Free Press articles of Nick
Joaquin weretheses. People mistook them for journalistic pieces. For one thing
Quijano de Manila, to use Nietzches phrase, made each thesis absurdly exciting,
writing it like a Parisian novelist.

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In mid-December of 1974, Darnay Demetillo asked me if I was interested in teaching


at the UP College in Baguio. He was himself following up the prospect of a teaching
job there after finishing his Fine Arts at Dilliman in March. I was jobless at the time,
desperately soId pounce on anything. Baguio seemed a beguiling prospect, a way
out of a sort of impasse. For a year in Manila I was making like a driftwood, except
for a five-week job as a reporter for the NMPC during the 1974 Miss Universe
Contest and another editing a Karpov book for the Chessplayer lasting two months.
Once idle I could do nothing but lie back, cut my toe-nails in the current. I lived in a
motel-tormented street in Malate. I had come to Manila in June, leaving behind a
teaching job in Silliman that lasted two years. I left it because I wanted more time
for chess. I wanted to pursue the Greta Filipino Chess Gameto checkmate love
between the eyes and cage it like a meteor.
There were days I was certain if I played against Morphy, Alekhine and
Fischer in consultation Id cream them and wipe them put until Morphy becomes
insane, Alekhine wets his pants and Fischer goes into absolute seclusion. But I was
reduced to writing poems. The Queen, which obliterates in straight lines, curves. . .
Needless to say I went to Baguio, went back to teaching. People were losing
their faith in me in Dumaguete. I had told everyone Id settle down in Dumaguete.
Commitment. Authenticity. But my own reflection in the mirror did not believe what I
spoke from my heart. In the same breath, I had written to Krip that Id never find
myself in teaching, never be able to fulfill myself in the provinces. Where is your
heart? The mirror asked. Willy Sanchez was practicing witchcraft in New York,
tweaking Genets nose, Erwin was born in Bethlehem, the handsomest son-of-abitch whoever wrote prose in the Philippines. I keep leaving my own faces behind.
And I keep ending in Pagadian, though I have not seen it in ten years. Now I was
leaving behind not only houses but boats. It was terrible. It was like turning my back
on my front. When the bus turned on Kennon and I beheld Baguio for the first time,
looking like a fabulous misted game of solitaire, where your life promised to be one
of the hidden cards, soon to be turned upthe Queen of Hearts or the King of
Diamonds or the Ace of Clubs perhapsa tear of joy sprang to my eyelashes. A
reflex of consummate hypocrisymist veiling mist veiling mist. I knew even then I
could never burn my boats behind. I could never be an orangutan. Its hard for me
to breath even a foot above sea level. The most natural thing to do then was to turn
some of that mountain into seawater. Not just a gift from the sea but the gift of sea.
I gave Baguio a sea. An event more or less unprecedented in the citys history. And
so for a year I chased my life in crazy circles, with the rainbow of my sails. No one
seemed to know what I was doing. They all though I was merely jaunty, perhaps
besotted with love for my student Terry. Maybe I should have consented to
paraphrase myself. Maybe I should have lowered my metaphors a little and said that
there were times when the mists gave the mountains the semblance of islands. Or
that the smoke from my chain-going cigarettes was making a similar effect. Or that
you couldnt do anything against nature. I mean the depth and nature of young
women. In Baguio where they were intoxicatingly rosy-cheeked, the girls could not
help being mermaids still. all fish below the thighs.
We lived in a beautiful basement in Ferguson that was, alas, windowless. For
two long months Darnay and I were payless and there was a continual cloudburst
and the hole in my boot made me miserable. Otherwise I had never felt better in my
life. Every time I woke up it seemed I was making up from Adams sleep,
disregarding the stuffy air in my room. In September we moved to Hillside, waged

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and thus less and stridden about money, but also divested of magic of first days. It
was in Ferguson on our second week, that I wrote my story Jehrameel.
On the third week I attacked the white paper of my would-be first novelThe
Cigaret With Nine Lives And Other Stories. It proved abortive. I fizzled out in a
matter of days. My scheme was to make every chapter of the novel a complete
legitimate short-story in its own Wright while still an integral part of a whole
jetplane of a novel. I must confess too that my real motivea big part of my motive
anywaywas to cure myself of cigarets. But I never got anywhere except for a new
patches in one of which the central cigaret gets arrested for burning inside a public
vehicle. One day, at noontime, the cigaret dreams it is a man, Sinbad the Cigaret
thirty-plus, ex-agnostic, admirer of Klaus Junge and Leo Baeck, seaswim lover,
dream and word jeweler, coral and pearl-doomed fish and lotus mimer, expired
wizard. When the cigarette awakes, its fire, at once keen eye, sensous mouth and
sexy navel, is still a chihuahuas life-span away from the aquamarine filter, as
though the world had not moved since the cigaret was by a thundercloud
benighted. All alone. By its constitutive entirety, its effective power, its pretense
that it is not what at bottom it isa virgin. In its dream it consummated a girl
named Sorbonne, a girl named book review, a girl named vitamin c, a girl named
the rise and fall of brilliant chess combinations, a girl named love me not in the
hereafter. Only one girl. And a hundred other girls. And a certain quantity and
quality of older women. Oceans, mountain-peaks, lost cities, lotuses, oyster shells,
blue-breasted pigeons, spiderwebs, luna moths and axolotls.
That was when I was happy, when it was not hard to side-step the conscience
which spelled out with precision bombing the ephemeral nature of my stay in the
city. The trick, effortless with me, was to lose myself completely in the moment. U.P.
at Baguio was a most efficient Calypsoa nymphet Calypso. No matter if at
sleeptime the conscience nuzzled in my face like a beetle. The mountains did not
oppress me at first. At first the faucets in Ferguson were dry and we stored
rainwater in a tank and the tank was always full and it brimmed with the moss and
the raindrops even when it did not rain. For drinking water we had to go up behind a
cloud and bought it for thirty centavos and it would last for five days. Lets do
something exciting.Darnay would snap out of his gin-bottle. Then Id know that,
though he never ran out of gin, we were running out of water and another five days
had gone. And up we would trudge into the cloud. You know I only have to think of
the future and then Id feel better, I once said, which must have mystified Darnay,
for as much as he could tellthough he and looked at me and studied me and
drank his gin till he was deadI never gave the future a serious thought. But I
explained that what I meant was that I could feel my body decaying, as a snake
could feel the grass wither. I knew the simple fact that I was not getting any
younger. But hence, I was always better than I would be the next day, the next year,
the next ten years. All I had to do was think how much older I would be in ten years
and there was Iten years younger. In this way each present instant becomes youth
regained. I had discovered the art and secret of juvenescence, one might say. One
did it neither by living forward nor backwards but sort of both at once, sort of
spinwise and hopwise, a procedure which in me had become breath and wizardry. In
Baguio, there were times I felt I was young forever, there were times I felt I couldnt
die. I looked at the drunks in the streets and I was filled with a kind of insight: the
drunks didnt die, they just lay on their back in the streets, as happy as the day they
were circumcised.

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But the mountains knew something. Quiet at day, at night in my sleep their
cliffs resounded. When I went to Baguio I had made a crazed leap for life in this
country only to find myself, as it were, marooned, face to face with my life as I had
lived it so far and as I was still living it. And I looked away, caught on the peak of my
own deluding. Once, in a higher English class, I told the students that I often felt like
in Baguio I could jump off from the planet.
I had a curious dream then, a dream I always forgot upon waking up. The
dream pursued my sleep, kept coming back. I kept dreaming it, as if the dream
wanted me to see that it was not a dream at all but the most literal thing in
creation. The dream must have recurred throughout the year, and yet it was not
until I had left Baguio, last June, that I have been able to remember it.
I dreamed I was on a mountain. It was all mountain, pure mountainthere
was no north, south, east, or west. The sheer sense of it was vertigo. The sensation
of slipping any moment, rolling down, falling. I had a thin sense that UP was nearby,
somewhere, though I couldnt see it. If I ventured a few steps and took the least
turn I would lose my way completely. But I did and I was instantly lost, UP was lost. I
felt weak. I held on to earth. I couldnt move much. In that flesh of vastness, that
void of space, there was room only for holding my breath and breaking into a sweat.
I say that the dream was recurrent, but outside of a sharp intuition that it was
that I dreamed it several times, I really cant tell. Its hard, inasmuch as I was
unable to recall it on waking up. Its possible I dreamt it only once. Or if I did dream
it several times, each recurrence must have been merely a remembrancein sleep,
in another dreamof the dream, so that each recurrence was exact to the last
detail. This last alternative is the most tenable for now I can speak of the last time I
dreamt it.
The last time I dreamt it, it was altogether a different dream, a new dream. It
was no longer just a recurrence. It was more like a variation of the same dream. But
then again it couldnt have been just a variation either. It was more like a resolution
a resolution of the dream in the new dream after which the old dream, together
with the new dream, could see the light of the day. After that, I didnt dream of it
againand I was soon able to recall it awake, though, needless to say, involuntary.
I was there again. But I was walking in ease, as carefree as a brooks
gurgling. I had no feeling of being lost. The place was the samethe same unknown
mountain, but the dim knowledge that it was the self-same, unknown mountain now
constituted a familiarity, a knowledge. I wandered on and on, wandering, as it were,
purely. The only false impression I am giving here is that I was walking a lot. I
wasnt. Rather I paused a lot. Now a step or two, then Id pause. Now Id walk a bit
longer, and pause again, then walk on, now longer than the last, now even less,
turning here and there from time to time. But even this falls short. I wasnt going
through that much. I wasnt moving that much, and yet, even if I was still on the
same spot, the view changed. That again is false. The truth was I came to a point in
my walking when, first, ItalyI remember that well, first it was Italycame into
view across from the mountain peak where I stood. I walked on and one by one saw
the others.
Thus I was able to see the countries and the cities, their wonderful and far,
far away geographies. Saw them not with the excitement but with a serenity that as
nothing more than a counterpoint to the sadness of what, awake, I know: that I may
never see them. (P.S. of course I saw them. I am tempted to say with my great
name sake that I came, I saw, I conquered. But I prefer what Soren Kierkegaard said
of his Regina: I came, I saw, she conquered.)

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In high school I was a difficult mixture of the introvert and the exhibitionist. That
difficulty eventually turned out well for me, though it took a protractedwell-nigh
eternal-adolescence. Even from the beginning I contrived to veil chronic fits
embarrassment with clowning. My blushes made visible the truth, obvious to some
of my teachers, that I was struggling inwardly with pathological shyness. But it
worked. I did not cease to be afraid of people, but clowning gave me a glimmering
of my identity.
My clowning consisted chiefly of combining, during recitation, my answers
with poetical quotations and, as far as a fourteen-year-old was capable, on-the-spot
wordplay. At twelve I had done instinctive Dada. Called on to answer a difficult
question, I leaped from my seat, tossed the correct answer like a gypsys hat, and
executed a double clockwise rotation, to the delight of my classmates and the goodnatured forbearance of our English teacher, Mrs. Tumulak, who threatened just the
same to spin me like a top. This was in Pagadian, my first year in high school. On
the second semester of my second year I again transferred to Zamboanga where I
had spent a year in grade six. In Zamboanga my shyness became pronounced,
owing much to my Cebuano inability to pronounce Chabacano and English words.
But not for long. Soon my clowning assumed a new shade, gained, as we say, in
dimension. My classmates would roar, my teachers smile, and the English poets,
whom I was starting to read, give me a standing ovation. Only my teacher in
stenography shook his head and indicated what he thought of y mental condition by
pointing to his head with his forefinger and describing a nasty circleone might say,
the shorthand for the word poet.
For what I was doing then if not evincing a nascent flair for divine lunacy. I
was at this time reading a book, World Writers. A tome. My investiture, somewhat
precocious, to the melancholy of literature. Quite a bit of an impetus. I read it with
unflagging ambition. I too would be a writer. I was not only reading the book, I was
living in it. Eating and sleeping and moving my bowels with it. Even away from it,
people sensed that I was still inside its pages, from the very way I breathed. It was
at once my theatre and my cocoon. Were I to see the book again this very minute, I
have not the slightest doubt in the world that I would shower upon it, if not tears,
abandoned kisses. There was something elderly about that book, something
parently, quite apart from the fact that it was handed to me by my mother, a little
after I won second prize in a high school poetry-writing contest.
At the end of the same schoolyear, she handed me another book. Hudsons
Green Mansions, in its intensest moments, was my sexual initiation, redolent of a
young girls sweetest sweetnesses. How well I remember the spells the book
wrought on me. The names. Orinoco. Riolama. Hata. How well I remember the scene
where Abel kisses Rima for the first time, asleep in his arms and, without his
knowing it, waking to his kisses, kisses that were at first tasted lightly, almost
gingerly, fearful for being stolen and she might wake, the, as he becomes aware
that she was aware, growing sweetly, tremulously deep and yet, though deep as
oblivion, still subtle as the quintessence of jasmines. Quintessence of first kisses, of
a boys sweetest, innocentest, purest erection. Rima was the first girl I ever kissed.
Perhaps Rima was the only girl I ever really kissed. If I live to a ripe old age, I would
wish for no other memory. If Zamboanga, as Ive said, is the word of my life,
perhaps Rima is the rhyme of my personal immortality.

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No matter how I look at it, erotic love seems to me lifes wildest gift. Its the
most elusive. Its all the gold weve ever wanted. For Abel it turned to ashes and he
spent the rest of his life watering it with a nameless grief. After he massacred whole
villages in a blind rage. I too have, ever since, massacred places and people with
words and dreams.
I never got to write my report. My teacher passed me on trust, that I had read
the book. In the late sixties she perished with her husband and all their children in a
plane crash. Only a ghost of a chance that shell read this, fifteen years later.
Willie Arsena and I gave Zamboanga its first bohemia, though you cant strictly call
a pair of adolescents, very callow and much attached to conventional families,
bohemians. But we were having our first taste of the bohemian spirit, if only in a
sort of nocturnal, clandestine make believe. To all intents and purposes, our
friendship was an idiosyncracy, lasting well through the sixties. To this day I have no
inkling of what the people in our town though of us. Perhaps they have no inkling to
this day, of what we thought of them. But for each other, neither of us would have
been possible in Zamboanga. That might be the gist of our friendshipwe mirrored
each others impossibility. Thus was Willie the one imperishable friend of my youth
in Zamboanga.
He had dropped out of school when I met him in 1960. His father had just
died and he was the supporter of the familyhis mother, a brother and a sister.
He was aspiring to be an artist and, in a vague way, to be some kind of sage,
some kind of philosopher alderman. Of course he would sooner void his bowels on
Guardia Nacional Street than be a city councilor.
Maybe Willie just did not have it in painting or sculpture. He never learned.
Whatever raw talent he might have had found expression only in monomania. He
was obsessed with an intuition of his own creative talent. It goes without saying that
the proper obsession should have been to prove that talent. The word was the god
of our idolatry. But he seemed to lie back on his phantom ambition and because he
never really worked at it, the ambition, mere ambition, threatened to become,
horribly, a delusion.
There were no art books nor real painters in Zamboanga, to compound it. His
exposure was nothing more than occasional glimpses in the magazines. Then again,
he was never really a book freak. A real reader of books grows on his verbal
proficiency as he goes on. Willie could never turn a phrase. If he was stunted in art,
in philosophy he was a miscarriage.
In fairness to Willie, I must round up my appraisal of him by saying that it is
impossible to doubt the artistic nature of his temperament. His very lifethe
intensity and basic madness of it was something else. His boyhood and early
adolescence, of written, would read like a crack of thunder. Had he turned out to be
a writer, he would have turned out superior to Egmidio Enriquez. Egmidio Enriquez
wanted to be a bit of a Lawrence, always strewing flowers in his prose. Willie would
strew the streets of Zamboanga with coffins, an image Im adopting from one of his
dreams. Before I introduced him to Kafka (The Metamorphosis and Other Stories),
Willie had amassed a pile of crayon drawingsonly one basic figure: insect-like
human forms, or more exact perhaps, human-like insect forms. And his wood figures
thinly disguised penises, all of them. He gave me one figurean elongated man
full of holes. It naturally also looked like a penis. If it was a self-portrait, which I think
it was, though perhaps done unconsciously, then it was Willie Arsena, man and

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penis, riddled with bullets. Granting that these early attempts, to the trained eye,
did not even have an edge of promise in them, that he had gone abstract or
expressionist woefully too soonIm sure nonetheless, ignoramus as I am in the fine
arts, that they were dream-stirred, that they were the dreams, however imperfectly
executed, of a disturbed but gifted young man. As for his actual dreams, its
extravagant to say they were nightmares, but they were nightmares, chronic, evil as
syphilis. Willie breathed nightmares.
He had a sensibility so twisted it was refinedor so fine it was twisted. He
refused to come with me to pay respects to a friend who had diedto attend the
vigil a second timeon the ground that a typical vigil is an exercise in cretinism,
particularly on the part of the bereaved. That was one time I really detested him.
I was not myself exactly a boy scout either. If he could enter a drugstore like
a malign entity, tantalizing the fag who owned it with lewd suggestions, I could
unleash satirical dung on people, buried the entire town under it in fact. His edge
came from being a member of a teenage gang before we met, in the late fifties, the
era of Marlon Brando, James Dean and Elvis Presley. I owned mine to a familiarity
with the angry young men of Britain and the beatnik of America, culminating in my
discovery of Henry Miller and my friendship with Willy Sanchez and Erwin Castillo in
the middle sixties.
Soon he too was reading Henry Miller. And we began imitating Tropic of
Cancer in Zamboanga, especially at night. But we never got to screw a whore in the
Miller manner. As a matter of fact, we never went around screwing whores. Much of
our adventures was talk, if not, making the bar , rounds at night and making boyish,
hopelessly innocent thrusts at hostesses. I should nonetheless speak for myself. For
my purposes, it is sufficient to say that we always, in this regard, ended in blind
alleys. Fortunately, there was always the alternative of emulating, thanks to his
salary, Millers attitude to food.
But the best part of it was our ability to see a little of the neurotics in Tropic
of Cancer in our friends who had some artistic inclination, who were the oddballs in
Zamboanga. There was boy Fernando, whom the town could never quite make out
whether or not he was a lunatic. Once he shaved his eyebrows, just so, he said, he
could shed the veil of familiarity between him and the world. Once, on a visit to our
house for the first time, where he met some people for the first time, he felt a bit
left out in the conversation. He slipped away a few feet, went two or three steps up
the stairs and sang a Mario Lanza in a fine falsetto. There was Felix Seno, a pianist,
whose studio was a hang-out for the group on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Seno
and Leleng Apostol formed a song-writing team, the latter providing the lyrics. They
hoped to market their productions in Hollywood, have them sung by Tony Bennet or
Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr. There was one I liked, which I always requested
them to singTheres a Rainbow In Your Eyes. It wentTheres a rainbow ion your
eyes, that is why you live in dreams. But it was always a question of finances, and
their dream of Hollywood ended in candle-lit, though there were no candles except
the figurative one signifying the death of their dream, mornings of singing their
hearts out to each other, their eyes shining with tears, and rainbows. That was
in1960, and that was where and how I met Willie. Leleng had brought me to the
studio. We were studying in the school, the Zamboanga AE College, and we had
become friends trough reading each others verses in the campus paper. He was in
his thirties, surviving a wife who had died a few weeks after the birth of their child,
about a year after they got carried. He never tired of feeling sorry for himself, and
we never tired of his sentimentality. He always made me think of a movie, Words

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and Music, particularly the scene where Mickey Rooney soaks himself in the rain and
dies of a broken heart, less of pneumonia. Leleng was, anyway, taller than Mickey
Rooney and he had a heart keen enough for chicken barbecue and beer on CawaCawa Boulevard on star-fired evenings for him to every fancy soaking himself in a
fatal rain. He was quite a bit of an oddball too. He flirted with yoga for a while, then
with the Rosicrucian. Then with levitation and making himself, at will, invisible. The
last time I saw him he was reading the New Testament avidly and was utterly
convinced of the imminent, in two or three years, end of the world. I was then on
vacation from Silliman and, as we parted, he asked for my address. He wanted to
send me escabeche from time to time. He had re-married and it seemed his wife
cooked it well. Leleng Apostol was the closest to us in this bunch. Seno was next. In
1965 he turned radio announcer. His English was so atrocious it was it was delightful
to a Nazi. Seno was a clown, in the unflattering sense of the word. The sort who
made you sorry you could laugh. Im tempted to make up a fictitious detail about
himthat one day he surprised his wife by buying a big, expensive dictionaryhow
he began to devote more and more of his free time to it, almost to the total
exclusion of his piano and his wife, and how it didnt do his English in any good,
making it in fact more ludicrous, bombarding it with all sorts of improbable
vocabulary. The piece of slander is not too wild. One day he actually did
something somewhat better. He named his first child Webster. And, because I
missed to ask him whence the name, I cant think of any explanation other than the
one implied by my fiction.
There was Mr. Villa, the old man, a painter of sorts. His paintings, Willie said, were
as mutain as the painter who painted them. Mutain means always having muta, and
muta means the dirt you may have in your eyes when you wake up. He was so
financially straightened he could never buy a cherished dream. He wanted to buy a
tape recorder so he could tape record himself all day long and preserve his ideas.
He pronounced it edyas. Sometimes thats what we called him, Edyas. He ended
up painting coffins for funerarias.
There was Echavez, who was outright insane, whose dark glasses had
become part of his physiognomyas impregnable as his pomade and white
sidewalls. He claimed that the song-writers in America had plagiarized his
compositions, e.g., Greenfields, From the Candy Store on the corner to the Chapel
on the Hill, Put Your Head on my Shoulder. He once gave me a typescript of a
patriotic song which he wrote to supplant the Philippine National Anthem.
Echavez had written poems in his college days and was a bright student.
Towards the end of 1966 he proclaimed that ten thousand periscopes were
observing Zambaonga, minutes after he had hacked his father.
Upon which in the night Willie betakes himself in a dim corner to his demon carnal.
Underyoungman when the fool moon is among the horses and the houses. Reviling
the waitresses for lack of bohement feeling and revealing. The girl is better whose
message is the meridian. Whose hidden self, her indivisible nipple, plays hide and
suck at one revolution and a rotation per peanut. An ogre, darkening alone, looks on
amoebable. Tacitus agreement that woman is the Boeing that larveth herself with
insectious passion, then breaks into a black dragonfly! To be suffered and caught (1)
by the tail (2) from behind (3) when shes not looking. And God created woman of

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home and woman of the beauty parlor. All fireworks and no foreplay makes Frigida a
doll wife. Thus spake Willitrustee. A portrait of the artist of a young bullfrog. A
vacuum of circumstances. Nevertheless a van golliwog. With an ear for surgery and
an eye for Heracles coitus. A condom for horse! A gunshot is hard. No one falls and
the Fall is on. And the hard. And john summons and summers elke. I get up to take a
look, then a leak, then perceive to buy cigarets outside. In the street on the night
under the compelling stars. Pardon my hardon. Boyhoodlooming, eyeing no one in
part collar through the haze and daze and craze and maze of words made flash. The
maked beast with tomed nails and shy lashes upon witch in the night Willie
betokens himself to a droppel carnal. The condom of heaven is within you!
Imperishable friend of lifetime, he tells you ten years later that the girl is now
a whore, touched in the head, whom they call Masarap. No one seems to know what
her real name was. Men can lay her for a cokefor a chewing gum. He tells you this
in a peal of laughter, and your memory of her flirts like a far-away lightning among
the ruins of his resemblance to David Hemmings in Blow-up.
Lighting the cigarette away from the cigarette vendor, he accosted her. You
discerned that she was not more than fifteen and, instantly, that she was feebleminded. Her clothes were coarse and dirty. Her skin was coarse and dirty. But she
was pretty, and when you caught the cheap perfume you caught her fifteen years
with something like quelled sob.
You thought of a cheap, dirty restaurant that served good clean food. Where
one perceives a hint of the sacred in the way food was prepared, the way it was
arrayed in the counter, the way it was laid, steaming, on the table. And a hint that
this inner refinement had nonetheless acquiesced to the principle that hunger, at
some point, was all.
And so, upon the threshold of whoredom both, on a sultry night in the Sunken
Garden in Zamboanga where, in the early sixties, the lights and the grass and the
leaves were neglected, they rolled and wrestled beneath a bush, awkward and
fumbling and yet, somehow, unerring.
They kept talking throughout, thrashing like fish throughout, and their flurry
of words and emotions were as flies lost to the word upon a nucleus of garbageor
else, and you prefer this, bees drunk in their own honey. And it fouled, it stung, it
kindled, it nourishedhive alive of winged envoys and harbingers to your youth of
what sex was, what as woman was. What did it matterwhat does it matter that
she was crazy? Your remembrance of her flies in sparks and when it is over, when
you have said the last wordoffals in Ermita. There are fireflies in the morning,
stars twinkle in the sky.
Manila, 1976

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Deep Purple
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
I recognized two women across from us when we were seated. They smiled when
my eyes met theirs and I thought of their smile, that it was good despite their
calling and the jeepney was warm with the fullness and the drivers joke and the
rain and the gin I had drunk.
It had rained very suddenly and very hard and the wind was just as hard all
the people who had come to the boulevard to spend the evening had gone except
us and when the jeepney came it seemed to have come out of nowhere and it had
been a while getting wet under a spare roof and thinking the rain would stop
anyway despite the sky. In the rain her eyes were deep purple.
Now we were inside a still open place not far from the hotel where she was
staying with her father. There was a group of young men who spoke Tagalog very
fluently, Manila youngsters studying in the town. I had my back to the group and
knew one or two were staring at her, from the way her eyes moved. They were the
only other people inside the place and they talked very loudly and I felt uneasy. But
after a while they were gone.
And the rain and the wind too were gone and now it was almost midnight and
we were inside a still open place not far from the hotel and on the street, bluish and
hushed after the rain, I kept kissing her again and I had the odd sensation of a thief
about to flee with his loot but held back by an urge to look at himself in the mirror.
She must have sensed it for she laughed vaguely.
A small laugh, smaller than her small voice, that had a shyness in it that
surprised me.
It seemed a strand of her hair had caught in his face as flotsam in the sea, and he
saw once more the deep purple of her eyes, the ripple of her name, tasted the
seawater of their kisses, felt her nipples in the sand with his fingertips, the spray of
her fingertips.
Once, towards lunchtime one morning, I came home from a swim and vaguely
noticed as I began to peel my shirt off that some clothes hung on the wall were
missing.
Then.
I had turned absently, with the queer faint apprehension that some thief had
broken into the place and made off with some things.
He stood, cornered, where the mirror had been. His right arm held the
clothes, and his left hand held the oval mirror uncertainly -he had, it appeared,
just disengaged it from the wall. Then with a greater shock, I saw that the shirt
which fitted him was mine.
It was as though he were beholding something that had sprung alive from the mirror
if the mirror were not in fact in his hand -or from the books dishevelled all over

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the place. The mans lower lip fell slightly, and he perceived him biting something
tiny, as if grasping with his teeth the fact of his having been caught.
I phoned on the morning of their plane.
Yes, the voice, neutral, came. Her airport voice.
Good luck, I said.
Thank you.
I said I loved her and then she thanked me again and her voice thanking me
had an effect I couldnt make out. She had a very small voice on the phone that
always struck me.
I thought of life and chaos. Of my father who was recovering from the pus the
doctors had bled out of his liver. I thought of my mother who was awkward that
afternoon when Deep Purple appeared at the door. As awkward as I was. As
awkward as Deep Purple was.
It was Sunday. In the afternoon, I felt depressed, and the feeling grew and it
was hard to believe.
She stiffened and caught his hand when he tried to take the garment off.
I cant.
Hed been making love to her very slowly, gently. Taking thoughtful sips, not
guzzling. Journeying for the journey. Remembering what a friend once told him.
Experiencing the blast, as it were, in slow motion. Stopping when you had to stop,
as now.
Ill take it off when I come, he whispered.
Can you do it?
Trust me.
They began then. He entered her abruptly and stayed inside her for a
dizzying while, taking her hand and guiding it to where her fingers could feel the
roots of his embedment. She was twisted so that their faces met but he was fucking
her from behind, her leg coiled around his body. He was moving minimally, lying on
his side, the weight of his body distributed evenly and his left arm working as
rudder whilst his right hand was free to wander. It was a position he had never
before assumed and which came to him just them, in a flash, as if from inspiration.
It was the best, effortless, like fucking through the perfect medium, in which one
lolled, idled, forgot, the fuck of pastel, of water color, butterflies, parachutes across
the summer sky. Time bloomed. Went by, Echoed. Or stopped. Pulled a chair and
sat, looked on. A voyeur. Or they were Time -their bodies were the clocks hands
telling, for once, the true time, the true hour, pilgrims borne on a deep sea current
that flowed on and on in a motion so uniform they could have been sleeping, god
and goddess dreaming they were mans dreaming they were insects on the primal
job, until the sea shook and he sort of keeled, wrenching away from her as he went
off, she hugging him tightly to her body as if to soften the violence of his denial, to
break the fall he had to take. But he was back almost at once, fumbling in the dark
to penetrate her anew. The idea both astonished and made him gloat over the
audacity, the boastfulness of it Again something that came to him like an
improvisation. For a while he wondered if it was true, then saw how his strength had
not diminished a bit. He was going as strong as ever. He could have laughed. It was
a little like cheating Death. He was even more keenly conscious of his power now
and it fairly disoriented him, fucking her now with frank greed, with a sort of

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reckless dissonance, varying himself indiscriminately as it suited his fancy, then, as


if to test himself to the limit
It was the mountains. He is a mountain giant, made of rock and mineral and
wild earth, and he is stronger than this sea of night under which the town lies
submerged in perfect sleep, a sea so immense in its stillness at times his own
consciousness seems, as he waits, lying superbly motionless and wide awake,
something wafted to his ears from very far away.
I had often wondered what it would be like. There had been times in the past when I
tried to do it, swimming far out -into the deep -into a fear of the deep that
lurked deep -only to turn back each time, overcome by the fear. Now here I was or here it was. The water had turned dark, thick, and, opaque, smooth, seemed
something alive, capable of moving of its own volition. I tried to slow down, to make
my strokes deliberate; but I kept arrowing with an almost painful excitement, like
one in the middle of coitus, and it was fear -the same fear that had made me turn
back in the past now driving me on wildly, unmanning me, draining me of principle
until stopped and, I didnt know how it was, I turned on my back and floated and did
the unreal thing of looking deep into the sky and I saw the white, thin slice of
fingernail that was the moon.
Then I closed my eyes and the crescent had looked like a clasp that held the
dark side like a precious stone when it seemed as though the sea moved beneath
me and the crescent fluttered like a wild white afternoon insect of the mind in the
sky and it was my heart become pure impulse and I had opened my eyes and
turned and couldnt be still in the water and it was the nether of the moon until my
eye caught with a dreadful clarity the enormous stretch of water that had caught
me, a dark circle turning like the enormous silent roar of the world suddenly audible
and all about me and the enormity of what I had done was a stark as the enormity
of what I could do and I dove under on a sudden uncanny whim to look at the
bottom but instantly recoiled from the dark gasping. There seemed absolutely no
reason to die, and the coldness of this water made me feel like crying. I looked
landwards and saw in a rush of joy that the land was not too far away, watching me
like the faithful sentinel of some secret it knew I deserved, though not just yet, to
discover.
Dumaguete, 1973/Manila 1979

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Dog Bite

[Version 1. From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]


I once lived in boardinghouse owned by a Chinese with a Filipina wife in a quiet back
alley in Quiapo. The place consisted of a main unit: a house in the pre-war, Spanish
style, where the owner and his family lived, and an annex that housed the boarders
and which had obviously been built for that purpose.
Most of the more than twenty boarders were Bicolanos. There were four of us
Zamboanguenos. Two Pampanguena sisters roomed in the lower storey of the main
unit. Except for one medical student who was studying at UST and three
engineering students at Mapua, all were either law or pre-law students at MLQU
which was very near.
The place was cheap and looked cheap. Its most redeeming feature was its
locationit stood on a very quiet and very accessible street. It had an iron gate
behind which the owner kept a dog leashed. The dog was small and thin, and very
vicious. Excepting its masters, it sprang at who ever entered. When it did, it fell
back hard on the pavement and struggled frightfully with the chain that held it in
check. The unwary visitor who was coming to the place for the first time was in for
quite a bit of a jolt, for the dog was well -concealed behind the door and missed
tearing off a morsel by inches. For some unaccountable reason, the boarders did not
complain about this, did not seem to notice this particularly cretinous detail in their
boardinghouse existence.
I secretly hated the dog, and my hate was concentrated. I thought nothing of
the Chinese who was its master. I kept thinking of how to torment it. The constant
nearness of the owners, however, prevented me from undertaking anything. But
after a month in the place I got my chance. On the eve of the coming New Year, I
noticed how it shivered from the firecrackers. I gathered all the firecracker packets I
could. Towards midnight, under cover of the continuous explosions, I tossed packet
after packet under its belly. It was still shivering in the morning, all shrivelled up in a
corner, long after the city had quieted down. Its will seemed so completely crushed I
felt the impulse to touch its face and cup its mouth in my hand and squeeze it. I was
almost sure it would not do anything.
The boarders who had risen early gathered near the dog, amused. Some still
had a handful of firecrackers to explode and sustain in the dogs spasms. They
stopped when the Chinese owner came out bearing his anger in silence. It was the
only time I ever really felt his presence in the place, although he did nothing but
wear a resentful face. He was very unobtrusive by nature.
The Bicolanos and the Zamboanguenos got along rather well. However, I once
overheard the older Bicolano students talking among themselves and one of them
was disparaging the intellect of Zamboanguenos. He said there wasnt a single
brilliant political figure from Zamboanga that one could speak of.
My roommate was a Zamboangueno who was thought to be a little crazy in
the boardinghouse, even by fellow Zamboangueno. At night hed often go out for a
stroll in Luneta carrying a tape recorder and camera even when he had no films.

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Most of his tapes were Mario Lanza songs. He liked to sing along. Sometimes
hed record himself. When it was not Mario Lanza songs, it was passages from
Mariowes Doctor Faustus which he recited well. He also loved to practice public
speech and imitate the style of Roseller Lim, our senator.
I wasnt disturbed by his behavior except for one thing. He kept a knife under
his pillow and he would now and then practice knife-throwing on the wall. Once he
told me to pose because he wanted to take my picture. My eyes stared at the knife,
poised for a throw in my direction. I asked him to put it down and not make a joke
like that. He tucked it under his pillow but did not take his dilated eyes off me. I
knew then that he was faking madness but that he was not so sane all the same.
At other times he was every bit the older one. He once succeeded in inviting
me to a foray on Ermita. We took the Mabini-Harrison jeepney and came down on M.
H. del Pilar. My heart beat fast. I was nineteen and had never known a woman.
The places were closed because it was lunchtime. After a while we came to a
place. The woman who opened it laughed after he had spoken to her. She said it
was tanghaling-tapat (high noon). I couldnt hear the rest of they were saying but
they seemed to reach an agreement because he beckoned to me. I approached.
There were girls seated inside.
All at once I didnt want to do it. I told my room-mate Id just wait for him. He
replied that we were in it together and I should stop acting like a child. I held my
ground until he got exasperated and walked out of the place without saying
anything to the woman. He said I was a hell of a companion.
He didnt say a word all the way back to the boardinghouse.
The medical student was the handsome one in the group. He was dark and large,
with roundish eyes and a very gentle manner.
One Sunday afternoon, I came out of the room to find the guys mon-keying
around outside the medical students room, their heads jammed together as they
strained to peep in through a hole. Some were standing by, waiting for their turn.
I was told that Lauro, the medical student, was in bed with a girl. They said
that the girl was very beautiful and fierce and she was on top of him.
The older guys looked shaken. One of them, the Bicolano whom I once over
head disparaging Zamboanguenos, said Lauro would be finished if the girl got
pregnant, but he sounded like he was trying to console himself.
Weeks later, the guys went into the same sneaky and jerky scramble outside
another room. I learned that two guys were making it with two girls in one bed. This
time the guys found it funny; it was like the time they laughed at the shaking dog.
Lauro came to me one day. He asked if I could write a love letter for him. He
somehow had found out I was a wordboy. I found myself obliging him. I asked if it
was the same girl he had brought to the boarding house once. He shook his head
and laughed, then gave me a picture of the situation as best as he could.
After that he was always nice to me. But we didnt become close friends. I
never became anyones close friend in the boarding house. I was the loner in the
place. And in as much as I was the only boarder who was not going to school, I was
in a way even more of an oddity than he. I certainly was the most
uncommunicative.
He had offered to buy me cigarettes while I was writing the letter. I said I did
not smoke, but thanked him anyway. He then asked to be excused, saying he
wanted me to be able to concentrate.

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It didnt take long to finish the letter. It was funny how I was actually writing it
with conviction. I seemed to be writing it to a girl I knew and admire, though it was
some one faceless, someone I worshipped in the abstract, if such a thing were
possible. But I soon found out that there indeed was a girl at the back of my mind all
the time. It was the young Pampanguena
He elder sister was seldom in the house. The woman was thirtyish. A man of about
forty was her lover. I heard from the guys that the man was married. He would bring
her home sometimes in the evenings and those were among the few times I saw
her. In the mornings I didnt see her because I was a late riser. The two sisters did
not eat their meals in boardinghouse.
When Marie, the younger sister, was not around, the man stayed with her in
the room.
Meals were served in the main unit. The boarders and the owners children
watched television together at lunchtime and in the evenings. I usually took my seat
in an inconspicuous corner from where I could stare at Marie and also observe the
others as they looked at her from time to time.
She was pretty. Sometimes the clothes she wore revealed surprising
voluptuousness that was in contrast with her girlish smallness. She was a freshman
at MLQ.
Once, coming from a bath, she passed by every near where I was sitting. A
drop of water fell on my arm.
I did not wipe the drop of water off, letting it stay on my skin like it were
something I had, unknown to her, appropriated from her body. It was as if she
touched me as if I were carrying her essence. I put my tongue to it in the end but all
I tasted was the sourness of my own skin.
She eventually made me very miserable. For a long time I suffered because of her
and she had not the slightest knowledge of it.
One evening we happened to walk home together. She coming from school
and our paths met on the street where our boardinghouse was. I didnt see her at
once, not until we were side by side and I couldnt avoid her any more if I wanted.
She smiled.
She asked if it was true that my name was Usa, I said it was my nickname.
She asked if I was a Muslim. I said I was not, told her my father was a Cebuano and
my mother a Zambaonguena. My father had wanted me to be their only child and
he thought up the name, which is a Cebuano word meaning one. The priest,
however, would not consent to the name and I had to be given another, Christian,
name. Nonetheless it was what I was called at home. She asked if I was, indeed, an
only child. I told her my parents both perished in the war when I was a few months
old and I grew up under my grandmothers care.
She said she heard it said in the boardinghouse that I was a Muslim.
I told her I could speak a little Tausug inasmuch as the street where I grew up
in Zamboanga was very near the Muslim district of Rio Hondo. She asked me to say
something in Tausuganything. I did. Her eyes widened a little and she was smiling
again, saying the dialect looked just like my facial expression. She then asked me to
translate this and that till we got to the boarding house.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|116

I never got to be alone with her again. She stayed inside their room most of
the time. When she came out, the presence of others, more voluble then, I killed
any chance of us gravitating towards each other.
One afternoon I took a book with me to the hall in the main unit. I was
vaguely hoping to see Marie. In the afternoon the place was very quietmost of the
boarders and the owners children were in school. Those who were left stayed inside
their rooms doing their school work or else taking a nap.
The owners eldest childa very fat boy of about twelve was inside watching
cartoons on television. The boy and I were enemies. It amused me to watch him on
the sly. He was always seated and he had a way of gorging himself that made me
feel like giving him a whack. Lazy and young as he was, he had watchful eyes that
reacted perpetually to peoples actions around him with an adult air. Being new in
the city, it was inevitable that my ways would meet his disapproval. An actual
reprimand on one occasion made me smoulder for days. When a second time came,
I went white with anger and barked at him in Tausug. The fat boy shook. I never
caught him looking at me again after that.
The boy pretended not to notice me and to be wholly absorbed in watching
the show. I sat in the hall and carried on my own pretense of reading a book,
glancing at Maries room from time to time. The room seemed so quiet and still.
After a while I grew tired of waiting for Marie to come out and decided that she was
not in. I got up and went back to my room. I lay in bed and closed my eyes and
briefly considered going out for walk. It was a sunless afternoon and when the
weather was like that I liked to go out aimlessly to cool the streets.
I woke up in the bed past five, astonished that I had fallen asleep.
I went back to the hall, again with nothing on my mind but seeing Marie. I
came out in time to see her sisters lover carefully making his way out of the gate
as the dog leaped at him and fell back.
The owners son was gone. I sat in the hall and glanced at Maries room. Try
as I might, I couldnt visualize the face of her sister.
The guys started coming in. When it grew dark, they gathered in the hall and
turned the television on. I went on secretly waiting for Marie to come in till it was
supper time.
I had begun to forget about Marie as I followed the program when I heard her
voice. I looked up and saw her talking to one of the housemaids through the halfopen door, wearing something light brown, the color almost, of her skin.
The door was shut and she was gone almost at once. I felt oppressed, sure
that she was not coming out of her room any more and that brief glimpse was all for
the evening. But after a while I was following the show againshots of a train
hurtling interminably. Then a railway station and the train emptying of its
passengers, gaudy Americans of a bygone period stepping out to flow into a crowd
of people more plainly dressed.
Out of nowhere I had a disturbing thought that Maries sister was not with her
and she was alone in the room. I glanced at their room once more and I had a
sudden picture of Marie together with the man all afternoon. I felt very sick all at
once. I remembered how still it had seemed inside the room that afternoon as I sat
in the hall.
She took on a certain clarity in my eyes. Everytime I looked at her I looked at her
the thought that she had been his seared me. It was as if I had myself who knew

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|117

her. I studied her slightest actions obsessively, straining to evoke the picture of her
in bed with the man.
It was like falling into an abyss in which I could never reach bottom.
I tried to figure out her schedule in school. After a week, I was able to
establish a pattern. I then tailed her in secret. I would go out of the boardinghouse
minutes ahead of her and stand go on Hidalgo, far enough from the school building
for her not to spot me. I hoped to see her swerve and head for the boulevard,
whereupon I could really trail her. But she never did. I would go back to the
boardinghouse already exacerbated, and wait until her classes were over. Then I
would go back to Hidalgo, again lurk in a corner a few minutes before she came out
of school. I got the same results. I persisted for weeks, though I couldnt do it
everyday. Then I gave up.
As the days went by, there were moments when I doubted myself. I
considered alternatives, like the man had come to visit her sister and left at once
and he found she was not in. or else he was in the room that afternoon, alone,
waiting for Maries sister and left when Marie came. But somehow these were very
weak and did not make sense. Only the possibility that her sister was in the room
and Marie was not alone offered to believe that it was so and a kind of numb calm
would fill me. But only for a moment. In the end I knew I could settle for nothing less
than actually seeing Marie and the man together in bed.
The guys were peeping into Lauros room again. It was very late. I asked them who
it was with Lauro. They said they didnt know but showed me a girls undergarment.
I said it was Maries and the guys laughed. I snatched the undergarment and ran
down the stairs quietly. I intended to wipe the dogs rabid face with it. The dog
sprang to meet me and as it caught my hand and the undergarment. I felt my flesh
and bone rip without pain, like the sky had ripped silently. I held on to the
undergarment and grappled with the dog, working with both hands to cram it down
the dogs throat. It choked and slackened but clung to me upright like a man, its
hind legs wrapped ridiculously around my leg. Then it broke free and swarmed all
over me, howling as if it to vomit blood. I ran back to where guys were and
everyone scampered for shelter. I grabbed the dog by its hind legs and swung it
against the door of Lauros room. I swung it again and again until it was limp. I took
my roommates knife and went to work on the dogs belly. I tore the stomach, the
chest, the throat. I couldnt find the undergarment.
I went to bathroom to wash. But I found out there was not a drop of blood on
my body. I sought my wounds with my hands, but there werent any, though I ached
all over.
I found the bit of green soap, almost melted away. It was one of the things I
came upon the first time I stealthily took the waste can that always stood outside
Maries room in the evening. The first time the thought that its contents might be
able to help me entered my head I had actually rejoiced. While I couldnt find
anything that could resolve what had eaten me, small scraps which I knew came
from Marie were like soothing medical applications and I went at the game watching
for the waste can every evening. It was an operation I was able to perfect. The only
time I failed to retrieve anything from the waste cans contents was when I had
come late one evening and the truck that collected garbage in the area beat me to
it. Even then I considered finding out where the garbage was dumped and somehow
find something that could be a final illumination.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|118

The soap smell intensified the hope and I felt a drowning sensation from the
water.
Manila, 1976

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|119

[Version 2. From Checkmeta, 2004]


I lived in a boardinghouse owned by a Chinese with a Filipina wife in a quiet back
alley in Quiapo. The place consisted of a main unit: a house that was postwar but
antique-looking, where the owner and his family lived, and an annexa link of
rooms indistinguishable from each otherthat housed the boarders and that had
been cheaply built obviously for that purpose.
Most of the more than twenty boarders were Bicolanos. There were four of us
from Zamboanga. Two Kapampangan sisters roomed downstairs in the main unit.
Except for one medical student who was studying at the University of Sto. Tomas
and three engineering students who was studying at MIT, all were either law or prelaw students at MLQU which was very near.
The placed was cheap and looked cheap. Its most redeeming feature was its
locationit stood on a very quiet and very accessible street. It had an iron gate
behind which the owner kept a dog lashed. The dog was small and thin and very
vicious. Excepting its masters, it sprang at whoever entered. When it did, it fell back
hard on the pavement and struggled frightfully with the chain that held it in check.
The unwary visitor who was coming to the place for the first time was in for quite a
bit of a jolt, for the dog was well-concealed behind the gate and missed tearing off a
morsel by inches. For some unaccountable reason, the boarders did not complain
about this, did not seem to notice this cretinous touch in their boardinghouse
existence.
I secretly hated the dog, and my hate was concentratedI thought nothing of
the Chinese who was its master. I kept thinking of how I may inflict suffering upon it.
The constant nearness of the owners, however, prevented me from undertaking
anything. But after a month in the place I got my chance. On the eve of the coming
New Year, I noticed how it shivered from the firecrackers. I gathered all the
firecracker packets I could. Towards midnight, under cover of the continuous
explosions, I tossed packet after packet under its belly. It was still shivering in the
morning, all shriveled up in a corner, long after the city had quieted down. Its will
seemed so completely crushed I felt the impulse to touch its face and cup its mouth
in my hand and squeeze it. I was almost sure it would not do anything.
The boarders who had risen early gathered near the dog, amused. Some still
had a handful of firecrackers to explode and thus sustain the dogs spasms. They
stopped when the Chinese came out bearing his anger in silence. It was the only
time I ever felt his presence in the place, although he did nothing but wear a
resentful face. He was very unobtrusive by nature.
The Bicolanos and Zamboanguenos got along rather well. However, I once
overheard the older Bicolano students talking among themselves and one of them
was disparaging the intellect of my townmates. He said there wasnt a single
brilliant political figure from Zamboanga that one could speak of since time
immemorial. And of course they had the outstanding constitutionalist in the country,
Senator Arturo Tolentino.
I shared my room with a townmate who was thought to be a little crazy in the
boardinghouseeven by fellow Zamboanguenos. At night hed often go out for a
stroll in Luneta carrying a tape recorder and a camera even when he had no films.
Most of his tapes were Mario Lanza songs. He liked to sing along. Sometimes
hed often record himself. When it was not Mario Lanza songs, it was Faustus swan

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speech in Marlowes Doctor Faustus which he delivered rather well. He also loved to
practice oratory and imitate the style of Roseller Lim, our senator.
I wasnt bothered by his behavior except for one thing. He kept a hunting
knife under his pillow and would now and then practice knife-throwing on the wall.
Once he told me to pose because he wanted to take my picture. I did not see the
camera. My eyes were staring instead at the knife, poised for a throw in my
direction. Faintly, I asked him to put it down and not make a joke like that. He
tucked it under his pillow but did not take his dilated eyes off me. I knew then that
he was faking madness but that he was not so sane all the same.
At other times he was every bit the older one. One day he succeeded in
inviting me to a foray in Ermita.
We took the Mabini-Harrison jeepney and came down on M. H. del Pilar. My
heart beat fast. I was nineteen and had never known a woman.
The places were closed because it was lunchtime. After a while we came to a
place. The woman who opened it laughed after he spoke to her. She said it was high
noon.2 I couldnt hear the rest of what they were saying but they seemed to reach
an agreement because he beckoned to me. I approached. There were girls seated
inside.
All at once I didnt want to do it. I told my room-mate Id just wait for him. He
replied that we were in it together and I should acting like a child. I held-my ground
until he got exasperated and walked out of the place without saying anything to the
woman. He said I was a hell of a companion.
He didnt say a word all the way back to the boardinghouse.
The medical student was the handsome one in the group. He was dark and
large, with roundish eyes and a very gentle manner.
One Sunday afternoon, I came out of the room to find the boys monkeying
around outside the medical students room, their heads jammed together as they
strained to peep in through a hole. Some were standing by waiting for their turn.
I was told that Lauro, the medical student, was in bed with a girl. They said
that the girl was very beautiful and fierce and she was on top of him.
The older ones looked shaken. One of them, the Bicolano whom I once
overheard disparaging Zamboanguenos, said Lauro would be finished if the girl got
pregnant, but he was sounded like he was trying to console himself.
Weeks later, they were at it again, going into the same sneaky but quiet
scramble outside another room. I learned that two couples were doing it in the same
bed. This time the guys found it funny. It was like the time they laughed at the
shaking dog.
Lauro came to me one day. He asked me if I could write a love letter for him.
He somehow had found out I was a wordboy. I found myself obliging him. I asked if it
was the same girl he had brought to the boardinghouse once. He shook his head
and laughed, then gave me a picture of the situation as best as he could.
After this incident he was always nice to me. But we didnt become close
friends. I never became anyones close friend in the boardinghouse. I was the loner
in the place. Even my crazy roommate kept company with the other law students.
And inasmuch as I was the only boarder who was not going to school, I was in a way
even more of an oddity than he. I certainly was the most uncommunicative. 3
He had offered to buy me cigarettes while I was writing the letter. I said I did
not smoke, but thanked him anyway. He then asked to be excused, saying he
wanted me to be able to concentrate.

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It didnt take long to finish the letter. It was funny how I was actually writing it
with conviction. I seemed to be writing it to a girl I knew and admired, though it was
someone faceless, some I worshipped in the abstract, if such a thing were possible.
But I soon found out that there indeed was a girl back of my mind all the time. It
was the young Kapampangan girl.
Her elder sister was seldom seen in the house. The woman was thirtyish. A
man of about of forty was her lover. The border said that the man was married. He
would bring her home sometimes in the evenings and those were among the few
times I saw her. In the mornings, I did not see her because I was late riser. The two
sisters did not eat their meals in the boardinghouse.
When Marie, the younger sister, was not around, the man stayed with her in
the room.
Meals were served in the main unit. The boarders and the owners children
watched television together at lunchtime and in the evenings. I usually took my seat
behind everyone, in an inconspicuous corner where I could stare at Marie and also
observe the others as they looked at her from time to time.
She was pretty. Sometimes the clothes she wore raveled a surprising
voluptuousness that was in contrast with her girlish smallness. She was a freshman
at MLQU.
Once, coming from a bath, she passed by very near where I was sitting. A
drop of water fell into my arm.
I did not wipe the drop of water off, letting it sat on my skin like it was
something I had, unknown to her, appropriated from her body. It was as if she had
touched me, as if I were carrying her essence. I put my tongue to it in the end but
all I tasted was the sourness of my own skin.
She eventually made me very miserable. For a long time I suffered because
of her and she had not the slightest knowledge of it.
One evening we happened to walk home together. She was coming from
school and our paths met on the street where our boarding house was. I didnt see
her at once, not until we were side by side and I couldnt avoid her anymore if I
wanted. She smiled.
She asked if it was true that my name was Sawi. I said it was my nickname.
She asked if I was a Muslim. She said she heard it said in the boardinghouse that I
was.
I said I was not, told her that my father was Ilocano and my mother was
Cebuana. My father was the one who gave me the name Sawi and no one seemed
to know where he got it from.4 The priest, though, would not consent to the name
and I had to be given another, Christian name. 5 Nonetheless it was what I was called
at home. She said it was a nice name. Then she asked me if I could say something
in Cebuano to her. I did. Her smile widened. She said the dialect looked just like my
facial expression. She then asked me to give the Cebu\no equivalent to this word
and that until we got to the boardinghouse.
I never got be alone with her again after that. She stayed inside their room
most of the time. When she came out, the presence of the others killed any chance
of us gravitating towards each other.
One afternoon I took a book with me to the hall in the main unit. I was
vaguely hoping to see Marie. On afternoons the place was very quietmost of the
boarders and the owners children being in school. Those who were left stayed
inside their rooms doing their school work or taking a nap.

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The owners eldest childa very fat boy of about twelve was inside watching
television. The boy and I were enemies. It amused me to watch him on the sly. He
was always seated and he had a way of gorging himself that made me feel like
giving him a whack. Lazy and young as he was, he had watchful eyes that reacted
perpetually to peoples action around him with an adult air. Being new in the big
city, it was inevitable that my ways and manners would meet his disapproval. An
actual reprimand on one occasion made me smoulder for days. When a second time
came, I white with anger and barked at him in Cebuano. The fat boy shook. I never
caught him looking at me again after that.
The boy pretended not to notice and to be wholly absorbed in watching the
show. I sat in the whole and carried on my own pretense of reading a book, glancing
at Maries room from time to time. the room seemed so quiet and still. At length I
grew tired of waiting for Marie to came out and decided that she was not in. I got up
and went back to my room. I lay in my bed and closed my eyes and briefly
considered going out for a walk. It was a sunless afternoon and when the weather
was like that Manila lived up to what it was to my young mans mind before I set
foot on it: a magical place.
I woke in bed past five, astonished that I had fallen as sleep.
I went back to the hall, again with nothing on my mind but seeing Marie. I
came out in time to see her sisters lover carefully making his out of the gate as the
dog leaped at him and fell back.
The owners son was gone. I sat in the hall and glanced at Maries room. Try
as I might, I couldnt visualize the face of her sister.
The guys started coming in. when it grew dark, they gathered in the hall and
turned the television on. I went on secretly waiting for Marie to come in till it was
supper-time.
I had begun to forget about Marie as I followed the program when I heard her
voice. I looked up and saw her talking to one of the housemaids through the halfopen door, wearing something light brown, the color almost of her skin.
The door was shut and she was gone almost at once. I felt oppressed, sure
that she was not coming out of her room any more and that brief glimpse was all for
the evening. But after a while I was following the show againshots of a train
hurtling across a landscape. Then a railway station and the train emptying of its
passengers, gaudy American of a bygone period stepping out to flow into a rowd of
people more plainly dressed.
Out of nowhere I had a disturbing thought that Maries sister was not with her
and she was alone in the room. I glared at their room once more and I had a sudden
picture of Marie together with the man all afternoon. I felt very sick at once. I
remembered how still it had seemed inside the room that afternoon as I sat in the
hallway.
She took on a certain charity in my eyes. Everytime I looked at her the
thought that she had been his seared me. It was as if I had myself been her secret
lover and thus was the only one in the boardinghouse who knew her. I studied her
slightest actions obsessively, straining to discern shades and nuances of meaning
which I somehow hoped would evoke the picture of her in bed with the man.
It was like falling into an abyss in which I could never reach the bottom.
I tried to figure out her schedule in school. After a week, I was able to
establish a pattern. I then tailed her in secret. I would go out in the boardinghouse
minutes ahead of her and stand on Hidalgo, far enough on the school building for
her not to spot me. I hoped to see her swerve and head for the boulevard,

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whereupon I could really trail her. But she never did. I would go back to the
boardinghouse already exacerbated, and wait until her classes were over. Then I
would go back to Hidalgo, again lurk in a corner a few minutes before she came out
of school. I got the same result. I persisted for weeks, though I couldnt do it
everyday. Then I gave up.
As the days went by there were moments when I doubted myself. I
considered alternatives, like the man had come to visit her sister and left at once
when he found out that she was not in. or else he was in the room that afternoon,
alone, waiting for Maries sister and left when Marie came in. but somehow these
were very weak and did not make sense. Only the possibility that her sister was in
the room and Marie was not alone offered me an escape. I clung to the hope.
Sometimes I was able to force myself to believe that it was so and a kind of numb
calm would fill me. But only for a moment. In the end I knew that I could settle for
nothing less than actually seeing Marie and the man together in bed.
The guys were peeping into Lauros room again. It was very late. I asked
them who it was with Lauro. They said it was Marie! I replied that that couldnt be
because I just came from Quiapo church and she was there. They laughed and
showed me her panties. I snatched the undergarment and ran quickly and quietly
downstairs, I intended to wipe the dogs rabid face with it. The dog sprang to meet
me and as it caught my hand it seemed that there was a flash that at the same time
a ringing in my head. I held on and grappled with the dog, working with both hands
to cram the undergarment down its throat. It choked and slacked but clung to me
upright like a man, its hind legs wrapped ridiculously around my leg. Then it broke
free and swarmed all over me, growling and howling as if to vomit devils. I ran back
to where the guys where and everyone scampered for shelter. I grabbed the dog by
its hind legs and swung it against the door of Lauros room. I swung it again and
again until it was limp. I took my roommates knife and went to work on the dogs
belly. I tore the stomach, the chest, the throat.
I couldnt find the undergarment.
I went to the bathroom to wash. But there was not a drop of blood on my
body. I sought my wounds by my hands, but there werent any, though I ached all
over.
I found a bit of green soap, almost melted away. It was one of the things I
came upon the first time I stealthily took the waste basket that always stood outside
Maries room in the evening. The first time the thought that its contents might be
able to help me entered my head I had actually rejoiced. While I couldnt find
anything that could resolve what was eating me, small scarps which I knew came
from Marie were like soothing medical applications and I went at the game watching
for the waste basket every evening. It was an operation I was able to perfect. The
only time I failed to retrieve anything from this magic waste basket was when I had
come home late one evening and the truck that collected the garbage beat me to it.
Even then I considered finding out where the garbage was dumped and somehow
throw myself at the mountain of trash and retrieve something that could be final
illumination.
The soap smell intensified the hope and I felt a drowning sensation from the
water.
1

MIT is Mapua Institute of Technology; MNLQU, Manuel Luis Quezon University

Tanghaling-tapat!

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I am ot, and have never been, the taciturn type. In fact, there are good number o people who know
that I can be voluble. But just as often I can be groping and incoherentand even clam up on occasion.
3

I heard my Auntie Guiling explain that sawi in Ilocano was a bird that swooped down and snatched
eggs from frantic and helpless mother hens. When I was still a crawler, her explanation went, I was
seen crawling and plucking objects deftly from the floorwhich was what made my father name me
after the bird. For years even as grown man I more or less gave this account coherence, until I found
out later that there is no such bird in Ilocano. One day I believed the real explanation revealeditself to
me. My father must have been fascinated by the tagalong song Ibong Sawi (hapless bird) which tells
of a bird that has been hurt and can no longer fly. Auntie guiling got it grabled to exactly the opposite.
4

Cesar which is originally pagan. In fact emperors of pagan.

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A Fine Madness Named Pepito Bosch


[Version 1. From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
Hello.
Hellois this where Pepito Bosch lives?
Yes.
Pepito Bosch? The...er... Pepito Bosch?
Yes, yes. Great. May I speak to him please?
Who is this?
Cesar Aquino.
Please hold on.
Hello.
Hello.
He went out.
Is he coming home for lunch?
He may.
Please tell him I called and that Ill call again. Tell him some magazine is
putting him on its cover and Im doing the write-up.
Hello.
Hello. May I speak to Pepito?
He went out.
Oh. We have an appointment at twelve. Some place in MabiniI forget the
name of the cafe. He said its near Hobbit.
Is it Oar House?
No. Not Oar House.
Good Times?
Thats the one. Can you tell me where that is?
Lets seeits a little before Las Palmas from Hobbit.
Going to Luneta?
Yes.
Hello.
Hellomay I speak to Pepito?
Just a moment.
Hello.
Hello. Pepito?
Cesar Ruiz.
Here, Mother hands me a slip of paper as I get up. She has written Las Palmas and
Good Times down while listening to me talking on the telephone. Memory plays
tricks, she says sort of pedantically, proud of her accomplishment. I put the slip of
paper in my pocket almost chuckling. Now where did she get that? Did Borges line
get so famous that it landed in some popular magazineWomens perhaps? Has it
become a common expression?
Call me, if only here, Cesar Ruiz. In 1976 the European chess grandmaster
Ludek Pachman reacted with some irritation when I showed up for our interview
without ballpen and paper. I couldnt say anything, just grinned. Perhaps I should

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have told him I could play blindfold chess by way of absurd reassurance. That I had
a fairly retentive memory, that is. That I was not really a reporter or a journalist.
That, as I like to boast, I can play chess better than any writer and write better than
any chess-player.
Only one another person calls me Cesar Ruiz: Erwin E. Castillo. I like it.
Sounds to my ears like a very special nickname. Does something to me that I cant
define. Like a magical word or phrase that not everybody can speak. Pepito and
Erwin, each in his magical way, can. Perhaps only they can. Its like you were indeed
the lightning that you have always fantasized yourself to be but that the guy who
grants you this is merely slicing a piece of cheese. For you. Easy. In fact, a pleasure.
A smile. You are only a namea game of a name.
Well, off I was, in the flush of rainy June to an appointment with madness in
vendaval-blown Ermita. Armed with a ball-pen, two sheets of yellow pad paper, a
lesson from Borges, and a strange nickname. As it turned out, I hardly wrote down
anything as I talked, twice, to Pepito. The hell. Let memory play tricks. His or mine.
The 1988 vendaval brings Krip Yusons third child, feminist furor over Erwins
bilmoko beer commercial, the magus Eliphas from Boston, an Indian poet from
Orissa, the Free Press as it used to be, and rumor of Ermita. Im dying, Negros,
dying. And vestigial Sawi, homed in from the South like the Moro vintas of old,
missing, a ghost word spoken and welcomed and tossed anyway in clouds and
clouds of dragon smoke. (To understand the last detail, read the novel Grendel by
the late John Gardner. Its very short and his very bestone of the best from the
seventies. When I visited Erwin in his lair in Makati, reuniting over a hoard of San
Miguel, I kept feeling like Grendel talking to the dragon, you see. I get some of that
too sometimes when Leon Kilat, with Eliphas, with Edith Tiempo, with of course
Quijano. But with Pepito Bosch, its not just a feeling. He is the dragonand I dont
mean the Chinese horoscope. Here begins a physical description.)
There are people youve only known only in pictures. Through years and
years they take on, in your minds eye, a substantially as firm as bread and as
inviolable as a chess variation you have exactly calculated although not played.
Perhaps you do get to meet and see such a one in person. There are then only two
possibilities. Either he looks different or he looks as he is in the pictures. Now even
in the latter case there is a difference: youre seeing him in person.
Some words are like thatadjectives in particular. Gaunt was never as real to
me as when I saw Pepito Bosch again after quite a few years. Seeing him again was
seeing the word gaunt in person as it were. As though the word had leaped out of
The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe. I could have cried out: Ive seen gaunt but
you are gaunt!
He stands six feet. Except that he doesnt really stand. He extends, and I
dont know what the true verb for it when he rises on his feet. This piece is in large
part a failed quest for some such verbs to describe his being there and being six
feet tall or six feet gaunt or six feet in extent. Best perhaps, to say six feet of
madness, magic, hallucination. Im writing this now and I am swept by despair over
my inability to render in words the essence of a Pepito Bosch moment. But its funny
how in conversation he is often caught precisely in the same webwhen, wideeyed, no words come to him or perhaps a thousand are rushing but he has lost his
voice, his voice or his tongue, andhis eyes locked with yourshe nevertheless
begins to convey a point to you and gestures with his hand slow-mo, all set to say it
but not a word comes out, and the dramatic pause is all there is and yet the pause
has marvelously assumed the dimension of a full statement which is travelling,

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gesturing hand described if not communicated, shared. Its the strangest sort of
eloquence. And if you listen attentively, gamely, long enough you may get a feeling
you are inside his belly.
Balding, his long hair is vendaval-brown dragons hair. Its the eyes too. They
seem perpetually round, bright. When they grow soft you knew he is smiling, and
the bared teeth are handsome enough to flash in the memory like a mythological
creatures fangs. I know nowhe is not tall, he is long. Extends is not bad. A few
inches more and hed be serpentinego, if he wanted, in coils.
I may be exaggerating a bit but Im sure a little child will understand what I
mean. If I told a child, when Pepito happens to pass by, Look, a dragon! Im sure
hell see it. Or Ill show him the picture of drawing of a dragon and say Look, Pepito
Bosch! and if the child knows Pepito Bosch, hell see it.
Dragons have to be Caucasian. With faces like arrows. Bosch is seventy-five
percent Caucasian. But because when he talks he sounds as Filipino as puto
bumbong you are not aware of that at all. But then again this seems to be no
ordinary puto bumbong. The voice, the accent, the taste is Filipino but you feel
somehow different, elsewhere, in Rio de Janeiro, in Tangier, in Vladivostok. The puto
bumbong has become international and not only that, it obviously has traversed
inter-galactic boundaries. Think of it. In far, far away countries beings both real and
imaginary will be eating puto bumbong (dinuguan if they are not vegetarians) in all
the galaxies.
And the name
There are Filipino names that sound very far away from being Filipino,
especially the first time you hear them. Zshornack is an example. We all know how
the name comes at us the first time we come across it. But Zaldy Zschornak is part
of the conscience of our race. Its as Pinoy as Berting Labra or Paquito Toledo. Same
with Poe. Edgar Allan Poe is definitely an American poet, but Fernando PoeJr. or
Sr.,is a Filipino tradition. Same with Jaworski.
Same with Bosch.
Pepitos full name is Jose Ramon Bosch y Roensch. Bosch is Catalan. The
surrealist painter Hieronymus Bosch, dijo Pepito, was progenitor. Bosch does not
sound Spanish because it is of Dutch origin. Since Bosch in Dutch means jungle,
he says he would, if he ever writes or films, use Huseng Gubat as his pseudonym.
Roesnch is German, Pepito is only one-fourth Filipino if we go by blood. But,
as I said, there are other considerations that can compel you to think of him as
more Filipino than say Doming Landicho, the Tagalog writer, or Isagani Cruz, the
new critic, ever can be. Pepito Bosch is a Filipino after Nick Joaquins heart. And like
Nick Joaquin, a Maileno through and througha Maileno, we might say, to the
Manille born. He was born, grew up, and will likely fade away in Pasay. Pepito de
Pasay would be a good alternative to Huseng Gubat
The full name smacks of that historical continuity the persistent tendency of
which to be broken Nick Joaquin lyrically laments. Its a name that has not broken
with the past. A name in fact that belongs to the past. Except that Jose Ramon
Bosch y Roensch or Pepito Bosch or Huseng Gubat or Pepito de Pasay was one of
those gifted young men in the late fifties/early sixties describable, had the phrase
been available, as the shock wave of the future. Lets see.
In 1959-1960 he went to UP to study chemistry and, having been a college
editor perviously at La Salle, found himself in the poetry class of Jose Garcia Villa
who had come back from exile. Villa stayed only for a year and then went back to
the US. In his class were Perfecto Tera, Jr., Jorge Arago, Fernando Afable, Jimmy

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Abad, Jolico Cuadra, and Pepito Bosch. Jolico and you must have been the goodlookers in that group. I remark. See the dragon fire soften into a human smile. Ive
not seen Pepito Bosch as a young man even in pictures.
But yes he messed with theater for a while. He did heaps and heaps of
restless things, as Zorba would put it. He cautions me against identifying him too
exclusively with literary people. Thats only one aspect.
He tells me that be belonged to a generation that pioneered in taking the
artist or intellectual into the streets, in forming a new imagefrom bookworm
egghead to wonder kanto boy. Learned meant not only well read but well versed in
the hard, seamy, even underworld facts. This new culture was to flower more fully in
Willy Sanchez, Erwin Castillo and Reach Trinidad. But guys like Jolico and him started
it.
In Israel he underwent training Im guerilla warfare. Did you see action? I
ask.
No, the farthest I got was being assigned the post of sentry one night. Ill
never forget that. The order was to shoot anyone who came and failed to say the
password. I spent a terrible night of struggle with myself. I dreaded the moment
when I would have to pull the trigger. Luckily for me, it never came.
Would you have pulled the trigger?
No. At some point I made up my mind not to shoot.
The poetry class under Villa, that briefest year in our literary chapters, surely
cannot be ignored by students of the beautiful letters. It set a whole aesthetic
temper on the UP campus. Something which, in my opinion, no young writer who
ever went to UP in the early, and mid, sixties could escape. Pepito says he was
twenty-one at that time (a problem; if the day of his birth, as he says, was
November 16, 1940 the he ought to have been nineteen, not twenty-one) and he
found the UP experience mind blowing. I myself went to UP in 1964-1966 and I think
I know what he means, though Villa wasnt there anymore. The UP I went to still had
Tera and Arago and Afable and in addition Willy Sanchez, Erwin Castillo, Ninotchka
Rosca and Jose Nadal Carreon. And, yes, Ishmael Bernal whom I remember falling,
party-drunk, in giggles into a ditch at one timeand making us up in a play directed
by Erwin in another. Too, there were lots of Virgie Moreno, Franz Arcellana, Ricaredo
Demetillo, Petronilo Daroy, Alex Hufana, Luis Teodoro, Jose David Lapuz. And a little
of Jose Ma. Sison who would invite us to read poetry at Lyceum. And plenty of Nick
Joaquin to whose Free Press office at Paso Tamo (Ding Nolledo, Greg Brillantes and
Jose Ayala were there) we would troop like deathless memories of love, genius,
suspicion and betrayal. Procesion de los toros, then wrote the very young Erwin
Castillo. We were all fakes, cried Frankie Osorio almost two decades later in front
of Pantranco
Lansang, terrifying as Dante, was there. Manalo had killed himself a little
earlier.
Was Jun Lansang in that class?
No, he was in the US that year.
It would not be like this piece if I did not ask about Jose Lansang, Jr. Pepito
now tells me Ernesto Manalo was madder.
Jun was not violent, Manalo was.
And I find out why I didnt know back in 1964-1965 because they never talked
about certain things surrounding Manalos death. Manalo, upon the suggestion of
some doctor to his relatives, was lobotomized. Lobotomy erases certain memories.

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If successful, you are supposed to come out of it purged, stripped, of whatever it is


thats ailing you emotionally and mentally.
(My mind drifts to a Christian theological ideas: that God can erase the past,
obliterate things that have happened to nothingness.)
But, Pepito continues, thats more hypothetical that factual because the
doctors cannot perfect the surgery to precision. Thats why theyve done away with
lobotomy.
What did it do to Manalo?
He heroically exerted himself to remember. The memories were not
completely obliterated because he was continually flooded with vague feelings, very
intense, tormenting. The inability to remember must have been hell to him. In the
end it got so bad and he killed himself.
Ask any sage what death shall be/ And he will say there is a soul/ That thrives
on nothing foul/ Escapes the rotten body free...
Manalos unforgettable quatrain. Still good, Pepito smiles. I mean...you
know.
Appraised only now, so to speak, of the real situation, I wonder a good
quarter of a century after, if Jun Lansang who, in the words of Jolico, carried his
madness too far had not been through all these shuddering years living in the
shadow of a madness greater than this, with which he has desperately been in
secret competition, and whose own madness was therefore propelled by a sense of
inadequacy, that he could never be mad enough, or that he could never be as mad.
It was not as if there had been nothing on the scene, or there was no scene,
before Villa. Pepito talks about the David Cortes Medalla period and Medallas Le
Cave dAngelique. Set in some slum area in Ermita where Medalla read to Manilas
lovely young socialites.
Is it true Medalla was in love with Diana Jean Lopez? Some nurse back in
Zamboanga told me he was.
He was gay.
Of course. But she was beautiful, wasnt she?
Beautiful.
Very few voices that Ive heard can say beautiful and impart the proper
reverence implied by the word. Pepito says it like you would never really know how
beautiful Diana Jean Lopez was unless you saw her. Or unless you heard Pepitos
voice say she was.
After the year at UP he travelled for a year in the US and in Europe. Then
proceeded to further studies in chemistry in Germany, for seven years. Odette
Alcantara tells me Pepito has a PhD.
Are you sure?
Im sure.
Then hes really my double.
What? Who?
Dr. Strange, but never mind.
He came back for a few months in 1963. This time the cafe of madness was
one called Black Angel, owned and run by the young Betsy Romualdez. In 1969, he
came back for good. By then, there were new names in Philippine Bohemia which
was Los Indios Bravos. Alfred Yuson, Emman Lacaba. Bencab. Poets. Painters.
Actors. Clumsy lovers. These were the psychedelic years, when occultism flowed
side by side with political leftism, sometimes together one may imagine. When
Marcos declared martial law in 1972, a whole wild magical era ended. Indios Bravos

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became Hobbit, peopled by midgets. Gone forever were Grey November and Bravos
and Black Angel and, yes, Cock n Bull where Quijano de Manila got into a ramble
one night (ditto Willy Sanchez got shot in the leg at Indios).
We know that Lily Amansec, who owned it, later went deep into the occult
and has not been seen around or heard of since then. Did Cock n Bull perhaps
signify calaba just as they say KBL did?
I ask Pepito about the beatniks of the early fifties and the rock n roll of the
mid. Was he influenced by the beat poets? He was. He devoured Kerouac and
Ginsberg and made like a beatnik in San Francisco in 1961, in a club called The
Hungry I and a bookstore called City Lights. As for rock n roll, he was not quite
infected by it, being a devout lover of classical music. Even jazz left him indifferent.
How then did Pepito come to play the Conga?
When I was a small boy my parents made a fatal mistake. They took me along on a
boat tour in the South.
Why was it a fatal mistake?
It blew my mind. It really blew my mind. Thats how it all started.
This was in the late forties. He mentions Zamboanga in particularthe
Zamboanga after the war. Suddenly I knew what he meant. For a moment an odd
thought crossed my mind: Is he perhaps stealing, plagiarizing my experience? Id
written about it in a story of Ermita magazine. Perhaps he was doing this
unconsciously? However, it seemed more likely that we shared, for a second time, a
similar experiencefirst UP Dilliman as a young man, then this: a boat trip to
Zamboanga in childhood. And he has an advantage over mehe remembers the
name of the boat: Turks Head.
I made him retell an experience he had once told me years ago.
As a college kid at La Salle he was with a group that every summer, for four
years, scoured the Cordillera mountains. Since this was in the mid and late fifties
you can well see the Low Waist Gang in the background. It was the time of teenage
gangs about whom todays punk or new wave rock artists are so nostalgic. James
Dean, Sal Mineo. But, as Pepito points out, at the time what his group was doing
was incomprehensible to both parents and other kids. Going to the boondocks
became fashionable only in the seventies, with people like Bimboy Pearanda,
Sylvia Mayuha, Butch Perez, Tikoy Aguiluz.
Pepitos group arrived in a village and it seemed completely deserted. The
guide told them the people were probably taking a communal bath in the river.
Pepito and his companions asked him to take them to the place.
They were all therethe men and the women and the elders. All naked as
Eden.nit was this time, he says, that he discovered how super-civilized the tribal
Filipinos are. They looked at us casually and, without as much as a nod, of the
head, completely made us feel like visitors not intruders. But there we were, young
men from Manila, from de la Salle, and how we leered at the naked bodies of the
women. We could feel their embarrassment at this, at the way we stared. And
suddenly it was we who were ashamed of ourselves. At least I can speak for myself.
We were the savages; they were the ones who were civilized. Super! But yes the
women were beautiful. Super! You knowI mean.
Was it among these mountain tribes that he picked up his interest in
shamanism? No, he says, Was it from reading Elaide? Or Castaeda in the early
seventies? He says he read them but had become a shaman earlier.

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It had to do with his first acid trip. This was in 1967, in Germany. He was with
a band of musicians and, stoned, he found himself unaccountably in front of a
conga. But there he was. He beat the conga so hard and so nonstop his hands
blistered. It was love at first sight blister for Pepito and the conga. Balat, he informs
me, is what you call drums and when you strike them with your hands you rouse all
the animals that men have hunted, slain, eaten and skinned from the beginning of
time and one of them comes to life within you, shivers in your body and howls in
your throat. Thus began Boschs balat shamanism.
Is it perhaps unconscious fear of blisters that is the real reason why he plays
the conga with his fingers not touching the drumhead? The sight of his playing, near
paroxysmal in intensity, with eyes closed and his throat howling cats and dogs and
demons, but his hands not actually touching the conga is one of the most hilarious
things Ive seen in life, in movies, on stage, or in drawing room. Its all in his ears or
in his mind of course. Maybe its akin to the Hindu nada, the voice of the silence
that only the mystic can hear. His own explanation is less highfalutin. Its the
limitation of the human bodyits inability to execute the conception. Which is why I
am now into electronic music.
Tantric sex, I say non sequitur to probe his shamans experience further.
You dont even begin to understand, he says a la Dancing Sorcerer of Trois
Freres and don Juan Matus.
I wait for him to go on.
Shes suddenly there.
After a silence which seemed to say thats that, I prod him on some more
with: What if I refuse?
You cant refuse. You cant refuse. Which is why they love me. Fourteen
hours. Twenty fourforty eight hours. And they surrender.[ ] Is that how it went
with the deaf-mute?
No, in her case I was entirely the learner.
Kilat had tipped me on how a Luneta-mute girl had picked Pepito up once.
I did not have to do anything. She saw me and thats it. She saw me. She
knew I wanted it badly. I didnt even know it myself. But she read me. She read my
body, what it was saying. So I was sitting there and she came to me and without a
wordI mean without a word in her sign languageshe held me like this, he grabs
me by the arm, eyes around as Armageddon, and took me to a motel. I did not
have to do anything. And I found out she was right. I wanted and needed it badly. It
was fuck at first sight.
How was she?
She was good, amazing. Just like the blind who develop a keen sense of
touch s compensation for the loss of their eyesight. In her case, her body was very
eloquent, very articulate, fluent, felicitous, poetic, lyrical. Terrific wordplay. She
could pun in at least a dozen languages, including Sanskrit. And her style was
varied, diverse. She was equally at home in hard-boiled prose. She was the first
minimalist. I meanyou know.
He tells me of the time he accompanied Jose Garcia Villas reading of his poem with
the conga.
Whose idea was it?
Another poet suggested it while Villa was reading.
Which poem? The Anchored Angel?

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No, but it was a comma poem. Every comma - he strikes an invisible conga
and motions with his head as if beckoning to me some wonderful adventure, his
face lighting up with that I can only describe as a post-Fall giggle. Paradise regained.
He looks mischievous and angelic at the same time, one of Gods favorite little
devils playing his drum with pure joy. I think of Villas line: The bright, centipede,
begins, his stampede...
Pepito el Pasayeo. In English, Pepito the Pasayan. It sounds Cebuano. In
Cebuano, pasayan means big shrimp. Enormous shrimp, bright centipede, dragon.
Full-circle on a theme.
But it takes two to tantra. I protest several minutes, perhaps a half-hour
after we had left the topic. Meaning neither really surrenders. But I realize perhaps
he meant surrender in the real English, not Filipino, sense.
He rises and says See you, abruptly. But as we go out of the cafe he asks
me to go with him. Where?
Im looking at the sky beyond his shoulder and now he tells me about the
child prostitutes. How they get ravished first by neighbors and/or relatives. Then by
the Chinese whod pay a thousand. And finally, the tourists. He says he once
wanted to make a film of this, but it broke his heart.
Pepito has a daughter named Andrea by his estranged German wife who is
now in Germany. Recently, he received a picture of the child on her first
communion. He tells me this with a contained glow, a sober and solid happiness
that makes me think of Nick Joaquins Manila. Philippines. Jose Rizal, Maria Clara.
The Catholic past. I realize, almost like a shock that this Buddha of Pinoy Bohemians
is able to stir my own Catholic depths as nothing and no one can, except an
occasional girl, these days.
How good is Butch Perez?
Hes very good. Youll find out. In five or seven years. Or ten. Hell blow our
minds with his film.
And we are near the boulevard. And they come, tender as yesterdays rain,
wild, dark-haired and dark-nippled gypsies to this mad noble, or noble madman. But
Pepito is not a madman. No madman can do this. Just as John Philip Law in
Barbarella said that an Angel does not love; an angel is love, you cannot say that
Pepito Bosch is a madman. Pepito Bosch is not mad; he is madness.
This is the other half, Cesar Ruiz, he says as they pull him away.
Manila, 1988

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[Version 2. From Checkmeta, 2004]


Hello
Hellois this where Pepito Bosch lives?
Yes
Pepito Bosch? TheuhPepito Bosch?
Yes, yes.
Great. May I speak to him please?
Who is this?
Cesar Aquino.
Please hold on.
Hello
Hello.
He went out.
Is he going to be home for lunch?
Maybe.
Please tell him a magazine is putting him on its cover and Im doing the
write-up, Ill call again
Hello.
Hello. May I speak to Pepito?
He went out.
We have an appointment at twelve. Some place on MabiniI forgot the
name of the place. He sait its near Hobbit.
Is it Oar House?
No, not Oar House.
Good Times?
Thats the one. Can you tell me where that is?
Las Palmas, Going to Luneta.
Yes.
Thank you.
Here, Mother hands me slip of paper as I get up. She has written Las Palmas and
Good Times down while listening to me talk on the phone. Memory plays tricks,
she says somewhat pedantically. I put the slip of paper in my pocket almost
chuckling. Now where did she get that? Did Borges line get so famous that it landed
in some popular magazineWomens perhaps? Has it become an expression?
Well, off I was in the flush of rainy June to an appointment with madness in
vendaval-blown Ermita. Armed with a ballpen, two sheets of yellow pad paper, a
lesson from Borges.
Back in 1976 the European chess grandmaster Ludek Pachman reacted with
some irritation when I showed up for our interview without ballpen and paper. I
couldnt say anything, just grinned. Perhaps I should have told him that I was a
chessplayer not a reporter and therefore Mr. Pachman, surely you know blindfold

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chess? Or boasted outright, informed him that I could play chess better than any
writer and write better than any chessplayer including him.
As it turned out, I hardly wrote down anything when I interviewed Pepito. The
hell, Mr. Pachman. Let memory play tricks, his or mine.
The 1988 vendaval had brought Krip Yusons third child, feminist furor over
Erwin Castillos bilmoko San Miguel beer commercial, and the size of the Free Press
as it was when it exited in 1972.
Read the novel Grendel by the late John Gardner. Its very short and his very
best-one of the best from seventies. When I visited Erwin in his lair of an office in
Makati, I kept feeling like Grendel talking to the dragon, you see. Only difference is
the dragon sat on a pile of gold; Erwin, on a hoard of San Miguel-and whereas the
dragon would kill you if you as much touch a single item in his pile, Erwin would if
you didnt drink all.
So where does Pepito come in? In the dragons den, naturally. Because you
see if Erwin is a dragon and believe mehe isPepito Bosch is the dragon.
There are people youve known only in pictures. Through years and years
they take on, in your minds eye, a substaintiality as firm as bread and as inviolable
as a chess variation you have exactly calculated although not played. Perhaps you
do get to meet such a one in person. There are then only two possibilities. Either he
looks different or he looks as just as he is in the pictures. Now even in the latter
case there is a difference, youre seeing him in person.
Some words are like thatadjectives in particular. Gaunt was never as real to
me as when I saw Pepito Bosch again after a quite a few years. Seeing him again
was seeing the word gaunt in person as it were. As though the word had leaped out
of the Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe. I could have cried out, Ive seen gaunt
but you are gaunt!
He stands six feet. Except that he dont really stand as much as he extends
and I dont know what the true verb for it is when he rises on his feet. This place is
in large part a failed quest for some such verbs to describehim being there and
being six feet gaunt or six feet in extent. Best perhaps to say six feet of
hallucination so hallucinated all the verbs went on leave. Im writing this now and I
am swept by despair over my inability to render in words the essence of a Pepito
Bosch moment. But its funny how in conversation he is often caught precisely in the
same webwhen, wide eyed , no words come to him or perhaps a thousand are
rushing but he has lost is voice, his voice or his tongue, andhis eyes locked with
yourshe nevertheless begins to convey a point to you and gestures with his hand
slow-mo, all set to say it but not a word comes out, and the dramatic pause is all
there is and yet the pause has marvelously assumed the dimension of a full
statement which his travelling, gesture hand described if not listen attentively,
gamely, long enough you may get a feeling that you are in his bells.
Balding, his long hair is vendaval-blown dragons hair. Its the eyes too. They
seem perpetually round, bright. When they grow soft you know he is smiling, and
the bared teeth are handsome enough to flash in the memory like a mythological
creatures fangs. Cesar Ruiz, he smiles. Erwin and Pepito, independently of each
other, are the only people who occasionally call me this, which never fails to give
me a pleasant, warm feeling when I hear it , as if were some kind of arcane matter
to which it is the key. I know nowhe is not tall, he is long. Extends is not bad. A few
inches more and hes be serpentinego, if he wanted, in coils.
I may be exaggerating a bit but Im sure a little child will understand what I
mean. If I told a child, when Pepito happens to pass by, Look, a DRAGON! IM

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SURE HELL SEE IT. Or Ill show him the picture or drawing of a dragon and say,
Look Pepito Bosch! and if the child knows Pepito Bosch, hell see him.
Dragons have to be Caucasian. With the faces like arrows. Bosch is seventy
five per cent Caucasian. But because when he talks he sounds like barong tagalong
itself, you are not aware of it at all. But then again this seems to be no ordinary
barong tagalong. The voice, the accent, the taste is Filipino but you fell somehow
different, the same but different, here but elsewhere, in Manila but in Rio de Janeiro,
in Tangier, in Vladivostok. The barong-tagalog has become international and not
only international but inter-galactic. Think of it. Far, far away and long, long ago
beings both real and imaginary once were barong tagalong.
And the name.
There are Filipino names that sound very far away from being Filipino the first
time we hear them or see them in print. Zshornack is an example . The name just
comes at us the first time we come across it. But Zchornack is part if the conscience
of our raceat least for those who remember the sixties. Its as Pinoy as Silayan or
Kabahar or Coching. Same with Jaworski.
Same with Bosch.
Pepitos full name is Jose Ramon Bosch y Roensch. Bosch is Catalan. The
surrealist Heironymus Bosch, Pepito says, was a progenitor.
Sure?
Sure?
Surrealist?
Its genetic.
Bosch does not sound Spanish because it is of Dutch origin. Since Bosch in
Dutch means jungle, he says he would, if he ever writes or films, use Huseng
Gubat as his pseudonym.
Huseng Gubat went to UP to study chemistry and, having been a college
editor previously at La Salle, found himself in the poetry class of Jose Garcia Villa,
the poet from New York. In Villas class were Perfecto Tera, Jr., Jorge ARago,
Fernando Afable, Jimmy Abad, Jolico uadra, and Pepito Bosch.
Jolico and you must have been the good-lookers in that group, I remark
see the dragonfire soften into a human smile. Ive not seen Pepito Bosch as young
man even in pictures.
But yes he messed with theater for a while. He cautions me against
identifying him exclusively with literary folk or looking him always in a literary
context. He did heaps and heaps of things, as Zorba(oops) would put it.
Thats only one aspect, he says.
He tells me he belonged to a generation that pioneered in taking the artist or
intellectual into the streets, in creating a new imagefrom bookworm egghead,
todays nerd, into wonder kanto boy. Learned would now mean not only well-read
but also well-versed in tough guyeven gangster or underworldfacts. This culture
was to flower in Willy Sanchez and Erwin Castillo but guys like Jolico and him started
it, if radically. Jolico hobnobbed with both Doveglion and Nardong Putik.
Pepito, for his part, underwent training in guerilla warfare in Israel. Did you
see action? I ask.
No. The farthest I got was being assigned the post of sentry one night. Ill
never forget that. The order was to shoot anyone who came and failed to say the
password. I spent a terrible night of struggle with myself. I dreaded the moment
when I would have to pull the trigger. Luckily for me, it never came.
Would you have pulled the trigger?

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No. At some point I made up my mind not to shoot.


The poetry class under Villa, that briefest season in our hellbeg your
pardon, heavensurely cannot be ignored by students f the beautiful letters. It set
a whole aesthetic temper on the UP campus. Something which, I think, no young
writer who went to UP in the early, and mid, sixties could conceivably escape. Pepito
says he was twenty-one at that time and he found the UP experience mindblowing. I
myself went to UP in 1964-1965 and I know that he means , though Villa was not
there anymore. The UP I went to still had Tera and Arago and A fable and, in
addition, Willy Sanchez, Erwin Castillo, Ninotchka and, Joecarr.
And yes, Ishmael Bernal whom I remember falling , party drunk, in giggles
into a ditch on one timeand, at another, making as up in a play directed by Erwin
T.S. Eliotss Murder in the Cathedralon performance night at the PGH on Padre
Faura. Too, there were lots of Virgie Moreno, Franz Arcellana, Ricardo Demitllo,
Petronilo Daroy, Alex Hufana, Luis Teodoro, Jose David Lapuz. And a little of Jose Ma.
Sison who invited us on one occasion to read poetry at lyceum. And plenty of Nick
Joaquin to whos m Free Press office at Pasong Tamo(Ding Nolledo, Greg Brillates
and Jose Ayala were there) we would troop like deathless memories of love, genius,
suspicion, and juvenilia. Procesion de Los Toros, then wrote the very young Erwin E.
Castillo in Short-Story International. We were all fakes, cried Frankie Osorio in
front of Pantranco two decades later.
Was Jun Lansang in that class?
No, he was in the US that year.
It would not be like the piece if I did not ask about Jose Lansang, Jr. Pepito
now tells me Ernesto Manalo was madder.
Jun was not violent; Manalo was.
And I found out what I didnt know back in 1964-1965, when Manalo had just
killed himself, because they never talked about it. All I picked up was that (from
Freddie Dimaya)he fell under the category of gentle poet, (from Jun Tera) he was a
better poet than Jun Lansang and (from Willy Sanchez) he wrote this line:
Ask any sage what Death shall be
And he will say that there is a soul
That thrives on nothing foul
Escapes the rotten body free.
Manalos unforgotten quatrain. Still good, Pepito smiles.
Manalo, upon the suggestion of a doctor to his relatives, was lobotomized.
Lobotomy erases certain memories. If successful, you are supposed to come out of
it purged, stripped, of whatever is that s ailing you emotionally or mentally.
(My mind drifts to the theological idea: that God can erase the past,
obliterate things that have happened to nothingmeaning they never happened.)
But, Pepito continues, thats more hypothetical than factual because the
doctors cannot perfect the surgery precision. Thats why they have done away
worth lobotomy.
What did it do to Manalo?
He heroically excreted himself to remember. the memories were not
completely removed because he was continually visited by feelings , very intense
nut vague and shapeless and therefore tormenting. The inability to remember must
have been hell to him. In the end it got so bad he killed himself.

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I am unable to say anything, made me speechless by the story as much as


by the way Pepito tells t so calmly. Appraised only now so to speak, of the real
picture, I wonder a good quarter of a century later, if Jun Lanasang who, in the
words of Jolico, Carries his madness too far, had not been through all those
shuddering years consciously living in the shadow of a madness more fatal than his,
which he emulated if not completed with in an agony (a word whose greek root
means contest) that was itself, is truth, as poetic as anything he wrote.
I suddenly shange the topic. Is it true Medalla was in love with Diana Jean
Lopez? Some nurse back in Zamboanga told me he was.
I wanted him to talk of Medalla and Medalls Le Cave dAngelique, set in some
slum are where Medalla read to Manilas lovely young socialites.
He was gay.
Of course. But she was beautiful, wasnt she?
Beautiful.
Very few voices that Ive heard can say beautiful and impart the reverence
implied by the word. Pepito says it like you would never really know how beautiful
Diana Jean Lopez was unless you saw her. Or unless you heard Pepitos voice she
was.
Yet sing now of beauty
Which lasts not forever
Through all metamorphoses
I am terribly lonely
Pepitos smile is even wider this time. I didnt change the topic after all. He
actually laughs and replies:
For that by Hera she is so beautiful
Reason Ill not betake me to satire.
With that, we finally leave the poets of U.P. Diliman in the sixties.
After the year at U.P. he traveled in the US and in Europe. Then proceeded to
further studies in chemistry in Germany, for seven years. Odette Alcantara tells me
Pepito has a PhD.
(Are you sure?)
Im sure.
Doppelganger.
What? Who?
Dr. Strange, but never mind.)
He came back for a few months in 1963. The cafe of forgetting this time was
called Black Angel. In 1969 he came home for good. There were new places like
Grey November and Los Indios Bravos. And new names in the higher life. Krip Yuson,
Emman Lacaba, Bencab. Poets, painters, actors, clumsy lovers. These were the
psychedelic years. When occultism socialized with socialism. Bohemia marched with
Marxism. Or so I wordplay. When Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, Indios Bravos
become Hobbit, as if to say Rizal and company were shorter than you thought.
I ask Pepito about the beatniks of the early fifties and rock n roll of the mid.
Was influence by the beat poets? He was. He devoured Kerouac and Ginsberg and

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made like a dharma bum in San Francisco in 1961, in a club called The Hungry I and
a bookstore called City Lights. As for rock n roll, he was not keen on it, being a
devotee of classical music. Jazz, too, left him indifferent. How did then Pepito come
to play cogna?
When I was a small boy my parentsmade a fatal mistake. They took me
along on aboat tour of the South.
Why was that a fatal mistake?
It blew my mind. It really blew my mind. Thats how it all started.
This was late forties. He mentions Zamboanga in particularthe Zamboanga
rught after the war. Suddenly I know what he means. For a moment an odd thought
crosses my mind. Is he perhaps stealing, plagiarizing. my experience? Ive written
about it in Proheme to Zamboanga, which I have no doubt he has read. However, it
seems more likely that we shared the same experiencefor the second time! First
going as a young man to a UP Dilliman set aflame by Villa. Now this [a boat trip to
far Zamboanga set aflame by both sunrise and sunset. He says he remembers the
name of their boatTurks Head.
I make him re0tell an experience he once told me about years ago.
As a college kid at La Salle he belonged to a group that every summer, for
four years, ranged about the Cordillera mountainsin unconscious quests, one
assumes, of marvelous.
The fifties was the age of the teenage gangs. Pepito points out that at the
time what his gang was doing was incomprehensible to parents and gangsters alike.
Going to the boondocksi.e., Sagadabecame a fashion only in the seventies.
Pepito and companions arrived in the village that seemed deserted. They
were told that the tribe had gone to take a bath in the river. The de LaSalle boys
asked to be taken their guide.
They were therethe men and the women and the elders and the children.
All naked as Eden. It was then that he realized l, he says how super-civilized the
ancient Filipino tribes in these islands before Magellan really were. Then they were
perfectly relaxes , friendly and hospitable. I mean they were enjoying their
communal bath, faces beaming , looking at us casually and, without as much as a
nod of the head, completely made us feel like visitors not intruders. But there we
were , young men from Manila, from De LaSalle, and how we leered at the naked
bodies of the women. We could feel their embarrassment at this, at the way we
stared. And suddenly it was we who were ashamed of ourselves. At least I can speak
for myself. We were savages; they were the ones who were refined and civilized
Super!
I remain quiet, at a loss for words. Pepito senses this and makes an attempt
to go on though its clear in his tale is done.
But yes the women were beautiful. Super! You knowI mean
Was it among the mountain tribes that he picked up his interest in
shamanism? No he says. Was it from reading Eliad? Or Castenada in the seventies?
He says no, he heard them but had become a shaman earlier.
His first acid trip had to do with it. This was in 1967, in Germany. He was with
a performing band of musicians at a club when, stoned, he found himself
unaccountably in front of a vacant conga. He stared at the forlorn instrument for a
moment and then he swears he just suddenly felt it was destiny. Forlorn! The very
word was conga! He had never played with a band before, much less played the
conga. but there he was, beating the conga so hard and so nonstop his hands
blistered. Balat, he tells me, is what you call drums and when you strike them with

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|139

your hands you rouse all the animals that men have haunted, slain, eaten, skinned
and prayed to from the beginning of time and one of them comes to life within you,
shivers in your body and howls in your throat. Thus spoke shamanism.
He tells me of the time he accompanied Jose Garcia Villas reading of his
poem with the conga.
Whose idea was it?
Another poet suggested it while Villa was reading.
Which poem? The Anchord angel?
No, but it was a comma poem. Every comma he strikes an invisible conga
and motions with his head as if beckoning me to some wonderful adventure, his
face lighting up with what I can only describe as a post-Armageddon giggle. He
looks mischievous and angelic at the same time, one of Gods favorites little devils
playing his drum with pure joy. I think of Villas line:
The, bright, centipede, begins, his, stampede
I visualize Pepito stampeding on the cong, his hands getting as many blisters
as the centipede has legs and Villas poems commas.
Is it perhaps unconscious fear of blisters that is the real reason why he plays
the conga with his fingers not touching the drumhead? The sight of him playing,
near paroxysmal in intensity, with eyes shut and his throat howling cats dogs and
demonsbut his hands not actually touching the congais one of the most
hilarious things Ive seen in life, in movies, on stage, on television or on drawing
room. Its all in his minds earor ears mindof course. Maybe its pretty much like
how it goes with the Hindu nada, the voice of the silence that only the mystic can
hear. What is the sound of two hands beating the drums without touching? His own
explanation is less highfalutin and less acrobatic. Its the limitation of the human
bodyits inability to execute the conception. Which is why Im into electronic
music.
Tantric sex. I say non sequitur, just to probe or humor the shaman.
You dont even begin to understand, he syas a la Dancing Sorcerer of Trois
Freres and Don Juan Matus.
I wait for him to go on.
Shes suddenly there.
After a silence which seemed to say thats that, I prod him on some more
with: What if I refuse.
You cant refuse. You cant refuse. Which is why they love me. Fourteen
hours. Twenty-four, forty-eight. And they surrender.
Is that how it went with the deaf-mute?
No, in her case I was entirely the learner.
Krip had tipped me on how a Luneta deaf-mute had picked Pepito up once.
I did not have to do anything. She saw me and thats it. She saw me. She
knew I wanted it badly. I didnt even know it myself. But she read me. She read my
body, what it was saying. This was long before all those books about body language
were written. So I was sitting there and she came to me and without a wordmean
without a word in her sign languageshe held like this, he grabs me by the arm,
eyes round as March 16, 1521, and took me to a motel. I did not have to do
anything. And I found out that she was right. I wanted and needed it badly. It was
fuck at first sight.
How was she?
She was good, amazing. Just like the blind who develop a keen sense of
touch as compensation for the loss of their eyesight. In her case, her body was very

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|140

eloquent, very articulate, fluent, feliticitous, poetic, lyrical. Terrific wordplay. She
could pun in at least a dozen languages, including Sanskrit. When she was on top,
she was all etymology and I, all scholarship. But her style was varied, diverse. She
was equally at home in hard-boiled prose. She was the first minimalist. She could do
argot, pidgin, pig Latinif you wanted. You knowI mean
It takes two to Tantra, I say. But its my turn o take a disconcertingly abrupt
non sequitur. He rises and says, See you. Then as we go out of the caf he invites
me to go with him. Where?
To the other half.
Im looking at the sky beyond his shoulder and now he tells me about the
child prostitutes. How they ravished first by neighbors and relatives. Then by the
Chinese whod pay a thousand. And finally the tourists. He says he once wanted to
make a film of this, but it broke his heart.
Pepito has daughter named Andrea by his strange German wife who is now in
Germany. Recently, he received a picture of the child on her first communion. He
tells me this with a contained glow, a sober and solid happiness that makes me
realize I am not in Bohemia but in the country of Jose Rizal and Maria Clara. Not in
the New Age but in Nick Joaquin country. Intramuros, old Manila, Philippines.
How good is Buth Perez?
hes very good. Youll find out. In five or seven years. Or ten. Hell blow our
minds with his film.
And we are near the boulevard. And theys come, tender as yesterdays rain,
wild, dark-haired and dark-nippled gypsies to this mad noble man or noble madman.
No mad man can do this.
In the sixties science fantasy movie Barbarella John Philip Law says, An angel
does not love; an angel is love.
After that fashion Pepito Bosch is not mad; he is madness.
This is the other half, Cesar Ruiz, he says as they pull him away.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|141

Fischer, the World Class Chess Champion Who Never Was


[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
Keeners students of chess and its history know that a chestplayers passion for
the game can reach heights commonly associated with artist in a grip of their
genius and vocation. Steinitz, Rubestien, Alekhineall burned consumingly for
chess, or rather chess so consumed them, one is left with the sense that it was
burning bush they touch and moved as they played enternally.
Here is how such chess player, though not as glorious as the three
described:
He passed half his life at the chessboard. He would have preferred to go
on forever. He dreamed of a life in which eating and sleeping would be got
through while his opponent was making his moves.
The hyperbole smacks of fiction. The somewhat omniscient intimacy that
the subject is a literary creation. His name enforces this: Fischerle. Surey he is a
character modelled onor at least the author is alluding toBobby Fisher,
historys most monstrously passionate chess player.
Indeed Fisherle is a chess player in Elias Carnetts famous novel, Auto da
Fe. The book was however published, in 1935, eight years before Bobby was
born, and the English translation came out in 1946, when Bobby Fisher was
three, still a couple of years or so away from the rudiments of the game. Canetti
seem to have been prescient. On page 372 of the novel (Pan Books Ltd.,
paperback edition) we came upon a brief sentence: He was bound to get the
noble prize. If it was secretly alluding himself, which we think he was, Canetti
had to wait for nearly half a century for the precision to be made. The noble
prize for literature was awarded to him in 1981.
How closely does Fishcherle, Canettis creation, resemble Fishera man
we all know, given reclusiveness to be real?
Fisher broke into the consciousness of the international public n the mid
fifties as a twelve year old chess prodigy. He was written about as the boy who
played, ate and slept chess. True enough no obsessions to prove oneself the
best of the gameinstantly gameever rose to such a pitch as his head or had,
neither before him nor after. The boy Fisher declared that he was the worlds
best player, and the man gave the world a rather indigeble impression that,
indeed, he is the greatest that has ever been and perhaps the greatest there will
be.
To believe the last, one would have to be Jew, who sees history as moving
linearly toward a final point, who believes that time must have an end, a
termination. But what if it this is not so? What if the world abides forever as it is?
Even if time machines were invented, even if Fisher were granted a literal
immortality, there would be no end to the challenges that will come to him to the
future. Hell be playing forever and question whether he is the best, even if he is,
will never be settled.
There is another antipodal way. What fisher wants, what his rooters want,
can only be obtained in the realm of myth, of poetry, of the vertical. In that world
it is impossible to play only one game and be the greatest. In that world death
and finitude are accepted, are necessary, are as they cherish rudiments of an

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|142

enchanted game. We propose the idea that fisher may have, not so long ago,
intuited this. Therefore it is right that he has stopped playing. And for Fisher to
now suddenly emerged to the seclusion and play in a world match with Kasparov
would be a reckless reentry into a vicious circle of history, of futility, even if the
gamble pays off. This seems at least a coherent account of his intruding mania
of seclusion. It is known that in the early eighties Norman Mailer was bent on
writing a book on Fisher. Mailer was mighty equipped for the task, yet the book
never materialized. We understood along a line of our hypothesis, that Fisher is
vigilantly keeping safe the superlative facts of his caliber a chessplayer from the
flights to fancy to expected from a literary man. But perhaps even more, that he
is guarding the myth, the poetry, he secretly but inarticulately has himself
against himself against a journalist , even a metajournalist, representations.
Humor, he would be quick to recommend, can rescue fisher from the
rigors and the more painful consequences of this passion. But even here he is
actually uncompromising. More than his autism ordains that he be humorless
when it comes to stature as the greatest player of all time. For Fisher has
conceived that along philosophical, Platonic, Euclidean lines. His has been a
quest all along for the equation that establishes his centrality as chest history as
fact. If only the equation can be fundlike a hidden more or hidden combination.
Thus his intransigent withdrawal to the scene , from events, from reality.
In the now almost twenty years since he walked out of the chess world, we have
crumbs of information on Fisher as these:
Nowadays he travels all over the US and the first thing he does when he
gets to a town is to visit the public library and to read whatever chess book he
still has not read. Caisa , the chess muse, has not known such an enduring
manomania He is known to have engaged grandmasters in blitz chess on two
occasions. On the first, we read how he polishes of his grand masters with
unbelievable ease. On the second, we read that a grandmaster described his
play as rusty He has been jailed and arrested for vagrancy and when he
identified himself as Fisher, the chess champion of the world , he was savaged
by his jailers. He was heard to have been in Manila, travelling ignite as usual
shortly before the third and the last world match between Karpov and Kasparov
and to have said that Kasparov would lose the match due to pressure from
above A new Fisher game appears in the chest column at last! However it
turns out to be the score of a name he plays in a computer after beating which
he said that was ridiculously weak.
Except for the one about being jailed, the little items have been the effect
of reassuring their fns that their inaccessible hero has not gone the sad way of
Paul Murphy and Wilhelm Steinnitz before him, and more recently, the Brazilian
champion Henry Mekling. For now and then he is rumored that Fisher has
cracked up. E somehow not inclines to give this credence. What is frightening
and seems unreal about Fisher is that he is sane.
Now to Fischerle for the comparison.
Fischerle stands an inch and two over six feet. We saw him when he
visited Manila in 1976. He was surprisingly hefty, surprisingly had a smile
capable of disarming the girls.
Fischerle a dwarf and a hunchback is married to and is wholly dependent
on the earning of a prostitute who receives the gentleman right after the
bedroom. When shes on the job, Fischerle hides under the bed:

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|143

There he listened carefully to everything the man saidhe didnt care


what his wife saidand soon he develop an instinct whether the man is a chess
player or not. The moment he was sure of this, he crawled out as fast a he could
often hurting his jump very muchand challenge the unexpected visitor to a
game of chess. Some men agreed at once, as long as the game was for money.
Not one of the was puzzled by his sudden appearance. But Fischerles passion
grew with the years. Each time it was harder for him to postpone his challenge
long enough. Often he was forcibly overcome by the conviction that just above
his head an international champion was lying incognito.
Fischerie, in fact, has fantasies of one day meeting and outplaying
Capablanca, the world chess champion at the time book was writtenand which
the novel is set. Capablanca was a chess player whose invincibility on the board
was legendary in his day as Fishers is in ours. Fischeries ambitious dream was
the crowning perfection as, of its monstrousness. Since he is merely a character
in a novel written in the thirties, this delusion draws not only an absurd
encouragement but our sense of the marvelous. For the more intense his dream
becomes, the more certain he is of his fulfillmentthat is to say the more
intense he becomesthe closer he actually edges to a stupendous reality. On
page 214, he announces: In three months I shall be the world champion
gentlemen. And the funny thing, the wonder, about it is that words ring true. A
grosser instance is when he tells the press that As a world champion, he fell
from heaven. This is the an almost exact verbal replica of what the 1960
Latvian World Chess Champion, Miktail Tai, said of Fischer: The greatest chess
genius has fallen down to heaven.
Not of the same order, however, is part in which he vanquishes and
humiliates Capablanca. For some reason the climax to his career find us
disenchanted. We are reduced to knowing he is only a poor ,demented as if the
encounter, loonily triumphant a it is, proves to be unworthy of homoncus and the
hallucination is a hallucination, is a hallucinationif the encounter proved to be
unworthy fantasies , that he bowls over us, that he isas we now sayfantastic.
On page 182 he addresses a huge crowd of at least a thousand of reporters.
The words he announces are: Gentlemen, Im surprised to find myself called
Fischerle everywhere. My name is Fischer, I trust you that you will have this error
rectified. Two pages later he writes down and talks for everyone to see the
following sign: Chess Champion of the world, Fischer.
[MISSING PARAGRAPH]

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|144

The Fourteenth Fool


[Version 1. From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
It is the shape of a sugar-loaf, perfectly conical.
~ SIR JOHN BOWRING, A Visit to the Philippine Islands
The Nmiaci (Mi-a-tsi), the fourteenth entry in The Book of Fools, has claims to being
the most interesting, possessing a literary quality that makes it read more like
composed fiction than historical fact and sets it apart from others. To some this
constitutes a defect not a virtue, feeling that the imaginative ring of the story is out
of place in the book, whose fascinating appeal lies almost wholly in the easy
verifiability of each fools historical existence. The Book of Fools is a painstakingly
compiled collectanea of the worlds greatest fools from the beginnings of civilization
to the present, in which are blended trustworthy scholarship and the plainness of a
cooking manual. The phrasing, though not overly colloquail, is uniformly artless to
the point of being homely. As a result, each concrete moment of sheer foolishness
shines through the book like a gem. The style, one might say, is the sap. And this is
why the Nmiaci, in which one quite often runs into a coil of ornate expressions,
sticks out like a sore thumb, or rather like an anomalously robust and vigorous one.
Its enthusiasts on the other hand see th Nmiacis special treatment as the
editors subtle means of revealing their savant stature. It amounts to a signet. Nor
was this arbitrary. Even if its critics have admitted the impossibility of writing the
story of the Nmiaci in the same vein as the rest. It would have had perforce to be
scrapped altogether. Apparently the Nmiaci was problematic and received a greater
amount of study and meditation from the editors that any other single item in the
book. This view has led many to the opinion that the Nmiaci may be well in fact the
arch fool, the donkey par excellence, the dimwit of dimwits. This is a terrific
distinction. For the books selectiveness is itself mind-bogglingit includes only
twenty one fools where even a thousand would have been an infinitesimalfraction to
the total number of dolts in history. Each of these twenty-one fools is a superfool,
standing out from an incalculably vast infinity of fools, whose foolishness, if we may
have a little hyperbole, amounted to genius.
That he should have come from the twentienth-century is understandable.
Without detracting from its historical importance, we know that the century that
produces Einstein was also the natural age of certifiables. That the country no his
origins should have been the Philippine Islands, too, is perfectly comprehensible to
anyone familiar with the history of this country, although a little after the books
apperance it is known that some of the more advanced countries maddeningly
begrudged in the Philippines this honor.
But to move on. Apart from the country and the century in which he lived, we
know next to nothing of the Nmiaci by way of biographical details. The life of either
Jesus or Arthur by comparison is a fiesta of facts. We do not even know what his
name was. What is availble, however, is adequate to put his historicity beyond
doubt. It is not the skimpiness of the facts per se that cast a shadow on the subject
so much as its heightening , romantic effect. As with all historical puzzles, the whole
thing tends to be story rather than history.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|145

The earliest quest for the historical Nmiaci was undertaken four or five
generations after his time. A team of German scholars conducted an on-the-spot
investigation in Albay, a province in Bicol region at the southern tip of Luzon, the
countrys largest island. The Nmiaci was not from these parts; although the lunacies
were legend, it had never been established what particular region he came from but
it seems certain that he was not a Bicolano. At any rate this was where he was
known to have meandered during the last days of his lifeparticularly the Legaspi
Tabaco lowland. Now the whole of Albay is dominated by a slopes of the
astonishingly shaped Mayon Volcano, the worlds most perfect cone. It did not take
much intuition on the part of the Germans, at the sight of this natural marvel, to
guess that the fourteenth fool had in time moved up from the lowlands to the hills
and ultimately the slopes, where he disappeared forever.
The researchers at once stumbled upon the most impressive thing on record
about their subject. Not ne inhabitants knew what Nmiaci meant. And yet
regardless of sex, age, social position and mental abilityeach one invariably
smiled at the owrd. Asked why they did, the people could offer no explanation
whatsoever. But the smile came again and again even from the ame person each
time the magic word was uttered. The implication was staggering. It seemed that
the Nmiaci had become, among these people, a racial memory, a nerve-end so to
speak of their collective unconscious. The theory gained in strenghts as the sleuths
began their ascent inot the hills. They re-lived one of the great lessons of the
Nmiaci: Foolishness inclines to heights, to quote from the book. The smiles
widened and variegated as they climbed higher and higher: now a grin, now a
simper, now a beam, now a smirk, now a grimace, now a twinkie. Soon they were on
the slopes and at about four-thousand feet above sea level it became a positive
chuckle. They were half-way to the crater and could not make much further
progress. As it too assumed variety, the laughter for some unaccoubtable reason
made their hair standnow rumbling, Now subterranean, now convulsive. They
quickly made their way back to the lowlands.
The record of their experience is basic reading for anyone wishing to make a
study of the Nmiaci. The book continues Although the German scholars could not
gather anything from the highland folk beyond pure, inexplicable laughter they
could not besaid to have come out of it empty handed. It was a resounding tribute
to their wirk that even their most austere and humorless colleagues received the
story of their journey with undivided cachination.
But a circle that knew had on fact eluded the historical detectives. This was
the Nmiaci, an inseparable triad of ragamuffins, who derived their name and
lifestyle from the fool and to perpetuate him in flesh and folly. When a triad grew too
old and feeble it had to disappear and relinquish its foolishness to a new triad.
Where the former disappeared into is just as difficlut to answer as where the latter
sprang from. But the triad existed for over a century, roaming the area where the
scholars conducted their field iunvestigation. Their paths could not have crossed
the scholars could not have interviewed them wothour noticning something: the
Nmiaci on principe never smiled although they were exceedingly daffy. But even if
the two parties had met, it is doubtful if the scholars cpould have eked out anything
in the nature of information from them. The Nmiaci followed a vow of secrecy and
chched their science and practice in all sorts of idiotic subtleties not the least
maddening of which was silence combined with a serious face. In time they were
able to keep their name hidden from everyone, which explains the relative failure of
the quest.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|146

The Nmiaci were in truth grandmasters of madness. It is enough to cite a


single Nmiacism to illustrate this: You cannot oull the leg of a centipede. But it went
that way of all esoteirc organisms. It declined until finally it collapsed and its
teachings were disclosed and scattered, falling into the hands of people sufficiently
unhinged to take an interest in the,. After its decline and fall the Nmiaci became
fairly well-known, enjoying a certain fringe famousness. It became an underground
movement, a countr culture. But, although peripheral, it lacked the vitaloity and ifre
of the original fools. The Nmiacisms became dogma. To draw an image from the life
of the fourteenth fool himself, they were like the cruncated reamins of the volcano
that had exploded its last and turned extinct, blowing away its very cone and cone
in the process. The core, precisely, was lostthe essence, the missing cone. Some
of the new fools even went around in carsand the pilgrims who went to Albay
contemplated Mayon complete with Walkman, The secret remained. The most
ardent dunces who swore and clowned by it were unaware that the name Nmiaci
itself was a riddle. But this is to jump.
In the beginning of our century and obscure writer, Rasa Equinoc, ewho had
at first tried understandably to conseal his idebtity by disguising his name under
some unintelligible anagram now justly forgotten, wrote and published an essay
which was destined to become one of the most celebrated documents on the
Nmiaci. Equinocs essay contained a hitherto unknown incodent in the life of the
fourteenth fool upin which he based the startling conclusion that the fool died a
serious man.
The fool according to Equinoc was well ij his forties when he underwent a
conversation. Somewhere along the course of his aimless wanderings around Mt.
Mayon he suddenly became weary of making people laugh. The change of heart
was triggered by an incident in either Daraga ot Tabaco. (Enrique observed: That
Daraga and Tabaco were his favorite haunts indicates that the fool was an
inveterate smoker and a confirmed ogler. It also suggests the sort of eye he
sometimes cast upon Mayon Volcano.:) One day he chanced to see a mooncalf
being stoned by a group of children laughing and eating their ice cream. He saw and
felt for the first time the pain of hi sisolation. He saw himslef: a fool sandwiched
between the silent gods, by whom he was wrought, and the boisterous children,by
whom he was pelted. To both the fool was delighful and their delight was the fools
fatigue. Equinoc says that he himself began to understand why the fool is
sometimes calles a nut or a noodle.
The idea that the Nmiaci died a sreious man rocked the Nmiaci
establishment. Nmiaci purists resisted, it controverting the idea with another. They
claimed that it was a piece of sensationalism based on a textual misconstruction.
What really was meant was that the fourteenth fool died of a serious illness. But the
excitement caused by the essay indicated the end of an era and the start of a new
craze. Foolishness for foolishness sake was dead. Equinoc, however, erred in
leaning too heavilyin the opposite direction. Carried by the momentum of his own
eloquence, he succumbed to the temptimg but rather chaeap notion that the Nmiaci
thereafter headed for the volcanos crater. It was left to later writers to develop
more fuly the implications of his pioneering work and to refute as well its grosser
features for bwing the only known one in which the fool ever spoke in the famous
for beng thw only known one in which the fool ever spoke in the first person: Only a
volcano can kill me. And it will hava tio erupt. A forgivable boast. Theeditors rule out
of the possibility that the Nmiaci perished in any of the volcanos twentieth-century
eruptions, bolstering their argument with incursions into the history of ice-cream.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|147

The authenticity of the incident recounted in Equinocs work has not been
disrupted. It is not apocryphal. The editors collate his account with another, a more
through-going fiction, obviously. Equinoc inspired, in which we read of the Nmiaci
having, that night, a dream of the idiot. In the dream Nmiaci hands him an icecream which the poor fellow proceed to eat slowly and quietly, pausing only after
having consumed its contents to consider the empty cone at length, licking it once
more, then turning it this way and that, till finally he outs it on top of his head with
the most imbellic of smiles. You cant wear your cone and eat too, said the Nmiaci
but he was talking in his sleep and hje woke up to his own tears.
It is hard to go by facts alone in tracking the fool as he disappears into the
slopes of the volcano. There are no facts. The dreams, on the other hand, can
multiply. It was madness for him to gon but one concludes he did and it was just like
him to do so. Rather than go for the crater, which is crazy, he opts to lose himself in
quiet contemplation of the mountain, which is just as mad. For that, of course, he
had to have some distance. But even in the lowlands his untracebility is absolute.
There is only the volcano. And the name.
The riddle of the name corresponds to the riddle of the triad who held the
keys to the secret of the fool who invented his name. the number signifies triadic
nature of his fooluishenss; it is true, is it good, it is beautiful. It is the shape of the
volcano, a triangle, to which the fool in displain of the square aspires. It represents,
wistfully, the destruction of what it celebrates: his loneliness. Nmiaci is a
syncopated anagram and a perfect acronym. I am incredible. No man is a coney
isanld.
Dumaguete, 1966

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|148

[Version 2. Now titled: The NMIACI (The Fourteenth Fool)]


The Nmiaci (pronounced Mee-a-tsee, stress on the second syllable), the fourteenth
entry in The Book of Fools, has claims to being the most interesting, possessing a
literary quality that makes it read more like composed fiction than historical fact
and sets it apart from the rest of the books contents. To some this constitutes a
defect, not a virtue, feeling that the imaginative ring of the story is out of place in
the book, whose fascinating appeal lies almost wholly in the easy verifiability of
each fools historical existence. The Book of Fools is a painstakingly compiled
collectanea of the worlds greatest simpletons from remotest antiquity to the
present, in which are blended trustworthy scholarship and the plainness of a bicycle
manual. The phrasing, though not overly colloquial, is uniformly artless to the point
of being homely. As a result, each concrete moment of sheer foolishness shines
through the book like a gem. The style, one might say, is the sap. And this is why
the Nmiaci, reading which means getting beguiled by one ornate coil of a sentence
after another, sticks out like a sore thumb, or rather like an anomalously robust one.
Its enthusiasts on the other hand see the Nmiacis special treatment as the
editors subtle means of revealing their savant stature. It amounts to a hidden
signet. Nor was this arbitrary. Even its critics have admitted the impossibility of
writing the story of the Nmiaci in the same vein as the rest. It would have had
perforce to be scrapped altogether. Apparently the Nmiaci was problematical and
received a greater amount of study and meditation from the editors than any other
single item in the book. This view had led many to the opinion that the Nmiaci may
well be in fact the arch fool, the donkey par excellence, the dimwit of dimwits. This
is a terrific distinction. For the books selectiveness is mind-bogglingit includes
only twenty-eight fools where even a thousand would have been an infinitesimal
fraction of the total number of dolts in history. 1 Each of these twenty-eight fools is a
superfool, standing out from an incalculably vast infinity of fools, whose idiocy, if we
may be allowed a little hyperbole, amounted to genius.
That he should have come from the twentieth-century is understandable.
Without detracting from its historical importance, we know that the century that
produced Primal Scream Therapy was the breathless age of certifiables. That the
country of his origins should have been the Philippines, too, is perfectly
comprehensible to anyone familiar with not so much the history of that country as
its gestalt, particularly during elections.
Apart from the country and the century in which he lived, we know next to
nothing of the Nmiaci by way of biographical details. The life of either Jesus of
Nazareth or Arthur of Avalon or Buddha of Benares by comparison is a treasure
trove of facts. We do not even know what his name was. What is available, however,
is adequate to put his historicity beyond doubt. It is not the skimpiness of the facts
per se that casts a shadow on the subject so much as its glamour, the invariable
romantic effect it has on its readers. As with all historical puzzles, the thing tends to
be story rather than history.
The earliest quest for the historical Nmiaci was undertaken four or five
generations after his time. A team of German anthropologists conducted an
investigation in Albay, a province in the Bicol region at the southern tip of Luzon,
the countrys largest island. The Nmiaci was not from these parts; although his
lunacies were legend, it had never been established what particular region he came
from but it seems certain, though known to relish popping red pepper into his

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|149

mouth during meals, that he was not a Bicolano. At any rate this was where he was
known to have meandered during the last years of his lifeparticularly the LegaspiTabaco lowland. Now the whole of Albay is dominated by the slopes of the
amazingly shaped Mayon Volcano, the worlds most perfect cone. 2 It did not take
much intuition on the part of the Germans, at the sight of this natural marvel, to
guess that the fourteenth fool had in time moved up from the lowlands to the hills
and ultimately the slopes, where he disappeared forever.
The researchers at once stumbled upon the most impressive thing on record
about their subject. Not one inhabitant knew what Nmiaci meantand yet,
regardless of sex, age, social position, and mental ability, each one invariably
smiled at the word. Asked why they did, the people could offer no explanation
whatsoever. But the smile came again and again even from the same person each
time the magic word was uttered. The implication was staggering. It seemed that
the Nmiaci had become, among these people, a racial memory, a nerve so to speak
of their collective unconscious. The theory gained in strength as the sleuths began
their ascent into the hills. They relived one of the great lessons of the Nmiaci:
Aspiring to heaven is the effect of the Fall, as well as the cause. The smiles
widened and variegated as they climbed higher and higher: now a grin, now a
simper, now a beam, now a smirk, now a grimace, now a twinkle. Soon they were on
the slopes and at about four-thousand feet above sea level it became a positive
chuckle. They were half-way to the crater and could not make further progress. As it
too assumed variety, the laughter for some unaccountable reason made their hair
standnow rumbling, now subterranean, now convulsive. They quickly made their
way back to the lowlands.
The record of their experience is basic reading for anyone wishing to make a
study of the Nmiaci. The book continues, Although the German scholars could not
gather anything from the highland folk beyond pure, inexplicable laughter, they
could not be said to have come out of it empty-handed. It was a resounding tribute
to their work that even their most austere and humorless colleagues received the
story of their journey with undivided cachination.
But a circle that knew had in fact eluded the historical raiders. This was the
Nmiaci, an inseparable triad of ragamuffins who derived their name and life-style
from the fool and whose existence was then unknown. Nmiaci therefore either refers
to one manthe foolor the triad. The triad constituted a priesthood or an
apostleship whose lifetime work was to preserve the memory of the fool and to
perpetuate him in flesh and folly. When a triad grew too old and feeble it had to
disappear, somewhat in the manner of elephants, and relinquish its foolishness to a
new triad. Where the former went to is just as difficult to answer as where the latter
sprang from. But the triad existed for over a century, roaming the area where the
anthropologists had conducted their field investigation. Their paths could not have
crossedthe sleuths could not have interviewed them without noticing something:
the Nmiaci on principle never smiled although they were exceedingly daffy. But
even if the two parties had met, it is doubtful if the scholars could have gained their
confidence and elicited anything in the nature of information from them. The Nmiaci
followed a vow of secrecy and cached their science and practice in allsorts of idiotic
subtleties not the least maddening of which was silence combined with a solemn
face. In time they were able to keep their name hidden from everyone, which
explains the relative failure of the quest.
The Nmiaci were in truth grandmasters of madness. It is enough to cite a
single Nmiacism to illustrate this: You cannot pull the leg of a centipede. But it went

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the way of all esoteric groups. It declined until finally it collapseddied, so to speak,
of their own secret lifesome of its teachings somehow disclosed and scattered,
falling into the hands of people sufficiently unhinged to take an interest in them.
After its decline and fall the Nmiaci became fairly well-known, enjoying a cult
following. It became an underground movement, a counter culture. But, although
fanatical, it lacked the vitality and fire of the original nincompoops. The Nmiacisms
became dogma, albeit also enigma. To draw an image from the life of the fourteenth
fool himself, they were like the truncated remains of a volcano that had erupted its
last and turned extinct. Some of the new fools even went around in carsand the
pilgrims who went to Albay contemplated Mayon complete with walkman in the 90s,
then mp3 player and iPod in the following decade. The secret remained. The most
ardent dunces who swore and clowned by it were unaware that the name Nmiaci
itself was a riddle. But this is to jump.
Sometime at the turn of the present century, a mysterious researcher who
wrote under the pseudonym Z published an essay 3 which was destined to become
one of the celebrated documents on the Nmiaci. Zs essay contained a hitherto
unknown incident in the life of the fourteenth fool upon which he based the startling
conclusion that the fool devoted his latter years to the pursuit of sobriety, if not in
factno matter if he didnt know the critical termhigh seriousness.
The fool according to Z was well in his forties when he underwent this
conversion. Sometime in the course of his aimless wanderings around Mt. Mayon he
suddenly became weary of making people laugh. The change of heart was triggered
by an incident in either Daraga or Tabaco. 4 One day he chanced to see a mooncalf
being pelted with all sorts of cruel if harmless missiles by a group of children
laughing and eating their ice-cream heartily. Z describes this incident thus:
He saw the whole of Mayon turn upside down and the earth spinning along
with it and himself falling into the volcano and out of itat oncedespite being in
actual fact immobile. An out-of-the-body experience since not only was he an IQ
turtle, he had turned turtle inside and in that fashion had given the lie to the
paradox of Zeno. What indeed could be slower than a turtle but a turtle that had
turned turtle?5 This allowed Achilles, at last, to whizz by like a missile and the
missile, the last and the hardest, hit the mooncalf.
It hit the Nmiaci too.
He saw, first, that the mooncalf was himthen, as if the missile struck the
same son- of-lightning twice, he saw that he was the mooncalf (there is a difference
there), a creature sandwiched between the silent gods, by whom he was wrought,
and the boisterous children, by whom he was pelted. Obviously to both, the
mooncalf was, as the poet might word itand more aptly in this instance tooa
phantom of delight. I, too, for the first time, understood why the fool is sometimes
called a nut or a noodle. But for the fourteenth fool the matter went beyond the
pleasure principle, beyond even the death instinct: it was an intimation of
immortality.
The idea that the Nmiaci ended up a practitioner of high seriousness rocked
the Nmiaci establishment. Nmiaci purists resisted it, controverting the idea with
another. They claimed that it was a piece of sensationalism based on a textual
misconstruction. What happened, they offered as a corrective, was that the
fourteenth fool was encoding his real message behind Matthew Arnolds famous
phrase which was in truth convenient because it, seriousness, was the exact
opposite of what was meant, namely the slang high. It was only irony of, one might
say, the first iron. But the excitement caused by Zs essay indicated the end of an

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epoch and the start of a new craze. Foolishness for foolishness sake was dead. The
new foolishnessnamely, the foolishness of commitmenthad come of age. Z,
however, erred in leaning too heavily in the opposite direction. Carried by the
momentum of his dialectic, he succumbed to the notion that the Nmiaci, pure as the
driven snow, was in fact not a nut or a noodle but a snowflake that had found its
doppelganger. Alas, committed was the Nmiaci to the snowflake principle that there
can only be one! The Nmiaci according to Z headed for the volcanos crater, to bring
the idea of commitment furtherin fact, to its logical conclusion, namely, commit
suicide. It was left to later writers to develop more responsibly the implications of
Zs pioneering work and to refute as well his eventual grim thesis. Z, it was pointed
out, seemed to have ignored a Nmiacism famous for being the only known one in
which the fool ever spoke in the first person: Only a volcano can kill me. And it will
have to erupt. (A forgiveable boast. The editors rule out the possibility that the
Nmiaci perished in any of the volcanos twentieth-century eruptions, bolstering their
argument with irruptions into the history of ice-cream.)
At all events, the authenticity of the incident recounted in Zs work has never
been disputed. It is not apocryphal. The editors collate it with another, a more
thorough-going fiction, obviously Z-inspired, in which we read of the Nmiaci having,
that night, a dream of the mooncalf. In his dream the Nmiaci is a child who hands
the latter an ice-cream which the mooncalf proceeds to eat slowly and quietly,
pausing only after having consumed its contents to consider the empty cone at
length, licking it once more, then turning it this way and that, till finally he puts it on
top of his head with the most imbecilic of smiles. You cant wear your cone and eat
it too, said the Nmiaci, but he was talking in his sleep and he woke up to his tears.
It is hard to go by facts alone in tracking the fool as he disappears into the
slopes of the volcano. There are no facts. The dreams, on the other hand, can
multiply. It was madness for him to go on but one concludes he did and it was just
like him to do so. Rather than go for the crater, which was crazy, he opted to lose
himself in quiet contemplation of the mountain, which was just as mad, considering
it was emitting smoke and, just barely perceptibly, shivering like a dinosaur. For
that, of course, he had to have some distance. But even in the lowlands his
untraceability is absolute. There is only the volcano. And the name.
The riddle of the name corresponds to the riddle of the triad who held the
keys to the secret of the fool who invented his name. The number signifies the
triadic nature of his foolishness: it is true, it is good, it is beautiful. It is the shape of
the volcano, a triangle, to which the fool in disdain of the square aspires. It
represents, wistfully, the destruction of what it celebrates: his uniqueness and
consequent loneliness. Nmiaci is a perfect acronym and a syncopated anagram.6 I
am incredible. No man is a coney island.
1

Somewhat like saying a millennium is one month, and the month February (no leap
year please) at that.
2
It is in the shape of a sugar-loaf, perfectly conical. Sir John Bowring, A Visit to the
Philippine Islands
3
The Volcano Is Extinct, I Am The Eruption
4
Z observed: That Daraga and Tabaco were his favorite haunts indicates that the
fool was an inveterate smoker as well as an intemperate ogler, the last clause in
turn explaining the mystique he had for Mayon Volcano.

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Zs essay has it that the Nmiaci described his experience in the netherworld
afterwards in this manner: The universe itself had turned turtle. And it was granted
to me that I would catch a glimpse of what held it up. It was turtles that had turned
turtle all the way.

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The Great Filipina Navel


[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
Theyve coined a term for it: sexy dancing. Generic. The meaning ranges from the
a-go-go dancer, the ones you see in bikinis dancing to a disco tune in nightclubs
to a sea of beer-sweating males . . . to our very own version of the striptease in
which the girl performs a bit of gruesome circus: picking up some money bill
dexterously (certainly the wrong word) with their cuntan exhibition which
semiology must decode as the most intimate gesture of fallen whoredom . . . to the
sort which sexy dancing choreographers call sexy dancing properwith
classof which the most familiar example is Vivian Velezs vertiginous sequence
in a commercial.
The common denominator is that the female dances, partnerless, to male
pleasure. Naturally (or unnaturally) we can make mention of something somewhat
underground: sexy dancing where the dancer is a macho dancing to the delectation
of a recent bestseller: faggots.
But many things go inside a night club. In the fifties in the States there was
once a club that featured a huge naked Negro poised like an art-work. Kind of
sculptured dance, if you could call it thatas when you say kinetic art. The reverse.
The size of it was hypnotic. It was a mighty, nightly attraction in the place. In came
one evening Filipino novelist Mig Enriquezwho promptly does, lets out, his thing.
Ithyphallic Negro loses job in the morning.
The choreographers say its art. Theyre right (though better off if they knew
Salome). Stand to reason. Dancing is art; sexy dancing is dancing; ergo, sexy
dancing is art. (And if they had a notion it is in fact the earliest art.)
(But arty is dead. Ergo, sexy dancing is dead. Long live advertising.)
Your name doesnt have to be Billy Graham to realize that sexy dancing is not
meant to feed your virtue (if youre a vice president: why not Nixon?). but you do
have to go beyond the libber to metaphorize thus: sexy dancing is calypso all over
again turning male chauvinist pigs to good old plain and simple pigs.
But waithere comes the poet.
Who has, as usual, something subversive to say. He says that any ritual that
gives you a hard-on is religious. Ergo.
Long live sexy dancing!
This thing must have begun when matriarchy yielded to patriarchy. In
countries where women are subordinate you notice how courtesanship is brought to
the level of art. The geisha for instance. Or you can very safely assert that nowhere
is sexy dancing sexier and dancier than in the belly dancer, Salome. The east yeah.
Adroit de seigneur.
I used to think that the Japanese woman must be the best woman in the
world. She seems to be the incarnation of all the faunas in the saunas of your mind.
Remember what Buddha said when asked by a woman in distress what were the
qualities of an ideal wife. The master mentioned several. But the climactic one was:
the ideal wife is her husbands slave.
I was twenty-six when I first saw that this essay describes in the middles of its
first paragraph. I was with two writer-friends from my UP days: Jose Nadal Carreon
and Frankie Osorio. I blushed like a flamingo. This caught the girls eyeand a

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smile. She drew to where we were. To where I was. Mistake. It snuffed the flamingo
out. But there was Frankie and Ardo. And she travelling from my embarrassment to
a thousand one nights of Arab expertise.
Ours is, as you know, a curious country. Its neither here nor there because of
its Spanish Catholicism, a culture famous for splitting women into whores and
virgins. But its also a country that matriarchal and pagan at heart. More crucial,
this. Because we are matriarchal at heart, sexy dancing will always be a neurosis
with us. We will always when we watch and enjoy the sexy dancers be pubertous
boys playing hooky, having our fill of something we cannot normally take home to
discuss at dinner.
Unless perhaps you eat dinner alone and enjoy talking to yourself.
Unless the little woman herself runs the showliterally. Meaning that she
restores sexy dancing to a possible original condition, i.e., as part of the social,
not to say cosmic, scene. In to her words, we dont split sexy dance from the women
we hold dear. Get it? Holistic, as the campus theoreticians would say. No more
schizophrenia. The sexy dancer is the who in primal times was trusted with sowing
the seed, for in any other hands but hers things will not prosper.
The may be wistful thinking, not sexy dancing. Except one, never the two
navels shall meet.
Manila, 1980

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In the Smithy of My Soul


[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
One day I will die. That is the only thing I can be really positive about. As one day I
was born, one day I will die; maybe so suddenly I wont even have time to be sad
and say farewell to all that matters in this world.
This is the world, my one and only; the good earthlife among people brown
and burning in muffled screams every day. Here where wind and sun boil the sea to
gold, I earn my keep by kissing the ground that my father and mother tread. When
daylight comes, I take coffee and rice so I can burn and be brown when a woman of
my brown people pouts with mouth and breasts, or when a man of my brown people
pierces my meat with dagger looks in the cool of street and evening.
My brown people say with eyes bewitched in the sea-scented moonlight that
far away, beyond even Manila, there are lands inhabited by beings so beautiful they
could reach the moon and make love like gods. But these being once had a hero
who crooned that blood is red anywhere. So he went to a theater to buy immortality
and a bullet for his head. He died because of us; my brown people flame toothfully
in the sea-scented moonlight.
So that now I will not talk much with Lilian even as they say she is the most
female of females hereabout.
She strides with grace, natural grace, this Lilian. When she flowers into smile
everybody is brown more and burns more. That is why I am very brown and burn so
much because, joy of joys, I am the owner of those smiles of hers. When we talk,
the whole world becomes to me just her pair of innocent eyes. That is Lilian, one of
those girls who were born only to make a man feel all the world of tomorrow is but a
bedroom and some soft, clean pillows and some soft, clean blankets; not so big a
world, really. I talk to her ever so tenderly. I gaze at her ever so tenderly, for that is
Lilian, a tenderness of something I want to own, and I feel I own.
But today no more of such gazes, of such talk. No more of such tenderness.
Goodbye to dreams of love. Im sorry, Lilian. Anyway we will have such a lovely
memory to cherish later. How the world can become just your pair of eyes and a
tender dream to me. How innocent your voice is when you moan Im mad, Im mad.
How I say dont mind them, I love you. They can all die sour for all we care. Im tired
of relations; through with being afraid lest I displease somebody. I never did succeed
much, anyway, in my efforts. I often turned out to be awkward, foolish. And even if I
did succeed sometimes, what the hell? I dont think they deserve it. I dont know
why I should be so thoughtful when they are not, even a bit, themselves. Let me be
mad. Let me be an island that knows only defiance, without regrets whatsoever. Let
your joy be my joy; your sadness, my sadness. Let your all be my all, even your
books and your notes, because I do not take enough of coffee and rice that I may be
strong enough to be interested and take down the professors dictation. Because of
you, I am a dreamer, Lilian. But today, goodbye to this dreamer me that you have
made.
To me now, its but once upon a time that I used to have thoughts that almost
everybody says are divine. Thoughts of the world. Divine, they say. Things divine,
like a one-story mansion with wide, marble steps, and Bermuda about, a fountain

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maybe, pine trees, and a red car with which I will tour the big, big world of my
hometown.
Lilia nays I am such a wonderful dreamer she will find life quite hard to bear
without me.
No more, Lilian. Now that I really have been persuaded my blood is red
enough to adore, no more. No more of your angel face and moonbeams magnifique
playing in your eyes. It still feels good to day-dream of riding that red car though.
Telling these faces here someday how the world will have treated them. See me.
Ive got a car, and a mansion with wide, marble steps, and Bermuda about, and a
fountain, and fine trees, and look whos beside me.
But I ooze of other flames. Every night in bed, when all is tired and still, my
ears hum with a thousand thoughts of futile to ignore. Yeah. My blood is red.
Certainly yours is a body with too much poetry to ignore. Yours is a joyful virgin of
femaleness too good to lose. But ours will be a melody too brief. Later, you will
wither into years and then maybe suffer a disproportionate belly like your mothers
and I will, as all lovable husbands do at such a time, go to hell with the perfumed
birds of night.
I have no stomach, for the aftermath of love erotic. Coffee in the morning,
papers, ink, clichs, coffee again, and then one-story mansion with marble steps,
rice and stew, a faded woman with an ill-fated belly, children who say daddy with
sugar kisses and later grow into angry beat-generationists who make a rug of
mother earth reaching for the stars.
These are thing like lying in the grass beside a canal of clean water. I love to
watch the daysky in the water. I become romantic and of course it is splendor here
too. Only I am afraid somebody will call the police and say a drunkard is on the
loose frightening tourists. That is why I do not really lie down. I just stand looking
and looking at the serious and clear liquid where the sun, haunted with morning and
gossamer films of cloud, is like a moon sunk in eternity. I just stand and think of
myself lying on the grass and pondering lost childhood. There are things like rum.
There are thing like listening to Deogracias play the piano and crying to his
rhapsody when Larry is around. Sing to the whimpering keys and cry and dream and
talk about how Deogracias makes love to some of his prettier students. Just wait,
pardner, one of these days I will make music of my own and become a semimillionaire and go to Hong Kong and Tokyo and play Casanova with yellow Bardots
when the lights are low and Sen-Sen becomes Beethoven.
This must be life. This must have been the dream of the centuries twisting
upon the eyes of our patriots in the moonrise of their wounds. Thats right, pardner,
grins Deogracias. This is the gift, the heritage, eveningful of streetcars, brisk
shadows, naughty lights, distant jukebox jazz, department stores with dreamersturned-salesgirls who are simple dreamable but who smile at us if intuition tells me
them we are no wealthier then Jesse James.
I dont have a job yet, lady. But this is a free country, lady, and I have a
sympathetic pal in school who can buy the whole place if you like, or buy you if you
are buyable. Lady.
Come on pardner, let us go to Seaside Eden and watch some of your
professors lecture to the perfumed birds of night, grins Deogracias.
But its a pity we dont have Larry around. You know, he cries even to jazz or
rock n roll. Moreover, I think we are wealthier when he is around.
Oh never mind, pardner, anyway we will just watch the perfumed birds of
night. We shall keep our distance and order only liquid, grins Deogracias.

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So I go home for supper and become a mute. I have been brave enough to
down two glasses and Im afraid my voice smells a little. But I do enjoy the table
conversation of the others in spite of my muteness. They enliven my appetite, I am
glad, I chuckle inside. They have dreams. They eat very much so they will grow tall
and meaty. They study their lessons every day so that one day they may go to the
land beyond Manila and have their skins bleached and their faces lifted and most
probably marry people who can make love like gods eternal.
Because they sense that I chuckle they talk even more agitatedly. They want,
oh how they want to sneer at me, provoking me to be a mute no more and say go
ahead, work hard to become gods-ever-vital because tomorrow is the time for all
good, erotic gods to become senile and forgotten. So then at last they can sneer at
me and say go ahead, lie on the grass and be caught by the police. Be a rat. We will
meanwhile go to church regularly and pray passionately with eyes closed and kiss
our rosaries so that after we are through making love like gods we will end up in
paradise and ever after be happy and gay.
But hold on to dear vow, to dear principle, to dear fear. Remain a mute till
you have drunk water when you can open your mouth into monosyllables which
somehow remark that the night is still young you want to inhale virgin air outside.
Look for Larry and have a talk with him in the wind of the wharf.
Larry and I talk as if we were metaphysicists. We really are, he says, because
unlike Deogracias he does not dream of millions and Bardots who whimper softly
when the lights are low and Sen-Sen becomes Beethoven.
We really are, dear friend, because you too have conventions, Larry croons to
the black, profound see, like those divine fellows we come across in golden eras of
history. One of these days, dear friend, we will be like the happy fish, the happy
tree, the happy bird. We will all be gold. I think you have something there Larry, but
I want to be gold because others cannot. If all will be gold anyway, there is no sense
struggling tooth-and-nail to become so, as we are doing.
I look at Larrys eyes and remain immobile for a while. Perhaps that way he
would not have sounded rather queer?pathetic? Then my mind looks up to freeze
in the soulful air. Thinking of my own business in turn, I leap up to hum voicelessly
the tune of my life. I hum to the gaping stars of night, stooping like a giant and say
goodbye to Larry who, however, dim in shadow, says he will be going too, since the
night too is late for him and he lives an hour of jeepney away.
See you next century, Larry. There will be a dance for us students next week.
A ticket costs only two pesos and for the love of my face I buy one and I am
cordially invited. Come with a mask, they simper toothfully, so the affair will howl
louder than the dogs. I dont need any. I have always worn one which I dont think I
could take off. I will never, I think, because once upon a time I unbuttoned my shirt
since it was warm and the girl I had a crush on said it was bad taste.
O forgive me Lilian for having worn masks with you too. All the while you
were with me. But I was not born yet when you said I was a wonderful dreamer. You
know it can get real crazy sometimes and you have got to forgive your tongue
something wet and sweet to lick, like lollipop maybe, or lips such as yours which are
wetter, and sweeter, and do not get consumed. So, you see, Deogracias wants to
mine his piano of about a million and then go to Hong Kong and Tokyo to make love
more often and with more gusto. So you see they eat very plenty at home to grow
big and tall, study hard, dreaming of going someday to the lands beyond Manila; all
so they could have themselves hermoso enough to marry people who can make
love like gods. So you see Larry goes in saying we are all raped and sick because we

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love to clothe ourselves, and wear leather shoes, and dream of Thunderbirds; but
dear friend, he croons with eyes bewitched by the moons of his exotic soul, one day
we will all be gold, happy as the fish, as the tree; happy as the bird.
I love them all even when I am mute and immobile. Every day I burn with
them. And bleed in muffled screams. Every day they dance around me like ghoulish
flames and I stare at them simpering like an idiot. I say to myself I love my brown
people, here where wind and sun boil the sea to gold, where I earn my keep by
kissing the ground that my father and mother tread. I love them when they grin
toothfully in the salty moonlight, when they croon, even when they yell, and they
sneer. Even when they look upon themselves in the mirror every morning and every
time when nobody is around, laughing at the own reflection like idiots.
Yet, I will be on my own. I am born individualist. Goodbye to Lilian and
happiness and pride. I will find you all later after I have been able to swim in a paint
and oil like a world champion. Whereupon I will be a rat no more. I will swim and
swim now while I burn very brown although nobody cares to give a damn watching
my blood flame because they are all busy dreaming of a nice, red car, and a
mansion, and somebody who can make love like a god. Or because they are all busy
driving a red car, touring the stage of the world. Or maybe because they are all
sound asleep after having made love like gods.
When I go to bed I do so with a conscience so clear it gives me insomnia. I
love my brown people when their eyes gleam in the moonlight talking of Rizal, and
the white hero who died because of us, because blood is red anywhere even in this
corner of the world where the sea once tried to drown everybody. I go to sleep
thinking one day I will die, possibly without seeing the dawn brighten the wounds of
my poor hungry soul. But die is certain. That is the only thing I can be really positive
about. And I will die fighting if there are still things to fight for. Such as lying in the
grass when childhood is gone and the sun is an angry moon deep under the canal
waters. Meanwhile I wrestle with my soul so I can go to sleep. Lie on my back. Lie on
my right side. Lie on my left side. Lie on my front. I must sleep so I can have the
strength to rise from my chair tomorrow and say I dont know sir to the professor.
And when I sleep I sink into the greenish moonscape of a dream. I dream of
myself high upon a platform with brush and paint before a wall of my room which by
sorcery of subconscious becomes a canvas. Upon the ground are my people gaping
like eternity and terribly frozen in the moonlight. I am painting Deogracias in gold
teaching a girl how to play the piano. The girl looks familiar and when I finish I
realize that it is Lilian and they are not sitting beside each other. Lilian is upon his
lap and, forsaking the piano, together they madden to become music themselves.
Somehow I can feel that they are naked and that my dream is just being modest
about it because not even dogs, much less people, like tasteless cloth.
Then, as Deogracias rises to rhapsody, not upon whimpering keys but upon a
whimpering woman, my brown people start to movefreeing themselves from a
chain of timeto dance ghoulish flames around the stage, and while they all flame
to savage ritual before and about me, I strain to shriek, perhaps blankly sensing
that this is all a naughty nightmare, only to find my voice uttering a primitive and
unpoetic moan. Nevertheless it was quite a try; I have desired to scream, not
because it is a masterpiece that my brush sings of, not because the orgy creeps
within my flesh but because my heart pains to see Lilian happy in the song of such
an assault. I love Lilian, after all; yet if I admit that to her or the world, I cannot sing
the song of my life, bleed to flames and stop like a giant to the stars that gape like
fire-ghosts at the sea.

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Zamboanga, 1962

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Jerahmeel
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
[NOTE: Dr. Aquino has a similarly titled poem.]
How the world came to have an inkling of the moons fate was itself a bit of
witchcraft. For the moon itself had shown no sign of it whatsoever. It waxed, shone
full, waned, disappeared, returned as thin as it had gone, and waxed again, in the
skycoming and going in all the familiar guises with which, through the ages, it had
been wont to beguile mankind.
The whole lunar occurrence, if it might indeed be called such, came in two
waves. First, everyone was having strange, bewitching dreams of the moon. A
fisherman dreamed that all the seawater had gone to the moon and it rained fish. A
gifted actress dreamed that she suckled her lover on the moon, before her biggest
crowd yet. A chessplayer, biting in his sleep the dregs of a grand struggle, dreamed
of a lovely half-moon, visible through the window, and two full moons, even lovelier,
plying the two-colored diagonals of the chessboard and casting a stranger, greenish
quality of moonlight among the chess shadowstwin moons, but, to use the jargon
of the game, moons of opposite color. A doctor dreamed that the moon, completely
fooling the astronomers, in fact lay at the earths core. Then someone else dreamed
of a dawn in which it was the moon that rose breathtakingly in the east.
And so on. Crescents and eclipses on a tiger instead of stripes. A boy
attacking the moon with his crayons. A soldier moaning from the moons broken
flesh. Each dream, taken in isolation, would have been an occasion for marvel and
delight. But occurring as it were like an epidemic, they were unnatural. And hardly
had people begun to talk uneasily about it when the thing stopped altogether. All at
once no one had a single dream of the moon any more. This sudden void, evoking
indefinable echoes, was the second phase and it was in fact more disquieting. It was
then that people caught on to what was taking place, or rather to what was about to
take place. Instantaneouslyand for that reason infalliblythe world grasped the
phenomenon of the moons loss.
Earth had experienced no deeper shock. What everything else had failed to
dothe unification of all humanitythe fact of losing the moon forever did utterly. It
cut through all barriers, just as hitherto the beauty, the poetic power, of that
splendid body had cut through all geographies. And yet no one had actually spoken
of it. Lying at the threshold of utterance, the death of the moon made everyone
inexplicably sad, even the truly wicked and the mentally unfit; and were they to rise
again, the dead, it might be said, would no doubt have fallen in with the collective
sadness.
It remained to be clarified that, in a certain perspective, more or less that of
science, the end of the moon did not mean the end of mankindof life on earth, for
that matter. It was the sun that sustained the world, and moonlight was. In a
manner of speaking, light embezzled. Rash as it would be to say that the moon
more or less was the ornaments essence, one could point out that it had seemed so
precious only on account of mans aesthetic sensibility, or, perhaps, more
significant, on account of human sentiment. There is specially one striking thing
about man: the capacity to love something for no other reason than that the thing is

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there, regardless of whether it is wholly undesirable or that it is, like the moon, a
wonder of beauty.
At all events, some future that would accept the loss of the moon matter-offactly was conceivable. This future would look back on the time of a mooned earth
with at most an occasional mist of nostalgia, of wistfulness. The only thing that
would be in question is whether the memory of a mooned earthof the moons
existencewould in time also be obliterated.
Of the whole flight to the moon, Jerry could not afterwards recall a single
clear detail. So unclear was the experience and so indifferent had he seemed to how
it felt that the very word flight appeared to be no more than a fleeting afterthought.
It was as if he had been on the moon all the while and there was no question
whatsoever of a journey taken. But he did not come upascend to where they were,
that much was certain. All the same the process was obscure. True, he was, as he
made his way to the moon, conscious of being alive to a certain nascent harmony, a
certain unexpressed faint leaping in his heart, but that must have been solely the
innocent joy he felt at knowing that he was fated to save the moon.
They had been waiting for quite a while, gathered on top of some towering
rock formationvery high, but still hemmed in by the great rims, walls jutting up
into a barely visible sky.
All that waiting had made her, for a moment, look what she was underneath
a young girl. Even when she had fully regained her ease, Jerry thought he
discerned in her a sort of pageant carriage, the sportful attitude of a pageant figure,
the faintly bashful manner of a young woman at her nuptials who is in truth just one
girl among but who is nevertheless a queen of the hourof the day. But indeed she
was a moon queenthe new moon queen, thought that had to wait till Jerry came.
For one wild, eerie while, totally unprecedented, some things had simply not gone
according to schedule and the cosmos dreamt in a split-twinkle of madness. Now
that he had come at last, the moon could proceed with its single sacred ceremony:
the crowning of the new moon queen when the old moon-queen dies. Thus she
beheld Jerry, and before her gaze Jerry found himself decimated. He was not a man
approaching his thirties-m he was a boy. A maiden as she was and gentle as her
eyes, the effect of womanly poor and superiority that she gave was stark, and would
have been dreadful if it were not in fact curiously pleasant. One could tell at once
that the slightest expression of haughtiness was foreign to her countenance, but
there was in her look becoming blend of appreciation and aloofness that fixed him
as he really was: a child of the universe. On earth, perhaps only himself, he might
certainly cherish the awesome identity of having been the one who saved the
moon, and that he might be more like him too. But here, at the actual money, he
was a boy and felt wholly like a boy, felt himself to be the diminutive ring-bearer at
some wedding.
Inadvertently his eyes caught a glimpse of the inconspicuous old moon-queen
dying in a corner. Jerry started at the close resemblance between the two. What
surprised him even more was the expression on the old moon-queens face. She
floated in the abstraction of a bottomless joy. It did not seem possible. Then it
occurred to him that he was face to face with the one differencethe only
difference between earth-people and moon-people. The latter looked to death as
the most wonderful event in existence.
Jerry perceived that this did not indicate a radical pessimisma moon-gnomic
disenchantment with life. Far from it. In the first place, the ceremony centered on

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the crowning of the new, young moon-queen, and the old, dying moon-queens
place was rightly by the side.
It was no, moreover, what one would call a reflective, philosophical joy. Such
was the joy of the Greek hero, as well as that of his Indian counterpart, a joy
suffused with essential suffering, albeit at once redeemed and redeeming. But the
smile of the old moon-queen, borne as a ripple of prehuman wisdom, was the fresh
taste of water. Moon-people died sweetly. Death to them was as honey. One could
well imagine how alien to them would be the idea of approaching death with dread.
Jerry thought of the one who had looked at him.
She looked every bit what she was. A true goddess. A dream of creation. No
one, he thought, could be that beautiful and not love life. Her very glance must, in
fact, bequeath to everything its elusive justness.
Even to death. Death, the deathless nightmare.
Jerry saw in a flash what had eluded him.
It was a mere resemblance. The old moon-queen was the new moon-queen
and he, Jerry, was no ring bearer, held, as in a mirror, in the irises of the moon.
He drove, light as a leaf, as a feather, and it was clear to him that he was not
flying but gliding in space like a leaf, like a feather. At certain durations is descent
was suspended and he was floating, floating in midspace, and fired by a terrific
volition his limbs spread like petals and his body arched like an underwater
acrobats. between earth and the stars, in the eye of the ether, he relished, lived
the grace of a moonbeam, of a great showfish, or a great waterfall, and it seemed to
him, as his arms made little, adoring circles towards earth, that he was executing a
sidereal sequence with eternity. No one was watching him of course, except he
himselfand he had a pellucid awareness of this, that he was watching himself
but down below he sensed perfectly the earths full rejoicing, hushed and self-secret
though it was in the dream of the sleepers. For it was clear that in the night once
more the flowers bloomed, the brooks gurgled, the rivers flowed, the sea broke in
ripples, the leaves fell upon pavements of cities.
Baguio, 1976

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Kalisud a la Dante Varona


[Version 1. From the Sillimanian Magazine, 1990]
[NOTE: Dr. Aquino has a similarly titled poem.]
[MISSING]

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[Version 2. From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]


[NOTE: Dr. Aquino has a similarly titled poem.]
I would never have gone to Tacloban had it not been for a chessplayer named Roy
Mercado of Foundation University in Dumaguete. As his coach I had to be wherever
his victories took jim. My life was, so to speak, in his fingers, which were yellow with
nicotine. I would never have gone had he lost to his opponentthe Kolokoy of Mirisi
in the crucial qualifying match in Tagbilaran that had my heart like a chess piece
in his shaking hand. His name of course means king. Very appropriate. Foundation
University Chess King, just as in my day I had been Silliman University Chess King,
since after all my first name means much the same thing.
We trained in Cebu for three days before proceeding to Tacloban. Our host
was an initially taciturn but in the long run gracious school principal, a Mr. T.Y.
Sapayan. We left Cebu in the early evening of February 24. When we got to the boat
M/V Samar Queen (cheesy name too)there were no more cots available. Many
faced the prospect of spending the whole night without sleep and without even a
chair or stool to sit on. I dont know how the others managed. I took what seemed
the only thinkable course: wander about in crazy circles, zippy zig zags, tipsy
tangents, preposterous perpendiculars, sexy spirals, ambiguous angles and
amorous arcsvaguely hoping that somehow a solution would soon present itself.
Sure enough, I came upon the little league baseball teamtykes from Dumaguete
and their two coachesresourcefully spreading their mats on the boats deck. There
was, crosswise, enough space above their heads.
It was like sleeping among the duendes. I spent the night, before falling
asleep despite the cold sea wind, listening to the little champs talk and talk. I
marvelled at how they spoke my mother tongue much more felicitously than I did. I
put on two jackets and wrapped myself with a blanket but it was still very cold. We
slept in the wind and under a waxing moon that moved with us all the way, it
seemed, to the Pacific. From time to time I would wake up -a boy kept bumping
heads with me.
I saw Leyte, then, for the first time, morning of February 25, 1983, exactly as
Magellan and famished crew must have seen itall mountain and forest and
sunlight and grass and trees and beaches and blue sea. You wouldnt know Samar
and Leyte are that close until you see it. On the map they look like perfectly
separate islands. On the spot they are Siamese twins. A helicopter hovered in circles
above us. Sea spray. Below, in the transparent water, were jellyfish of fantastic
sizes. Roy Mercado is telling me of Dante Varonas diving stunt as we cross under
San Juanico Bridge. He almost got killed but in the movie you wouldnt know it. He
looks up at the bridges underbelly and grinned, scratching his thick beard. Weve
lost the joy of looking at things in the sky, be it an airplane or a kite. Or when youre
below and, he-he, its a girl unaware.
The day glare in Tacloban was harsh. I was squinting all the time, wishing it
would go soft just once for a while so I could enjoy a walk up and down its streets. It
finally rained on Sunday, but by then it was too late. It was the day of our
departure. Here, anyhow, comes Roy Mercado:
I was rambling about, trying to erase all though of the coming chess
struggle, savoring the newness of the city. I saw this girlIm not a writer, so let me
just say that she was pretty and that, a s consequence, I was lost. I wanted to come

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up to her with a prepared line, Do you know E.T.? I meant to tell her, if she bit, that I
was feeling all alone, millions of light-years away from Taclobo. From Taclobo to
Tacloban! But I couldnt summon enough guts. In chess as well as in love I am a
disciple of Petrosian, that is, I am more of a waiting than an attacking player. I
believe that defense is the best offense. I wait patiently for the opponent to make a
blunder. But how could she possibly make one? I pondered this for nearly a minute,
till she was gone.
Other athletes are of course more spectacular lovers. They dont just make
lovethey jump, swing, dive, heave, sommersault, run, kick, jab, dribble. We
chessplayers merely sit and think and blink. Women naturally prefer the former, but
not all. I knew of one who constantly reassured me and cheered me on, once
magically lumping together Rene Descartes and Billy Joel on the occasion of my
asking her whether I stood a chance with her or not: I love you just the you think!
A Pfennig for your Weltanschauung, I told him.
It was not love and chess all the time. One absurd afternoon, it was one
hundred year of reading, God forbid, Domingo de Guzman. Domingo de Guzman
unfair to Pollock! he spat.
It seems de Guzman had written (somewhere in time): When a cigarette
vendor urinates on the pavement, has thereby created a work of art equal to, and
surpassing even, the painting of Pollock. Roy Mercado, almost cross eyed with
anger, replies: I dont know what gives de Guzman the kidney to say that since I
doubt very much if he has seen Pollocks actual canvasses. Maybe he has taken to
heat what someoneI think it was Henry Jamessaid, that to find anything
interesting you just have to look at it long enough. Grantedhe has looked with
sustained philosophical thinking on piss. Nevertheless it is quite simply impossible
to agree with him. Anyone with a minimum intelligence would see that Pollock had
genius whereas the cigaret vendor only has talent.
I was often the last to go to sleep. I soon observed that many of the guys
talked in their sleep. Especially after losing. Maybe its an outlet. Because you dont
get much of a chance to talk when youre the loser. Roy Mercado, whose cot was
next to mine, was the most talkative. One night, just in fun, I answered him. He
answered back, as though glad for a conversation, in a tone startlingly awake. For a
moment I thought he was. He was saying, loud and clear, Kalisud a la Dante
Varona! Then I thought perhaps it was I who was asleep and it was all a dream.
Wish I could have stayed on. But then again thank goodness I couldnt have. I
couldnt have endured very long your sudden aloofness. When you spoke the dialect
I wished you didnt. I was sad beyond measure and it made me sadder. I guess it
was knowing Id never, for all the wildness of my life, see you again. That, and the
bruise-like, pleasing perfection of your pout.
Dumaguete, 1983

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[Version 3. From Checkmeta, 2004]


[NOTE: Dr. Aquino has a similarly titled poem.]

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|167

[MISSING]Lapuz Lazuli
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
At the Narra mens dormitory in the UP Dilliman of 1964 one night I stood very close
to lightning. I had just bought cigarets from the store and was on my way back to
my room when it struck. It struck so close clap didnt follow false but were, was, one
ear-splitting lash of glare. It was so close I smelt of it,[ ] Under almost exactly the
same circumstances I saw lightning at close range again a little over a year ago at
the Anders Bonifacio College campus in Dipolog. I was on my way back to my
quarters from a cigaret store when it danced just a few steps ahead across the road.
It danced, say, like a girl, before the terrible crack. It was the very night of my
arrival in the town and I wonderednow rather the old man who takes the least
incident to be sign or cipherwhether I was being warned not to accept the job or
being welcomed to a new life in a new place that promised a lot of fireworks ahead.
The year I spent in Up Dilliman in 1964-1965 was perhaps the most magical
in my life. That night of the near brush with lightning remains intact in memory for
obvious reasons, though the details have been obliterated. The years are like
lightning too. They blast what you take for real to airy nothing. But I remember
another evening when a room-mate, an agriculture student who loved Camus, was
telling me how good Jose David Lapuz was. Jose David Lapuz was in those days a
campus star. Student admirers went around saying he was the foremost Filipino
authority on Philippine-American relations. To this day I do not know whether this
was mere adulation or hard fact but I understood, though I was never present in any
of his lectures, that he was a dazzling public speaker. I got that impression from the
way his fans, such as my room-mate, described him. They were dazzled, lit up,
struck. Not quite the way lightning does at close range but lets say, hyperbolically,
thereabouts. I saw him only once myself, at the Basement, then a sort of bohemian
cafe in the UP Arts and Sciences building that daily bristled with the boy geniuses of
the mid-sixties: Willy Sanchez, Jorge Arago, Perfecto Tera, Jr., Erwin Castillo, et al
(one of them was not a boyNinotchka Rosca). I sized him up as an unmistakable
arch specimen of the witty, flamboyant, pallid intellectual upon whom effeminacy
invests a certain glamour and authority. Like Tinio. Like Medalla. Like Villawhos of
course the original, inspiring model. Petronilo Daroy, erstwhile literary critic and
himself cut somewhat in that mold, divided the campus mandarins into two: the
literary, bohemian, ivory-tower ones and the political, nationalist, ideology-oriented
such as Lapuz. Towards the end of the sixties, the latter pre-empted the campus
scene. Even Tera had begun to write poems no longer a la Montale but a la Mao. But
the whole gifted, gilded caboodle disappeared, anyway, in 1972 when... I, Ferdinand
Marcos of the Philippines... BOOM! martial law, and pffft! the intellectuals, like Jack
Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick.
The years struck. Sanchez was in Chicago. Tera in London. Rosca in Hawaii.
Daroy left teaching and ran a furniture shop, then resurfaced, when the hated
Marcos was gone, as newspaper columnist. All burnt, or snuffed, out in the old, now
nostalgic, creative sense. As another columnist, Nick Joaquin, puts itpromise was
not equal to performance. For a flickering post-EDSA moment, Sison became a
celebrity. And Jose David Lapuz? He was seen at UST, an incomprehensible,
imperturbable British something carrying an umbrella.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|168

Lapuz was in Dumaguete for three days from February 17 to 19 on the


invitation of the Silliman History-Political Science department. When I heard that he
was going to speak at the Luce Auditorium, I decided to come out of my cave and
take myself to what I was certain would be triple treat, namely, Jose! David! Lapuz!
But for some absurd, idiosyncratic reason changed my mind and opted to forget it,
forget Lapuz. He was not to be eluded, however. I caught him on TV when the local
kapihan had him as guest on the issue of the US bases. And so after a quarter of a
century I finally saw Lapuz in action, finally saw what it was my UP room-mate saw
back in the sixties.
Its a pity that Lapuz, whether or not he has a circle of admirers at UST, is so
little-known that go most people his name always evokes the name of Manglapus as
a sort of orienting context. Lapuz? Oh yes, Lapuz, Manglapus. But Lapuz is hands
down the more captivating speaker. He is the one who, as his name implies to
Cebuanos, goes through like a spear. Nick Joaquin once said that Filipinos do not
speak English as beautifully as they did Spanish. Its those three-hundred years,
Nick says, have to do with it. Well, English is almost a century old in our midst. The
kids pronounce the words more correctly than their elders do thanks yo television
and the betamaxbut beauty in this department is not a mere matter of
correctness. The Filipinos who speak English most beautifully are not Harry Gasser
or Eddie Mercado or Nestor Torre or Raul Manglapuspeople with an American voice
or a British accent or a smooth, flawless, trained diction. English correctly
enunciated, i.e., the way the British and the Americans or the Australians and the
Canadians do, simply do not become us. Bit listen to Nick Joaquin or Edith Tiempo or
Franz Arcellana or Pepito Bosch. There you have a miracleyou have alchemy,
hierophany, polygamy. You hear English as if it were an ingredient of Filipino cuisine,
meaning you do not only hear it but taste it, savour it, munch it, find it to be
delicious, tasting of adobo and pan de sal and greem mangoes and bagoong and
dinuguan and torta, it is, if you will, kamayan English or Cubao English but English
you can wag your tongue and finger at foreigners, whether friend or foe, with. Even
the incomparably nasty, infamous Visayan variety can be entrancing, as the
example of Daroy, who may be caught pronouncing Shirley Temple Shirley
Teempol (knowingly, with perverse relish), demonstrates. Its what upstairs not just
the tongue that accounts for it. As with Lapuz. Oh his syntax can slip for sheer
extemporaneousness and his vowels are not perfect as the kids hooked on new
wave would have it but he is the only one I know, apart from Joaquin, who speaks in
torrents, who spouts and cascades and overflows and runneth over and at the same
time stay on a high level of intelligence.
The kapihan had invited vice-consul Jim Wagner of the US consulate in Cebu
who was unable to make it. Lapuz argued for the removal of the bases ...en
seguidal right now! (looks at wristwatch)... eleven a.m. Friday, February 19, 1981!
and was so eloquent I had no doubt what the audience and the other speakers felt
at the moment, as the camera momentarily focused on their faces, was almost like
being in love. It was bruited that Lapuzs speeches were that triggered the antibases demo by militant students when US ambassador to the Philippines Nicholas
Platt came to Silliman in the afternoon of February 19 (Lapuz had just, pun
premeditated, left). Such feedback came like blurbs. Passionate! Brilliant! Emphatic!
Sheer theater! Pro-Russian! The last could be an asinine reaction, except that he did
come to the kapihan garbed somewhat like a commisar.
The students chanted and chorused in the background and the way it looked
on video it was as though they were chanting and chorusing for Lapuz, not the issue

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|169

per se. It occurs to one that Lapuz himself might have felt the same vibration or
illusion for despite the genuine power you may sense a George Meredith, I-feelpretty something in the man. The actor, the artist, the showman. This guy does not
belong to politics or ideology. He doesnt belong to the world of Adrian Cristobal,
Jose Ma. Sison, Francisco Tatad but to the world of Virgie Moreno, Jose Lansang, Jr.,
Pecque Gallaga, not to Real politik but to romance, the world of beautiful letters,
beautiful manners, beautiful people. Lapuz belongs to a generation that was young
when Peter OToole was young.
We find ourselves compelled to dream of some happy crossbreed in the
future. Not for now, alas. This seems to be no country for such menyet. Here the
realm of Villa is just not the realm of Marcos. A Malraux is inconceivable in our
midst, a poet who is also a statesman, whose poetry is not compromised but on the
contrary enhanced and enriched by public service or involvement in politics. But
perhaps its too much for a third-world country to aspire to French airs. France,
thats one place in the world, we are told, where the intellectual is on equal footing
and footage with the movie star. Where poet may also be diplomat. One other such
chap was Jean Giraudoux whose dramatic masterpiece The Madwoman of Chaillot
went on stage at the Luce early in March with a Silliman faculty and student cast.
Giraudoux, for a while Frances most distinguished playwright, served in the French
Ministry of Foreign Affairs much of his life. He also went around Europe as penniless
vagabond. One of the characters in Chaillot rhapsodizes thus: A financer is a
creative artist. Our function is to stimulate the imagination. We are poets! That we
could say this, even in farce, of our politicians and leadersor that they would.
Makes me think of what Joaquin said of Aguinaldo: at the most crucial moment in
our history pur fate was in the hands of a man who was not a poet. Chaillot must be
Giraudouxs most revealing work. In it he lets the lunatics and vagabonds of Paris
decide the fate of his countryor at least express, lyrically, the uncreated
conscience of his race. And in Irma, the waitress, he may have immortalized one
such waitress he had seen in real life, a girl with the face and figure of an angel, a
vision of purity in an age when the pimps have taken over. Silliman high school
lass Christine Pijuan played the part and for two nights Dumaguete was Paris. It was
a Dumaguete buzzing with the rumor that a hunchback female sweepstakes vendor
had sold the grand ten-million-peso winner in the February 25 draw, curiously
repeating the first-prize sale here three years ago by a male hunchback vendor. The
town was ablaze with magical hunchbacks, vagabonds, and lunatics! Jean
Giraudoux was in Dumaguete! Niece of the dawn! Lightning at close range! dressed
not like a commissar but like a ragpickers dream, like all the high school girls you
ever chased in the bohemia, in the Paris, of your mind.
Dumaguete, 1988

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Last Exit From Malatapay


[Version 1. From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
Friday the seventh. Krip van Winkle leaves in the morning and misses the last
session which goes on till evening and which ends rather badly, particularly for
Morningstar and me. We get into the feminist argument over a poem by Katzen
jammer. She opens the discussion by saying she commends the poems
condemnation of war as a patriarchal syndrome, adding thatas the poem
demonstratesthe starts in the war games little boys play. I retort that war can
bring out certain stupendous things in human beings, for instance courage, awe,
philosophic depth, and believe it or notultimately love. I say that of course I too
wish war could be abolishedwho doesnt?just as we all wish we didnt have
suffering in general in this planet. I point out that Homer treated war with
unflinching realism, even with lyricism, with that amounts to shamanic ecstasy.
Since I have not yet read at this time T.H. Whites The Book of Merlyn, I am unable
to quote or allude to the following: War is one of the mainsprings of romance.
Without war, there would be no Rolands, Maccabees, Lawrences or Hodsons of
Hudsons Horse. There would be no Victoria Crosses. It is a stimulant or so-called
virtues such as courage and co-operation. In fact war has moments of glory. It
should also be noted that, without war, we should lose at least one half of our
literature. Shakespeares packed with it. (Italics mine). Finally I say that war games
little boys play is play and it may be wrong to stop that. Edith (whose name
ironically comes from an Old English root meaning combat, battle, war) sides with
Morningstar. They argue that these war games involve a cultural inculcation that
logically bears fruit in the murderousness of real war. I reply that play is not cultural.
They chorus that it is. I say no, animals too play and animals do not have cultural
(unfairly using an insight of a Dutch historian). Then they continues exchange
becomes a full-fledged feminist thing when I let out the words Mothers can grow
babies, but only fathers can make men. Morningstar pounces on this, saying it is a
sexist statement. I hold on, sure that the anthropologist I have in fact quoted
cannot be oversimplified as sexist. It is war to the bitter end. Merle Winchester
stands up and sits apart on the sofa.
Therefore give heed on your clever and patriotic womenfolk and remember that the
Capitol of mighty Rome was once saved by the cackling of its faithful geese. (Albert,
he-he, Einstein.)
A little before this skirmish I sneak out with Vim and explain to him my Rosal
Dormitory predicament, namely, now that Eliphas and Van Winkle are gone, how
can possibly show up at their party solo flight and not look like a clown? So how
would he like to play Tonto to my Lone Ranger? Robin to your Batman! he says
with vigor and alacrity. Solved. But, he says, what about the party for the
workshoppers at Eming Wees place? I tell him we can go to Rosal first then to
Eming Wees, or vice-versa. Later we are able to concoct a reason why we are
acting like conspirators. We tell them we are getting in touch with a Siquijor guide
for our coming trip to the island.

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It rains hard that night and it is difficult to execute our maneuvers. At seven
we are at Rosal. Their party is scheduled at seven-thirty and so we are able to talk
only with the dome manager Moon Yang. And of course Boobs to whom I deliver
Eliphas letter. The girl feigns an absolute lack of interest in this document. So there
we are: Vim and Sawi, or, literally translated, the Enervon of Misfortune. Then it is
almost seven-thirty and we have to go, promising to be back at nine. Off we dart to
Eming Wees. Eming greets us at the door announcing very loudly. Hello there,
dearie old man! I greet back: Chief Justice!
I am seated near Winchester and Morningstar and it is difficult to break the
iceberg. I never get to. Eming Wee has them absorbed in conversation. There are
four of us in a corner but it seems Eming is aiming at leaving me out. Just as well.
Maybe he is smarting from that Rosantes night when Eliphas and I conquered Mt.
Talinis. The kids are grouped in a circle at the dining table. They call me twice or
three times, seeing I am alone and looking one thousand lightyears away from
home. But I stick to where I am because I feel joining them alienate me further from
the three Ws of Eastwick. I sit in my lonely chair sadly sipping my rum-coke,
brooding on the absurdity of the human condition, when a pert and youngish law
student of Emings comes in and sits next to me. We fall into a slow and keen
conversation at some point of which I distinctly catch a simultaneous and collective
glance of envy in our direction from, in alphabetical order, Binah, Bonnie, Eming,
Hyacinth, Morningstar, Winchester. At nine I lazily bolt up! Why dont we have a
poetry reading? I say. Yes!! comes the hearty reply from everybody dispelling all
may paranoid imaginings and delusions of grandpa. Morningstars eyes are aglow.
Okay, I say. We will be back right away, we just have to check out something.
It is easier to die for the woman that you love than to live with her. (George Lord
Byron).
Back to Rosal! Their costume happening is in full swing when we arrive.
Boobs is dressed up like a soldier complete with a pencilled mustache and a jacket
at the back of which is inscribed the name Gringa. She sits beside me and talks
about Eliphas. She tells me how Eliphas tried to hold her hand, whereas her
boyfriend in high school always asked for permission before doing it. She says she is
sure Eliphas is merely playing with her. I am tempted to hold her hand and reassure
her that Eliphas is a well-meaning if amorous young man. To my right is MoonYang
who introduces Vim to the other girls. Vims eye picks out Fahrenheit, a chicklooking chick with a tart pretty face and lovely legs that no doubt make his
temperature rise. But he holds back when he finds out from someone that the girls
father is a soldier from Mindanao. I stand up and talk to her and signal to Vim to
come over. It doesnt work. Death is stronger than love.
Vim and I and the dorm cooks husband and the library security whos a
friend of MoonYangs are the only males in the party. The secu is taking pictures. I
ask Gringa and a doe-eyed beauty who is dressed somewhat like Wonder Woman
bare back, bare shouldersto pose with me for a picture. The two say yes but the
camera has only one shot left and it is meant for the whole group. The lights dim
and a song trembles and I find myself in a clinch with Wonder Woman, my right
hand tracing the seven wonders of the world on her soft, smooth, young skin. But I
must be dreaming. Keep off Gringa and Wonder Woman, I tell Vim, though add that
love is the strongest force in the universe and it doesnt know friendship. Vim:
Bakit si Juanerio at si Krip? Me: Wisdom, Wisdom.

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When we go back to Eming Wees it is eleven and there is no one there, no


one. The place is quite as a graveyard. I find out the next day that Binah and the
others are mad at Vim because he had the key to their apartment and they had a
difficult time sneaking in.
Two things loveth man most: danger and sport. And therefore loveth he woman
above all, woman being the most dangerous sport. (Nietzche)
Saturday the eleventh. I wake up shortly before noon and after brunch head
for Rosal. Im feeling faintly depressed. In the morning I see Binah in the caf alone
waiting for Morningstar to come down from Alumni the Bonnie leaves then I am
feeling more and more depressed. Have no time to wait for Morningstar. Leave. At
past one I am at Rosal talking to MoonYang. A girl named Mahalquita asks me to
help her with a reaction paper on Nick Joaquins A Heritage of Smallness. I promise
to return the next day and help her. I go downtown still feeling depressed and head,
as usual for nowhere in particular. Bump into General Douglas MacArthurs rumored
Somewhere in Time who is with a nursing graduate who looks like orgy itself but
turns out to be a born-again. They take me to Sans Rival for a treat. I tell the bornagain I am manic-depressive and paranoid and Id love to eat her. She laughs over
and over sans rival, spaghetti, and coke. After a while the Kamikaze sisters come in
and take another table. Kiriti and MacArthurs ex-rumoramor agree to meet the next
day at Kiritis place. Then come a comely Chinita type from Silliman whom Ive
fancied for a half a lunar year now or so and miracle of miracles exchanges raised
eyebrows with me. Before we break up, MacArthurs Park gets me to promise Ill
accompany her to Kiritis on Sunday.
On my way back to the campus I run into a balik-Silliman who was gone for a
semester, a bedroom-voiced, mist-lipped darky who makes me feel its a pity
Genghis Khans not aroung anymore, heres just the right answer to his withdrawal
symptoms. Her name is Quintessence. Whats that? she asks, looking at the Tarot
book in my hands. He reads a lot of weird stuff. Says her companion whos also
named Boobs and Gerardus once and future lust. I asked to read her palm and she
extends it, but I suddenly realize I do not have my eyeglasses with me. I tell her Ill
just read her eyes. You have bright eyes. I say, but I dont know about your
future.
I cant love a woman unless I can convince myself, inspite of all my previous
failures, that Ill love her for the rest of my life. (Robert Graves)
Six in the evening. I go to the caf. See Binah, all by herself. Katzen
jammer? I ask. She shrugs her shoulders. She is eating her supper. We talk a bit.
She says it is her last night and she wants to walk around. I understand (or think I
do). A moody stroll, meditative, lyrical. One last look at Dumaguete, Dumaguete. Or
better yet, serene, transcendental. I OM, therefore, I am. It occurs to me very
fleetingly to join her but it doesnt feel right. She wants to be alone is my
overwhelming impression.
But she seems to be probing, to be asking indirectly about my once fancying
Witchie. A myth, I tell her. All there was to it was my wondering if it was true she
was a dyke which would be a pity because. Just because. But what Binah does not
know is that someone told me Witchie moved in on her last summer and I am sure
Witchie made me a conversational piece, having acutely perceived who was the

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forbidden apple of my eye. Well, no use grieving over slit forbidden fruit juice.
Anyway, for pure madness, I tell her of my more horrendous sexual misadventures
circa 1949. Her eyes smile, mine guffaw. Do you eat here often? I ask. No, she
says.
Then you never saw Anis Ambergris.
Whos that?
The one before the last one.
Whos the last one?
But we are at the gate and she is turning left towards downtown. I am turning
right towards the heart of nevermore, meaning biglang liko at some point towards
Rosal.
That your eyes might be shining for me when we came. (T.E. Lawrence)
Sunday. I go to Rosal past one. Help the girl with her paper on Heritage of
Smallness. Gringa and Wonder Woman do not come out, tired from reviewing for the
exams the whole night. Moon Yang too, who wakes up when I am about to go.
Mahalquita has me all to herself. A pity I forget the Pinoy green joke with the
handkerchief. Could have served as a good illustration of Joaquins thesis.
Take MacArthurs Somewhere I Have Never Travelled to Kiriti Kamikazes
place as promised. Hear the beachhead, the guns crack, the bombs explode, the
seawater swish. The Return. And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
But I love her, and her only.
Hear don Juaniyo Matus mumble wild is the wind, wild as my love for you but
quoting me quoting Donald Barthelme quoting Nat King Cole re the balloon of her
telephone voice, the neverland touch of her eyes, the unrequited requited, the
Robertus sister of the mirror and the echo, the
Dumaguete, 1989

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[Version 2. From Checkmeta, 2004. Now titled: Sailing to Byzantium]


Whatever truths or fable you may find in a thousand books, it is all a tower of Babel
unless love holds it together.
~ JOHANN WOFGANG GOETHE
Friday the seventh. Krip van Winkle takes a plane back to Manila in the morning and
misses the last session which goes on till evening which ends, rather badly,
particularly for Morningstar and me. We got into a feminist argument over a poem
by Katzenjammer. She opens the discussion by saying she commends the poems
condemnation of war as a patriarchal syndrome, adding thatas the poem
demonstratesthis starts in the war games little boy play. I retort the war can bring
out certain superb and stupendous things in human beings, for instance courage,
awe, philosophic depth, and believe it or not ultimately love, I say that of course I
too wish war could be abolishedwho doesntjust as we all wish we didnt have
suffering in general on this planet. I point out that Homer treated war with
unflinching realism, even with lyricism, with what amounts to shamanic ecstasy.
Since I have not yet read at this time T.H. whites The Book of Merlyn, I am unable to
quote or allude to the following. War is one of the mainsprings of romance. Without
war, there would be no Ronalds, Maccabees, Lawrences or Hodsons of Hudsons
House. There would be no Victoria Crosses. It is stimulant to so-called virtues such
as courage and co-operation. In fact war has moments of glory. It would also be
noted that, without war, we should lose at least one half of our literature.
Shakespeares packed with it. (Italics mine.)
Finally I say that war games little boys play is play and it may be wrong to
stop that. Edith (whose name ironically comes from and Old English root meaning
combat, battle, war) side with Morningstar. They argue that these war game
involve a cultural inculcation that logically bears fruit in the murderous of real war. I
reply that play is not cultural. They chorus that is. I say no, animals too play and
animals do not have culture (unfairly using an insight from the Dutch historian,
Huizinga). Then the continues exchange becomes a full-fledged feminist thing when
I let out the words Mothers can grow babies, but only fathers can make men.
Morningstar pounces on this, saying it is a sexist statement. I hold on, sure that
the anthropologist I have in fact quotedWeston La Barrecannot be oversimplified
as sexist. It is war to the bitter end. Merle Winchester stands up and sits apart on
the sofa.
Therefore give heed to your clever and patriotic womenfolk and remember that the
Capitol of mighty Rome was one saved by the cackling of its faitful geese.
~ ALBERT EINSTEIN
A little before skirmish I sneak out with Vim and explain to him my Rosal Dormitory
predicament, namely, now the Eliphas and Van Winkle are gone, how can I possibly
show up at their party solo flight and not look like a clown? So how would he like to
play Tonto to my Lone Ranger? Kublai to your Genghis! he says with vigor and
alacrity. Solved. But, he says, what about the party for the worshoppers at Eming

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Wees, or vice-versa. Later we are able to concoct a reason why we are acting like
conspirators. We tell then we a getting in touch with a Siquijor guide for our coming
trip to the island.
It rains hard that night and it is difficult to execute our maneuvers. At seven
we are at Rosal. Their party is scheduled at seven-thirty and so we are able to talk
only with the dorm manager Moon Yang. And of course Boobs to whom I deliver
Eliphas letter. The girl feigns an absolute lack of interest in this document. So there
we are: Vim & Sawi, or, literally translated, the Enevervon of Misfortune. Then it is
almost seven-thirty and we have to go, promising to be back at nine. Off we dart to
Eming Wees. Eming Wee greets us at the door announcing very loudly, Hello
there, dirty old man! I greet back: Chief Justice!
I am seated near Winchester and Morningstar and it is difficult to break the
iceberg. I never get to. Erming Wee has them absorbed in conversation. There are
four of us in a corner but it seems Erming is aiming at leaving me out. Just as well.
Maybe he is smarting from that Rosantes night when Eliphas and I conquered Mr.
Talinis. The kids are grouped in a circle at the dining table. They call me twice or
three times, seeing I am alone and looking one thousand lightyears away from
home, But I stick to where I am because I feel joining them will alienate me further
from the three Witches of Eastwick. I sit in my lonely chair sadly sipping my rumcoke, brooding on the absurdity of the human condition, when a pert and youngish
law student of Emings comes in and sits next to me. We fall into a slow and keen
conversation at some point which I distinctly catch simultaneous and collective
glance of envy in our direction from, in alphabetical order, Binah, Bonnie, Eming,
Hyacinth, Morningstar, and Winchester. At nine I lazilybolt up! Why dont we have
a poetry reading? I say. Yes! comes the hearty reply from everybody dispelling all
my paranoid imaginings and delusions of grandpa. Morningstars eyes a glow.
Okay, I say. We will be back right away, we just have to check out something.
It is easier to die for the woman that you love than live with her.
~ GEORGE LORD BYRON
Back to Rosal! Their costume happening is in full swing when we arrive. Boobs is
dressed up like a soldier complete with penciled mustache and a jacket at the back
of which is inscribed the name Gringa. She tells me how Eliphas tried to hold her
hand, whereas her boyfriend in high school always asked permission before doing it.
She says she is sure Eliphas is merely playing with her. I am tempted to hold her
hand and reassure her that Eliphas, at thirty-something, is a well-meaning if
amorous young man. To my right is Moon Yang. Who introduces Vim to the other
girls. Vims eye picks out Hot Cake, a chic-looking chick with a tart pretty face and
lovely slender legs that no doubt make his Fahrenheit rise as it certainly does my
centigrade. But he holds back when he finds out from someone that the girls father
is a soldier in Mindanao. I stand up and talk to the girl and signal Vim to come over.
It doesnt work. Death is stronger than love.
Vim and I and the dorm clocks husband and the library security whos a
friend of Moon Yangs are the only males in the party. The secu is taking pictures. I
ask Gringa and doe-eyed beauty who is dressed somewhat like Wonder Woman
bare back, bare shouldersto pose with me for a with me for a picture. The two say
yes! sweet heavens, yes! but the camera has only one shot left and it is meant for

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|176

the whole group. The light dims and a song trembles and I find myself in a clinch
with Wonder Girl, my right hand tracing the seven wonders of the world on her soft,
smooth, young skin. But I must be dreaming. Keep off Gringa and Wonder Girl, I tell
Vim, though add that love, admittedly, is the strongest force in the universe and it
doesnt know friendship.
Second to death, says Vim.
Me: Wisdom, wisdom.
When we get back to Eming Wees it is eleven and there is no one there, no
one. The place is quiet as a graveyard. I find out the next day that Binah and the
others are mad at Vim because he had the key to their apartment and they had a
hell of a difficult time sneaking in.
Two things loveth man most: danger and sport. And therefore loveth he woman
above all, woman being the most dangerous sport.
~ FRIEDRICH NIETZCHE
Saturday the eight. I wake up shortly before noon and after brunch head for Rosal.
Im feeling a bit depressed. In the morning I see Binah in the caf alone waiting for
Morningstar to come down from Alumni Hall then Bonnie leaves then I am feeling
more and more depressed. Have no time to wait for Morningstar. Leave. At past one
I am at Rosal talking to Moon Yang. A girl named Mahalquita asks me to help her
with reaction paper on Nick Joaquins A Heritage of Smallness. I promise to return
the next day and help her. I go downtown still feeling depressed and head, as usual
for nowhere in particular. Bump into General Douglas MacArthurs rumored
somewhere In Time who is with a nursing graduate who looks like orgy itself but
who turns out to be a born-again. They take me to Sans Rival for a treat. I tell Born
Again I am manicdepressive and paranoid and Id love to eat her. She almost
chokes with laughter over sans rival, spaghetti, and coke. After a while the
Kamikaze sisters comes in and take another table. Kiriti and MacArthurs ex
rumoramor agree to meet the next day at Kiritis place. Then comes a comely
Chinita type from Silliman whom Ive fancied for half a lunaticI mean, lunaryear
now or so and miracle of miracles exchanges raised eyebrows with me. Before we
break up, MacArthurs Parks gets me to promise Ill accompany her to Kiritis on
Sunday.
On my way back to the campus I run into a balikSilliman who was gone for
a semester, a bedroomvoiced, mistlipped darky who makes me feel its a pity
limahong is not around anymore; heres just the right answer to his withdrawal
symptoms. Her name is Quintessence. Whats That? she ask, looking at the tarot
book in my hands. He reads a lot of weird stuff, says her companion whos also
named Boobs and gerardus once and future Gehenna. I ask to read her palm and
she extends it. but I suddenly realize I do not have my eyeglasses with me. I tell her
Ill just read her eyes. Yiu have bright eyes, I say And, clasoing her hand in mine
once again, a bright future.
I cant love a woman unless I can convince myself, in spite of all my previous
failures, that Ill be love her for the rest of my life.
~ ROBERT GRAVES

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Six in the evening, I go to the caf. See Binah, all by herself Katzenjammer? I ask.
She shrugs her shoulders. She is eating her supper. I understand (or think I do). A
moody stroll, meditative, lyrical. One last look at Dumaguete, Dumaguete. Or
better yet, serene, transcendental. I OM, therefore I am. It occurs to me very
fleetingly to join her but it doesnt feel right. She wants to be alone is my
overwhelming impression.
But she seems to be probing, to be askingdyke which would be indirectly
about my once fancying witchy. A myth , I tell her. All there was to it was my
wondering if it was true she was a dyke which would be a pity because. Just
because. But when Binah does not know is that someone told me witchy sational
piece, havin acutely perceived who was the forbidden apple of mu evil eye. Well, no
use grieving over split forbidden fruit juice. Anyway for sure madzness, I tell her of
my more horrendous sexual misadventures circa 1949.
How old are you really?
Forty-three
Her eyes smile, mine guffaw. She knows I am forty-six. Do you eat here
often? I ask. No, she answers.
Then you never saw is Anis Ambergis.
Who is she?
But we are at the gate and she is turning left towards downtown. I am turning
right towards the heart of nevermore, biglang liko at some point towards Rosal.
That your eyes might be shining for me when we came.
~ T.E. LAWRENCE
Sunday. I go to Rosal past one. Help the girl mahalquita with her paper on A
Heritage of smallness. Gringa and wonder girl do not come out tired from reviewing
for the exams the whole night. Moon Yang Too who wakes up when I am about to go.
Mahalquita has mee all to herself. I am tempted to tell the Pinoy green joke with the
handkerchief. Could have served as a good illustration of Joaquinss Thesis.
Take MacArthurs Somewhere I have Never Travelled to Kiriti Kamikazees
place as promised. My right hand is a snakes head that suddenly slithers round her
waist. Hear the return, the beachhead, the gunscrack, the bombs explode, the
seawater swishn in leyte. But the strength of another promise, more eternal wins.
I love her, and her only.
Hear Don Juaniyo Matus mumble, Jun Lansang read, David Bowie sing wild is
the wind, wild is my love for quoting Barthelme quoting Nat King Cole re the balloon
of her telephone voice, the twinkling of an eye, the occasion of my return from the
Netherlands to Never.

