Sunday, June 12, 2016

Te Quiero Verde: Cuatro Poemas

To Fernando Amorsolo

You capture the special quality
Of the light of our land—
Brilliant but blinding,
Vitalizing yet enervating,

Turning fields green
When the rains arrive,
Roasting grass brittle
When skies are dry.

Beneath broad sun hats,
Sheltered faces shine
As they labor cheerfully
In your pastoral idyll.

Truth be told, planting rice
Is like shoveling coal
In the boiler room,
Bowing constantly.

No matter, art is license
And vision is heritage
Of which we all partake:
We celebrate your genius.

Yellows, radiant pears,
Reds, multihued plums—
Your palette, a fruit bowl,
Vivid feast for hungry eyes.

Your virtuoso brushstrokes
Travel boldly all around,
Testifying to your mastery of oil,
Not to mention draftsmanship.

Your deep rich browns
Bind us to the soil.
Your radiant light
Keeps our sun blazing.

Malaysian rice field

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!

Filipino Struggles Through History (1968), detail by Carlos Francisco


This time of year is a spear of broken grass, dryly curling like famine.

The wind droops, feverish. Tufts of old bread strewn about are picked at by hopping birds wielding knives.

High above, the sun wears a scorching beard, hair crackling, his puffy face, angry red.

Scornfully, the sky holds itself aloof, cerulean—the color of cruelty—unsullied by the gathering promise of rain.

Darkness rushes in at low tide of daylight. Black hordes silently clatter weapons.

Moonlight rises long and slender as a cold fish, flint head glinting in silvery water.

Momentary, this desert: a puff of dust exploded by a gusty fist.

...the sky holds itself aloof, cerulean...


Let us go to the dry land where hundreds of years ago, tobacco leaves broad as parasols hung from the dark rafters of wooden sheds riddled by sunlit rapiers.

Let us visit the town, your hand in mine, touring the passage of time, nodding inwardly toward our own thoughts as if they were pedestrians, as the sun gradually sheathes his sword and dusk heavily casts a shadowy blanket.

Let us enter the house of old stone and weathered wood, greeted at the doorstep by sharp complaints of aching hinges and grousing floorboards, as in the fronting street tiny whirlwinds of dust and gravel and bits of leaves explode like fluttering insect wings.

Let us ascend the gleaming stairs, shuffle off our shoes, one after the other, lean forward above a window overlooking a wide boulevard lined with cobblestones hot as bread and, shutting our eyes to slowly turning fans of radiant heat, inhale sumptuously, our nostrils stung by cooked air like ground pepper.

Let us make our way to the window of the house in the town in the dry land where hundreds of years disappearing, hardy fields flourished like shining children of the day watered by the tireless sun.

Una Mestiza (1887) by Juan Luna


  1. Credits - original publications:

    “Planting Rice,” Anak Sastra, Issue 17 (October 26, 2014), pages 82-83

    “Supremo,” Anak Sastra (October 26, 2014), pages 80-81

    “Tag-Init,” Eastlit (September 1, 2014)

    “Vigan,” Eastlit (December 1, 2014)


  2. Public domain photos

    “Malaysian rice field” link:

    “...the sky holds itself aloof, cerulean...” link: