Sunday, July 23, 2017

Seven Times a Day


SEVEN TIMES A DAY

The series of poems, “Seven Times a Day,” is inspired by Psalm 119:164: “Seven times a day I praise you.” Each of the component poems is composed in tribute to the themes—somewhat loosely interpreted—of the seven hours of public prayer in the liturgy of Roman Catholic monasticism. In chronological order, the hours and their respective thematic interpretations are:

Vigils, the spirit of watchfulness;
Lauds, praise;
Terce, beginnings in the spiritual life;
Sext, patience in trials;
None, conversio mores;
Vespers, thanksgiving;
and Compline, consideration of death.

Because Jesus Christ passed away at None, the ninth hour of the day or 3:00 pm, the theme of this hour is repentance and conversion, conversio mores.


Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem (c. 1896-1902) by James Tissot


Vigils


2:00 AM

No dogs bark at this hour,
Desolate as an abandoned field burnt by summer,
Forlorn as shaving curls on a workshop floor long unswept.

I hear a motorcycle roar along a distant road,
Harsher than the sound of sawing wood.

Then silence thickens like a paste sealing
Joints and crevices of a room
Gradually deafening to the slightest vibration.

The world is asleep, I am awake.
Time heaves like a resting animal.

Now is the moment to descend into stillness
Deep as darkness enfolding underground rivers,
Delicate as a tissue broken by a cough.

I am solitary as a metal tool
Seeking the warm grasp of a skillful hand.

Before the smallest beginning of a noise tears like flint into the fabric of the night,
I will take long draughts, cupping my hands in the springs of tranquility.


The world is asleep, I am awake.


Lauds


PROLOGUE

Gloaming is gradually pushing night away.
Day sweeps his arm in a wide arc, left to right,
Casting a spell like a magician.
The sky submits to his behest.
Darkness retreats faster than low tide pulling back its forces,
Fading until morning is a garment washed many times.

Dawn is a gray man stroking his beard streaked with white clouds.
Blue and pink light spread like a river entering a delta.
Moon and stars now gleam faintly, soft as kindness.
Daylight is spilling over the window sill in gentle waterfall.

The house begins to stir like a living animal.
I hear tinkling utensils, clattering plates, sloshing glasses.
Coffee is percolating like a gurgling snorkel.
Birds let loose warbles sinuous as wrist movements of a dancer.
Clearing throats repeatedly, roosters do not understand
Only once is necessary to remind everyone day is here.

Din is rising, tittering like the audience before a performance.
Someone turns a squeaking faucet, drilling water into a pail.
Commuters gun their engines. Motorcycles roar, punching holes in paper.
Chaos breaks out like a bull bounding free from a maze.


Colour Study - Warm Cloud by Ken Bushe


Terce


Morning steps forward...

Morning steps forward, freshly washed, newly fed, tautly wound like a limber bow,
Ready to spring, tumble, wheel, pull at oars, throw the hammer, leap the long jump,
Slice fine fillets smoothly in water, upswept, propelled by a parachute of air,
Sling saucers aloft like pizza dough, snare them spinning on sticks, hop,
Flip bowls from foot to head, head to foot, right to left, left, right, back again.


Clouds near Newburge by Ken Bushe


Sext


I eat dry bread…

I eat dry bread in the desert:
It tastes like a cake of dust.
I breathe in and out powdery clouds:
Nostrils singe, snorting fire.
I swallow my own saliva:
Thick paste coats my inside throat.
How will I sustain my journey in this land
When my mouth is filled with sand?

I falter inside a steel kettle, sparks popping about.
Black footprints flame at the edges.
I am dried up, a gourd rattling seeds.
Heat waves deceive like the devil.
Thirsty, I lick at a mirage with my eyes.
Twisting, I glimpse the taskmaster sun.
Hands astride hips, he glares mercilessly,
Glowering white noon death rays.

The sky is livid, a clown murderer, crimson lips, grinning.
He spills sacksful of hot ash from above.
Hordes, buried alive, scratch at the insides of a wooden coffin.
Spiritless as the burning air gone lifeless,
I am dark as a moonless, starless sky,
Staggering in an expanse unbounded beyond extreme sight,
Devoid of any atom of hope,
Despair, a universe expanding endlessly.


...an expanse unbounded beyond extreme sight...


None


Afternoon has lost its fierceness…

Afternoon has lost its fierceness like the death of summer grass, dry and crackling underfoot.

Dappled shadows fuse, separate, and coalesce—grayly shifting furtive forest animal.

Faintly the wind rises, gently kicking into circular motion fronds spinning in the liquid eyes of ponds.

Branches wave back and forth, swings, doors opening and closing, leaves entering and leaving.

Black asphalt roads glow, windswept dark coal fed by hot billows firing an old bronze censer.

Orange cats, writhing, lithe, play on jade grass, shiny crabs jostling, toys scattered at day’s end.

Trees, outspreading dream catcher nets, poise against the horizon, tracing graceful fractals against the sky.

Daylight reddens, crushing pink roses against white cheeks of clouds.

Weakening, the hour bathes in vermilion blooms drifting in the darkening ocean.

Threatening black outbursts, thick clouds close to shore migrate toward the sun now deepening crimson with fatigue.

Remotely, obscured by a diaphanous curtain of rain, boats fade in and out, motes on a planetary visage.

Pummeled by distant turbulence, outlying storms, swirling fists, hurl violently into a far constellation.


The Crucifixion (1457-59) by Andrea Mantegna


Vespers


DARKENING AFTERNOONS

I love the wooden beauty of darkening afternoons
Softly varnishing the oldness of the sky,
Weathered like the brows of studious hills.

Stillness dwells in the air like a great thinker,
Pondering forgotten equations, hidden runes.
Clouds are flecked with the fires of beaten copper,
Skies limpid with the blues of pale oceans.
Shadows weave fingers through grass looms
As fields gaze blankly at the sun.
Birds grasp at the last utterances of a prayer,
Day vanishes like a broken pot.

Dusk is redolent with the aged interiors of sleeping cabinets, richly inhabited.


Evening Sky Study by Ken Bushe


Compline


EPILOGUE

Night begins in disquiet, pacing back and forth,
Disturbed by spoons crossing swords with forks
Banging on plates as against shields,
Clinking glasses like missiles pinging helmets.
I hear the low rumble of a stream of water
Drumming the bottom of an aluminum sink.

Beyond the wall, cars whoosh by like subway trains.
Passersby in threes or fours titter like birds.
Two houses down, a woman is hollering faintly at a bawling child.
Cats scrambling after prey kick boxes bumping together as they fall.

A small animal is making a tiny scraping noise inside the ceiling.
The wind rises, shakes leaves, dislodging one fruit,
Thudding on the roof, bouncing twice,
Rolling audibly. Two more follow.
The house folds his hands, sitting silently for a while.
Everything is slowing down like floating brushwood.

The clock is ticking but not on the wall. I am a time machine
Oscillating to a gradually disappearing frequency.
I listen for the pop of ratchet and spring pulling the hammer backward
To strike the bell once, twice. I push off, sleep pulling at the oars.


Grandfather clock face (detail)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

I eat dry bread...


I eat dry bread…

I eat dry bread in the desert:
It tastes like a cake of dust.
I breathe in and out powdery clouds:
Nostrils singe, snorting fire.
I swallow my own saliva:
Thick paste coats my inside throat.
How will I sustain my journey in this land
When my mouth is filled with sand?

I falter inside a steel kettle, sparks popping about.
Black footprints flame at the edges.
I am dried up, a gourd rattling seeds.
Heat waves deceive like the devil.
Thirsty, I lick at a mirage with my eyes.
Twisting, I glimpse the taskmaster sun.
Hands astride hips, he glares mercilessly,
Glowering white noon death rays.

The sky is livid, a clown murderer, crimson lips, grinning.
He spills sacksful of hot ash from above.
Multitudes, buried alive, scratch at the insides of a wooden coffin.
Spiritless as the burning air gone lifeless,
I am dark as a moonless, starless sky,
Staggering in an expanse unbounded beyond extreme sight,
Devoid of any atom of hope,
Despair, a universe expanding endlessly.



Elijah under a broom tree

Monday, June 12, 2017

Tatlong Bayani


FORT SANTIAGO
To José Rizal

I visited your cold, stone prison.
Bereft of spirit,
Empty of words.
Your cell rang like footsteps

Inside a bell. I could not
Imagine you alive.
Supine, you lay
Motionless, a pigeon

Strangled by the hand
Of forces greater than
Your idealism, stronger than
Overpowering sentiment—

Your love of country exceeding
Your love of life, a pearl.
Yes, you penned poems, essays,
Two novels. You wrought

Drawings, paintings, sculptures—
One famous piece:
The Triumph of Science over Death.
Buildings, cities, towns, streets

Today carry your name.
Yet you are not deathless.
You are dead,
Slain by migrant necessity

Born of want, poverty
Pulling grubs from the soil,
Nailing down rusty iron sheets
To fashion flimsy shelters

Soon blown apart like paper
By tornadoes, locusts
On annual rampage.
But wait—now I see you rise,

Arms bound, marching off.
As if on a stage, players assemble.
Your back is to the firing line.
At that moment of volley

I see you transformed:
You turn—shot as a traitor,
Dying as a martyr.
Despair spinning into hope.


The Martyrdom of Rizal (1960) by Carlos Francisco




SUPREMO
To Andres Bonifacio

Your bones may be lost forever,
But we are possessed, fortunately,
Of your photograph, in which
You glare—proud, sullen,

Belligerent, yet also brave, staunch,
Inspired—Supremo indeed.
I do not doubt your genius,
Testified by, for one,

Your marvelous capacity
For self-education, though
You must admit that
Your keenness is blunted

By your weakness
In the aspect of strategy:
Your inability to ride
Rapidly transforming events

So that they instead
Rode you, shamefully,
To your wretched execution—
Unjust, no doubt,

Still, result of your failure
To play your cards well.
Unyielding to a fault,
Prickly, reckless,

Flawed by fatal hubris,
You forecast your own fate
In the red and black flags
Of the Katipunan.

Now, standing in dust and smoke
Beclouding your monument
By the illustrious sculptor,
Guillermo Tolentino,

I see the Great Plebeian
Brandishing bolo and gun
And wonder about the message
He purportedly signifies.

Is there wisdom in violence?
Behold, the sword that liberates
Is the selfsame weapon
That tragically destroys!


Andres Bonifacio Poster Design Project (2015) by Carlo San Jose




THE HOUSE OF AGUINALDO
To Emilio Aguinaldo

Your name means Christmas gift,
And yes, you bestowed
Upon your country
A fine gift, your house,

A generous patrimony,
Memorial to courage,
Summons to hope.
As travelers approach,

Many-gabled red roofs
Notably rise into view,
Presided over by a tower
Six storeys high,

A lookout embellished by
Five quaintly pointed spires.
Gracing the front esplanade,
Your bronze statue—

Your visage, undaunted,
Drawn sword at the ready,
Riding your stately mount,
Foreleg upraised, purposefully.

Entering the vestibule,
We see behind glass displays
Your bleached military uniform,
High-cut boots, rusted rifles,

Glossy buttons adorned
With Masonic symbols,
And the sword of the defeated
General Ernesto Aguirre.

Ascending the main stairway,
We encounter at the landing
A crossroads of sorts—
Left, doorways, the first

To a ladder-like stairway
To the third-level Music Room,
Rising to the Mirador
At the top, a tower

Overlooking sweeping views
Of Manila Bay and its environs;
Further down the hallway,
Your children’s bedrooms;

End of the hallway, a patio,
Galeria de los Pecadores,
Your venue for hatching plots
Against the Spaniards—

Right, your living room, commodious,
Harboring the original window,
Now converted into a balcony,
From which you declared

Philippine Independence,
Unfurling the first flag
Of the first Republic,
Marcha Nacional playing.

Mosaics, triangles galore,
Wood carvings in relief,
A plethora of symbols
Adorn walls and ceilings—

Eight-rayed, a sun
Honors the first eight provinces
To revolt against Spain;
Inang Bayan flourishes a banner;

Bearing a letter, a dove flies
Towards flags representing
The League of Nations.
Appointments, darkly varnished—

Cabinets of costly hardwood,
Flashing full-length mirrors;
Ornately wrought clamshells, which,
Pulled out from their niches,

Serve handily as pot stands
Attached to pilasters;
Grandiose, an outsize dining table;
Desks with sidewise compartments

To store important documents,
Or arms, for quick brandishing.
One corner of your sala,
A wooden panel swings open,

Disguised as a hat rack,
Concealing a corridor
That exits into your bedroom.
Herein positioned, an aparador

Built by your carpenters
To serve as your hiding place—
Dodging unwanted visitors,
You would sit inside, quiet.

A trapdoor from your bedroom leads
Two ways—one descends to
An indoor swimming pool;
The other, same level,

Is a corridor to your kitchen.
This hallway, Veterans Hall,
Is where you would meet
Your comrades-in-arms.

Their portraits line the upper wall.
Below, benches with backboards
Flip open to reveal hollows for
More documents, more arms.

Your spacious kitchen houses
A central table, its solid wood top
Hiding another passageway
Descending to an underground

Bomb shelter cum tunnel leading to
Santa Maria Magdalena church,
Five hundred meters
Down the main street.

Back of your storied mansion,
Your tomb, very large,
Monolithic, a single block almost.
Round the corner, in the garden,

Your Packard limousine, gleaming
Inside a house of polished glass.
Cleverly constructed, wily—like yourself—
Your entire second floor conceals

False panels, secret passageways,
Hiding places, an underground tunnel—
All of which gives us pause.
Never look a gift horse

In the mouth, they say.
To your consternation,
You might discover jutting teeth,
Or worse, dark jaws of betrayal.


Malacañang portrait of Emilio Aguinaldo (1964) by Galo Ocampo