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Mr. Mxyzptlk Pops Into the Room

[From Checkmeta, 2004]

[MISSING]

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|179

On the Beach

[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]


Though it cannot be found in the history books, Gaius Julius Caesar reached Haiti
where, among the tribal magicians, he got acquainted with the occult in its lushest,
most demoniacal forms. With characteristic brevity, he summed his experience up
in these words: Veni, vidi, voodoo.
His epileptic convulsions and trances, meantime, had begun. This he was
able to conceal from people, but not for long. What he tried to keep a secret also
was a growing interest in the druids, whom he regarded more highly than Romes
own soothsayers and auspices, as well as those of Egypt.
Surfeited with the intoxication of military conquests, he took an intimate stroll
on the beach one evening with his friend and angel, the noble Brutus. The sky
swarmed with stars one of which, somewhere in the east and the middle between
the zenith and the horizon, for some unaccountable reason caught his eye.
He could not believe it. The star, to which he was not paying a more than
casual attention, began to move to the left just a little then halted, then moved
againsailedin the same direction and then returned to the original spot.
Surely it had been an illusion and it would now stay fixed where it was. But
the star, once more, began to travel this time to the right, and then downwards
closer to the horizon. E.T., Brutus! he cried in grave but utter amazement.
Dumaguete, 1987

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Proheme
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
Theres nothing as sweet. Mita and Rey like that atop the boat of Nano the midget
lying upside down under the house.
And strange. His little heart swam in the strangeness.
He was abashed and said to the others:
- David also do it,
David blinked.
- Daedalus also do it.
Daedalus shook his head.
- Tom also do it.
Tom ducked behind David.
He was lost. Poor Mita. Just quiet because shes a girl.
- Is Mita afraid of Nano?
- Yes.
- Rey is not afraid of Nano. Is Mita afraid of Mierkoles?
- Yes.
Mierkoles was a strange one. He said nothing and did nothing. Just looked and
smiled. Mita was afraid of his smile. He was a mooncalf. Nano was not a mooncalf.
He was a midget. Got drunk and danced like a rude top. He caught an octopus. The
octopus was bigger than he and their heads looked alike. It was his brother!
Everybody laughed. Funny midget. Bought chocolates and lanzones for Auring the
beautiful friend of Auntie Belen. Then Auntie Belen tugged her out of the room and
they came out giggling.
- Hoy Nano!
- Hoy Nano!
- Will Rey grow bigger than Nano?
- Yes, beloved.
- If he wont eat plenty?
- Hell be just like Nano.
- Hell be just like Nano.
- Whos bigger, you or Nano?
- Who do you think is?
- You.
His mother sat down and hoisted him up onto her lap. She had a gold
tooth.
- Are we sure of that?
- Yes.
- Does Rey want to grow bigger than Nano?
- Yes.
- And bigger than Mama?
- No.
- Then poor Mama will have to carry Rey always!
She kissed him. He pushed her face back with his tiny hands and held it. He
liked to pull her face this way and that. And touch the gold tooth.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|181

Mierkoles was big. His hands were like feet. He was strong. He hit Inday Mameng
with a firewood. Inday Mamengs head bled. But Mierkoles ran away because Inday
Mameng was very brave. That why he hit her with a firewood and ran away. A
mooncalf!
But he talked to Rey, nice like a friend.
- Mama, Mierkoles wants to take me with him to the sea.
Mierkoles smiled.
- Can I go, Mama?
- No.
He looked at Mierkoles. Mierkoles smiled and waited.
- Please, Mama. I want to go.
- No, you cant.
She spoke without looking at him or at Mierkoles.
- Why not?
- Just because.
She was firm and Mierkoles gave up because he went.
It was a pity, such a good thing. He was beginning to like him. His mother
said when Mierkoles was gone:
- Ha! You trust that mooncalf to drown you! Mother of God!
Mama Nena was the mother of his Mama. Mama Vicenta was the mother of
Mama Nena.
Mama Vicenta was tall and straight and always smoking a tobacco. She took
care of Ado and Robin Hood. Her favorite was Robin Hood.
- Its the father himself who gave him that name, Mama Vicenta said.
Mama Nena frowned.
- The father himself gave him that name. Why, what sort of man was his
father?
Mama Nena was bossy with everyone except with this Mama. His Mama her
daughter was beautiful and smart. Everyone was in awe of her. He was her son.
Inday Mameng was the mother of Robin Hood and Ado. Their father was Vic.
He was touched in the head but Rey never saw him. He left Ado and Robin Hood and
their mother Inday Mameng the sister of Mama Nena. A handsome man but touched
in the head. Always dressed up and his head shining with Brilliantine or Million
Dollars. He won a banana-eating contest. Inday Mameng chased him with a bolo
because he ate a whole bunch and swallowed even the peelings. He didnt have to!
He was touched in the head and never returned.
Mama Nena was the eldest thats why she was bossy. Inday Mameng was the
youngest and the chum of his Mama. She recited his name:
- Rey, hey Rey, hero, hooray!
- Rey, hey Rey, hero, hooray!
Say good-bye to Mita.
- Bye, Mita.
- Bey, Rey.
- Bye, Mita.
- Bye, Rey;
She was gone. Her big sister Lota took her place. When nobody was in the
house except Rey one day Adolfo her boyfriend came and sat on a chair and made

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|182

her sit on his lap. And they were laughing at him and he took her breast in his
mouth and they wanted him to see it.
- Who made the world?
- God.
- Who made God?
- Nobody.
- But how?
- He just came along.
That was tough. He didnt understand it and he grew quiet with the wonder of
it.
East.
West.
West, father.
East, mother.
Things connected in magic combinations in his mind though they did not
make sense when he repeated them to others. It was a game played alone.
Dumaguete, 1984

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Proheme to the Blue God

[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]


Just before I tumble into sleep, exhausted, I would feel itthis swallowing terror
my nothingness. In the morning of course the worlds invincible beauty always falls
back into place, especially at dawn, when it does so with a revenge. But how many
dawns has one left? To make it worse Im an inveterate night owl. I very seldom
catch the dawnand thats when I have stayed up all night.
Manila, 1981

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Proheme to Zamboanga
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
Zamboanga is the word of my life. Few other words/names for me approach as
closely what the French Symbolist poets call the evocative property of words, the
magical ability of words to make something absent present.
As a boy it seems I already recognized the mysterious quality of words.
Certain words touched meentered the pores of my skin, got into my bloodstream.
I actually invented some words, although invented is hardly the right word for it,
inasmuch as those words just came to my childs mind. And they were words that
meant nothing, as they had not been meant to mean anything. Id keep uttering
these mutant words to myself, like an idiot, and they had a very strange, active
effect upon me indeed. They were a childs strangest toys.
In adult years I would suffer from a certain paralysis of the will. So indecisive.
Shakespeares Hamlet is only fiction, though his author happens to be the worlds
greatest fictionist. Im more Hamlet than Hamlet. Im the real Hamlet. History
ordained that I should be the first truly undisciplined and indecisive human being.
Before me every living thing was a knight errant. In my fourth year in high school I
drove a thousand miles beneath all that had hitherto been called lack of discipline.
Etcetera, etcetera. Apologies to the poet who wrote Ecce Homo.
I was born in Tangub, Misamis Occidental, in the early forties, a first-born. No
mother was as scared of delivering as my mother, so the old folks liked to re-tell.
The story continues that scarcely had I let out my cry (unlike Zoroaster and like
everybody else I didnt laugh when I was born) when Jap planes roared in the
direction of my birth. Air raid! That is to say, fireworks at my bitch, and more
impressive than a fifty-gun salute. Happy birthday!
World War II was, of course, no time to laughthough Ive sometimes been
told otherwise by our historiansZoroaster or no Zoroaster. Some details of the
scene: my mother carried on a stretcher and I in my grandmothers arms, umbilical
cord and all, as wewe!ran for cover. Holy Mother of God, but no Jap plane is
going to rob the world of a future exponent of the free style, the Skew Benoni, and
the sexy dithyramb, especially one whose reverence for women resides in his
nostrils.
The map of Mindanao outlines the figure of a circus elephant. In a way
therefore, the story of my early life is an elephants head hung sidewise on the wall.
My mother was a Cebuana lass who spent her maidenhood in Oroquieta, a
lovely coastline town at the top of the elephants head; my father, an adventurous
lawyer who upon finishing his studies at the U.P. and passing the bar had
straightaway left his Ilocano roots in Luzon to settle in Lanao where he fancied
himself a Moro. Seven years ago on the shores of Lanao, I once gazed at the
awesome mountain that is the province of Misamis Occidental. Often must have this
sheer wall of a mountain bewitched my father, with its stories of giants on Mt.
Malindang, and when chance brought him to Oroquieta, Jack-be-nimbles story
began. In 1941 the municipal judge of Iligan wooed the town queen of Oroquieta, a
high school girl. They both wrote poemshe, in English and Ilocano; she, in English
and Cebuano. I write solely in English, perhaps from an unconscious wish to honor

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the language they had in common. Besides I dont know Ilocano; and Cebuano, well,
it doesnt know me.
Panguil Bay is the sea one has to cross between Lanao and Misamis
Occidental. It was here where my father perished with his two lieutenants. Falling
into the hands of the Japanese, they were made to dig a hole in the land and
executed. I once accidentally came upon one of my fathers letters to my mother, in
which he spoke of a tactical favor to the guerilla who operated by water. A
knowledge of Niponggo must have augmented his overconfidence.
His mother wouldnt believe he was dead. Not even when, years after, the
three skeletons, facing each other in a circle, was discovered.
A little after the war my mother re-married. My step-father was another
soldier, a Zamboangueno assigned in Misamis Occidental. One day, about two years
old, I stretched my smiling hand to a mother and child eating together. This was in
the mountains among other evacuees. I got snubbed. In tears my mother set out for
the nearest town to buy rice. The problem had been, for the evacuees who were
running out of food, a band of guerillas cordoning the just liberated town. But the
tearful young mother wouldnt be barred. The terrible officer from Zamboanga
relented after a furious argument. She must have been equally terrible for their
courtship began soon after.
The family moved to Pagadian. This is the town of my childhood; whereas
Zamboanga is the town of my adolescence. My childhood and adolescence, thats to
say, were spent like an elephants tusks. Pure ivory.
I have distinct memories of first times that antecede our coming to Pagadian.
Sitting in the yard in some obscure barrio in Misamis Occidentalmy first
misadventure. In the same yard I danced to a passing band. The dance consisted of
going on tiptoe and back, back and forthmy first experience of formal rhythm.
Third was straying, in Labuyo where my sister was borna blue baby until my
grandmother breathed the breath of life into her, mouth to mouthinto a room
where my godfather was giving it to his wife at noontime. Of course I didnt know
what it was until now I still cant figure out how on earth I had found the Cebuano
word for it as I narrated what I saw to an amused group of eldersmy first
experience of narrative. Forth was crossing the sea of Pagadian. A big sail boat that
carried about twenty people. The boat sank somewhere. We were not too far from
the shore, I learned later on. Another banca rescued us, and this is the part I can
recall. I remember the man, including my step grandfather, formed chainwise in the
water, passing into the other banca cargos and children. I remember being lifted or
shoved onto the boat, my face almost smacked into a little girls exposed buttocks.
My first experience of the opposite sex, discounting Freuds idea.
There was a time in boyhood that I insisted I remembered the time I was
born. My oddest notion ever.
When the time came for my stepfather to take his booty of a family home to
Zamboanga, my mothers mother, an uncommonly intense silent little old woman,
the same one who carried me on air raid and wrenched my sister fro death at birth,
clung to me like a demon. The instabilities of the war years had caused my mother
to leave me occasionally to her care and I had become her treasure. She had
become my other mother. In fact, my childs mind had awakened to her as my
mother, that is, my mother had become my other mother, you have a mother, they
used to tell me, shes in Zamboanga but shell come for you soon. Shes very
beautiful. Elsewhere, another tunefrom my fathers mother who also had come to
live in Pagadian with one of my fathers youngest half-sisters: Your father is not

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dead. Hell be back. I believed the one about having a mother, that would come
soonthis beautiful utter stranger who, I was told, love me above all. But the one
about my father eventually showing upalive and not in his mothers dreamsthe
child intuitively knew as a fabric of a prayer, a hope. I knew from the family circle I
grew up in, my maternal grandparents and y mothers younger half-sister, that my
father was dead, killed by the Japanese.
But the strange, white-haired old woman kept saying my father was alive,
and hell soon come back for the two of us. She spoke the littlest Bisayan which had
a way metamorphosing into smatterings of Tagalog until I finally became Ilocano
which made me speechless and the oddest good listener in the world. It was not
until I was twelve when she declared: Your father is dead. And for a while that one
too sounded like a prayer, a prayer that no longer hoped. In my twenties, in Misamis
Occidental where she lived with another of my fathers half-sisters, she showed me
his skull which he kept in a beautiful brown chest, wrapped in a green cloth, and
which she carried with her to the grave.
She was my lola. I didnt call my other grandmother lola; she was Mama to
me-I had two Mamas.
As a young mother, my lola had suffered the grief of losing her first two
babies in infancy.
She was adviced to devote herself to San Vicente. Upon the death of her
second baby, she had shocked her family, announcing her intention to turn
Protestant. When my father was born he was named Vicente. He, too, was sickly as
a child, and his mother prayed fervently for him, to the saint who patroned his birth
and after whom he was named.
I dont suppose Pagadian, now a chartered city, looks considerably different from
the way it did when I was a child. The last time I saw it was seven years ago, one
summer on a short visit. Its more populated now naturally. In the sixties the
construction of the highway linking it to Zamboanga was completed. Its accessible
by land now from both west (Zamboanga) and east (the rest of Mindanao, the rest
of elephant). The Towns terrain is Hongkong-like. If you approach it by boat (Illana
Bay) its night veiled to loveliness is quite deceiving. In the morning in the streets
where nostrils meet the harsh assault of dust and backwardness. No Spanish
quaintness nor American quantum here. The buildings have a tentative look about
them, as though expected to be razed down for the nth time. Its still the fledgling
municipality that it was when I knew it in childhood, right after the war. This of
course is a bit of an exaggeration. But I think Im essentially right.
Nevertheless the elements were complete: the town, truly beautiful. I
sometimes think that people born in bred in big cities are incapable of nostalgia. In
The Drunken Boat, Rimbaud ends with a moving nostalgia for the universe of
childhood: a puddle and a toyboat.
The streets and poblacion and houses were only a segment of the Pagadian I
knew. There were small rivers and marshes and forests untouched by any
beautification project. I left the town over fifteen years ago, in the fifties. On
summer vacations I would come home for a visit, and as the years went on I would
come home more and more a stranger.
The town had two main streets that crossed each other: the highway and the
street from the foot of the town, the war, going up. The other streets, by todays
standards, were not really streets.

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It might not have been noticed by the townspeople, by this cross-like


framework certainly symbolizes the towns misfortunes: the parish priest, endeared
to the laic, excommunicated in the wake of the forties, a popular mayor murdered
mysteriously in the early fifties (to this day the killing is a mysterythe gunman
never found out), the young man who almost all invariably did badly in school, too
much given to heavy drinking ( they can outdrink anybody in the country)and
dissipation, the three fires that burn it to the ground in the late fifties, and early
sixties. When I was nearing my teens early fifties, the town became violent. Men
and very young Men got either stabbed or shot to death fairly frequently. Soon the
town was third-placer in a national survey of violent towns. At thirteen, I went to
Zamboanga to live for good with my mother and stepfather and half-sister and two
half-brothers. I left an old Mama who was hopelessly sick with asthma and resigned
to losing me forever. Summers were the last sunshine of her life, when I would
come for a visit. To this day I cant forgive myself for not having the slightest inkling
of how horribly lonely she was and for not crying when I came home, home, on her
death. I was eighteen and I did cry, but not the way I cried for her when I was a
child, for I live as a child in continual terror of her dying.
They would playfully ask me which Mama I love more. I was about three, I
dont know if that question had killed one of my brain cells then. Strange question,
blank mind. I couldnt answer. I love my old Mama with a love as strong as death,
but just who was this other one with an indefinable power over me? She existed and
how strange the knowledge of her existence was. She would come and I would see
her soon. Once, instead, she sent us a picture of my little sister at one year. This is
Rose, your sister. My reaction earned me my first spanking: I bit the baby, the
picture, and the imprint of my teeth bequeathed to her a sort of inverted crown.
Wicked child. I dont know if either my mother or sister ever found out about it. My
old Mama must have been careful to hide it from Zamboanga.
I remember her in slacks, very fair and slim. We were walking the wharf and
the people all looked at us, at her, and I was very proud of her. She was holding my
hand. Its all I remember. Al I remember of her visit.
Ill jump!
Perhaps the first threat I ever uttered. A little child of the Furies, I threatened
to jump from the boat bound for Zamboanga. My mother was leaving, taking me
with her. But as the siren signaled the boats departure: the jolt of learning that my
old Mama was not coming with us. I couldnt live without her. Ill jump! The child
must have frightened everyone for they finally took me away from the boatwho
knows if the poor little devil wouldnt indeed jump from the boat later onbut this
time they had to pull me awayI couldnt let the other go! And I lashed away like a
typhoon. They couldnt kill the little typhoon that would rage all day. Not until they
had taken me to a movie. And that was the first time I saw a movie. The magic of
motion picture quelled the typhoon. I cant remember this initiation to mimesis, nit
the vaguest detail. In fact, I dont remember anything of what happened that
intensest day of my life. Total void. The pain must have knocked me out, forever.
Zambanga. Zamboanga.
Theres a good rhyme to believe Ive been going about all my life a
somnambulist since then. And movies. Old, old memories of old movies, Robert
Taylor, his widows peak, in Billy the Kid, concluding scene where he is gunned
down, an ending I couldnt comprehend. Tyrone Power, Captain BloodId cry
whenever Auntie Guiling refused to call me Captain Blood; Johny Weismuller eating
crocodile eggs in one Tarzan movie and surviving from a fall when the villain

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snapped the vine with a bullet. Leopoldo Salcedo, which I pronounced Ropoldo
Salcedo. Lilia Dizon, whom my other resembled, in Encantada, opposite the dimples
of Jamie de la Rosa. This last I remember with fondness. I saw it with Grandmother
and Auntie who were Lilia Dizon die-hards, along with Rosa del Rosario, whom I
rather loved. I was enjoying the film, too. But whenever the full moon came and Lilia
Dizon turned into a monster, I broke in terror. The scene where the waterfall that
could restore her looks had dried up and she desperately claws the rocks for the
precious drops was too much. I ran out of the theatre and yelled for them to come
out, lets go home. And when they wouldnt I started stoning the theatre with good
results.
I often wish I had turned out to be that sort of critic later in life. But most of
our movies today dont even deserve to be stoned. That would honor them too
much. Besides what a milksop I have turned out to be in literary criticism. I was, in
this regard, not quite the father of myself.
The boat trauma had a way of recurring.
Ive forgotten her name now, my yaya. She was thirteen of fifteen and I,
barely four, was her sweetheart. How erotically I loved her. Whom will you marry?
Theyd ask, and from the nethermost cup of my heart fell the sweet mountain
dewdrop of her name. A modest, humble shy name, a yayas name, not at all
anything like Lenore or Lolita, nameless here forevermore and light of my life, fire of
my loins. Then one day her father came to take her away. What could a child do
against the universe? I cheer myself with the thought that people were clamping
their ears among the Angelic orders once more that day. I had a pet a tortoise. It
rained heavily one day, the rain falling like it were that father of the tortoise. That,
too, made me cry.
From the wharf the vertical street goes up for about a kilometer. At the top was
heaven. I mean the Holy Childs Academy, an institution founded by the parish
priest who would later be excommunicated. Father Reyes was a Filipino Jesuit,
Ilocano, with Spanish blood, educated in Spain. I studied here, grade one to four. We
knelt in school a lot and got terrified by hellfire a lot in the mouth of out teacher in
grade two. He would say, with an energy I distinctly remember, Try touching a
candleflame, for a second. Can you bear the pain? You cannot. Hell is a billion times
hotter than a candleflame, a billion billion times, and you burn thee forever.
The first lesson I learned by heart, anyhow, was one plus one equals two.
That remains to this day a foundation of my personal poetics. Poetry is profoundly
one plus one equals two. May I venture to suggest that the reason why there are so
many bad modern poets among us is that they havent quite realized that poetry is
one plus one equal two? Fortunately Victor Jose Penaranda, Alfred Aguinaldo Yuson
and I have, and in us the principle has become sheer incandescence. (Of course it is
odd that we have not taken a step further and see that its really one plus one
equals three.)
I remember the beautiful Carmencita in grades one and two. Eros stirred
among the more precocious, and with the possible exception of our grade two
teacher we were all precocious. Thus in grade two I belonged to a certain religious
circle of grade school boys whose principal ritual was worshipping her name and
image in trees, a ritual that would certainly make Freud smile in Dantesque
beatitude at St. Paul. All the same my surviving piety compels me to be reticent on
some of the details.

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Carmencita, five years later, was married. Before she was thirteen.
Father Reyes spoke Cebuano flawlessly, though with a sort of patrician
accent. Bespectacled, he made multitudes cry with him on Good Friday, as, brokenvoiced, he recounted the Lords passion, the fragments of his voice scattering from
the Santelmo-inhabited promontory of Dumaguk to the fish-rich waters of Illana Bay.
No one listening to Father Reyes ever doubted that the Son of God was a Cebuano.
The financial aspect must have played a major part, of course. But it wont be
too nave to believe that Father Reyes disobeyed orders from above and refused to
leave Pagadian, to transfer to another parish, because he had come to love the
town. That he was jealous of the town which had been so much swap and forest
when he came to it.
The word was anyone who went to his church was committing a mortal sin.
A true, church was established, in rivalry with Irish priests coming and going
through the years, while Father Reyes went on doing a Gethsemane every Holy
Week. People felt and observed that he wept more intensely, a hint bitterly.
The poor folk went to Father Reyes church. The haves went to the legitimate
church, where Cebuano slid away upon the rocks of Celtic centuries. In other words,
Father Reyes retained the multitudes.
A more private misfortune had foreshadowed Father Reyes excommunication.

Father Reyes had an adopted sona most strangely spawned gifted child he took in
when passing through Lanao. The childs mother was a Siquihudnon (a native of
Siquijor). The father, a Mindanao tribal native converted as a grown man. The child,
every physical thing about him, was bafflingly Caucasianskin, eyes, hair and all.
Some people believed the child to be the offspring of Morgan, a dreaded American
guerilla in Mindanao, whose savageness in war even the Maranaos. My mother for
one swears that the boy was a diamond copy of Morgan. On the other hand, my
stepgrandfather maintains that the child was two when Morgan first saw him.
Under Father Reyes tutelage, the child grew up into a monster of eloquence.
No other man looked to me so physically godlike as this miracle of nature, though
his face was to be swollen with pimples later on, not even Jeffrey Hunter whom I
saw in a barber shop in Zamboanga over a decade ago. And no one as rockhard and
rock-closed Catholic. The legend is he had thoroughly learned Latin ion grade
school, finished an equivalent to a Bachelors degree at thirteen, and, formally
unable to taste college, finished reading the law books in one night to defeat a
seasoned lawyer in a case that began in court the following morning.
You are my son.
How can that be, Father? You are a priest.
True. But God has strange ways. He willed it to be like this. You truly are my
son.
Perhaps Ill understand that someday, when I have become a man.
Nonsense. You are already a man. All true men are born instant men. You are
a man, always remember that.
And Ah, que un hombre as Miguel said of Soren, if memory and my sprained
Spanish serve me well. Or as Napoleon said of Goethe when the latter entered his
court: But here is a man. I wont dare quote the original. Here my memory and
French are worse than boneless, its unincarnate to the last, or is it first, follicle.

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The last time I saw him, when I was near the middle of my twenties, I always
felt in his presence like the elder Monson did in the presence of his father the Old
Monson in Nick Joaquins Three Generations. Were I to be in his presence this very
moment, I have little doubt that I would fall back again into that reversion which I
dread so much. When I would become what I am: a boy.
At eight, made to deliver a speech written for him by his father, the boy
had undeniable charisma. There was only one person in the audience: Father Reyes.
Only the boy could make the old priest weep, this time among an invisible audience,
and weep with joy. He would hug the boy when the boy had finished and bear him
aloft like an extra-eucharist hostia. My son, my son.
Father Reyes trained his son in privacy. No public exposure of the boys
brilliance. Recounting this all from a boys memory, I would have to dig,
systematically, into the past for the complete facts. But any lack of resemblance to
the facts in this bit of autobiography is purely coincidence. The protgs first
audience or society came when he was sixteen. That was when the Senoras, the
priests sisters, came. And that was when Father Reyes and his son split.
The Senoras. I never saw them. They are a sort of Chorus that throughout
the play is totally speechless.
Not in the slightest could the Senoras share their bothers enthusiasm for the
lad. From inevitable contact with the other young men of the town, Dionisio had
learned to drink. Drink, smoke and tomcat.
Either him or us! shook the Chorus.
Not verbal. Body or metabody Spanish and Ilocano.
At seventeen Dionisio had the bullheadedness of a Rimbaud. When they split
it was not just a case of a father disowning a child. The child made his exit with the
poise of a rebel angel, disinherited and all his diplomas burned. Blood is thicker
than water, led him, he would sum it up later. Id say thicker than holy water.
He cursed back, cursed the Senoras, cursed his priest father. Less than a year
after, the Senoras were killed in a car accident and Father Reyes excommunicated.
He was particularly fiery when recounting these two incidents. And he would call
Father Reyes a devil. Twenty years had passed when he went to see the old priest in
the latters house at the Holy Childs Academy. One visit and no more, everything
forgiven. He had forgiven Father Reyes and he had gone to see him one last time.
I really dont know the circumstanceshow Dionisio, Noy Isyong as I came to
live with us for almost a year. But thats what happened next, en seguida. I was four
or five.
He would talk non-stop, spellbinding everyone with stories from the Bible,
from the Greco-Roman myths, and from Ancient History. In the latter years, on my
summer visits to Pagadian that sometimes coincided with his visits, it was to be
stories from the lives of people in Zamboanga del Sur. He told me the origin of my
name, of Julius and Augustus Caesar. He said I was a bright boy, though he could
never quite make me perform the job of writing my name correctly, my nickname
Sawi. I just couldnt perfect the initial letter. But in grade one hed give me coins
whenever I came home from school with good marks.
When I came home from Zamboanga at sixteen, just graduated from high
school without honors, not as he predicted, he told me I had a delinquents face.
Well, if he was Dionysus, I could be Julius the Fourth, counter-author of that
celebrated twenty-first century novel. Jehrameels Journey, the most casual reading
of which traces the path of a Roman eagle as it bursts forth from a Chinese box of
dreams and chess variations of dream each move of which is a glassbead, a rock, a

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meadow, a hydrogen of poetry. Once we were left alone in the house. I cried and
cried and he was at his wits end how to make me stop. Suddenly, he started telling
me, impromptu, the story of a man swallowed by a snake that was in turn
swallowed by another snake and how the man had to slit his way out of two snakes.
That hushed up Julius the Fourth, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
Through the years, I never wavered in my hero-worship of Noy Isyong. Even
his becoming a dipso was an added, nay a finishing, touch of Homer. In my twenties
Id discover for myself Lowrys Under the Volcano and I thought of him, destroyed by
Sio Ho Tong. Imagine my surprise when seeing Lowrys picture in Time or Newsweek
for the first time I saw a strong feature-for-feature affinity between the two, hair,
facial formation, stance, torso, arms, befuddled liquor smile, loose cut of clothes.
In the summer of 1972 on a hike to my grand-fathers land in the mountains
in Negros Oriental I asked my little cousin to tell everything he could about Pagadian
which I had stopped visiting for years. I was particularly interested in the events at
the turn of the decadewhen the war between the Ilagas and the Barracudas was
raging like a curse. Joy, who was born when I was fifteen, was a tireless story-teller,
considering we had to walk a good twenty kilometers uphill. Names, remembered
faces. Others I didnt know, never saw. Moments Joy and I did not meet. Moments
we did. A soldier turned brigand. Kids on their bellies upon hilly sides, beholding
actual battle, the actual sound of gun and machine-gun fire. A legendary town
toughie and killer strolling comically mortal on mortal territory, unscathed. The
Ilocanos who farmed in the barrio of Tawagan, to the elephants neck, refusing to
budge an inch from the land for which they had forsaken Luzon, arming themselves
and gaining the virile respect of the Barracudas. The townspeople set to evacuate
en masse, to sail back to the Visayan islands from where their fathers and mothers
had come, tears, embraces.
What happened to Fidel?
Fidel.
Fidel. I dont know him. Whos he?
I laughed. Of course he didnt know Fidel.
Three years before Joy was born, just before I left for Zamboanga, a Chinese
merchant was passing through Pagadian and lodged in our house. His Christian
name was Fidel. I was in fifth grade. A florid-faced Chinese, toothless, bent,
ungainly, physiologically incapable of composure and fresh salivain lieu of that
sprang spittle that was more nicotine than spittle. At times he could make Fyodor
Karamazov a pretty decent chap. Rasping, he would send me to buy arroz
valenciana for merienda. Those were days when we were left in the house. I liked
those days. Somehow he was convivial. Vibes. Brother Long Ears, buffoon,
Dissolution. When drank, he would become a Buddha upside down, announcing to
me step-by-step, with the crudest sense of sequence imaginable, the four most
delicious things in life: liquor, arroz valenciana, riding an airplane, andthis with an
incomparably debased manner of laughingthat dirty, dirty word. His Four Baskets
which came, except for the wheezing last one, in any order. He didnt include
tobacco, perhaps unconsciously knowing that he was born with nicotine in his
glands.
Hed send me to buy his favorite juice: blue-label mallorca. With a wicked
glee Id watch him guzzle it and recoil in a fit of coughing. Sometimes he would
hardly touch the just bought liquor, too drunk, and leave the bottle open to my
curiosity. When he was not watching Id take a swig and run to the faucet, throat
and stomach frightfully on fire.

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The Chinaman, too, must be dead now, buried in Maranding where he came
from, as dead as the one I hero-worshipped, whose mother he disowned for being
mad, for telling people he was the son of Morgan. One morning Noy Isyong, I was
told, didnt get up to answer the knocking on his room and they had to break the
door, and they found him dead, he whom I can easily perceive to be really sprung
from the race of Bismarck, though in culture he was a perfect specimen of the
Bisayan and made Cebuano sound like Cebuano had something of genius. The
Chinaman had an imagination that could not go beyond the airplaneor rather he
had a love for an airplane that was an insult to imagination, to the airplane; Noy
Isyong, a secret passion for archangels. Upon his death, his wife, a Boholana,
brought their daughters back to Bohol. She must be fifteen now, the elder one,
whom I remember as a baby girl with pale blue eyes named, his father swelling with
pride, Maria.
When the weather allowed it was a revere, the boat trip from Pagadian to
Zamboanga, forty-eight hours when crooked or curved or punctuated, only you
might have been too young for revery. But the mist and the languor and the
sweetness and the sadness were there and the unhurried and invisible kisses felt
during convalescence, only that you had never been sick at all except then, a little,
of the gliding sea, and in a long long to come tomorrow when you would say, in
complete silence, you were the broken wing of an angel, strange cargo for the boat
that pulled off at eight, evening. And you drank the sound of the siren. You looked,
discovering the pleasant experience that you cloud, at the town and hanged on to
the ghost, all pale and dark, with your eyes. You lay back. Its a small boat. Princess
of Basilan. Princess of Zamboanga. Don Paterno, Don Pedro. Don Victorino. Donya
Victoria. Donya Josefa. Perhaps, again, you were too young to be curious about the
names of those boats. The whimsical, wistful legendary they might bear. You fell
asleep. When you woke up you were on a moving islet, moving upstream. The Rio
Grande of Mindanao which led in less than a long, long hour to the city of Cotabato,
wonderful enough to be an exclamation point. The islet then became a tiny rocking
promontory, but only for two or three hours, just time for you to eat a pie and drink
an orange with your old Mama in a small restaurant, and then the tiny promontory
became a moving islet again, moving down this time, to the mouth of the river and
into the sea where finally it became what it had been all the time, a little princess or
don of a boat whose name now you cannot remember, only that it was bound to
Zamboanga, buoyant with gossamer raindrops, the lavender of Alpine evaporated,
kisses, clear water, the salt of childhood tears. Where was your name? did it, too,
trail behind and away in the seafloat with that empty tin Alpine, violet, a foundling
among the flying fish? Its all sea and sky and the elements did not even laugh at
the smallness of the boat, did not even ripple, much less at the foundling, and at
your name that was all you left, trailing back to Pagadian, and all you looked, all you
were amoeba-fashion in Zamboanga Zamboanga Zamboanga.
Manila, 1976

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The Reader

[Version 1. From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]


A Close-up of the Reader
The reader is snoring.
If you didnt hear him snoring you would think that he was wide awake. For
his eyes are wide open. Moreover, he is reading a story.
The word for it is somnambulism. But the reader is not walking about. He
hates walking about. He just likes to read. So its not somnambulism. It is something
else.
A Partial Description of the Readers Syndrome
The moment he reads he fallshe has falleninto a dream. It is a dream so deep
and so life like it never occurs to him he is dreaming. Not for a moment. Presently
he begin to snore with eyes wide open.
Of Time and the Reader
It was late in the morning when the reader woke up. Through the open window he
could tell that the sun was high up-though he couldnt see it-because it was, if
the expression may be allowed, raining daylight. It must be eleven-thirty, he
calculated. He rose, wobbled, poked his head out of the window to look at the suns
position in the sky first when his watch was within reachbut he looked at the sun,
just the same, with in fact some insolence. Smitten, he plunged back into the
rooms soft shadows and sat on his bed with a moan. He shut his eyes, pressed his
eyelids with his palms, and waited for the clash of eyes and sun to subside. Then he
reached for his watch. It was eleven-thirty.
The reader bottled up.
1. He is late for an appointment.
2. Or amazed that he was able to guess the time.
3. And/or.
He brushed his teeth of omens. Of, though it was quiet, voices in the air. He
brushed his teeth energetically. Then stopped to look at his toothbrush. He suddenly
remembered times when he had inadvertently used somebody elses toothbrusha
weird experience, as readers who have at one time or another made the mistake
will attest. He looked at his toothbrush a rejoiced that it was his. At the certitude
that it was his. He brushed his teeth mightily, magnificently. Magnificence by
Estrella Alfron, he thought.
After Donald Barthelme
He is reading Henry David Thoreau. At random:
Men learn to read to serve a paltry convenienceas they learn to cipher in
order to keep accountsbut of reading as a noble intellectual exercise they know
little. They dissipate their faculties in what is called easy reading.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|194

The reader stands up and looks at himself in the mirror.


Described by a Lady Writer
I met him only once. It was at an Odette Alcantara party in Cubao. He was shy. He
sat quietly though the evening hardly saying a word or doing anything that would
steal your attention. But he was intense all right. He sat in his chair like Ygdrasil, the
tree whose roots and branches bind together earth, heaven and hill. And when he
looked at you he was appealing in his own way. Galactopoietic. Tending to promote
the secretion of milk.
The Reader As Poet
It was many and many a year ago/ In a castle by the sea/ That a vampire there
lived whom you may know/ By the name of Christopher Lee.
Has the Reader Eaten?
Readers over the centuries have universally admired a detail in Homers Mad which,
so the perception goes, is the touch that makes Homer the supreme poet, the
supreme story-teller, of humanity. The reader is no exception. He knows by heart
the key to Homers greatness as found in Book XXIV of the lliad. Achillers, after the
confrontation with Priam over the fate of Hectors bodya scene so full of pathos,
so overflowing with Homers tragic vision of life, so fraught with a final sense and
humiliation, of passion and compassion, of the hubris that elevates and topples,
topples and elevatesbounds up as if he might seize Priam by the throat or as if he
might sommerssault out of the very page saying, to Priam, that it is time to eat.
Allmango, the reader ordered.
The Story of Pax Lazarus
It was by all standards a late lunch. Even so it was the readers breakfast. In
contrast, two men two tables away were having an early beer. One was telling the
other a story: how he was not able to cash a check at the bank that morning
because hed forgotten to bring his ID. The reader, overhearing the conversation,
followed the story with secret interest. Felt an immediate sympathythat had
happened to him too a number of times: place insisting on his ID and he didnt have
itfor the man.
Who turned out to be Pax Lazarus of DDT.
Im the same Paz Lazarus you hear every morning on DDT. Earliest morning
newscast on television throughout the county. If youve watched it, I dont have to
show you my ID, do I?
I dont have a tv set, sir.
Not having a tv set either, the readers symphathies got mixed up somewhat.
Finally I just said But I am Pax Lazarus! and left.
The other man nodded.
Im of the mind to put that in my news tomorrow. What if I do that? Ill say
Good morning friends nationwide. This is Pax Lazarus with the top national and
international news. But first let me tell you a little story. Then Ill relate it. Ill look at
the camera and talk straight to the teller.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|195

Pax Lazarus companion grinned. Youre forgetting that he doesnt have a tv


set.
On the way home I actually, for one moment, doubted if I was Pax Lazarus.
You wont believe it. I was waiting for a taxi when it happened. I suddenly found
myself thinking: What if I really am not Paz Lazarus? The idea was so funny that I
laughed. I laughed aloud. People looked at me and laughed too. One of them said
Thats Pax Lazarus of DDT!
But Paz, the teller was only protecting your money. Suppose someone else
goes in and says he is Pax Lazarusand suppose that teller believes him. There
goes your money. Thats the noble idea of the ID, to protect us from impostors, I
wouldnt want anyone to go around claiming hes me!
I dont know about that, the reader thought. If someone posed as me Id feel
flattered.
The Reader in Love

Hello.
- Yes?
- May I speak to you?
- Who?
- You.
- Would you like to talk to my mother?
- How old is she?
- Shes only in her late twenties.
- You must be precious.
- No. She was.
- Thats clever. Whats your name?
- Name.
- Yes.
- You dont understand. My name is Name.
- Name? Names your name?
- Yes.
- Name! Could be. Of course thats your nickname.
- Yes.
- Nick nickname. Very original. So whats your real name?
- Nickname.
- Nickname!
- Yes.
- Nicknames your real name and Names your name!
- They couldnt call me Nick because Nicks a mans name. So its Name.
For short.
- Well, Im Alfredo.
- Alfredo. Alfredo who?
- Alfredo.
- Yes. Alfredo who?
You dont understand. Alfredo Alfredo. My first name is Alfredo and my family name
is Alfredo. In fact its Alfredo Alfredo Alfredo, my mothers maiden name being
Alfredo too. No relation. Just happened to have the same family name. Now when
Mr. Alfredo and Mrs. Alfredo (mee Miss Alfredo) had their first child, a boy, they
decided to name him Alfredo. Me. It sounds very persistent. Like memory itself.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|196

- Its unbeatable.
I dont know about that. Theres a lady in the neighborhood. Her name is Miss
Vierness Sabado. Shes getting married next week, to a Mr. Domingo. After the
wedding shell be Viernes Sabado Domingo.
- Sounds like a very busy lady.
- Not yet. Not until next week. She believes in virginity.
- Well Im busy and I dont. If you dont mind.
- You mean youre not a virgin? I do mind. A little. Precious little.
- Goodbye.
- Wait! Its terrible.
- Whats terrible?
- Dont you think its terrible?
- What dont I think is terrible?
When people whose lines cross decide to talk for a while sharing the worlds most
original names and it ends like that. Not even knowing each others nameno
matter how unoriginal.
- It happens all the time.
It happens all the timebut its terrible nonetheless. In fact, that makes it doubly
terrible. Here I am talking to you. Hello.
- Hello.
And there you are talking to me. Were talking and while were talking theres
nothing more real to us than us. Its not possible to do anything else when youre on
the phone. Unless youre a whiz at simultaneous loading like Richard Jenkins.
Burton. Nothing is more jarring than when someone else comes along and says
something to yousomething lengthyand you try to accommodate him. The
phone demands total concentration. Right now I am reality to you. And nothing else
is. Because I have all your attention. Then you hang up or I hang up. What
happened? A complete reversal. You drop back into the void.
- The what?
The void. They call it the void. Meaning nothingness. You drop back into
nothingness. You become to me, nothing. And vice-versa. Well be to each other no
more than a dream. But of course we are not. Thats what makes it terrible. You will
still be in some place, some village some street in this terrific city that I dont know.
Even if were there. For we might even cross paths, brush up against each other who
knows in some corner, a sidewalk, and we would be no more aware of it than
zombies, unless perhaps God intervenes. So that its perfectly right to say either of
these two contradictory things: we are and we are not. Thats it. Thats what
happens when you hang up. It gives you an insight into things as they are. Or
maybe I should say things as they are not. This big, terrific city is really for all its
terrific bigness nothing. And all it takes is a gentle hanging up of the telephone.
- Youre funny.
You sound ready to be friends. But lets not do it. Lets not be. First, it might sound
as if merely wanted us to know each other is all. That would make my metaphysics
insincere. Second, it would be a clich. Two strangers meeting by chance and
becoming friends in the end. Clich. Makes the whole thing, he-ha-ho-he, unreal.
The real thing is to hang up without getting to know each other. We shall, at the
very least, have the insight I was telling you about. That people in their ordinary
telephone insensitivity dont even have a glimmer of. Well be privileged. Well have
it to add to our treasury of strange memories. We will, for the rest of our lives, be
sayingyou: I once talked to a strange man who sounded both desperately lonely

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|197

and incomparably calm at the same time and I never got to know his name. Me: I
once talked to a girl with a voice like honey and I never got to know her name,
much less hold her hand (John Lennon) or nuzzle in her hair (Jun Lansang). You: He
seemed normal enough and nice enough, nonetheless. Really I wouldnt have
minded if we had become friends. Me: She seemed friendly enough. If I had not
been too complicated, perhaps I would have known her. You: He was funny. He
seemed to be groping for something to say all the time and yet I could see him
holding a script with his two hands, cradling the phone between his ear and
shoulder. Me: She had the treacherous docility of toy balloons that could, in one
careless lapse, slip from your hands and recede into the afternoonfor it was
afternoonsky forever. You: I miss him. Me: What the hell.
- Dont take it so hard.
- Let me try and guess your name before we hang up. Just a game.
- Okay.
- Esme?
- No.
- Rima?
- No.
- Catherine?
- No.
- Dulcinea.
- No.
- Gretchen.
- No.
- Penthesilea.
- Goodness, no.
- Lara?
- No.
- Egypt.
- What?
- Egypt?
- Natalia.
- Yes! How did you guess?
- Alam mo naman tayo.
- No, really, how?
Those were names from books. Dulcineas from Don Quixote. Gretchen from Faust.
Rima is from Green Mansions and Esme from s short-story by J.D Salinger. To Esme
With Love and Squalor. Lara comes from Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak;
Penthesilea, from Heinrich von Kleist, the German poet, a most astonishing man. So
does Natalia. Shes the girl in Kleists masterpiece. The Prince of Homburg. Princess
Natalia of Orange. Except that you have the same name and so I guessed right.
What Anthony Burgess, a living novelist, means perhaps when, first page of his
promise-fulfilling Earthly Powers, he says actuality sometimes plays into the hands
of Art. Apparently you did. Or rather your name did. If it didnt I would have rattled
on. Catherine is from Wuthering Heights of course.
- And Egypt?
Shakespeare. Thats what Anthony called Cleopatra at the end, as he was dying. He
called her Egypt. Im dying, Egypt, dying.
[MISSING PAGES, BAD ITALICIZATION]

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|198

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|199

The Reader

[Version 2. From Checkmeta, 2004]


