Monday, December 30, 2013

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.

Originally published in Philippines Free Press (December 31, 2011)

Also published in Eastlit (December 1, 2014)

Bust of Jose Rizal, Kepaniwai Park, Hawaii


  1. December 30, 2013 is Rizal Day in the Philippines.


  2. Photo courtesy of Viriditas

    Photo link:


  3. The “pearl” is intended to be a twofold Biblical allusion.

    Love for life did not deter them from death.—Revelation 12:11

    Rizal is not a saint but a martyr, a martyr of justice. He died for freedom from political oppression, for political freedom. His love for life did not deter him from a martyr's death.

    “Do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.”—Matthew 7:6

    Rizal was indeed torn to pieces by the Spanish colonial government. His love for life—his love for his country included, his many loves—were his pearls.