A Close-up of the Reader
The reader is snoring.
If you didnt hear him snoring you would think that he was awake.
For his eyes are wide open. Moreover he is reading a story.
The word for it is somnambulism. But the reader is not walking about.
He hates walking about. He just like to read. So its not sonambulism.
It is something else.
Partial Description of the Readers Syndrome
The moment he read he fallshe has falleninto a dream. It is a dream / so deep
and so life-like it never occur to him that he is dreaming. Not / for a moment.
Presently he begins to snore with his eyes wide open.
Of time and the Reader
It was late in the morning when the reader woke up. Through the open window he
could tell that the sun was high upthough he couldnt see itbecause it was, if
the expression may be allowed, raining daylight. It must be eleven thirty, he
calculated. He rose, wobbled, poke his head out of the window to look for the sun.
There it was. It was a little odd that he should look at the suns position in the sky
first when his watch was within reachbut he looked at the sun just the same, with
in fact some insolence. Smitten, he plunged back into the rooms soft shadows (end
page 12) (start page 13) and sat on his bed with a moan. He shut his eyes, press his
eyelids with his palms, and waited for the clash of eyes and sun to subside. Then he
reached for his watch. It was eleven-thirty.
The reader bolted up.
1. He is late for an appointment
2. Or amazed that he was able to guess the time.
3. And/or.
It seemed a day of omens. Of, though it was quiet, voices in the air. He
brushed his teeth energetically. Then stopped to look at his toothbrush. He suddenly
remembered time when he had inadvetently used somebody elses toothbrusha
weird experience, as readers who have at one time or another made the mistake
will attest. He looked at his toothbrush and rejoice that it was his. At the certitude
that it was his. He brushed his teeth mightily, magnificently. Magnificence by
Estrella Alfon, he thought.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|200

After Donald Barthelme


He is reading Henry David Thoreau. At random:
Men learn to read to serve paltry convenienceas they learn to cipher in
order to keep accountsbut of reading as a noble intellectual exercise they know
the little. They dissipate their faculties in what we called easy reading.
The reader stands up and look at himself in the mirror.
Described by a Lady Writer
I met him only once. It was at an Odette Alcantara party in Cubao. He was shy. He
sat quitely through the evening hardly saying a word or doing anything that would
steal your attention. But he was intense all right. He sat in his chair like Ygdrasil, the
tree whoose roots and branches bind together earth, heaven and hell. And when he
looked at you he was appealing in his own way. Galactopoeitic. Tending to promote
the section of milk.
The Reader as a Poet
It was many and many a year ago
In a castle by the sea (end page 13)
That a vampire there lived (start page 14)
whom you may know
By the name of Christopher Lee.
A Readers Digest
Readers over the centuries have universally admired a detail in Homers Iliad which,
so the perception goes, is the touch that makes Homer the supreme poet, the storyteller of humanity. The reader is no exception. He knows by heart the key to
Homers greatness as found in book XXIV of the Iliad. Achilles, after confontation
with Priam over the fate of Hectors bodya scene so full of pathos, so overflowing
with Homers tragic vision of life, so fraught with a final sense of terror and the
beauty and the madness of it all, of grandeur and humiliation, of passion and
compassion, of the hubris that elevates and topples, topples and elevatesbound
up as if he might sieze Priam by the throat or as if he might somersault out of the
very page saying to Priam, that it is time to eat.
Alimango, the reader ordered.
The Story of Pax Lazarus
It was by all standards a late lunch. Even so it was the readers breakfast. In
contrast, two men two tables away were having an early beer. One was telling the
other a story: how he was unable to cash a check at the bank that morning because
hed forgotten to bring his ID. The reader, overhearing the conversation, followed
the story with secret interest. He felt an immediate sympathy for the manthat

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|201

happened to him too countless times: places insisting on his ID and he didnt have it
who turned out to be Pax Lazarus, the TV newscaster.
-Im the guy you see and hear every evening on TV. The number one
newscast on television throughout the country. If youve watched it , I dont have to
show you my ID, do I?
I dont have a TV set, sir.
Not having a television set either, the readers sympathies got mixed up
somewhat.
Finally I just said But I am Pax Lazarus! and left.
The other man nodded.
Im of the mind to put that in my newscast tonight. What if I do that? Ill say
Good evening friends nationwide. Im Pax Lazarus with the top national and
international news. But first let me tell you this story. Then Ill relate it. Ill look at
the camera and talk straight to that teller.
Pax Lazarus companioned grinned. Youre forgetting that he doesnt have a
TV set.
On the way home I actually, for one moment, doubted that I was Pax
Lazarus. You wont believe it. I was waiting for a taxi when it happened. I suddenly
found myself thinking, What if I am not Pax Lazarus? The idea was so funny that I
laughed. One of them said Thats Pax Lazarus, the TV newscaster!
But Pax, the teller was just protecting your money. Suppose someone else
had gone in claiming he was Pax Lazarusand suppose that the teller believed him?
Thats the whole idea of the ID, to protect us from impostors. I wouldnt want
anyone to go around and claiming hes me!
I dont know about that the reader thought. If someone posed as me I think
Id fell flattered.
The Reader In Love
Hello.
Yes?
May I speak to you?
Who?
You.
Would you like me to talk to my mother?
How old is she?
Shes in her late twenties.
You must be precocious.
No. She was.
Thats clever. Whats your name?
Name.
Yes.
You dont understand. My name is Name.
Name? Names your name?
Yes.
Name! Could be. Of course thats your nickname.
Yes.
Nice Nickname. Very original. So whats your real name?
Nickname.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|202

Nickname!
Yes.
Nicknames your real name and Names your nickname!
They couldnt call me Nick because Nicks a mans name. So its Name
for short.
Well, Im Alfredo.
Alfredo. Alfredo who?
Alfredo.
Yes. Alfredo who?
You dont understand. Alfredo Alfredo. My first name is Alfredo and my
family name is Alfredo. In fact, its Alfredo Alfredo Alfredo, my mothers maiden
name being also Alfredo. No relation. Just happened to have the same family name.
Now when Mr. Alfredo and Ms. Alfredo (nee Miss Alfredo) had their first child, a boy,
they decided to name him Alfredo. Me. Alfredo Alfredo Alfredo. It sounds very
persistent like memory itself.
Its unbeatable.
Im not sure it is. Theres a lady in the neighborhood. Her name is Miss
Viernes Sabado. Shes getting married next week, to a Mr. Domingo. After the
wedding shell be Viernes Sabado Domingo.
Sounds like a very busy lady.
Not yet. Not until next week. She believes in virginity.
Well Im busy and I dont. If you dont mind.
You mean youre not a virgin? I do mind. A little. Precious little.
Goodbye.
Wait! Its terrible.
Whats terrible?
Dont you think its terrible?
What dont I think is terrible?
When people whose lines cross decide to talk for a whileand it ends
just like that.
It happened all the time.
It happens all the timebut its terrible nonetheless. In fact, that makes
it doubly terrible. Here I am talking to you. Hello.
And there you are talking to me. Were talking and while were talking
theres nothing more real to us than us. Its not possible to do anything else when
youre on the phone. Unless youre a whiz at simultaneous loading like Richard
Jenkins. Burton. Nothing is more jarring than when someone else comes along and
says something to yousomething lengthyand you try to accommodate him. The
phone demands total concentration. Right now I am reality to you. And nothing else
is. Because I have all your attention. Then you hang up or I hang up. What happens?
A complete reversal. You drop back into the void.
The what?
The void. They call it the void. Meaning nothingness. You drop back into
nothingness. You become to me nothing. And vice-versa. We are alone. Face to face
with the void, vis--vis the abyss. Well be to each other the no more than a dream,
unreal. But of course we are real. Thats what makes it terrible. You will still be in
some place, some village, some street in this terrific city that I dont know. Even if I
were there. For we might even cross paths, brush up against each other who knows
in some corner, a sidewalk, and we would be no more aware of it than zombies,
unless perhaps God intervenes. So that its perfectly right to say either of these two

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|203

contradictory things: we are and we are not. Thats it. Thats what happens when
you hang up. It gives you insight into things as they are. Or maybe I should say
things as they are not. This big terrific city is really for all its terrific bigness
nothing. and all it takes is a gentle hang up of the telephone.
Youre funny.
You sound ready to be friends. But lets not do it. Lets not be. First, it
might sound as if I merely wanted us to know each other ia all. That would make my
metaphysics insincere. Second it would be a clich. Two strangers meeting by
chance and becoming friends in the end. Clich. Makes the whole thing, he-ha-hohe, unreal. The real thing is to hang up without getting to know each other. That is
getting real. W shall, at that very least, have the insight Ive just been telling you
about. That people in their ordinary telephone insensitivity dont even have a
glimmering of. Well be privileged. Well have it to add to our treasury of strange
memories. We will, for the rest of our lives, be saying: You: I once talk to a strang
man who sounded both desperately lonely and incomparably calm at the same time
and I never got to know his name. Me I once talked to a girl with a voice like
honey and I never got to know her name, much less hold her hand (John Lennon) or
nuzzle in her hair (Jun Lansang). You: He seemed normal enough and nice enough,
noneless. Really I wouldnt have minded if we had become friends. Me: She
seemed friendly enough. If I had not been too complicated, perhaps I would have
known her. You: He was funny. He seemed to be groping for something to say all
the time and yet I could see him holding a script with his two hands, cradling the
phone between his ear and shoulder. Me: she had the treacherous docility of toy
balloons that could, in one careless lapse, slip from your hands and recede into the
afternoon-for it was afternoon-sky forever. You: I miss him. Me: What the
hell.
Dont take it hard.
Let me try guessing your name before we hang up. Just a game.
Okay.
Esme?
No.
Dulcinea.
No. Pa\enthesilea.
Goodness, no.
Calliope.
No.
Tatyana.
Sounds Russian.
It is. Chikako.
Japanese, yes. Plurabelle?
No.
Egypt.
What?
Egypt?
No.
Natalia.
Yes! How in the world were you able to guess?
Natalia is your name? Really?
Yes!
Incredible. But it happens. It just happened.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|204

Where did you get all those names from?


From books. Esme is from a short-story by J.D. Salinger. To Esme with
Love and Squalor. I pronounce that letter s, buy Ive been told that its silent.
Plurabelle is from Finnegans wake by James Joyce. Actually its Anna Livia
Plurabelle. I foreshortened it. Calliope is from Greek myth. Tatyana is from Eugene
Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin. Chikako is from The House of the Sleeping Beauties
by Japanese novelist, Yasunari Kawabata. Let me quote an exquisite sentence from
the book, Whenever he thought of Chikako, even at night, she was wrapped in the
blinding light of midsummer.
Wow!
Penthesilia though originally from Greek myth, is from a play by Heinrich von
Kliest, the German poet. So is Natalia. Shes the girl in Kleists masterpiece, The
Prince of Homburg. Princess Natalia of Orange. What Anthony Burgess means when,
first page of his promise-fulfilling Earthly Powers, he says Actuality sometimes
plays into the hands of art. However, in the case, it appears to be the reverse, i.e.
Art plays into the hands of actuality.
And Egypt?
Shakespeare. Thats what Anthony called Cleopatra at the end, as she
lay dying. He called her Egypt. Im dying Egypt, Im dying.
English in the Philippines/ English from the Philippines
Philippine literature in English must be distinguished from Philippine literature in
England. The former is literature written in English by Filipinos, two of the best
anthologists are T. D. Agcaoili and Leopoldo Yabes. It had its beginnings at the turn
of the century when the Americans came to take the place of the Spaniards. Not
without a touch of melancholy, Nick Joaquin is of course the most compelling
conscience. A Gulliver among Lilliputians, as Teodoro Locsin in happier days
described hima description that some two or decades later, in the 80s, assumed
a melancomic dimension whenever Domingo Landicho, enemy of Philippine
literature in English, stood up and took the floor at writers workshops and
conferences, Nick Joaquin in the panel fuming. 1
Philippine literature in England is more recent and even more isolated. Ass
may you have guessed, it is, quite simply, literature written by Filipinos living in
England and written in any of our dialects. It is a very lonely literature but it is not
lacking in talent. Offhand one can mention in the stories of the Cebuano Old
Testament scholar and verbal magician Noahng Niwang Nawong and the critical
essays of Mrs. Nemesis, from Pampanga.
Of course it maybe written in English too, in which case it belongs to both
categories. It is Philippine literature in England and it is Philippine literature in
English. There are quite a few writers residing in Cortez Medalla, to name just two.
The most famous, of course, is the London-based poet Zamboangueno poet, Tonio
Bonini.
As if things in the world were not complicated enough, there is the queer
case of British writer, Mr. Manchester Winchester.
Mr. Winchester lives in the Philippineshas been a resident of the country for
two decades, though about half of that time is actually spent in Belgium since he
scuttles back and forth between these two countries. As a young novelist in
England, he acquired some notoriety with his autobiographical MW, an amazing
novel of some nine-hundred pages all devoted to the description of a single coital

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|205

position. A physical miracle! said in one critic. The book can be read upside
down! Irreverent, said another. Full of malice, Mr. Winchester writes as though
hed shoot everything in creation. Son of gun! said third. (Mrs. Mimesis Nemesis,
then already living in England, is known to have ignored the book altogether,
apparently unable to find words in which, really a Victorian despite her modernist
and even postmodernist pretensions, she could properly express her indignation)
Like Samuel Beckett, THE Irishman who went to Paris and wrote his works in
French, Mr. Winchester somehow found his way to our islands in the fifties and after
only five years was writing a novel inhold your breathPilipino. What we have
here, incredible as it may seem, is English literature in Pilipino. Our writers did not
know how to take it. Then and now. To this day neither our most mellifluent writers
in Tagalog nor our least monosyllabic ones in English have uttered anything apropos
of Mr. Manchester Winchester.
Let alone Mrs. Mimesis Nemesis. Who, at the turn of the fifties, had come with
husband Mr. Nemesis and even met, the literary world being very small, Mr.
Winchester. Would she react this time? She certainly had no more reason to. Mr.
Manchester Winchester seemed (who knows?) to have had her partly in his dirty
mind when he made Angeles City in Pampanga the setting of much of the action in
the novel which he entitled One Hundred karats. Only the title was English. The
entire novel was written in Pilipino.
Mrs. anyhow didnt. It took another Englishman, or rather Americanthe
best-selling science writer Horatio Algaeto say something on the phenomenon of
Mr. Winchester.
Algae was touring our university campuses lecturing and autographing copies
of his book Is There Life? for fanatical fans. The two met up in UP Bagiuo. Then they
met again in Maryknoll. And again in Silliman. and again in Ateneo de Zamboanga.
They met again and again, everywhere. They even met in the same place twice.
Lightning! they said. They met in places they were likely to meet, like Pantranco,
as well as places they were unlikely to meet, like the Woody Allen fans Club. Neither
believed Woody Allen to be, as his admirers claim, a giant of contemporary humor.
When Algae left for the States he had written, under Mr. Manchester
Winchesters nose, an article dealing with the English Filipino. Algaes main point
was that he could imagine Mr. Manchester Winchester as having been in a former
existence an Aeta but he could not understand, not in his wildest dreams, why
writer born (reborn?) into the language of William Shakespeare could forsake the
language for one that was beg your pardon primitiveone with which he had,
moreover, only a five year like it or not stuttering acquaintance. There could only be
one explanation, Mr. Algae hinted and that was lack of talent
Mr. MW replied that only one thing he had written in English in years: There
Are More Things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, Then Are Dreamt of in English. The
article was written with near homicidal, albeit repressed, anger. You could see that
the authors eyes almost popping out of his head like a pair of baby dinosaurs while
the rest of him remained rigid as Stonehenge. Mr. Algaes essay, was published
when he was gone, seemed a creping treachery indeed. There were reports
reaching Mr. MW that Algae had been seeing Mrs. Mimesis, MWs Nemesis.
Mr. Winchesters article re-appeared and re-appeared in journal after journal.
He spent years and years refining and refining it. In his third version, it underwent a
change in title in the title, becoming now Whats It All About, Algae? People thought
he had, despite what his article was saying, abandoned writing in Pilipino, thanks to
Mr. Algae. The article came out in its definitive version under yet another title: The

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Novel is Dead And So Is English. But how come its still written in English? The
answer was not long in coming. In the late sixties, Mr. Manchester Winchester
regaled our literati, as well as non-literati, with the hair-raising Olongapo rock opera
Bulbul.
Genius! raved the Clark air base resident physician, Dr. Isaac Honey Cruise.
Bulbul is a work of geniusor at least a work by a genius. True, there is a
difference. But what matters in the end is genius and what is genius? Who can say?
How explain the inexplicable> Genius is genius. Genius is bulbul. Or to put it a la
Gertrude Stein (a genius)a genius is a genius is a genius.
Did Algae back in the U.S. of A., hear of it? By then it didnt matter to Mr.
Manchester Winchester anymore who, around this time, contemplated doing his
writing, from hereon, in Ilocano. It didnt bother him either that our writers still did
not know what to do or how to even feel about the presence in their midst of an
English writer who wrote in Pilipino, let alone contemplated doing his writing hereon,
in Ilocano. From the bottom of my heart, said Mr. Manchester Winchester with a
strange accent, laughing.
The Quest of the Historical Reader
When the reader disappeared people thought he did a Tyrone Slothrop. Tyrone
Slothrop was one of his favorite fictional characters. He is the London-assigned
American lieutenant in Thomas Pynchons Gravitys Rainbow who had this funny
erection whenever a German rocket hit London. The erection came before the rcket
which came before its sound. But it was not this that the reader, his friends said,
sort of imitated or emulated. It was the other funny thing about Slothrop.
Slothrop at the end of the novel disappears. If you remember, he was chase
by Major Marvy all over Europe. Its lieutenants wildest chase. You follow Slothrop
as he rides his buddys beautiful balloon went out of the blueor is it right there, in
the heart of the bluethere materializes a reconnaissance plane serenading them
first with son then with bullets. Slothrop and buddy fight back with custard pies and
bring the bloody reconnaissance fucking plane down...
Gets gagged with every known English confection, fights, wearing a sexy
Hawaiian polo shirt, an octopus from beneath the sea, ships across the Baltic,
travels in Europe on foot with a pig, explodes inside every girl he meetsa whole,
veritable map of themnot the least willing of whom is an elevenyear-old
nymphet.
Major Marvys mission was to capture and castrate himtake his, Slothrops,
testicles to Pointsman the Pavlovian who intended to study them and thereby find a
way to neutralize the German rockets. Well, Pointsman, by sheer unluck, got his,
Marvystesticles instead. They never caught Slothrop. Or did they? Slothrop just
disappeared. In more than the usual sense of word. For how could you even
disappear if you wete never in the first place. You find out at novels end thatpop!
there really has been no Lt. Tyrone Slothrop all along.
Some of Slothrop companion saw it coming though they did not know what it
was, let alone know in Pynchons knowing technical terms. They notice how his
temporal bandwidth was shrinking, getting thinner and thinner. Temporal
bandwidth, says Pynchon, is the width of your present, your now. The more you
dwell in the past and the future, the more solid you persona. But the narrower you
sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.

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The reader, according to Baguio painter Darnay Demetillos account, was


desperately racing with one morning after breakfast in search of something as he
was leaving for school. He surveyed every conceivable angle of the house in vain,
going back and forth, back and forth What is it? early to rise early to gin Darnay
Demitillo asked.
The book Im reading, GodI was just holding it a while ago.
Youre carrying it, the one against your thumb.
So, some five years later, towards the end of November 1981, the story was
the reader did a Slothrop.
Nevertheless the truth of his whereabouts, though incomplete, surfaced not
so long after he vanished. The reader had gone into seclusion. What for? To read a
story. What story? It is not known. Until now. What is known is that he is reading it
with intensity unprecedented in his life. Hes been known to be maniac reader
before. But maniac readers, when you get down to it, are a dime a dozen. Its not a
matter of mania. It goes beyond. There has never been a reading like this one. It is
said that he was reading it like a matter of life and deathin fact, as if it were a
matter of the afterlife and the second death.
As one should when one is reading, remarks Willy Sanchez.
But why should it take so long? Joecarr asked. Why should one go into
hidinginto location shooting, if I may put it that wayjust to read a story?
To read is to going into hiding, says Willy Sanchez before Willie Arsena can
open his mouth.
Its not a story, a Palnaca judged speaks out. Its an essay.
A long essay, yes. Second Thoughts On Hindu Theosophy,I chips in Boy
Sampana.
He is reading it real slow, says Erwin Castillo. I know him. Hes slow.
Except when he eats, says Krip Yuson.
His slowness shall leave speed laboring behind. There is a moment of silent
as this unspoken wish runs through the readers mindbroken abruptly by the next
speaker.
At this moment? booms Nick Joaquin. At this moment hes at North Pole,
reading. Reading me! I bet you dont know where the North Pole is. The North Pole is
in Dumaguete. What are you crazy?
Sometimes, Pepito Bosch, eyes around as the Second Coming: Iam
invaded by a feeling that what lies at the core of a persons fate, whosoevers,
amounts to nothing more eventually than a bright addition to someone elses
erosoteric vocabulary. An orgiastic wordboy, an obsessive-compulsive punmonster,
a born Websters New Dictionary! Not acquired or stolen. Where upon a dizzy series
of feelingsbetter yet, a dizzying simultaneity of conterminous feelings, all lazy
children of the vionary original, would swirl inside me like Jackson Pollock, all
clamoring for legitimacy, sense, meaning, brightness, action. Metaphysical jailbreak.
Imaginary convicts. Notes from the ground of being and nothingness. You know, I
mean What?
The story he is reading is the one he exist in. But if the story existed, the
reader cannot possibly read it. Because then hed be imaginaryresemblance to
anyone is purely coincidental. And therefore the story does not exist.
Nevertheless it does. And nevertheless hes reading it.
He sits in a corner of a two-way street watching his life go by. Its five in the
afternoon, past, and theres not a face he knows. He feels unspeakably lonesome.
He wonders how long he can hold on. It is April and love is full of brown leaves.

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He feels as abandoned as Juan Serrano when the savage Cebuanos tattooed


his penis with all sorts of figures.
He has a vision of the beach on a wonderful Sunday filled with people all
reading a paperback.
He remembers Leon Kilat talking to Aya. Aya-Bong, youre gonna be a
nervous person when you grow up. Your mother is very nervous and Im very
nervous. But just remember one thing. As long as you can sing in the bathroom
youre okay.
The story of course, is fantasy. But the reader is not. He is, as he has always
been and ever will be, real Or rather as long as he livesand as long as he reads.
For he is the man whod read all, if only he had the timeincluding his thing and
doing it in the only way he can. Impossibly. As male ants grow wings for love, as
Einstein fused physics with mathematics.

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The Seventh Floor


[From Sands & Coral, 1996]

[MISSING]

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Stories
[Version 1. From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
What I am about to set down consists of three stories which I had originally wanted
to write separately. How I came to think of weaving them together is not easy to
answer. The first two were stories I had heard almost twenty years ago and could
not get around to writing for such an unbelievable length of time. One day I
understood that Id never be able to write them and that perhaps this was the story
I could write. I remember the occasion on which the idea occurred to me. I was
talking to another literary person, in fact a gifted young girl from Manila well on her
way to the writing vocation. I found myself telling her the two stories. I dont
remember having done it before, though I am fairly given to talking about stories I
contemplated writing to friends. When I had finished I realized that what held my
listeners interest was not just the stories themselves but me telling them together.
Perhaps I should write them together, I said with the enthusiasm of one who had
faintly but unmistakably struck something. When days passed and the terror of the
empty, white paper began to grow on me, when I began to suspect that this new
storythe story of a writer and the two stories he could not get around to writing
for twenty yearswas headed for the same fate, the same limbo, I decided to hurl
myself into the wilderness. In the confusion I involuntarily recovered two memories
one resplendent and the other shameful. I also tied in the third, which is the
longest and of which I do not have to speak at this point.
Back in 1972, when I taught at Silliman for the first time, I formed a
companionship with four other young men with whom I had nothing in common but
an addiction: chess. The friendship was so close we were soon addicted not only to
the game but to being together. For days on end, when there would be a string of
holidays, we would eat, sleep, talk, play chess, gallivant, do evil things together.
Chess is more often than not the passion of a lonely man. In our case, the loneliness
became collective, if such a thing can be conceivedwe were a pack of lone wolves.
Martial law, imposed by Marcos late that year, abetted it, as did the success of the
solipsistic Bobby Fischer.
Ill heartlessly cut myself short on this part of my life to which belongs some
of my fondest memories, since my business is only to relate where and how I got
the two stories mentioned above. I heard them from two of my friends, on those
nights when not even the fatigue of playing chess all day could relieve the torment
of our own sap and we would spend the night talking about all sorts of things until
dawn. The first came from Nestor Rimando and happened in Davao where he came
from and where he is back. In the almost twenty years since our time in Dumaguete
I have seen him again only twiceonce in Manila and once when he visited
Dumaguete in 1987. The second was told by Odelon Ontal, who lives until now in
Dumaguete and who has forgotten his story. Both have married and have children; I
have remained a bachelor, grown adept at gentle ways of coping with, in the phrase
of Erwin Castillo, the terror of being unloved.
Rimandos story can be sketched in a paragraph. In Davao in either the late
sixties or early seventies (Rimando was not specific) a madwoman slept her nights
at the market, where the tables in the meat section provided her with a bed. Let us
assign her the age of twenty-eight and long, lice-infested hair. You have seen her,

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grimy, reposing on the pavement like an obscene bat, her eyes somehow never
meeting yours. You never hear her voice either, even when she laughs and you
wonder who knocked her teeth down. One day you see her with a swollen belly and
although it comes as a shock you dont find yourself wondering very long who the
father is. Not even the coming baby mitigates her status as a nightmare, without
substance. In Rimandos story she gives birth to her child towards daybreak. The
market vendors who had come early saw her deflated belly but were baffled that
the child could not be found. Suddenly their minds froze, struck by lightning. They
had not understood the blood on the table where she had slept and now they looked
with horror at the dog sitting not far from where she was.
As in Rimandos case, Ontal had not actually witnessed the story he told us
and which, as Ive said, he has forgotten. A very young couplethe husband about
fifteen and the wife fourteen or thirteenhad come to Dumaguete for the husband
who was sick to be confined and treated in a hospital. They came with ample
money, but one somehow got the impression that it represented all their
possession. They took a common room, which explains how their story came to be
known.
On the first day of his confinement, a group of young girls, probably students
from Silliman dropping in to visit another patient in the room, find themselves
flocking around the boy-husband from the barrio. It is not hard to understand why
they instantly take to him. They like his rustic ways; they are astonished,
themselves not much older than he, to find one so youngjust a little boy really
already married; they feel protective, motherly. Perhaps, too, the boy is dying. Let
us call him Kip. It is five in the afternoon and Kip, waiting for his wife Moning to
come back, has brightened up only too visibly. One or two of the girls are pretty. And
Kips happiness, in turn, has set loose even in the shyer ones the floodgates of a
hitherto unsuspected sweetness. It is in the midst of this that Moning comes back
with a friend she has just acquired, a girl of eight, and the things they bought at the
market. There is an awkwardness but Kips friends do not feel uncomfortable. They
look at her with great interest and find her shyness just as poignant, except that of
course she is not the patient and, moreover, they have to go. Moning goes out of
the room soon after they do to see her little friendwho keeps throwing looks at Kip
to the gate. She does not returnneither in the evening as Kip keeps hoping she
will, nor the next day, nor the day after the next until it is afternoon. Kip runs a
whole spectrum of feelingsall shades of grey and black. First alarm, then anger,
worry, fear, bewilderment, oppression, fury, pain. To assuage the torment, he
imagines himself dead and the thought of Moning crazed with grief strangely
revives his appetite to eat. It is an exaggeration to say that he ages in three days,
but at certain moments we see a grown-up quality or manner that we failed to
notice earlier, even when hes not doing anything, propped up and stockstill,
pensive in his bed. When Moning finally comes back, the joy he feels is outweighed,
outwardly, by the need to express his outrage and maintain a touching dignity. He
weeps at last and says, in a quiet voice, Ako pay mamatay, ako pay ingnon mi!
(Roughly, Im the one whos going to die and Im the one whos treated this way!)
Moning, eyes downcast, wants to hold and press his hand but his spare reproach
totally wilts her.
These were the two stories. When I first pondered Rimandos story, I
conceived of the following idea: The story would be seen through a third-person
point of view. This person is gradually revealed to be the father of the baby, and the

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revelation will be subtle, almost just hinted, but clear towards the end. Im glad this
didnt materialize. It seems to promise bathos.
My present attitude indicates that I wish to preserve the storys gruesome
quality. Despite the ironclad objection: what for should one write a merely cruel
story? There are hundreds of other such incidents, dizzying in their fiendishness,
that have happened and can happen on this planet. Even in the realm of fact, the
number of such cases may well approach the infinite. Thus the absurdity of a news
item with such a subject in which the reporter pretends to be moved by the
uncanny. And yet I remain infatuated with Rimandos story as israw, uninvented,
fact. Why?
Once in life I woke in the wee hours of the morning and heard from
somewhere a babys cooing and laughter and knew it to be the most beautiful
sound on earth or in heaven. Many years later I took to asking girls I liked what they
thought was the loveliest sound theyd ever heard. A birds chirping was usually the
answer. At other times, the sound of surf. Or early morning rain that made them
linger in bed. There were others Ive forgotten. Only one, if memory is not fooling,
got it rightEmy.
How could a baby deserve either such a grisly end or such a loathsome origin
as had the one in Rimandos story? What possible virtue is there in telling of how it
was so literally wiped out the moment it was born?
Ontals story, too, is disturbingly open-ended. Even if its tenderness tends to
counterpoint, to allay the ferocity of the other. Ontal said no one seemed to know
what happened afterwards when the young couple had gone back to the barrio
where they came from. This open-endednessKips possible deathhovers over the
story with the same menace that the womans madness, the unknown fathers lust,
and the dogs appetite in Rimandos story hold for us. Here too my baby gurgles
amid demons. Is this therefore why the two stories had been thrown into my hands
not by accident but because to me had been delivered the task of seeing them as
connected? If Kip dies, the two tell the same storyKip is the baby who is devoured
by a dogand I brood on the evil that unites them; Ontal didnt have to tell his. If
Kip lives, the two stories excludeworse, annihilateeach other; Kip is the baby
whose cooing, gurgling laughter work me up one magic, epiphanous night in my life
but Rimando, as well as Ontal, had to tell his. I must find a third.
Unlike Ontals and Rimandos, it is a story I have seen. In fact, it is a story I alone
have seen. For the two people in ita man and a woman who casually crossed my
path quite recently (only late last year) never met, neither one knew the other
existed. Moreover, one is mad and the other dead. I believe their fates conjoined,
and that it was I who brought this conjunction aboutor rather my old, black jacket.
It seems like a delirium and perhaps it is. Before getting round to it, I add a few
necessary details about myself. I am forty-three, I teach part-time in Silliman. I live
with a maid and my two parents. My mother has had a stroke and asthma has
wrought on my father an almost equal devastation.
One afternoon I woke from a nap hearing some rock group on the cassette
tape recorder and slowly making out the voices that drifted to my room. They were
those of my father and a younger man, a man I didnt know. The conversation was
in Chabacano and my father was talking with more animation than usual. My
parents have not lived in Dumaguete as long as I, and at their age do not get to
meet too many people any more. Whenever someone happens along who comes

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from Zamboanga, their spirit is buoyed up, as though old times had returned. I
tarried in bed for a while more, unable to help from eavesdropping. I gathered that
the visitor had come in to fix the tape recorder, that his name was William, that he
was an ex-soldier, that he (rather vaguely) was a CAFGU, that he worked as radio
technician and operator at the military headquarters in Agan-an. I couldnt avoid
meeting his stare at once when I opened the door, they were sitting right-across
from my room and he was facing my way. He was a slight man who looked as boyish
as his voice, but the face, with its high cheekbones, had a menacing quality that
impressed me greatly. He had the eyes of a man who lived with evil smells, or who
was used to the sight of gore. But perhaps the cold, removed stare came from sheer
hard times and I had overlooked it. I dwell on it at length because it was the only
time I really looked at his face. He was to be seen in the house often after that,
gladly fixingafter the tape recorderthe television set and the walkie-talkie which
he had dug up while puttering around the storeroom. He always declined to join us
whenever he happened to be around at mealtime, settling instead for a cup of
coffee. Sometimes hed doze off on the bench in the kitchen when, apparently
exhausted from staying up late at some gambling place, hed show up early in the
morning. At other times, hed spend the night at our place, sleeping on the bench
which had become his bed. We soon realized, though we never asked him, that he
was not living in any particular placethat there probably were other houses where
he could sleep from time to time. But once a man who knew us asked me if it was
true William was living with us. William had given our place as his address, care of
my father who was a retired police major. And indeed he did his laundry at our place
and kept some clothes in the storeroom. I do not know if those were all the clothes
he had.
William told us he was a widower. He said his wife had died of tuberculosis. At
the time he said this I thought it sounded like a good forecast of how he himself was
going to die soon. He was very thin and always looked overwrought. He did die soon
after, but not as I thought.
His wife left him no child. He said his wifes parents were from Negros and
lived in the nearby town of Valencia, and that his own mother, who was in
Zamboanga, originally came from Dumaguete. We believed him. He spoke
Chabacano and Cebuano very fluentlyboth with a rural accent, which astonished
my father who is a Zamboangueo and my mother who is a Cebuanaoblivious
that, though its true it was unusual, so did I, though neither with a rural accent.
This will do for William. He is a dead man when I take him up again. Vastly different,
we did not become friends. The only form of closeness we had was my lending him
small sums which he was too shy to borrow from my parents. He never paid and I
never expected him to. Just as we never paid him for fixing the television set and
the tape recorder and the walkie-talkie and he never, Im sure, expected us to.
For certain episodes in the past that we carry through life, memories is an
inaccurate word; rather they constitute an ever lingering, bright present, separation
or estrangement from which we are forced to admit only by the unappealable
decline of our physical bodies. And then we feel as if perhaps we already have died.
Others are matters of complete indifference. They could be as recent as a year ago
but the faces that beam at us on a chance re-encounter are veritable abysses. As
are the names.
Ester Lim?
She says you were together in some writers conference in Manila.
Is she going to be in the program?

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|214

Shes just passing by. Shes on her way to Manila. She was looking for Marj.
If she didnt know Marj is the Manila, she may have been just checking her
out, too, from way back when.
Yes, that seems to be it. When I told her Marj is in Manila she appeared very
excited and took her address. And then she sounded like she was going to Manila
just to see her.
Ill get back to the office. They might be there.
Lina was giving her directions to your house. Shes probably there now. That
was almost two hours ago.
Oh. Okay, Im going home then.
You can see that shes odd, but shes all right I think. Most people will get a
more extreme impression after talking to her. Shes been through some terrible
time. Shell be telling you.
Id have preferred to talk to her somewhere else though.
Lina told her to go back to her if its no go at your place. I would have taken
her in but you know theres literally no room for her here.
Its going to be difficult. You dont know my father. Hes a cop. But I know
where we can take her to.
By ten in the evening Ester Lim was out of my hands. I had ample
opportunity, that evening, to know just how mad she was.
She was in her late twenties and I wondered why I absolutely couldnt recall
her from the writers seminar that we attended together. At the least, she must have
been a pleasant kid to look at, and even now hell, which it was clear she was
wobbling in, hadnt taken away the sparkle from her eyes. She had a vague
expression of physical pain on her face that became oddly pronounced when she
smiled, which was often. After speaking, she would bend her forehead slightly
forwardand somewhat askewas if swallowing, her eyes not leaving yours and
smiling with the queer pain. Perhaps reading my mind she explained that she had
inflamed sinuses. I found out that she had stomach spasms besides. My hair almost
stood at the way she consumed the entire loaf of sliced bread when I bought her a
snack, ignoring the canned fish and the noodles which she ate after. At nine there
are no more cheap eating houses open in Dumaguete and I didnt have much
money. Also, I was hoping Mrs. Tan, in whose house she would be staying, would
feed her. (It amused me that she was Miss Lim and her hostess was Mrs. Tan. Mrs.
Tan was head of some fundamentalist church organization on the campus.)
Ester Lim was going to Manila to seek help over a nephew whom she claimed
her brother, the father, physically tortured. She said her nephew wanted her to take
him but there was no way she could fight her brother. He had many connections in
their place and was able to convince everybody that she was insane. I asked her
what exactly it was she wanted done about her nephew. If she wanted custody, I
said, she was certain to lose. She said of course that was the sure way to lose, and
went into a detailed explanation of her plan which struck me for its legal
shrewdness and clarity. I realized later that this lucidity, which must have impressed
people she met for the first time, could be seen in a more sinister light. But at the
moment I must have been visibly impressed, for her manner assumed a certain
preening and soon she was telling me that her fight wouldnt end with her nephew.
She was going to start her crusade against child abuse.
I cleared my throat and told her surely there was some organization in Manila
doing that sort of thing and it shouldnt be too hard for her to find her bearings
there after all. This seemed to please her further, but at the same time I couldnt

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|215

help feeling she was holding back some tremendously good thing that I was not
even beginning to understand. I wasnt wrong. And I was not kept waiting. She
began to tell me about the evil in her place, La Carlota, and my mind involuntarily
flitted back to the half-amused, half-bewildered face of my mother earlier in the
house when I had gone home and found her with Ester Lim.
As long as the Beast is loose, the children of the world will suffer.
Mrs. Tans house was in the outskirts of the town and tricycles would go only
up to a certain point. There was no moon (missing emblem of madness) but the
light from the electric posts made the green grass in the vacant lots all around us
visible. Ester Lim continued: I cant lose, its in the Scripture: And there appeared a
great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her
feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars....
She had turned her face to me and it bore the same expression, only more
outrageous: it was as if she was looking at me and smiling though her tears. I heard
my voice saying, Dont say a word of that to Mrs. Tans family. Theyre very nice
people; realize that they are taking you in, a stranger, out of kindness. Youre lucky,
but if you tell them that, it could make things unpleasant. Why? she asked. I saw
that I was unnecessarily taking a further step in getting mixed up with a lunatic. Do
you really care for your nephew? I asked. Yes, she said. Then dont say what
youve just told me to anyone. Keep it to yourself or else, believe me, you are going
to fail. You wont even survive in Manila.
Why? she asked again, and finally I said, Theyll think you mad. Thats
what happened back in your place. With that story you yourself, not your brother,
convinced them youre mad. I uttered the word mad casually, to make it sound as
if I was very far from believing it.
I see, she said thoughtfully, slowing down her steps somewhat. Its a real
problem. She seemed to brace herself before going on and then she asked me, Do
you believe what I just told you?
Crazily polite (allow me some madness of my own), I groped. I dont know.
Yes and no perhaps. Youre entitled to what you believe is your vocation. But you
cant be literal about these things. Anyway its out of my range. Its a thing between
you and God.
This must have satisfied her for she changed the topic. Youre right about
Mrs. Tan and her family. I never knew such people existed. But that little child of
herstheres something troubling her. Her eyes look disturbed.
A horrible thought entered my mind, but I quelled it. You really didnt have to
trouble yourself too much over me. I just wanted to find out how you are after all
these years. She was rambling, somewhat sprightly all of a sudden. But Ester Lim
fired her last shot for the evening and I was not prepared for it.
I feel cold, she said. Please hold me.
Or perhaps I was. Without a moments hesitation, I took off my jacket and
gave it to her.
All the repulsion that had been gathering inside me now slapped me like a
wind. I knew even then that I wouldnt be wearing the jacket any more. It was an old
black jacket and it seemed to me as though its color, which sometimes made me
uneasy, had finally fulfilled itself.
I took measures not to run into Ester Lim by any chance, kept in touch with
Mrs. Tan like a fugitive, and helped put together enough money for Ester Lim to get
a passage to Manila. Ester Lim did not cause a headache during her two days with

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|216

Mrs. Tan. But Mrs. Tans little daughter wouldnt go near her. Shes stranger, she
said the first time she saw Ester Lim.
Not very long after this, our maid told me as I ate a late breakfast that
William, who had not shown up for some time, had been in the house early and
taken the black jacket which I had put away in the storeroom, leaving her word to
tell me that he was borrowing it. My father, who dislikes familiarities of this sort, told
me to remind William at once about the jacket if he forgot to bring it back the next
time he came. I told him the maid had said he was returning it later in the evening.
The old man said he doubted it. When after two weeks William had not returned, he
said. I told you. Now youre the one without a jacket. I had others. But he was
wondering why I didnt seem to care much.
Perhaps hes with his in-laws in Valencia, my mother said.
The weeks went by and we forgot about William. One morning my father very
casually told me, as I prepared to go out, to find out about William who had been
stabbed to death, at the Eterna, the funeral parlor whose owner we knew. When? I
asked, sounding just as subdued. I dont knowfind out.
I went to the funeral parlor in the afternoon. Chit, the owners wife whom I
knew from way back in the early seventies, was there. I went to it at once: Did you
have a stabbing victim recently? She turned on an expression that became more
and more quizzical as I gave details. The name is William Angeles. He was stabbed
at the cockpit. He was from Zamboanga. A soldier.... At this she suddenly
remembered. That was last week! And then we went into an incoherent exchange.
Why?
Nothing. I happened to know him. Who stabbed him?
He may have left the hospital already.
What? You mean hes alive?
Yes, his wound was not serious.
But I thought he was brought here?
No, I mean the man who stabbed your friend.
William was able to pull out his gun and shoot back. I gathered from another
person laterthe man who once asked if William was living with usthat William
was jumped by his assailant as he entered the cockpit and was reeling from several
stabs when he pulled out his gun and fired.
He hadnt seen the incident. Chit had seen the body when it was brought to
the funeral parlor. I asked her, inevitably:
Was he wearing a black jacket?
She looked, I thought, startled. Why, yes!
William had been buried in Valencia. For us there remained the problem of
what to do with his clothes. Mother had said, They must be made to pay! The poor
boy! He was with us! Her outrage was sudden and brief but it moved me though I
remained indifferent to Williams death. As I burned the clothes I wondered why she
spoke of Williams murderer in the plural.
Now I understand better the look in his eyes the first time I saw him. They
were the eyes of a man who had seen his own gore.
It was he who had copulated with the madwoman in Rimandos story. But his
murder had made him the baby, made him Kip. Williams killer was as much an
instrument as the knife with which William was slaughteredand redeemed. The
force came from Ester Lim who, with equal mystery, had without her knowing it
fulfilled her hallucinationthat she was the dazzling woman promised in Revelation,
who shall crush the Beast by giving birth to her child. Of course, William is dead and

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Ester Lim repeats, God knows in what foul hole in Manila, the cycle of the
madwoman. To me, who havent cared, is allotted the notion that the madwomans
child had been engendered and obliterated so I could be forty-three, so I could use
the word resplendent, so I could love Emy.
Im sorry about the jacket.
I am almost unable to finish saying this, hearing William saying it too at the
same time.
We meant differently. He was apologizing for not being able to return the
jacket, or for having taken it without my knowledge, or because it now bore two or
three holes. I was sorry I had not been able to warn him that it was fatal. I looked at
his face in the dusk and felt relieved that he did not seem to bear the funeral
parlors grooming and cosmetics. But I also felt his inconsolable sadness. It was
lovelessness. You were spared because you were less loveless than I. I realized
with a chill that William and I had certain resemblances. Did it ever occur to you
that your parents have felt the terror of your life? That you are Kip whose
haplessness saddens them more than their infirmities? Theyd have wished that you
drifted less and fathered a childa gift that could make them gentler with their slow
annihilation. No matter. The memory of the babys laughter has served you well.
Even Rimandos story has served you well, for though you wanted to exploit its
horrible aspect, youve been unable to write it. Love has served you well. It served
you well when Emy could not love you. It served you well when you recoiled from
Ester Lim, from me. It would not have abandoned you if you had gone and
consummated your urge for the laundrywoman, old and ugly, with whom you found
yourself alone one night when you were a much younger man, fighting the strange
tide that drew you to her as the dog had been drawn to the messy, blood-covered
thing in Rimandos storyif you had been the babys father which, in a way, you
are. Perhaps its not me but you. Or why should you let a dead manmoreover, an
unlettered onespeak your final words?
Dumaguete ,1989

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[Version 2. From Checkmeta, 2004]


What I am about to set down consists of three stories which I had originally wanted
to write separately. How I came to think of weaving them together is not easy to
answer. The first two were stories I had heard almost twenty years ago and could
not get around to writing for such an unbelievable length of time. One day I
understood that Id never be able to write them and that perhaps this was the story
I could write. I remember the occasion on which the idea occurred to me. I was
talking to another literary person, in fact a gifted young girl from Manila well on her
way to the writing vocation. I found myself telling her the two stories. I dont
remember having done it before, though I am fairly given to talking about stories I
contemplated writing to friends. When I had finished I realized that what held my
listeners interest was not just the stories themselves but me telling them together.
Perhaps I should write them together, I said with the enthusiasm of one who had
faintly but unmistakably struck something. When days passed and the terror of the
empty, white paper began to grow on me, when I began to suspect that this new
storythe story of a writer and the two stories he could not get around to writing
for twenty yearswas headed for the same fate, the same limbo, I decided to hurl
myself into the wilderness. In the confusion I involuntarily recovered two memories
one resplendent and the other shameful. I also tied in the third, which is the
longest and of which I do not have to speak at this point.
Back in 1972, when I taught at Silliman for the first time, I formed a
companionship with four other young men with whom I had nothing in common but
an addiction: chess. The friendship was so close we were soon addicted not only to
the game but to being together. For days on end, when there would be a string of
holidays, we would eat, sleep, talk, play chess, gallivant, do evil things together.
Chess is more often than not the passion of a lonely man. In our case, the loneliness
became collective, if such a thing can be conceivedwe were a pack of lone wolves.
Martial law, imposed by Marcos late that year, abetted it, as did the success of the
solipsistic Bobby Fischer.
Ill heartlessly cut myself short on this part of my life to which belongs some
of my fondest memories, since my business is only to relate where and how I got
the two stories mentioned above. I heard them from two of my friends, on those
nights when not even the fatigue of playing chess all day could relieve the torment
of our own sap and we would spend the night talking about all sorts of things until
dawn. The first came from Nestor Rimando and happened in Davao where he came
from and where he is back. In the almost twenty years since our time in Dumaguete
I have seen him again only twice once in Manila and once when he visite
Dumaguete in 1987. The second was told by Odelon Ontal, who lives until now in
Dumaguete and who has forgotten his story. Both have married and have children; I
have remained a bachelor, grown adept at gentle ways of coping with, in the phrase
of Erwin Castillo, the terror of being unloved.
Rimandos story can be sketched in a paragraph. In Davao in either the late
sixties or early seventies (Rimando was not specific) a madwoman slept her nights
at the market, where the tables in the meat section provided her with a bed. Let us
assign her the age of twentyeight and long, liceinfested hair. You have seen her,
grimy, reposing on the pavement like an obscene bat, her eyes somehow never
meeting yours. You never hear her voice either, even when she laughs and you
wonder who knocked her teeth down. One day you see her with a swollen belly and

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although it comes as a shock you dont find yourself wondering very long who the
father is. Not even the coming baby mitigates her status as a nightmare, without
substance. In Rimandos story she gives birth to her child towards daybreak. The
market vendors who had come early saw her deflated belly but were baffled that
the child could not be found. Suddenly their minds froze, struck by lightning. They
had not understood the blood on the table where she had slept and now they looked
with horror at the dog sitting not far from where she was.
As in Rimandos case, Ontal had not actually witnessed the story he told us
and which, as Ive said, he has forgotten. A very young couplethe husband about
fifteen and the wife fourteen or thirteenhad come to Dumaguete for the husband
who was sick to be confined and treated in a hospital. They came with ample
money, but one somehow got the impression that it represented all their
possession. They took a common room, which explains how their story came to be
known.
On the first day of his confinement, a group of young girls, probably students
from Silliman dropping in to visit another patient in the room, find themselves
flocking around the boyhusband from the barrio. It is not hard to understand why
they instantly take to him. They like his rustic ways; they are astonished,
themselves not much older than he, to find one so young just a little boy really
already married; they feel protective, motherly. Perhaps, too, the boy is dying. Let
us call him Kip. It is five in the afternoon and Kip, waiting for his wife Moning to
come back, has brightened up only too visibly. One or two of the girls are pretty. And
Kips happiness, in turn, has set loose even in the shyer ones the floodgates of a
hitherto unsuspected sweetness. It is in the midst of this that Moning comes back
with a friend she has just acquired, a girl of eight, and the things they bought at the
market. There is an awkwardness but Kips friends do not feel uncomfortable. They
look at her with great interest and find her shyness just as poignant, except that of
course she is not the patient and, moreover, they have to go. Moning goes out of
the room soon after they do to see her little friendwho keeps throwing looks at Kip
to the gate. She does not returnneither in the evening as Kip keeps hoping she
will, nor the next day, nor the day after the next until it is afternoon. Kip runs a
whole spectrum of feelingsall shades of grey and black. First alarm, then anger,
worry, fear, bewilderment, oppression, fury, pain. To assuage the torment, he
imagines himself dead and the thought of Moning crazed with grief strangely
revives his appetite to eat. It is an exaggeration to say that he ages in three days,
but at certain moments we see a grown--up quality or manner that we failed to
notice earlier, even when hes not doing anything, propped up and stockstill,
pensive in his bed. When Moning finally comes back, the joy he feels is outweighed,
outwardly, by the need to express his outrage and maintain a touching dignity. He
weeps at last and says, in a quiet voice, Ako pay mamatay, ako pay ingnon mi!
(Roughly, Im the one whos going to die and Im the one whos treated this way!)
Moning, eyes downcast, wants to hold and press his hand but his spare reproach
totally wilts her.
These were the two stories. When I first pondered Rimandos story, I
conceived of the following idea: The story would be seen through a third-person
point of view. This person is gradually revealed to be the father of the baby, and the
revelation will be subtle, almost just hinted, but clear towards the end. Im glad this
didnt materialize. It seems to promise bathos.
My present attitude indicates that I wish to preserve the storys gruesome
quality. Despite the ironclad objection: what for should one write a merely cruel

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|220

story? There are hundreds of other such incidents, dizzying in their fiendishness,
that have happened and can happen on this planet. Even in the realm of fact, the
number of such cases may well approach the infinite. Thu the absurdity of a news
item with such a subject in which the reporter pretends to be moved by the
uncanny. And yet I remain infatuated with Rimandos story as israw, uninvented,
fact. Why?
Once in life I woke in the wee hours of the morning and heard from
somewhere a babys cooing and laughter and knew it to be the most beautiful
sound on earth or in heaven. Many years later I took to asking girls I liked what they
thought was the loveliest sound theyd ever heard. A birds chirping was usually the
answer. At other times, the sound of surf. Or early morning rain that made them
linger in bed. There were others Ive forgotten. Only one, if memory is not fooling,
got it rightEmy.
How could a baby deserve either such a grisly end or such a loathsome origin
as had the one in Rimandos story? What possible virtue is there in telling of how it
was so literally wiped out the moment it was born?
Ontals story, too, is disturbingly open-ended. Even if its tenderness tends to
counterpoint, to allay the ferocity of the other. Ontal said no one seemed to know
what happened afterwards when the young couple had gone back to the barrio
where they came from. This open-endednessKips possible deathhovers over the
story with the same menace that the womans madness, the unknown fathers lust,
and the dogs appetite in Rimandos story hold for us. Here too my baby gurgles
amid demons. Is this therefore why the two stories had been thrown into my hands
not by accident but because to me had been delivered the task of seeing them as
connected? If Kip dies, the two tell the same storyKip is the baby who is devoured
by a dogand I brood on the evil that unites them; Ontal didnt have to tell his. If
Kip lives, the two stories excludeworse, annihilateeach other; Kip is the baby
whose cooing, gurgling laughter work me up one magic, epiphanous night in my life
but Rimando, as well as Ontal, had to tell his. I must find a third.
Unlike Ontals and Rimandos, it is a story I have seen. In fact, it is a story I alone
have seen. For the two people in ita man and a woman who casually crossed my
path quite recently (only late last year) never met, neither one knew the other
existed. Moreover, one is mad and the other dead. I believe their fates conjoined,
and that it was I who brought this conjunction aboutor rather my old, black jacket.
It seems like a delirium and perhaps it is. Before getting round to it, I add a few
necessary details about myself. I am forty--three, I teach part--time in Silliman. I
live with a maid and my two parents. My mother has had a stroke and asthma has
wrought on my father an almost equal devastation.
One afternoon I woke from a nap hearing some rock group on the cassette
tape recorder and slowly making out the voices that drifted to my room. They were
those of my father and a younger man, a man I didnt know. The conversation was
in Chabacano and my father was talking with more animation than usual. My
parents have not lived in Dumaguete as long as I, and at their age do not get to
meet too many people any more. Whenever someone happens along who comes
from Zamboanga, their spirit is buoyed up, as though old times had returned. I
tarried in bed for a while more, unable to help from eavesdropping. I gathered that
the visitor had come in to fix the tape recorder, that his name was William, that he
was an exsoldier, that he (rather vaguely) was a CAFGU, that he worked as radio

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|221

technician and operator at the military headquarters in Agan-an. I couldnt avoid


meeting his stare at once when I opened the door, they were sitting right-across
from my room and he was facing my way. He was a slight man who looked as boyish
as his voice, but the face, with its high cheekbones, had a menacing quality that
impressed me greatly. He had the eyes of a man who lived with evil smells, or who
was used to the sight of gore. But perhaps the cold, removed stare came from sheer
hard times and I had overlooked it. I dwell on it at length because it was the only
time I really looked at his face. He was to be seen in the house often after that,
gladly fixingafter the tape recorderthe television set and the walkie-talkie which
he had dug up while puttering around the storeroom. He always declined to join us
whenever he happened to be around at mealtime, settling instead for a cup of
coffee. Sometimes hed doze off on the bench in the kitchen when, apparently
exhausted from staying up late at some gambling place, hed show up early in the
morning. At other times, hed spend the night at our place, sleeping on the bench
which had become his bed. We soon realized, though we never asked him, that he
was not living in any particular place that there probably were other houses where
he could sleep from time to time. But once a man who knew us asked me if it was
true William was living with us. William had given our place as his address, care of
my father who was a retired police major. And indeed he did his laundry at our place
and kept some clothes in the storeroom. I do not know if those were all the clothes
he had.
William told us he was a widower. He said his wife had died of tuberculosis. At
the time he said this I thought it sounded like a good forecast of how he himself was
going to die soon. He was very thin and always looked overwrought. He did die soon
after, but not as I thought.
His wife left him no child. He said his wifes parents were from Negros and
lived in the nearby town of Valencia, and that his own mother, who was in
Zamboanga, originally came from Dumaguete. We believed him. He spoke
Chabacano and Cebuano very fluentlyboth with a rural accent, which astonished
my father who is a Zamboangueo and my mother who is a Cebuanaoblivious
that, though its true it was unusual, so did I, though neither with a rural accent.
This will do for William. He is a dead man when I take him up again. Vastly different,
we did not become friends. The only form of closeness we had was my lending him
small sums which he was too shy to borrow from my parents. He never paid and I
never expected him to. Just as we never paid him for fixing the television set and
the tape recorder and the walkie-talkie and he never, Im sure, expected us to.
For certain episodes in the past that we carry through life, memories is an
inaccurate word; rather they constitute an ever lingering, bright present, separation
or estrangement from which we are forced to admit only by the unappealable
decline of our physical bodies. And then we feel as if perhaps we already have died.
Others are matters of complete indifference. They could be as recent as a year ago
but the faces that beam at us on a chance re-encounter are veritable abysses. As
are the names.
Ester Lim?
She says you were together in some writers conference in Manila.
Is she going to be in the program?
Shes just passing by. Shes on her way to Manila. She was looking for Marj.
If she didnt know Marj is the Manila, she may have been just checking her
out, too, from way back when.

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Yes, that seems to be it. When I told her Marj is in Manila she appeared very
excited andtook her address. And then she sounded like she was going to Manila
just to see her.
Ill get back to the office. They might be there.
Lina was giving her directions to your house. Shes probably there now. That
was almost two hours ago.
Oh. Okay, Im going home then.
You can see that shes odd, but shes all right I think. Most people will get a
more extreme impression after talking to her. Shes been through some terrible
time. Shell be telling you.
Id have preferred to talk to her somewhere else though.
Lina told her to go back to her if its no go at your place. I would have taken
her in but you know theres literally no room for her here.
Its going to be difficult. You dont know my father. Hes a cop. But I know
where we can take her to.
By ten in the evening Ester Lim was out of my hands. I had ample
opportunity, that evening, to know just how mad she was.
She was in her late twenties and I wondered why I absolutely couldnt recall
her from the writers seminar that we attended together. At the least, she must have
been a pleasant kid to look at, and even now hell, which it was clear she was
wobbling in, hadnt taken away the sparkle from her eyes. She had a vague
expression of physical pain on her face that became oddly pronounced when she
smiled, which was often. After speaking, she would bend her forehead slightly
forwardand somewhat askewas if swallowing, her eyes not leaving yours and
smiling with the queer pain. Perhaps reading my mind she explained that she had
inflamed sinuses. I found out that she had stomach spasms besides. My hair almost
stood at the way she consumed the entire loaf of sliced bread when I bought her a
snack, ignoring the canned fish and the noodles which she ate after. At nine there
are no more cheap eating houses open in Dumaguete and I didnt have much
money. Also, I was hoping Mrs. Tan, in whose house she would be staying, would
feed her. (It amused me that she was Miss Lim and her hostess was Mrs. Tan. Mrs.
Tan was head of some fundamentalist church organization on the campus.)
Ester Lim was going to Manila to seek help over a nephew whom she claimed
her brother, the father, physically tortured. She said her nephew wanted her to take
him but there was no way she could fight her brother. He had many connections in
their place and was able to convince everybody that she was insane. I asked her
what exactly it was she wanted done about her nephew. If she wanted custody, I
said, she was certain to lose. She said of course that was the sure way to lose, and
went into a detailed explanation of her plan which struck me for its legal
shrewdness and clarity. I realized later that this lucidity, which must have impressed
people she met for the first time, could be seen in a more sinister light. But at the
moment I must have been visibly impressed, for her manner assumed a certain
preening and soon she was telling me that her fight wouldnt end with her nephew.
She was going to start her crusade against child abuse.
I cleared my throat and told her surely there was some organization in Manila
doing that sort of thing and it shouldnt be too hard for her to find her bearings
there after all. This seemed to please her further, but at the same time I couldnt
help feeling she was holding back some tremendously good thing that I was not
even beginning to understand. I wasnt wrong. And I was not kept waiting. She
began to tell me about the evil in her place, La Carlota, and my mind involuntarily

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|223

flitted back to the half-amused, half-bewildered face of my mother earlier in the


house when I had gone home and found her with Ester Lim.
As long as the Beast is loose, the children of the world will suffer.
Mrs. Tans house was in the outskirts of the town and tricycles would go only
up to a certain point. There was no moon (missing emblem of madness) but the
light from the electric posts made the green grass in the vacant lots all around us
visible. Ester Lim continued: I cant lose, its in the Scripture: And there appeared a
great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her
feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.... She had turned her face to me
and it bore the same expression, only more outrageous: it was as if she was looking
at me and smiling though her tears. I heard my voice saying, Dont say a word of
that to Mrs. Tans family. Theyre very nice people; realize that they are taking you
in, a stranger, out of kindness. Youre lucky, but if you tell them that, it could make
things unpleasant. Why? she asked. I saw that I was unnecessarily taking a
further step in getting mixed up with a lunatic. Do you really care for your
nephew? I asked. Yes, she said. Then dont say what youve just told me to
anyone. Keep it to yourself or else, believe me, you are going to fail. You wont even
survive in Manila.
Why? she asked again, and finally I said, Theyll think you mad. Thats
what happened back in your place. With that story you yourself, not your brother,
convinced them youre mad. I uttered the word mad casually, to make it sound as
if I was very far from believing it.
I see, she said thoughtfully, slowing down her steps somewhat. Its a real
problem. She seemed to brace herself before going on and then she asked me, Do
you believe what I just told you?
Crazily polite (allow me some madness of my own), I groped. I dont know.
Yes and no perhaps. Youre entitled to what you believe is your vocation. But you
cant be literal about these things. Anyway its out of my range. Its a thing between
you and God.
This must have satisfied her for she changed the topic. Youre right about
Mrs. Tan and her family. I never knew such people existed. But that little child of
herstheres something troubling her. Her eyes look disturbed.
A horrible thought entered my mind, but I quelled it. You really didnt have to
trouble yourself too much over me. I just wanted to find out how you are after all
these years. She was rambling, somewhat sprightly all of a sudden. But Ester Lim
fired her last shot for the evening and I was not prepared for it.
I feel cold, she said. Please hold me.
Or perhaps I was. Without a moments hesitation, I took off my jacket and
gave it to her.
All the repulsion that had been gathering inside me now slapped me like a
wind. I knew even then that I wouldnt be wearing the jacket any more. It was an old
black jacket and it seemed to me as though its color, which sometimes made me
uneasy, had finally fulfilled itself.
I took measures not to run into Ester Lim by any chance, kept in touch with
Mrs. Tan like a fugitive, and helped put together enough money for Ester Lim to get
a passage to Manila. Ester Lim did not cause a headache during her two days with
Mrs. Tan. But Mrs. Tans little daughter wouldnt go near her. Shes stranger, she
said the first time she saw Ester Lim.

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Not very long after this, our maid told me as I ate a late breakfast that William, who
had not shown up for some time, had been in the house early and taken the black
jacket which I had put away in the storeroom, leaving her word to tell me that he
was borrowing it. My father, who dislikes familiarities of this sort, told me to remind
William at once about the jacket if he forgot to bring it back the next time he came.
I told him the maid had said he was returning it later in the evening. The old man
said he doubted it. When after two weeks William had not returned, he said. I told
you. Now youre the one without a jacket. I had others. But he was wondering why I
didnt seem to care much.
Perhaps hes with his in-laws in Valencia, my mother said.
The weeks went by and we forgot about William. One morning my father very
casually told me, as I prepared to go out, to find out about William who had been
stabbed to death, at the Eterna, the funeral parlor whose owner we knew. When? I
asked, sounding just as subdued. I dont knowfind out. I went to the funeral
parlor in the afternoon. Chit, the owners wife whom I knew from way back in the
early seventies, was there. I went to it at once: Did you have a stabbing victim
recently? She turned on an expression that became more and more quizzical as I
gave details. The name is William Angeles. He was stabbed at the cockpit. He was
from Zamboanga. A soldier.... At this she suddenly remembered. That was last
week! And then we went into an incoherent exchange.
Why?
Nothing. I happened to know him. Who stabbed him?
He may have left the hospital already.
What? You mean hes alive?
Yes, his wound was not serious.
But I thought he was brought here?
No, I mean the man who stabbed your friend.
William was able to pull out his gun and shoot back. I gathered from another
person laterthe man who once asked if William was living with usthat William
was jumped by his assailant as he entered the cockpit and was reeling from several
stabs when he pulled out his gun and fired.
He hadnt seen the incident. Chit had seen the body when it was brought to
the funeral
parlor. I asked her, inevitably:
Was he wearing a black jacket?
She looked, I thought, startled. Why, yes!
William had been buried in Valencia. For us there remained the problem of
what to do with his clothes. Mother had said, They must be made to pay! The poor
boy! He was with us! Her outrage was sudden and brief but it moved methough I
remained indifferent to Williams death. As I burned the clothes I wondered why she
spoke of Williams murderer in the plural.
Now I understand better the look in his eyes the first time I saw him. They
were the eyes of a man who had seen his own gore.
It was he who had copulated with the madwoman in Rimandos story. But his
murder had made him the baby, made him Kip. Williams killer was as much an
instrument as the knife with which William was slaughteredand redeemed. The
force came from Ester Lim who, with equal mystery, had without her knowing it
fulfilled her hallucinationthat she was the dazzling woman promised in Revelation,
who shall crush the Beast by giving birth to her child. Of course, William is dead and
Ester Lim repeats, God knows in what foul hole in Manila, the cycle of the

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madwoman. To me, who havent cared, is allotted the notion that the madwomans
child had been engendered and obliterated so I could be forty--three, so I could use
the word resplendent, so I could love Emy. Im sorry about the jacket.
I am almost unable to finish saying this, hearing William saying it too at the
same time. We meant differently. He was apologizing for not being able to return the
jacket, or for having taken it without my knowledge, or because it now bore two or
three holes. I was sorry I had not been able to warn him that it was fatal. I looked at
his face in the dusk and felt relieved that he did not seem to bear the funeral
parlors grooming and cosmetics. But I also felt his inconsolable sadness. It was
lovelessness. You were spared because you were less loveless than I. I realized
with a chill that William and I had certain resemblances. Did it ever occur to you
that your parents have felt the terror of your life? That you are Kip whose
haplessness saddens them more than their infirmities? Theyd have wished that you
drifted less and fathered a childa gift that could make them gentler with their slow
annihilation. No matter. The memory of the babys laughter has served you well.
Even Rimandos story has served you well, for though you wanted to exploit its
horrible aspect, youve been unable to write it. Love has served you well. It served
you well when Emy could not love you. It served you well when you recoiled from
Ester Lim, from me. It would not have abandoned you if you had gone and
consummated your urge for the laundrywoman, old and ugly, with whom you found
yourself alone one night when you were a much younger man, fighting the strange
tide that drew you to her as the dog had been drawn to the messy, blood-covered
thing in Rimandos storyif you had been the babys father which, in a way, you
are. Perhaps its not me but you. Or why should you let a dead manmoreover, an
unlettered onespeak your final words?
Sublunary Advertising
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
To the end you wouldnt relent, even when I challenged you to dare me into giving
you the moon in exchange for, her, your own moonlike body. And when, angered
that even then you wouldnt humor me, I changed the street, the coffeeshop, the
whole place into a shining crater you merely smiled and looked at me with a droplet
of compassion. Yu said it was a trick, that I was using magic or hypnosis. I could
have replied that love is magic and hypnosis, but then that was one word I, your
word-happy fool, could never speak. Besides you had quickly recovered, pointing
out a detail I had overlooked and demanding sweetly for an explanation. I had
forgotten that the moon shines only from afar, from earththat when youre on the
moon, the moon doesnt shine. On the moon, there is no moon! What could I say?
What else but Syempre naman, Johnson ata yan!
Manila, 1979

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|226

A Tale of Two Diaries


[Version 1. From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
[MISSING]

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|227

[Version 2. From Checkmeta, 2004]


One of the first book to come out in the post-Marcos period, The Diaries of Mojud
Romontado: 55 Days in Dumaguete begins thus:
After first year of wondering not so much what
I am doing in Dumaguete as how I ever got
stuck in this town in the first place, I feel
myself suddenly in the thick of things again.
A new winds is bolwing.
The book consist of diaries extending from February 6 to April 1, 1986, which
explains the sub-title, 55 Days in Dumaguete. The opening words were penned on
the eve of the snap election, when the author had just seized upon the idea of
keeping a diary in connection with the coming events.
Reader who have read the well-selling Mijares, Pedrosa, Rotea and Psinakis.
Books of the Filipino dictator may not give this book even a second browsing.
Dumaguete is an importable setting for an exciting story on the revolution. This is
not an inside story sort of book that is sure to sell. Even people interest in what
those days were like in the more placid provinces, particularly in such a politically
insensitive area as Dumaguete, where the only visible excitement was the crowd
that jostled in the newsstands, will blink. The book read queerly. Its not literary, and
even that is lost on everyone but the literary. Its subject is not really what it was
like in Dumaguete as the blurb says but the diarist himself, Mojud Remontado, a
man whose obscurity (who he?) makes his limitless self-absorption, given the
times, somewhat impertine.
However, the spate of initial reviews indicated that the book was received
well. One reviewer said: The book has no pretentions to history. It falls under the
category of spiritual autography and despite occasional lapses into solipsism, is sure
to appeal to all those who have consciously suffered under the Marcos regime. We
may take issue with this view on the ground that history, as a historian himself once
put it, is not so much the record of events as it is record of what people have felt
and thought of those events. Literary on the other hand is quite correct and offers
the best orientation to the book. For some portions of the book are in fact not
diaries at all but outright literary avant-gardism.
Just who is Mojud Remontado? The most revealing sentence in the diaries
confessed that he is a poet. And Mojud Remontado is so obviously a nom de
plume, more precisely, a nom de guerreas obvious a case as the mysterious poet
Constantine Christos Bazakas, who graced the pages of Malaya (April 4, 1986 issue)
with a tantalizing riddle constructed somewhat after the manner of the 18th
centtury English couplet, thus skillfully concealing an anagram that says Marcos
dictator Hilter.
Mojud is unmistakably Arabic but on the other hand Remontado
guarantees that he is not a Muslim. Mojud is a character from a Sulfi work, HikayatI-abdalan, which sounds Cebuano to me except that it isnt. It means Tales of the
Transformed Ones. What this seems to tell us is that our diarist has changed his
name for a symbolic reason, namely, to signify that he is a change man, a man
transformed. As for the answer to what the change or transformation is, we have to
go o the second name. Remontado is a relic of a word from our Spanish past; it

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|228

means a man who can no longer countenance the government, literally meaning
one who has gone to the hills or, figuratively, because he keeps his rebel heart
secret, a man invisible among his fellow towndwellers, a type kinder to
Shakespeares definition of poets as Gods spies.
There is mention, in the diaries, of a German sociologist friend, an exchange
professor at Silliman. The mention is very casual and without any seeming
significance. But it doesnt take perspicacity to imagine how circumstances.
However, his own publisher, the Leon Kilat Publishing House, demolished-or
illuminated, depending on how you take it-all this with a bolt from the blue when it
released a cryptic announcement of its own saying that (1) Mojud Remontado by
any other name would be Mojud Remontado, (2) he speaks hilarious Spanish, and
(3) he eats only pork and beans.
But to come to more serious problem.
The number of days actually covered by the diary of fifty-three, not fifty-five,
and thats because there are two diaries without entries. The sub-title, 55 Days in
Dumaguete, is therefore inaccurate. A note here on the sub-title is very important.
According to the editors of the Leon Kilat Publishing House, Remontado had insisted
on one intransigent term: that the text be published exactly as I is, except where it
is a question of grammar or mechanics. Romontado had submitted two documents:
the manuscript for publication, immaculately prepared, and a Xerox of the original
diary which served as authenticating holography.
From correspondence with Leon Kilat we gleaned that the sub-title is the only
differce between the manuscript submitted for publication and the Xerox of the
diary. Thus we know for certain that it is not an additional or insertion from the
publishers and the error is entirely Remontados.
There are three ways of looking at this. First, the author did not mind the
inaccuracy since what he was after was the catchy allusion to 55 Days in Peking, a
Hollywood movie in the sixties which tells the story of another revolution. Second,
the author wanted to convey or simulate the effect of a real, ordinary diary in which
now and then a date may be left vacant. Third, it is a simple oversight.
The truth, however, is that the error is deliberate and meant to provoke. The
vacant, unfiled dates happen to be February 25 and 26! How could a diary kept in
dazzled response to unfolding events have missed out on those two dates-of all
dates to skip? In the April 1 entry, which is the final one, the diarist tells us that
February 25 and 26 had in fact been filled out but that he decided to scrap them.
Why?
Therein is the crux of our review, as its title indicates. The error in the books
sub-title is purely a numerical ruse. With it, the diarist is really alluding to the
missing twin diaries; and since we know that February 25 and 26 had, under a flirty
magical moon, melted and fused into a single night beyond calendars, The Diaries
of Mojud Remontado: 55 Days in Dumaguete, is really not a diary but the story of a
lost one.
But we much backtractk and take a look t the lesser diaries. In lieu by the
way of the ideal book review which, according ti the principle of Jorge Luis Borges, is
a word-for-word reproduction of the book being reviewednothing added and
nothing taken awaywe shall do what is perhaps the next best thing: quote amply
and, in thwarting spirit of Remontados book, pepper the next best review with our
own Remontadoism, as in fact we already have, if the reader, or Remontado himself,
has noticed. As they say the greatest compliment one can give to an author is to
imitate him. Those who have an interest in Dumaguete, either because they have

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|229

never been to this southern city but have heard ire read so much about it for a long
time, will because they have been to the place but have not seen it for a long time,
will feel let down. A sense of place is definitely not one of the authors strong points.
There are many times when the vagueness is more than just vagueness
Dumaguete actually disappears. And these are the very times when, to use his own
words, I feel myself suddenly in the thick of things again. For what he really
means is that he is glued to the newspapers and the radio and with that even your
sense of furniture, of what you are sitting on, may go. You are transported. He
described this strikingly in the February 24 diary which he puts under the heading A
La Recherche du Veritas Perdu, as funny a French as any, though the English, one
might say, is beyond good and evil:
Neither the newspapers or television can
become an embedded part of our national
psyche. When they smashed Radio Veritas
they were smashing at deep memories.
During World War Two it was the radio
for a voice to come. How many men and
women must have crouched and listened,
their faces like hungry childrens, their
hands, as they fumbled with the set, a sooty
silence clutching at your heart . How
appropriate therefore that the radio set is,
in this war, our humble weapon pitted
against the giant television channels
booming the voice of Darth Vader, Ilocano
edition. We wait for Copys voice and when
it comes we are drunk with history, even
have a taste of apocalypse.
The lyricism running through the book, which turns to extravagance and
abandon when Corys name occurs, tenses to near hysteria when the name of
Marcos. Both name drive him crazy. This exacerbated crazy pitch is the most
genuine item in the bookeven the literary attempt to sound more philosophical
that the authors abilities warrant becomes appealing in the light. Remontados
madness reflects, echoes, ours. Nay, the madness is ours. Or at least was. We were
all plumed to the depths, frivolous Freudians might claimsee Alfred A. Yusons preelection article in Veritas (February 9, 1986 issue) section 3, A Personal Diatribe
Against the Man Who Would Still be King, section 5, A Second Diatribe, and
section 9, Co-ree! Co-ree! Co-ree! Remontado read this piece with pleasure, as his
adoption two weeks later of the Darth Vader motif indicates. The situation is
sufficiently Oedipala word he actually uses oncethe very same situation
described by Vladimirs novel of chess, The Defense. Every chessplayer, suggests
Nabokov, sees Mother in his Queen and Father in the opponents King. A statistical
study of how the sexes voted in the snap election might yield results friendly to
Freud. In any event, let us follow Remontado further.
February 18. I have never seen him in
person. I have dreamed of him twice and
have been shocked to find out that in my

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|230

subconsciousor is it consciousI seem


to bear an amount of respect, even
horrorstendernessfor the man!
Perhaps this is to concede that he is after
all a strong man? Perhaps Oepidal. The
former interest me more. Some moral
force in him. But what sort of moral force
is it that only creeps and crawls into
peoples dreams? Marcos, had he been
under an oppressive himselfhad he been
under a Marcos regimewould have stood
up, fought back, shouted yuch fou! Marcos
would have given himself the finger. There
would have been forty-two million cowards
and two sons-of-bitches.
Dialogue 1
Mr. President, what would you have done under a Marcos regime?
I would have enjoyed it. In fact Im enjoying itIm under a Marcos regime,
as you put it am I not?
I mean, sir, what would you have done if you were somebody else?
First, I would have to be somebody else. But that is fantasy and I dont take
stock in fantasies.
May I rephrase my question Mr. President?
Shoot.
What would you do if you were to live under a dictatorship? This is a purely
hypothetical question, sir.
Lets just put it this way: Ill cross the Pacific and say aloha when I get there.
I told you my fantasies are not my glass of Fantahows that for wordplay? You
writers think you are the only ones who can do it. In the name of Alfred Yuson,
Alfred Newman, and Alfred PrufockI am Marcos; you are Marxs cause
communists, what else? Your question implies that I am a dictator. When you say
that, smile. Lets have a little evidence, some substantiality. To be or not be. Can
you prove that I am? Do that first and Ill answer your question. Ill not only answer
your question, Ill salute your question. Well have a parade. Pataasan ng lahi.
Kasaysayan ng lihi. Whicever.
Without meaning any disrespect Mr. President, and I think Im speaking for
myself as well as for the rest of us here who are not in the medical profession, what
is this lupus?
Lupus means wolf. You are the boy who carried lupus ! lupus!
Sir. it is felt by all that with the death of Ninoy Aquino, you lost your
worthiest opponent and opportunity of winning the greatest fight in your career.
How do you feel yourself over the veritable Greek drama that instead if Ninoy, you
face his widowan utter political innocentsomething no one, but simply no one,
has anticipated?
In the name of Pablo Picaso, Pablo Casals, and Pablo Nerudaask me where
I have been and Ill tell you: I am in control. I know my metaphors. Granted, she
makes good coffee. I, however dring it!
What will you do if she wins?

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|231

Ill climb to the highest mountain.


Dialogue 2
Remontado is trying to show us another side of Marcosthe flipside. Hes telling
us, what if Marcos is in fact a flip? The quistessential Filipino, as a matter of fact,
Romulo saidthat means the quiessential flip! How could we have not come close
to even suspecting it? Listen to him now in Hawaiithat taped message he sent us.
That was Marcos, King of the Flips.
Its not humor at all. Look at the face. The more flip as you claim he is, the
more feral he becomes. He is teasing us, teasing at our pain to the limit bt the truly
painful thing is that he can no longer laughnever, never, never.
Well, flip or not he kept his word. And so hes the newest remontado.
You are saying hes now a dissident.
I mean more literally. Do you know the worlds highest mountain?
Mt. Everest.
No, it starts with an H.
Thats it. The Himalayas, topmost of which is Mt. Everest.
Not the Himalayas. Hawaii. Hawaii is the highest mountain peak in the
world, if measured not from sea level but its base on the sea-floor
It figures. After years of rubbing elbows with the oculists hes become
somewhat clairvoyant himself.
Everything could feel real for all that compared to thisthrough this, surely,
is the moment of truth. But the word, ever too late or too soon, fails and falls. It
escapes us; we will never quite know. His dreams precedes ours; ours follows his.
Him: Can this really be? Am I really going? Us: Can this really be? Is he really gone?
Him: Tell me Im Willy Nepomuceno! Us: Perhaps it is ony Willie Nepomoceno.
The April 1 diary reads:
Cannot talk about itFebruary 25-26
must go. It behooves us as poets to leave
this man to heaven.
But Remontado we must pursue to the end, though he too disappears on his
side of the apocalypse. We imagine him, vertiginous with insomnia and catharsis,
listening to the radio as it brings pictures of the camp-fires in Manila, the Sinulog in
Cebu. Boy to Girl: Look, Halleys Comet! But it is only the paper moonhe, too, is
lost in his own way in Dumaguete.
And the April 1 diary continues:
For those who wonder what I wrote
that night I hope a description of the style
will suffice. It was written with the oratory
of Blast Opule, The uprightness of Lafayette
Erecto, and the hitherto undisclosed
recklessness and daring of Julius Pirata
We do not know exactly how the diary was destroyed. The April 1 diary says
nothing at the very end except that he was, in his own words, his own April Fool.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|232

With a vengeance the stories ran wild. Some say he burned it, some that he tore it
up. Some that he buried it, some that it was put in the Swiss bank. Some that he
never even wrote it, which may well be truth. I favor the version which says he flung
it down, in lieu of suicide, to where a riverlike love, like magicwas waiting
through no river ever waits. Like love it goes but stays. Like magic is there and isnt
there.
[Version 3. Now titled: The Diaries of Mojud Remontado, 55 Days in
Dumaguete]
One of the first books to come out in the post-Marcos period, The Diaries of Mojud
Remontado begins thus:
After years of wondering not so much what I am doing in Dumaguete as how
I ever got stuck in this town in the first place, I feel myself suddenly in the thick of
things again. A new wind is blowing.
The book consists of diaries extending from February 6 to April 1, 1986, which
explains the sub-title, 55 Days in Dumaguete. The opening words were penned on
the eve of the snap election, when the author had just seized upon the idea of
keeping a diary in connection with the coming events.
Readers who have read the well-selling Mijares, Pedrosa, Rotea and Psinakis
books on the fall of the Filipino dictator may not give this book even a second
browsing. Dumaguete is an improbable setting for an exciting story on the
revolution. This is not an inside story sort of book that is sure to sell. Even people
interested in what those days were like in the more placid provinces, particularly in
such a politically insensitive area as Dumaguete, where the only visible excitement
is the crowd that jostled in the newstands, will blink. The book reads queerly. Its too
literary, and even that is lost on everyone but the literary. Its subject is not really
what it was like in Dumaguete as the blurb says but the diarist himself, Mojud
Remontado, a man whose obscurity (who he?) makes his limitless absorption, given
the times, somewhat impertinent.
However, the spate of initial reviews indicated that the book was received
well, with one exception. One reviewer said: The book has no pretensions to
history. It falls more under the category of spiritual autobiography and possesses a
certain value to all those who have, in one way or another, consciously suffered
under the Marcos regime. We may take issue with this view on the ground that
history, as a historian himself once put it, is not so much the record of events as it is
a record of what people have felt and thought of those events. Literary on the other
hand is quite correct and offers the best orientation to the book. For some portions
of the book are in fact not diaries at all but outright literary avant-gardism.
Just who is Mojud Remontado? The most revealing sentence in the diaries
confesses that he is a poet. And Mojud Remontado is so obviously a nom de
plume; more precisely, a nom de guerreas obvious a case as the mysterious poet
Constantine Christos Bazakas, who graced the pages of Malaya (April 4, 1986 issue)
with a tantalizing riddle constructed somewhat after the manner of the 18th-century
English couplet, thus skillfully concealing an anagram that says Marcos diktador
Hitler.
Mojud is unmistakably Arabic but on the other hand Remontado
guarantees that he is not a Muslim. Mojud is a character from a Sufi work, Hikayat-i-

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|233

abdalan which sounds all Ilocano to me except that it isnt. It means Tale of the
Transformed Ones. What this seems to tell us is that our diarist has changed his
name for a symbolic reason, namely, to signify that he is a changed man, a man
transformed. As for what the change or transformation is, we have to go to the
second name. Remontado is a relic of a word from our Spanish past; it means a man
who can no longer countenance the government, literally meaning one who has
gone to the hills or, figuratively, because he keeps his rebel heart secret, a man
invisible among his fellow towndwellers, a type kindred to Shakespeares definition
of poets as Gods spies.
There is mention, in the diaries, of a German sociologist friend, an exchange
professor at Silliman. The mention is very casual and without any seeming
significance. But it doesnt take perspicacity to imagine how a German friend would
occasionally address himsurely, Herr Remontado, a pun on juramentado! The
pun thickens in the February 14 diary containing a poem for Cory under the title
Jurame.
All this points to a man who is passionately aware of his countrys
circumstances. However, his own publisher, the Leon Kilat Publishing House,
demolishedor illuminated, depending on how you take itall this with a bolt from
the blue when it released a cryptic announcement of its own saying that (1) Mojud
Remontado by any other name would be Mojud Remontado, (2) he speaks hilarious
Spanish, and (3) he eats only pork and beanswhich has made his hair eerily
greenish.
But to come to a more serious problem.
The number of days actually covered by the diary is fifty-three, not fifty-five,
and thats because there are two diaries without entries. The sub-title, 55 Days in
Siquijor, is therefore inaccurate. A note here on the sub-title is very important.
According to the editors of the Leon Kilat Publishing House, Remontado had insisted
on one intransigent term: that the text be published exactly as it is, except where it
is a question of grammar or mechanics. Remontado had submitted two documents:
the manuscript for publication, immaculately prepared, and a xerox of the original
diary which served as authenticating holograph.
From correspondence with Leon Kilat we gleaned that the sub-title is the only
difference between the manuscript submitted for publication and the xerox of the
diary. Thus we know for certain that it is not an addition or insertion from the
publishers and the error is entirely Remontados.
There are three ways of looking at this. First, the author did not mind the
inaccuracy since what he was after was the catchy allusion to 55 Days in Peking,
a Hollywood movie in the sixties which tells the story of another revolution. Second,
the author wanted to convey or simulate the effect of a real, ordinary diary in which
now and then a date may be left vacant. Third, it is a simple oversight.
The truth, however, is that the error is deliberate and meant to provoke. The
vacant, unfilled dates happen to be February 25 and 26! How could a diary kept in
dazzled response to unfolding events have missed out on those two datesof all
dates to skip? In the April 1 entry, which is the final one, the diarist tells us that
February 25 and 26 had in fact been filled out but that he decided to scrap them.
Why?
Therein is the crux of our review, as its title indicates. The error in the books
sub-title is purely a numerical ruse. With it, the diarist is really alluding to the
missing twin diaries; and since we know that February 25 and 26 had, under a flirty
magical moon, melted and fused into a single night beyond calendars, The Diaries

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|234

of Mojud Remontado: 55 Days in Siquijor is really not a diary but the story of a lost
one.
But we must backtrack and take a look at the lesser diaries. In lieu by the
way of the ideal book review which, according to the principle of Jorge Luis Borges,
is a word-for-word reproduction of the book being reviewednothing added and
nothing taken awaywe shall do what is is perhaps the next best thing: quote
amply and, in the spirit of Remontados book, pepper the review with our own
Remontadoisms, as in fact we have, if the reader, or Remontado himself, has
noticed. As they say the greatest compliment one can give to an author is to imitate
him.
Those who have an interest in Dumaguete, either because they have never been to
this southern city but have heard or read so much about itor because they have
been to the place but have not seen it for a long time, will feel let down. A sense of
place is definitely not one of the authors strong points. There are times when the
vagueness is more than just vaguenessDumaguete actually disappears. And
these are the very times when, to use his own words, I feel myself suddenly in the
thick of things again. For what he really means is that he is glued to the
newspapers and the radio and with that even your sense of furniture, of what you
are seated on, may go. You are transported. He describes this strikingly in the
February 24 diary which he puts under the heading A La Recherche du Veritas
Perdu, as funny a French as any, though the English, one might say, is beyond good
and evil.
1
Neither the newspapers or television can become an embedded part of our national
psyche. When they smashed Radio Veritas they were smashing at deep memories.
During World War Two it was the radio that was our fountain of hope as we waited
for a voice to come. How many men and women must have crouched and listened,
their faces like hungry childrens, their hands, as they fumbled with the set, a sooty
silence clutching at your heart. How appropriate therefore that the radio set is, in
this war, our humble weapon pitted against the giant television channels booming
the voice of Darth Vader, Ilocano edition. We wait for Corys voice and when it
comes we are drunk with history, even have a taste of apocalypse.
The string of lyricism running through the book, which turns to extravagance
and abandon when Corys name occurs, tenses to near hysteria when the name is
Marcos. Both names drive him crazy. This exacerbated crazy pitch is the most
genuine item in the bookeven the literary attempt to sound more philosophical
than the authors abilities warrant becomes appealing in this light. Remontados
madness reflects, echoes, ours. Nay, the madness is ours. Or at least was. We were
all plumbed to the depths, frivolous Freudians might claimsee Alfred A. Yusons
pre-election article in Veritas (February 9, 1986 issue) section 3, A Personal Diatribe
Against the Man Who Would Still Be King, section 5, A Second Diatribe, and
section 9, Co-ree! Co-ree! Co-ree! Remontado read this piece with pleasure, as his
adoption two weeks later of the Darth Vader motiff indicates. The situation is
sufficiently Oedipala word he actually uses oncethe very same situation
described by Vladimirs novel of Chess, The Defense. Every chessplayer, suggests
Nabokov, sees Mother in his Queen and Father in his opponents King. A statistical

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|235

study of how the sexes voted in the snap election might yield results friendly to
Freud. In any event, let us follow Remontado further.
February 18. I have never seen him in person. I have dreamed of him twice
and have been shocked to find out that in my subconsciousor is it unconsciousI
seem to bear an amount of respect, evenhorrorstendernessfor the man!
Perhaps this is to concede that he is after all a strong man? Perhaps Oedipal. The
former interests me more. Some moral force in him. But what sort of moral force is
it that only creeps and crawls into peoples dreams? Marcos, had he been under an
oppressive himselfhad he been under a Marcos regimewould have stood up ,
fought back, shouted yuck fou! Marcos would have given himself the finger. There
would have been forty-two million cowards and two sonsof-bitches.
Dialogue 1
Mr. President, what would you have done under a Marcos regime?
I would have enjoyed it. In fact Im enjoying itIm under a Marcos
regime, as you put it, am I not?
I mean, sir, what would you have done if you were somebody else?
First, I would have to be somebody else. But that is fantasy and I dont take
stock in fantasies.
May I re-phrase my question, Mr. President?
Shoot.
What would you do if you were to live under a dictatorship? This is a purely
hypothetical question, sir.
Lets put it this way: Ill cross the Pacific and say aloha when I get there. I
told you fantasies are not my Fantahows that for wordplay? You writers think
youre the only ones who can do it. I am Marcos; you are Marxs cause
communists, what else? Your question implies that I am a dictator. When you say
that, smile. Lets have a little evidence, some substantiality. Can you prove that I
am? Do that first and Ill answer your question. Ill not only answer your question, Ill
salute your question. Well have a parade. Pataasan ng lahi. Kasaysayan ng ihi.
Whichever.2
Without meaning any disrespect, Mr. President, and I think Im speaking for
myself as well as for the rest of us here who are not in the medical profession, what
is this lupus?
Lupus means wolf. You are the boy who cried lupus! lupus!
Sir. It is felt by all that in the death of Ninoy Aquino, you lost your worthiest
opponent and the opportunity of winning the greatest fight in your career. How do
you feel yourself over the veritable Greek drama that instead of Ninoy, you now
face his widowan utter political innocentsomething no one, but simply no one,
has anticipated?
In the name of Pablo Picasso, Pablo Casals, and Pablo Nerudaask me
where I have been and Ill tell you: I am in control. I know my metaphors. Granted,
she makes good coffee. I, however, drink it!
What will you do if she wins?
Ill climb the highest mountain.
Dialogue 2

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|236

Remontado is trying to show us another side of Marcosthe flip side. Hes telling
us, what if Marcos is in fact a flip? The quintessential Filipino, Romulo saidthat
means the quintessential flip! How could we have not come close to even
suspecting it? Listen to him now in Hawaiithat taped message he sent us. That
was Marcos, King of the Flips.
Its not humor at all. Look at the face. The more flip, as you claim he is, the
more feral he becomes. He is teasing us, teasing at our pain to the limit but the
truly painful thing is that he can no longer laughnever, never, never.
Well, flip or not he kept his word. And so hes the newest remontado.
You are saying hes now a dissident.
I mean more literally. Do you know the worlds highest mountain?
Mt. Everest.
No, it starts with an H.
Thats it. The Himalayas, topmost of which is Mt. Everest.
Not the Himalayas. Hawaii. Hawaii is the highest mountain peak in the
world, if measured not from sea-level but from its base on the sea-floor.
It figures. After years of rubbing elbows with occultists he became
somewhat clairvoyant himself.
Everything was unreal for all that compared to thisthough this feels most unreal.
The moment of truth. But the word, ever too late or too soon, fails and falls. It
escapes us; we will never quite know. His dream precedes ours; ours follows his.
Him: Can this really be? Am I really going? Us: Can this really be? Is he really gone?
Him: Tell me Im Willy Nepomuceno! Us: Perhaps it was only Willie Nepumuceno.*
The April 1 diary reads:
Cannot talk about itFebruary 25-26 must go. It behooves us as poets to leave this
man to heaven.
But Remontado we must pursue to the end, though he too disappears on his
side of the apocalypse. We imagine him, vertiginous with insomnia and catharsis,
listening to the radio as it brings pictures of the camp-fires in Manila, the Sinulog3 in
Cebu. Boy to girl: Look, Halleys Comet! But its only the paper moonhe, too, is
lost in his own way in Dumaguete. And the April 1 diary continues:
For those who may wonder what I wrote that night I hope a description of the
style will suffice. It was written with the oratory of Blast Opule, the uprightness of
Lafayette Erecto, and the hitherto undisclosed recklessness and daring of Julius
Pirata.
We do not know exactly how the diary was destroyed. The April 1 diary says
nothing at the very end except that he was, in his own words, his own April Fool.
With a vengeance the stories run wild. Some say he burned it, some that he tore it
up. Some that he buried it, some that it was put in the Swiss bank. Some that he
never even wrote it, which may well be the truth. I favor the version which says he
flung it down, in lieu of suicide, to where a riverlike love, like magicwas waiting
though no river ever waits. Like love it goes but stays. Like magic its there and isnt
there.

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Touch Move
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
In the game of chess, if its your turn to move and you touch a piecewhether by
accident or by impulse or after much sturdyyou will
[MISSING PASSAGES]
duration a chess tournament requires. As a matter of fact no woman enjoys
watching a man think for even five minutes. Unless of course it is her hes thinking
of. And even then, shes rather that he acted. Action is what she wants. Lots of
action. She hates paralysis and catatonics. She wants you to move! And not touch
move, my foot. Yes, James, youve never even suspected the amount of revulsion
she keeps to herself when she observes two men spend grueling hours trying to
out-think each other dead wood!
Its also the nature of the game that women hate.
Chess is logic. And women hate logic, particularly logic for logics sake.
Woman is anti-logic. She loves, above all, contradiction. Another thing: a chess
game calls for honesty on a high level. And thats just it. With women, honesty is
the worst policy. Love, unlike chess, does not need directors and arbiters. In fact,
Love/Woman cannot tolerate them. They are a vexation to her spirit to her spirit. My
advice to the chessplayer who has one eye open to women is that he cheat his
opponent. Only then can he expect a little hope from women. Break the rules.
Transfer your Knight or steal his Bishop when hes not looking. A woman dislikes
man-made rules. Because she is rule. I hope I never get to play a woman in a
tournament. That will be my ending as a chessplayer. I will resign on my first move.
In practice though, I apply myself to a certain strategy whenever I have the
occasion to play a woman (now is the time to divulge a secret). I play to trap her
Queen, not the King. Also I make all sorts of crazy moves. Too bad I still win these
games. Force of habit, perhaps. My happiest moment in chess was when I once
managed to trick a girl into mating my King with her Queen. Cesar Ruiz Aquinos
Greatestin all seriousnessChess Game.
Last week, Franz Arcellana of UP asked me if I thought there is a relationship
between chess and poetry. This was in his class and the topic was The Political
Novel. I was seated between two other guests in the class: Jolico Cuadra and Erwin
Castillo who, for some reason kept talking not about the political novel but about
happiness. I turned around and stole a glance at the reason: a girl following the
discussion with lively interest, a single flare of whose nostrils hinted of a happiness
beyond politics, who seemed to be the incarnation of all the chess Queens I ever
played, felt, touch moved.
It was a moment. I was genuinely worried. The ever intelligent Franz
obviously was hoping for an answer the would say yes, there is a relationship, a
resemblance in principle between chess and poetry because.
For years I have carried on a dispute with Castillo over the games value to
the poet. Castillo thinks it is nil.
I said there is no true relation. I meant it. Although I added that in one
anthology of classic chess games you will find a game, played in splendid style, by

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Leo Tolstoy. I could have added that Vladimir Nabokov loved to compose chess
puzzles as intricate as his verbal games. That Borges was a devoted chess onlooker,
that he wrote two chess poems which were sonnets.
In chess, you see, you impose your will too much on the course of things that
are happening. Will is all and you force matters. In chess, its win or nothing. You
dont want to lose. Fischer burst out once: Dont ever talk to me of losing!
Whereas when you write a poem you keep your willfulness to a minimum
(though this minimum also exacts sweat, blood and tearseven more than chest!).
Back of your mind is the ultimate recognition that you cannot force the Muse. If you
succeed its because she has granted it.
It is she, not you, who touches and moves.
Manila, 1980

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Two
[From Chronicles of Suspicion, 1990]
1 The Wound
When, as they lay quietly in bed, she told him that she was leaving, he knew it was
F.
Her voice was as small and soft as her hand that reached for his, but the
words came like the quintessence of his life; the touch of her hand, the
quintessence of his hurt. And then it was a though he waited for someone else in
him to stir, to say something. But what was there indeed for him, or for her, to say?
He felt some dark, secret shore of his being come alive with dwarves hauling the
moon from the sea, or perhaps dumping it.
Her hand pressing his was a knowledge of how he could never bring himself
to touch her.
It was a knowledge of how it made no difference if she and F. would never see
each other again. If in fact F. was gone for good. She held his hand in a way that
nothing could change even if eventually another man came into her life. Even if F.
returned and then went away again. Even if F. had never come and there had never
been in fact any F.
F.s aloofness, even to her, even when it seemed to be not really aloofness
but a certain air, a certain cast of a manner that gave the effect of aloofness, had
always seemed to spite him.
Sometimes it seemed F., was reproaching himreproaching him for the way
he lived his life in general, and the way he tried to keep away from them, for her, in
particular. How as it that F. could make him feel so guilty for going out most of the
time, for the furtive wish that he did not have to come and had instead fled from it
all, as if he, not F., were that childs fatheras if she belonged to both of them?
Now he was carrying her, walking her about the yard when she said she
wanted to go back inside, muttering as if half-asleep, but in the dark it seemed to
him that her eyelids were a veil that shielded his heart for him. He felt a wave catch
in his throat.
The wound he hid from her, as she hid her knowledge of it.
She was fifteen, soon to be heavy with child. One day he thought he saw the
blue-green insect of his life elude him like the glimmer of a needle moon and it was
her eyelashes that battled sweetly in his face.
2 The Scar
He was dead.
When he watched people in the streets, in buses, in elevators, in restaurants,
his anonymity, while it kept him from being found out, was a slow waxing into the
consciousness that he was dead.
If he went home, he would have to answer greatly for it, having been dead all
years. He thought of the one who would suffer the most from it. And then the
thought of going home oppressed him.
He thought of the scar on his elbow.

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He had stumbled on broken glass when he was very small. It was a bad
wound, and it took several stitches to sew it.
But he was seldom if ever conscious of the scar, and that was because he
never saw it where it was unless he purposely bent his elbow to look at it.
Now he thought that if perhaps a way could be found to remove the scar, he
could pass for someone else and he could go home.
Then he dreamed he was crying over the scar in pity. And when he woke up
the pain was there still.
Dumaguete, 1974

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Writers
[From Checkmeta, 2004]
In the later 1960s Proc Montecino was the editor of a Zamboanga monthly news
magazine that he himself published and hoped, for a while, to circulate not just in
our town but in others parts of Mindanao like Davao and Cotabato. The dream did
not materialize and eventually his magazine even folded up. But there was a time in
1966-1967 when I frequented his office of the second floor of the Manuel Wee Sit
Building. I was exceedingly welcome. I was the college kid who, in 1962, published
two short stories a quick succession, first in Graphic and then in the Free Pres.
When he wasnt too busy, he would treat me to coffeesometimes when he really
had time, to beerdownstairs on the groundfloor. In time I knew his secret: he had
a collection of rejection slips from national magazines for short-story attempts that
died, so to speak, with their boots on. 1 The coffee and the beer sessions, where he
went literary to his hearts content, were a substitute for the elusive acceptance
slip. But thats not fair to Proc. Anyway, let me just shift to present tense.
In one such session he gets me to promise writing a story for his magazine. 2
In another, a name crops up: T.E.
Hes a friend of yours?
Yes.
Maybe we should get together sometime.
Exactly. He was here yesterday and we talked about you.
There were five or six people in Zamboanga apart from me who have
published a short story or two in national magazines, all whom I havent read,
including T.E. who is the least and rather impressive: he has produced about half a
dozen in two years.
Somehow I have a feeling that Proc is playing me off against the guy. I have
not done anything since the stories in 1962.
Whats he like?
He drinks like a black stallion.
Proc puffs at his cigarette, apparently relishing his queer imagery as much as
he does his association with T.E.3
I havent seen the guy once, late at night, walking down Guardia Nacional
with some friends, drunk and laughing raucously. 4 He is thirtyish, rather short 5, the
sleekly dressed sort, down to the gloss of his shoes. I have a hazy understanding
that he is a news correspondent from some national newspaper or other, and that
he lives with his parents who are weel-to-do. Faint traces of the Spanish in his
looks.6 Prominent stomach, eye glasses, a slight waggle when he walks. 7
It was my last year as a boy in Zamboanga
The sequence was something like this:
I study for Silliman for one semester in 1962. The next semester I quit school
and go to Manila for the first time, to attend a seminar under Leonard Casper, the
American literary critic, at the Ateneo Graduate School on Padre Faura. 8 When the
nest school year opens I am back in Zamboanga. I finished ny A.B. at Zambonga AE
College. Then I go back to Manila, go to the U.P. at Dilliman for graduate work in

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Comparative Literature. I am twenty-one. I see James Dean for the first time at the
Lyric Theater in Escolta. The movie is East of Eden and when the movie is over I
want to bawl like a child inside the moviehouses comfortroom.
I come home during the semestral break and beg to be allowed to quit school
for a while and stay home. My mother will hear nothing of it. I do not have the
courage to tell her I am a delinquent, more exactly a truant, in school and I know
the second semester will go absolutely the same way. So she wins, I go back to U.P.
and after a year she loses, though I can hardly say Ive wonI leave university with
no units earned except in one subject under Mrs. Dolores Feria.
Now nothing can make me go back to school. My mother yields helplessly, as
though I were ill. I am infact completely bewildered, sort of knock out on my feet.
But I am back to my old habits in no time. I visit the public library in the mornings.
From our house on Unreal Street, it is one short perpendicular street awaya small
building from the American years. Its door faces north; one enters turning left, away
from a now visible sea beyond the Fort and the acacia trees. In the afternoons I
take to the steerts. I browse into two bookstores, Apostol & Sons and Golden Bell,
very small but in the former I miraculously find a book each by Capote, Bellow, and
Nabokov. One after another I buy all three. I ran into old friends, chiefly Willy
Arsena.
This goes on for months. in July, I join a radio station as casual announcer. I
disc-jockey in the evenings. People wonder who the young man behind the voices
is. At parties they are surprised to meet me. Naturally I am extremely good-looking
on the radio, not to mention tall and dark. I become ser and shyer and more and
more conceited at the same time. They cant make anything out of in person. I am
the ultimate in uncommunicativeness. But quite swaggering on the radio, and on
the phone when the girls call up, who all flip over the voice. One cant wait to meet
me and comes to the station right after she calls. When she arrives I put on a longplaying album and take her outside the booth, away from the view of the
technician, and proceed to at least partially fulfill her fantasies before they
completely deserted. In March of the following year, I transfer to another station
where, where in December, I get into a fight with a senior announcer, let go with a
hail of bind blows one of which lands hard, sealing the end of our bxing match with
a black-eye.
Also the end of 1966, the end of my job, the end of my adolescence.
The end of my life in Zamboanga.
I have all the while kepy my real, secret self 9alive by retaining my
melancholy habits and corresponding a little with Willy Sanchez in Manila. Writing
has been torture. My vain opinion of myself contributes to my block, poisons
whatever real ability I have. I dont even know that its a writers blockwhat I
know is that, though I think of writing all the time, I shirk the actual job of sitting
down to work.10 The truant continues on his way. I dissipate myself on dreams. On
the dream. I dont even really read. I buy or borrow a book and keep it in my room
like a miser, reading it like a little here and there, but never get to read though. I
never get to finish the three booksSaul Bellows Herzog, Capotes In Cold Blood,
and Navokobs The Gift. Yet I feel somehow I must be someone like Herzog
(whatever he is), and I am killing the gift in the cold. I am hungry for life, but life as
it is in the books. And I dont want to just read it. I want to live it. Zamboanga will
never read like a book. I will have to be a magician. Willie Arsena says we shall die
talking in Chinese. It is 1967 and Manila is luring again. It is back of my mind all the
timeManila, the Henry Miller Paris of my dreams, the book of my life which I

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dream of living and writing. I make up my mind to leave. Look for a job. Big city, Im
coming. I spiral, zigzag, fly, plummet, sink, resurface, float, loiter at Procs, meet
T.E. One Sunday afternoon a little after lunch-time I get a phone call. It is T.E.
drinking beer at all the beer garden on the groundfloor of the Manuel Wee Sit
Building-the downstairs place from Proc Montecinos officeand he is asking I care
to join him.
I am half-hour late. T. E. has two companions. Piled neatly to one corner of the table
are the beer bottles they have emptied. There are four unopened bottles in front of
the vacant chairmy fine, he says, as I sit down. Meaning I have to drink all four
and catch up.
T. E. then tells me he has been granted fellowship to the Silliman writers
workshop in Dumaguete, scheduled in May, but he doesnt feel like going all by
himself so he is chucking it. Anyway, hes heard I studied at Silliman for a while, was
in the 1962 workshopthe very firstso can I tell him what Dumaguete is like and
the workshop?11
I tell him he should go. I tell him Nick Joaquin and Franz Arcellana were in the
1962, the first workshop. Ed and Edith Tiempo were the hosts. Among the fellows
was Wilfredo D. Nolledo.12
Before I know whats happening I tell him we can go together. Soon we are
talking like there is no doubt we are going to Dumaguete together. We split at about
five oclock. Back home, I tell my mother about it. She gladly gives her consent. I do
not tell her of my plan to proceed, after the workshop, to Manila. 13
I visit T. E. in his house four days later. I met his mother, who is as excited as
we are about the trip.
Two weeks later, we take the boat. T. E. sees to it that we have a case of
beer under our cots. It is the middle of April and the middle of sundown.
After fourteen or sixteen hours, we are in Dumaguete. It is around eight in the
evening. We take a room at Al Mar, on the boulevard a little past Silliman going
south. Then more beer in the dining hall which is empty.
T. E. calls Dr. Tiempo up. And after the formal greeting and self-introduction it
is naturally:
By the way, Cesar Ruiz Aquino is here. Hes right beside me.
And so I hear the mans voice again after almost five years.
When I hang up, I am, in the blink of an eye, a fellow in the Silliman writers
workshop.
Beer and laughterthat is, the workshop has begun.
At past ten we decided to go out.
We flag a tricycle, amused by the red rose on the drivers buri hat before he
has stopped. Interesting too is the design of the tricycle: T. E. says it is a rocket ship.
The driver says theres a place near the airport.
The rocket ship roars along the highway.
We meet another tricycle. The two drivers recognize each other, slow down
and stop. We u-turn. The second tricycle, less gaudily painted and designed, is a
submarineI tell T. E.
The drivers talk, unfazed by all the laughing. There are two girls in the
submarineone a mermaid, the other a luna moth. T. E. gets down and trade places
with the luna moth.

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We head back for town. I see T. E. turn around laughing to look at us. The
happy look in his face is so funny that I can almost forget that the drivers are
racing. I try to kill the paranoia by thinking everything is moving. The planet itself is
moving, and along with it the stars. But the thing gets worse. The whole universe
could turn turtle.
There is only one room. This does not deter us.
And the light from the hall outside comes in through the gaps above the wall.
We asked the attending boy if they can turn it off. Boy replies they cant.
This does not stop us either.
I cant help taking a look at T. E. and companion. I suppress a laugh. Like a
stallion is right. Beneath the pot belly and the slight waggle, he is a horse. 14
They lie still.
I keep recurring, tryingmy best to even things of somewhat. I fall asleep with
a joke: Ive outturn Proc Montecinos black stallions, three Sundays to one.
In myself I dream I am riding a horse in my grandfathers land in the
mountains and the horse is flying. The flight is slow. After a while, the horse is a
giant butterfly. It becomes harder and harder to fly, we draw nearer and nearer to
the ground. A woman is giving birth inside. From the foot of the stairs, I see the
midwife come out of the room and talk to my mother. She is one our tenants. I go
up and tell her my butterfly has sprained its wing, can she heal it. But thats an
airplane she says and runs for cover down in circles till I spot my target. I fly deftly
between the branches and soar, then swoop down in circles till I spot my target. I hit
the umbilical cord, splitting the child from its mother.
A third woman, of bewitching beauty, wipes my perspiring face with a
handkerchief that has a red rose painted, together with the babys smile, upon it.
Then it is not a red rose but a red sun.
T. E. makes fast friends with the writers who are mostly from Cebu: Nelson la
Rosa, Eddy Yap, Ric Patalinhug, Jun Canizares, and Thelma Enage. The writing
fellows from Manila are Romeo Virtusio, Mar Arcega, and Joy Dayrit. There are two
nuns: Sister Delia and Sister Imelda.
Who bears some resemblance to the third woman in my dream! 15
My roommate is Eddie Yap, who is most of the time high on Benzedrine. He
wakes screaming one morning, sitting uo terrified as he looks upon his missing
arms.
Nightmare. His arms are very much there.16
The piece hat is taken up on the last day of the workshopin the very last
session in the afternoonis a short story with Zamboanga for its setting. Glances,
as the session begins, coming naturally in my direction and T. E.s. Author can only
be one of us.
At the Silliman writers workshop, the identity of the author is not revealed
until discussion of the work is finished.
The story centers around a monster, a rich Spanish mestizo in his fifties who
owns a coconut plantations both in Zamboanga and Basilan. Estranged from his wife
and family, he has lived alone, for decades, in a house in Pasonanca with his cook
who is also his gardener.
The man is Bluebeard, Zamboanga edition. Buried in this fiends backyard are
young women he ravished and then killed. He has no problem seducing them. He
has wealth, good looks, a way with the ladies. The last being chiefly his diving
prowess, amazing for a man past fifty, displayed on weekends at the Pasonanca
Park swimming pool.

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And he has no problem with the towns knowledge of his deeds. He is able to
silence everyonevictims relatives, judges, the press and radio. How? Through
glitter. The glitter of money and the glitter of terror.
This hush-up, sustained incredibly for decades, may have spawned
exaggerations. It is whispered that he watched his little daughter drown at a beach
and collected a fortune in insurance.
He vacations once every two or three years in Spain with the secret purpose
of surgically cutting his tail, which regrows.
The storys point of view, first-person singular, almost makes it a double story
(the narrator is the author). The narrative is so constructed as to make either of the
following observations equally correct. (1) The monsters crimes etched against the
day-to-day affairs of the narrator who leads an uneventful existence. (2) The day-today affairs of the narrator whose life is uneventful are etched against the monsters
crimes.
Anyway the comeuppance: The man is driving his car along Cawacawa
boulevard, south to north. He is headed for Pillar College, Zamboangas exclusive
school for girls. Comes down. It is high noon. Suddenlyout of nowherea boy, a
very young, sixteen or seventeen, is facing him. When the gun cracked it was as if
the sun, blazing out of Africa, had stuck and he saw everything spiral into a still
point amid the blackness of his heart.
On the next day the gardener is found hanging from a tree. The same tree
under which he once raped a girl in front of the devil who had told him to do so. The
story instantly spreads that the devoted gardener, again, was only carrying out his
masters order, this time his last will and testament.
Dr. Tiempo qualifies his admiration for the story by pointing out rather
sensational material and the authors apparent tendency to indulge in it.
Sister Delia says she does not know which is the real horrorthe Spaniard
demon (she keeps saying this till the fellows smile) or the fact that the
townspeople have been willing to live with his deeds for decades.
Jun Canizares says as monstrous as the demon Spaniard (laughter from the
fellows) is the fact that the author obviously enjoyed writing the story (more
laughter).
I ventured the remark that perhaps it would be interesting if the mans having
a tail, surgical removal of which he takes periodic trips to Spain for, were not just
folk tale but actual.
T. E. immediately answers that the author couldnt possibly fractionalize
everything. The piece, he says, is based on an actual story in Zamboanga.
There is a general look of surprise on everyones face. T. E. and I have joined
the discussion as if neither of us is in fact the author.
Did you see this man?
T. E. again: I saw him dive at the Pasonanca swimming pool, the sound of the
water as he cleaved it followed by the onlookers applause still in my ears as I say
this.
How come weve never read it in the papers?
I answer this: Thats how weirdly far-reaching his sinister power was. Some
people say he was practicing the occultthat he was in fact doing ritual murders. If
this were the U.S.A. you can be sure a Truman Capote would be writing a book.
T.E. adds: The story says he bribed and made death threats.
Whats Africa doing in the story?
Allusionblackness of his heart echoes Conrads Heart of Darkness.

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Someone criticizes the story for what appears to be blatant editorializing.


This is the passage:
The enormity of it all, if the stories are true, was so unspeakable its a
wonder that for so long we were able to live with it, were in fact ready to live with it
for the rest of our placid lives.
These were tales of darkness that register the intensity ten on the
metaphysical Richter. So dark as to be nightmare interpretations of what the citys
name based on two syllables means. Boang, mad.
If the immediate news reports are true, the assassin assumes the status of
an avenging angel; plummeting like Kleistian lightning from heaven when men fail
to settle horrendous issues of justice among them. How significant that the gunman
is a youngstersixteen or seventeen years of agewhat more firring visitor and
emissary can we have from a future disconsolate with ours? Young boy with a 45
caliber pistol for flaming sword razing the judged man to the ground.
Well, I smile, thats really from the editorial of one of the citys papers.
A panelist look stumped. Is it? I dont remember seeing that. Besides I
thought radio and press in the town played hear no evil, see no evil, talk no evil with
regards to the whole matter.
Youre right. Read the story again. The editor wrote an editorial that he
didnt publish.
Panelist: Yes, but its nowhere indicated that the passage in question is that
unpublished editorial.
Its sufficiently hinted.
Was the gunman really a boy?
This is Sister Imelda.18
He was, T.E. answer her.
I cant help wondering who he could have bee. It seems to be the final touch
a story thatswellstranger than fiction.
There is a momentary silence in which everyone seems to be sorting through
Sister Imeldas remark mentally. Look whos talking, I say inside me as I note once
more this beautiful young nuns uncanny resemblance to the woman in my dream.
Does the author intend to publish this?
When the workshop comes to a close, T.E. and I are each offered a graduate
assistantship in the English department by the Tiempos. Manila bursts like a bubble.
T. E. and Iand my brother Voltairshare a cottage inside the campus for
one semester. It does not take long for us to see that our personal differences rule
out a close friendship. I even begin to dislike him sometimes. His beery (even when
he hasnt had a beer) quality arouses my distaste. Above all he is not sympathetic
is the exact opposite in women. Unable to hold myself, I tell him he cant possibly
go on doing the way he does forever; a man ought to have a wife. I dont know if
this hurts him. He does not seem to be the sort who gets wounded visibly, never
gets into a mood. But something between us is soured. We drift apart. He finds
other friends. So do I. even here we are irreconcilable. We dont take to the same
people.
Then fate plays like a joke: T.E. got married. 19
At the start of the semester we got to know a group of young ladies in a
neighboring cottage. T.E. meets a music teacher.
We visit the cottage together at first. After a while, he visits the place alone. I
know it is the music teacher.

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The first time he visited the cottage alone, he comes home near midnight. He
comes in quietly but briskly, all potbelly as he takes off his shirt off. Before he can
sit down, I ask him how the visit was, framing the question very rapidly. His eyes
laugh, but to my surprise, he says he cant answer my questionwhat if the lady
becomes his wife.
A week later, he comes home one night with her framed picture. I look at him
in disbelief. Aware of my gaze, he does not meet my eyes at first. Then the happy
smile comes on his face and we burst into laughter together.
And so our paths diverged and the years burst like bubbleswhole balloons
of memory that did not include T. E. in Dumaguete swallows and digests us
separately. He becomes just one of the faces that I see on the campus from time to
time. He and his wife move from the campus to Banilad, to the southern limit of the
city. Their baby, a girl, is born. Space wheels, time drops like crescent moon. All of a
sudden I ran into T. E. one Sunday evening. The night is young. It is October in 1972
and there are no memories.
We are both teaching in Silliman.
T. E.s wife is in Spain. She is taking further studies and will be away for a
year. I dont know if their child is with her or with T.Es parents in Zamboanga.
T. E. is on his way to Looc, near the wharf. He asks me if I want to come
along.
The place is quiet when we arrive. Its a small place with painted walls. The
light is dim because of the colored bulbs.
There are three girls.
The girl who serves us beer drop a few coins into the jukebox and after
pressing her selections sits with us and talks to T. E.
T. E. introduces us to each other and tells the girl to sit beside me. After a
while, she asks me if I care to dance. I shake my hands and offer her a beer instead.
She gets up for it and when she comes back I rest my hand lightly on her lap.
She keeps pushing my hand off her lap gently.
Theres a cluster of empty beer bottles on the table when the girl we are
waiting for shows up. She is fair-skinned and hefty. She stands beside T. E. and
slings her forearm on his shoulder, their hands meeting in a clasp. He tells her to
get some beer but she answer that she wants to go home. T. E. introduces me to
her. She smiles at me. I reach out for a hand shake and T. E.s eyes laugh when I
kiss her hand.
The four of leave the place and walk through an unlighted neighborhood. The
house is not far. It has two storeys. The girl with me occupies the downstairs
portion. She tends to the kitchen straightaway while the two sit down on a single
upholstered seat, their hands still locked. Im sitting on the bench wondering what
the time is.
She takes some eggs and a can of corned beef.
We buy some more beer after dinner. After a while I ask what the time is. No
one has a watch. She says it must be very near twelve. Twelve means we have to
stay in or risk getting apprehended if we go home.
Im sure its only around ten-thirty.
I drink my beer quietly, still trying to decide whether to go home or not. I can
feel my body aching to get some sleep.
T. E. and friend slip out to go upstairs.
When they are gone, she tidies the bed up. Theres a smaller bed in the
kitchen, folded up against the wall to which it is attached.

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I sit on the bed, take my shoes off. She comes out of the kitchen with a
blanket and makes for the door. I ask her where she is going. She says she will sleep
upstairs. I get up, overtake her and close the door. Smiling, I tell her Im dead tired
and I wont disturb her. I add that if she sleeps upstairs it will look like Im driving
her out of her own place and I wont feel good about it.
She yields.
When the light is out, I lie trying not to moan. The night of staying up very
late are telling on my body, I bury my face in the pillow as if my whole head is a
wound and the pillow is the cool stream or balm.
An hour passes. Another. All at once I know I will pass the whole night
sleepless if I dont get up and go to her.
In the dark, I make her form out. She is lying on her side, facing the wall. I
shake her gently. She stirs and half pushes against my arm, as if awakened forma
doze she was just about to sink into. I tell her I want to know where the water is, Im
thirsty. She mumbles where it is. I grope for a glass on the table. I drink the water
soundlessly but cant avoid sighing after emptying the glass.
I go back to her bed, sit on the edge for a while. My eyes now adjusted to the
dark, I watch her, relishing the light of her breathing deeply, tense with waiting.
The bed is too small and it squeaks. She asks to transfer to my bed. We get
up. She turns the light on. I feel funny standing, in more than one meaning of the
word, as I wait for her to go onto bed. She strips the gown off.
In the night I discovered that she is pregnant.
Afterwards I strike the slightly swollen belly gently. My touch is hesitant at
first. As if her belly were some strange animal that might bite.
I ask her if she knows who the father is. She answer that she is not what I
think she is.
Theres a little girl washing clothes in the kitchen when I wake up. The little
girl looks up at me quickly and shyly.
I ask her who the little girl is. She says the girl is from the neighborhood who
comes every morning to her place to wash. She tells me T. E. left early in the
morning. I ask her what the time is. She says its past ten. I ask her in a whisper if
the girl stays in the place all morning. She says the girl will be off in a little while. I
make some coffee and smoke as we sit on table saying nothing.
The little girl leaves, saying nothing and glancing at me again.
I get up and lock the door. I pull her to bed.
Afterwards I stroke the belly again.
I have a strange urge to squeeze the rest of her body hard till it hurt. My
hands stops and rest on her womb.
I tell her to name the child Rima, if its a girl. Or Risa. Rima and Risa if its
going to be twins. She laughs. Rhyme and laughter, I told her. If its a boy, I
continue, Andre is a good name.
She laughs again, saying the name as if the name was a puzzle, but adds that
she doesnt like Andres. I tell her its Andre not Andres. She asks if its English. I tell
her the English is Andrew. Andre is French and it sounds better, special.
I begin to aware that I am a hairs breadth away from playing-acting to make
her feel good but actually I have no intention of coming back. I suddenly regret that
I have no money I can spare. I think of the food last night.
Weeks pass before I got to see T. E. again.
When I see him, he tells me the girl keeps asking about me. I say nothing and
merely laugh with him.

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Whenever we chance to sit at coffee together, the girl crops up in our talk
inevitably. It becomes some kind of ritual. After a while we got over it. A year later I
see the girl again.
I am strolling on the boulevard with Butch Macansantos. Butch Macansantos
is twittering, firing away at Nietzsche or is it Dostoevsky.
Someone pokes me from behind.
She gets past us in a half-run and not turning to look at me. I recognize her.
I ask her where shes going. She says shes going home. I ask her if I can go
with her to her place. She says an uncle is at her place. She is walking fast, as if the
night is propelling his feet.
I ask her about the child.
She says she had it aborted.
I walk back to Butch Macansantos. He asks me who the girl is.
Butch Macansantos is a young poet from Zamboanga whom I recommended
to the Tiempos for the fellowship at the 1972 workshop held in May. Now he is
taking up his M.A. in English under their tutelage.
I begin to tell him the story.
I change my mind mid-sentence.but I have already mentioned T. E.s name. I
continue a little. Shift to Proc Montecino.
Who is in Dumaguete and still at it, publishing and editing a weekly, wanting
Im sure to see me. And still wanting, Im sure, to write. Albeit secretly.
Maybe we should get together sometime.
It is 1974. Memories dart like shadows as I stalk, through I am in fact the
quarry. I stand waiting for the day when they shall be all over me.

I mean theres a certain heroism in anyone who persists in a literary or artistic bent even when he
knows his limitations. Proc, who is no longer aroundmay he rest in peacepersisted for I do not know
how long. Possibly to the end. Despite this personal frustration, which must have been painful to him, I
wont ever forget (he was about a decade my senior): Journalism has limits, kid believe me. Fiction
has none. And I mean when it comes to presenting the truth, to reportingyes. Believe me. The
factionalist is Superman. Let me put down here, to avoid giving wrong impression, that I cant say we
were great friends. We are not really even friendsbut Zamboanga was a small town as was
Dumaguete where, by sheer coincidence, we were both to be transplanted.
1

A promise I was unable to keep. It was not until 1969 when I finally broke into print once more with a
short-storya silence of seven years. And after that nothing again for half a decade. Perhaps in 1976,
when I was writing a series of autobiographical fragments of Ermita, the magazine, I finally realized
that I was incapable of writing the traditional short story. I was writing, at the rate of one every month,
five pieces for that wonderful but short-lives outletpieces of the sort that are now called cross-over.
2

If this were a movie, creative use of cigarette smoke can be made by which will shift the scene to one
in which T. E. is shown as he looked in 1966.
3

The physical details would come laterexactly when he collected or settled in my minds eye I do
not know.
4

But taller than Proc who was short, though he could not in fact, as I have written elsewhere, be tall n
some other sense.
5

If you have seen a sketch of him done by the Zamboanguneo painter, Ed Jumalon, and printed on the
back cover of one of his recent books, you might object to the objective faint,he looks quite
Spanish, or at least Mexican.
7
That is, where did Proc Montecinos metaphor or simile came from?
6

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|250

I had applied for a fellowship and was accepted. Leonard Casper, teaching at UP Dilliman and
married to a Filipina writer, Linda Ty-Casper, was then an active part of the local literary scene. Casper
invited a good number of writers to talk in the seminar. I remembered well Estrella Alfon, Greg
Brillantes, Glida Cordero-Fernando, Amador Daguio, Emanuel Torres, Jess Peralta, andI thinkFranz
Arcellana. For the life of me, I dont know why I am not sure.
8

The one with my real voice, not quite found yet, but which Willie Arsena, perhaps, virtually alone in
Zamboanga, had heard.
9

Perhaps there was a real block somewhere deep inside me, too deep for one at my age to
understand. And perhaps it would be more accurate to say, rather, My inability to write has been
torment. I was still far from the day when I would see that what may hinder a literary youngster from
writing his own awareness of the masters, whom he aspires, alas, to write like. One prose writer I tried
to write lie for instance was Lawrence Durrell of The Alexandria Quartet. A foredoomed attempt,
naturally.
10

I did manage to write a story, The Case of Bernando Angelo. Very surrealistic, heavily influenced by
Kafka, its final scene is a court trial in which the corpse of the murdered man is on exhibit. I mailed this
to the Free Press and after months of getting no word from them the literary editor I sent an angry
telegram saying You had no right to throw my story into the trash can. A prompt reply came from the
countrys premier literary figure that said, I kept your story for so long because I didnt know what to
do with it. It wasnt a telegram; it was a note that came together with a returned manuscript.
Handwritten by Nick Joaquin, the rejection made me, nonetheless, very happy.
This was time when the young writers of the 60s were entering their heyday (unfortunately cut down in
1972 by Martial Law). Winning prizes in successive years. Erwin E. Castillos Ireland, had won the top
Free Press prize for best short-story in 1965, with superlative kudos from Nick Joaquin and franz
Arcellana, two of the judges. In second and third places respectively were Greenwich Standard Time by
Father Rudy Villanueva and Island by Resil Mojares, undoubtedly the best young writer then from the
South. The following year 1966, Ninotchka Rosca won the top prize with Diablus of Sphere. And in
1969, Alfred A. Yuson with The Hill of Samuel.
This, not the beer, blew m mind right then and there and then (I had a hard time catching upby
three oclock I was drunk and still a bottle behind). I was suddenly in a dream again. It seemed so long
ago, so far back.
11

12

T.E., then, only knew Nick Joaquin.

It would take me three decades to realize, because I have never thought about it until know, that T.E.
had probably set me up. And three decades that my mother had consented instantlyto realize that
she did because she was relieved, happy to see the radio madness gone and her son headed, once
again, for university.
13

14

Vindicating, somewhat, Proc Monteconos metaphor!

15

It is more correct to say, perhaps, that the woman in my dream resembled her.

He liked the mad world of writers and living it, though he hardly said a syllable, both during and
away from the workshop sessions, mild and quiet in fact as little birthday card. When I met him again
in Manila many years later, I could tell he was A-okay. He had a good jobwith a drug company! Was
married; had, by admission, stopped writing. Jun Canizares and Ric Patalinhug later became lawyers.
Ric Patalinhug continues to write, but has shifted to Cebuano. Somehow he was always at loggerheads
with Dr. Tiempo at the sessions. Though it was never in the open, since he wouldnt argue after he had,
say expressed a discordant view, it was pretty evident. Maybe they didnt like each other. It was from
Ric Patalinhug that I first heard the names of John Updike and Gunter Grass. He and Nelson la Rosa
(who, not, Eddie Yap, turned out to be the really mad one) liked quoting passages from the great prose
writers. In particular, a whole paragraph Hemingways auto biographical A Moveable Feast.
16

17

The storys opening sentence is John Fowles collector is nothing compared as to this one.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|251

18

Banning memorys smoke and mirrors, this is the only time I can recall Sister Imelda speaking up.

The joke was on me and has prove to be one for lifeI have remained single. Incidentally Sister
Imelda, too, later left the nunnery and married. Or so I heard.
19

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|252

THE POEMS
Advice to a Young Poet
[From Checkmeta, 2004]
First and last, as a garden celebrates
The rest is confrontation.
First fire and last fire
In the middle
Freeze
Not, seize
The day,
Go
The way
Of all sap
Flow,
Let hap
Draw your own
Flaming sword
& make the word
Flash
Not batting
An eyelash:
The apple not the fall
Is all
Know the poet is one
Hewn
Three-fold:
Of madness, is wickedness
And sadness.
All told,
A fool
Whose rule
To the end
Of his days
Is never to mend
His ways,
Never to stay put
Dialing as it were
The Muses number
But
As the rest is conflagration
First and last, like the greats
Love her like a riddle
In the middle of things

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Agon
[From In Samarkand, 2008]
What happens when an irresistible force
Meets an immovable object?
A joke
of course
Draw?
But how?
You were chosen
But I am the one
God is the
Referee
But God is the nowhere man
And everywhere woman.

All in All
[From Sands & Coral, 1976]
But speak to her and truly
You will speak to her.
All the moves, moves between you
Or if it is still
It is still between.
But speak to her and fashion
Your very empty
Hands that fidget
And if still you fidget.
If your word die
And you with it, with your word
Speak to her no more and truly
You will speak to her
And the sky
Is not between you

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|254

Alone
[From In Samarkand, 2008; verseliteration (from D.H. Lawrences novel, Sons and
Lovers]
From his breast sprang
the endless space.
And it was there
behind him. Everywhere
on every side the immense
dark silence.
There was no Time only Space
and he had no place in it. Whatever spot he stood on,
there he stood alone
at the core a nothingness
and yet not nothing.
There was his body.
Where was he?

Amorous Support
[From Silliman Journal, 2013]
You cheering
me was
rather
like hearing
the sound
of one hand
clapping because
I held the other

Anak Bulan
[From In Samarkand, 2008]
[NOTE: Dr. Aquino has a similarly titled story.]
In my sleep I am riding a horse in my grandfathers

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|255

land in the mountains and the horse is flying.


The fight is slow. After a while the horse
is a giant butterfly. It becomes harder and harder
to fly. We draw nearer and nearer to the ground.
When we land, there is a small nipa hut on the spot.
A woman is giving birth inside. From the foot
of the stairs, I see the midwife come out of the room
and talk to my mother. She is one of our tenants.
I go up and tell her my butterfly has a sprained its wing,
can she heal it. But thats an airplane she says
and runs for cover under the trees. I fly deftly
between the branches and soar, the swoop down
in circle till I spot my target. I hit the umbilical cord,
splitting the child from its mother.
A third woman, of bewitching beauty, wipes my
perspiring face with a handkerchief that has a red rose
painted, together with the babys smile, upon it.
Then it is not a red rose but a red sun.

Apologia
[From In Samarkand, 2008]
It is the horizon
Pursues a childs garden
Of see-saw
And the hee-haw
The orison
And the Gordian
Knot
Not
The nut
Horrendous

Araby Revisited
[From In Samarkand, 2008]
This is the post literate
Signature and riddle of her

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|256

The neither Blake nor Waite,


See grey areas,
I stand in awe of her gaze
Whos young enough to be an
Only for a day, nay
For a second, no second
Chance, second spring
Second second
Incarnadine
Reincarnation of my,
Not Solomons nor Davids, Sheba
Or Bathsheba
Ah! Is it much better really
To be plain red
Or green or blue
Of any hue
But young
Than well-read,
Even Golden Dawn gold,
But just a bit too old
When the knot or the labyrinth
Is tied and untied, entered
And excited easily
By transmigrations Alexander
Being neither ordain nor Cretan
Though disarmingly ancient?

Ars Poetica
[From the Sillimanian Magazine, 1993]
[MISSING]
[From Checkmeta, 2004]
And if the bright day is brighter for her
Make all days bright for her amusement
Even rainy ones.

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|257

Baguio Blues
[From Checkmeta, 2004]
It is my nth time to nothing,
January in this mountain city to whose fog
Months ago I, thwarted
Whether burnt or pale with fruitless chase
As from a dread oracle was flung.
No one knows me
Here where mornings and afternoons
Are shed like snakeskin
like words that sometimes
Slither from my brain
Already the year turns, not a word from you.
Sometimes the mountains are islands
In a ghost of time, shineless sea
And the Sun is your body
Mineward.

The Ballad of the Ampersand


[From In Samarkand, 2008]
Before the land
Was promised
Was the sandbar
& the ampersand
Before oblivion
Was the last stand
& the grand
Standing
Ovation
Before the thunderclap
Was the hand
& the clapping
Was w/ one hand
& the silence
Was deafening
Before the Roman

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|258

Empire was unholy


Was the gladiator
Of more than gladness
Gloom
Before the star
Crossed the Great War
Before the Ottoman
Was Atman
Before the autumn moon
Was Ramadan
The Gospel
Before the Common Era
According to Accordions
The Gospel of Judy
Garland
El Canon
Segun de Panday Pira
Exploded
Before it was loaded
Before it was written
Before it was pirated
By the lost
Command
Of Roland
Before the Last
Countermand
The Gospel of Least
Reprimand
Lust
Lest you forget
On the other hand
Always has
The upperhand
Therefore understand
Beforehand
That the Gospel
Even according
To second-hand
Sources will stand
The test of rock band

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|259

& rock opera


&cetera
&cetera
&cetera

Because the Woman Was Too Beautiful


[From In Samarkand, 2008; verseliteration from Henry Corbins prose meditation]
[MISSING]

Before You Could Imagine Heartbreak

[Uncollected]

If anything nice happened of late


To you, say a bar of chocolate
Sent, better yet handed, by someone
Light on you, if not someone you like
Who nonetheless was no bore, was gone
Before you could imagine heartbreak
Here, re-live the moment, I hereby
Say its still Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday...

The Birds
[From In Samarkand, 2008; verseliteration from Dylan Nelsons preface to Birds in
the Hand]
When birds fly, they show

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|260

to us we cannot. When birds seem


innocent, we are

Botticelli Blues
[From the Sillimanian Magazine, 1988]
[MISSING]
[From In Samarkand, 2008]
And she springs straight from the sea
horses mouth
Lip-red in the light of the bright moon
calf
Knows her to be the day and the night
mare
At whose glance he catches fire
flies
Swears seeing in her hand the sun
flower
And at her feet the farthest star
Fish
Took her home once upon a time
table
When for years the land was without fruit
cake
And doves flew north of the wind
bags sighing

The Camelephant
[From In Samarkand, 2008]

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|261

(Reply to Volatair)
Yes, brother,
Egyptian mage
& Hindu
sage
knew
each other,
ate & slept
under
one roof.
Alas! God swept
away the proof
the moment
it existed
the camelephant
God was worth
or flabbergasted
when both
wrote
for the same girl,
as if from a single
starry
eye,
the same pearl
of great price
poem, twice
born,
signed
between the lines.
The 3rd or hundredth
hierophant
before Shah Jahan
was
shall see the Taj
on fire
& here it, heart & I
broken by her passing
pyre amid
the pyramids
on Mt. Age
under Sarah
Zipporah
north of the Unicorn
On any God-forgiven
bright night
the universe

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|262

travels
full-circle
on foot,
italics mine,
the line
is a dig at free verse
unless written
w/ constellations
at stake,
a take
on the infinite.

Caroline in Cubao
[From Checkmeta, 2004]
Fresh from a bath
And no make-up on
No handbag
Bringing nothing
Only a comb
Which she clasps
Absently
The thumb out
And her heart
No longer fond
Wandering
From object
To object
In the windows
[From In Samarkand, 2008]
Fresh from a bath
And no make-up on
No handbag
Bringing nothing
Only a comb
Clasped
Like a weapon
The thumb out
And brave heart
Moving
From object
To object

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|263

No longer mine
In the windows

Cellphone Poem
[From Checkmeta, 2004]
So it equips my eyes not seeing,
Not owningkeeping it all:
A lover can always trace eternitys line.

The College Sits Down


[From In Samarkand, 2008, verseliteration from Malachi Martins novel, The Final
Conclave]
The scrutiny
Is as follows:
The Carmelangos
Face is inscrutable.
Lohgren glances at him & then at Angelico, Angelico
Is watching evrone, Delmonico
Has his eyes cast down, looking at his table
Ni Kan is doodling
Buff is nodding
Paternal and solicitous
To Franzus.
A montae
Of faces!
Imperious,
Arrogant Kirchner,
Tremuluos
Sargent. Down, Desai
Pellino
Lortuko
Venturi
Lombardi
Vigente
Thule
Is very calm and grave

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|264

Lynch rises: Today in this Conclave


I announce death. The announcement is simple
The Christian world is dead, is gone, is no more
Church Music, Chivalric Honor
The Love Poem, The Dogmatic Voice, the Diocese
The Latin Liturgy
We are walking with ghosts, memories
Ina still cemetery.
Lord Buff:
There is a point in life
When nothing will soothe the deep ache
But a total break
With all that it has become
That is now for Rome
This bureaucracy which is the Vatican
This pomp that is Papal.
There is something frightening about us
Celibates all
Obedient as one man
To invisible voices.
Cardinal Pericle Vasaris voice trembles
In Rome we have an abiding presence
That outsiders sense.
Our preposterousness rings a bell
The sound
Of impossible
Dream centering around
A
Fantastic idea
That nearby a window has been
Opened to a beauty never seen.
Franzus (comes easily to him)
Last summer at the foot of the Hallow Hills in Lake
Placid we walked fields of endless poppies. Suddenly look!
We are on fire! We are
Walking inside the sun!
The sunburst of the Red Star!
And yet, as Christians, we are not consumed.
We do not perish,
We flourish.
Because Christ become human
Communion is the only way
Satan!
Treason!t

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|265

Hear him out!


We all have something to contribute!
Let the Holy Spirit
Speak through the lesser of us!
Franzus:
Marxism is out to destroy
Bourgeois man and his innate tendency
To profound blasphemy
There is no other way!
Domenico:
I take it you are therefore not against violence
Say the violence in Latin America?
Violence
And counterviolence
Yes yes yes
Love is tender
But can give birth to horror.
The Great
God himself hates
Sin. What do you think Hell
Is? I advocate the Gospel!
Azande, slightly awkward, rises and makes his way
To the speakers place.
In his embarrassment
He for gets to kbeel at the altar
For the customary prayer.
But his voice is strong and resonant.
In the Divine Chapel
Michel
Angelo
Covered the end-wall
With the last judgment
And on the ceiling he portrayed the Prophets. Very few
May know that he increased a self portrait in a frasco
In fact, two
Look! See the figure of one man
Groping his way out of the tomb
Jesus has summoned
The dead no rise, notice
The joy on the face
Of the man.
Thats Michelangelos self portrait.
It is a portrait of me emerging into the light
Of some understanding.

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The Holy Spirit has spoken from Africa!


I think that that My Most Eminent Lord Cardinal
Azande owes us an actual
List of concrete changes and proposals.
We are not here to gather wool.
My God!
Eminent Brothers, Oh my God!
Good Jesus! Where have we got to!
We need a Pope! The Church needs a Pope!
Jesus wills us to have a new Pope!
Ita!
A blaze
Burns in the eyes
Of Lord Cardinal Henry Walker.
We have a sacred duty to elect a successor
To Peter
The Lords vicar.
We will fight against any attempt
To exercise even the minimum
Influence from outside.
So help me, God!
Marquez: I demand
That the Cardinal clarify.
Does he mean the Freemasons or the superpowers
Behind
Closed doors
Here today?
No. It is something far more sinister.
More comprehensive, more subtle, farReaching.
They have in mind a particular
Destiny for this Church.
For them Freemasons and Marxists are
Puppets. Walker stops, his lips are moving
His eyes
Raised.
a silence too falls
On the Cardinals.
Pope Paul VI said,
Maybe the Church is fated to die.
But the Lord said,
Fear notit is I!

CSAR RUZ AQUINO|267

Color Her Muse

[Uncollected]

Albeit her fool,


about what she wears
I cant say
in all
honesty
which is truer:
colors make her
or she makes colors
more beautiful.

Continuum
[From In Samarkand, 2008]
But if the day is brighter for her
Merry maid with ass
Unicorn by the sea
Under acacia tree
Make all days bright even rainy ones
For her sake
For no love is as disastrous as this
That nothing like a mountain shook
Nothing like a storm blew
Nothing like a flood swept,
Nothing like fire razed
The lovers down
And no one lived to tell

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On the bright day


That is a rainy day
In the dark night
That is a moonlit night

Continuum of Three
[From In Samarkand, 2008, verseliteration from the prose of Wallace Stevens,
Heidegger & Holderlin]
Heidegger was written a work
dealing with Holderlin.
I am eager
to find a copy.
Can you find for me
at Fribourg
Horderlin is the poet
of the poet from an excess
of impetus,
what he said of Oedipus
[UNFINISHED]

Continuum of Two
[From In Samarkand, 2008; verseliteration from Anthony Burgess Shakespeare and
Ted Hughes Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being]
If we accept the powerful
Libido of Will,
Cleopatra is the final personification
of sexual allure.
The consequences are:
Multiple death and the fall
of an empire.
The hell.
Shakespeare
is on the side of passion
the unworldliness of erotic love.
The play is a theophany
and enacts a love

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gods liberation
from the Purtan.
The lecher Anthony becomes Osiris
the Egyptian Dionysus
the African Bacchus
the black Adonis.

Dactyls at Twelve
[From In Samarkand, 2008]
Jesse James Dean Martin Luther Burbank

Dancers
[From Sands & Coral, 1968]
Kreutzer Sonata by the dragons
Breast, faultlessly filed
For noonsfor the twilight dancer.
Across the glass, barehanded,
But beauty holds out the only bright
Breath, striking mans irises
Voluptuous pain, a heave, higher.
Out the blown bloods radius,
Where lies the beastless dancer?

Dedication
[From In Samarkand, 2008]
[MISSING]

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Dream
[From In Samarkand, 2008; verseliteration from Dag Hammarksjolds diary,
Markings]
Really
nothing was easier
than to step
from one rope
ladder to the other
over the chasm
but
in our dream
you failed
because the thought
occurred to you
that you
might possibly
fall

The Everyday of a Lark


[From Sands & Coral, 1963]
(With Apologies to my Poet-Elders)
I was born, as all men know,
In the faerilous forlorn
Of some Minotaur, long ago
Many a year ago, I was born;
And this Minotaur,
As we all know, came inward
With no other roar, no other war
Than to devour and be devoured.
Then, let me bleed then, to song,
For O my meaning is the blunder
Of all that was wounding long ago,
Years ago, when all men
Heard the Minotaur, blow for blow
Felt the Minotaur eat and eaten.
Let me bleed then, I alone,
As the evening jukebox spreads
Like an impa