ONLY A BOY
In Memoriam Boyet Mijares
You might have seen my fresh face,
I was only a boy.
You’ll discover my velvety dark eyes in Batas Militar, documentary
About martial law in the Philippines
Under Marcos, watch it.
Black-and-white photograph from the sixties,
My father stands beside me,
Self-possessed...imperturbable, he looks it...
In his own way
Content as content can be,
Buddhic as his black plastic spectacles,
Old style, balanced on his nose, also old style.
He did not know...he could not know...
How could he possibly know?
What we both know now,
Now that we are dead,
His body disappeared,
Mutilated, same way
Kitchen knives slice open vegetables, poultry...
Sledgehammers break apart tendons, bones...
Cabbages snap, fracturing into large pieces for your salad.
You would not want to see
What my father’s dead body looked like.
Souls...after they die...
They are not really dead,
Just not in the body.
Some natural process of disintegration,
Damages the body
So that it is like the painting of a landscape,
Not the landscape itself,
Breathing plants, animals, living things,
Joined to a universe in perpetual motion—
Soul, spirit, consciousness,
Whatever you call it,
A soul can know, does know.
Only a boy at the time, I could not imagine
The pain, indescribable...yes, I can describe it,
As long as you understand,
Words do not equal the experience.
Have you ever stood in front of a high-pressure water stream gushing,
Your mouth agape,
And you drink and drink and drink
To the point you cannot drink anymore?
And then you drink even more,
You drown by drinking.
Pain fills you the same way, like a bicycle tire before it explodes.
A hot water bag before it bursts.
White light, pain has the capacity to inundate your consciousness.
It becomes who you are
Because you cannot think of anything else.
You ask me.
They were grown men.
I had never seen them before.
I was still a youth.
They smashed my hands and my feet,
Next, they pried out my eyes
The way you dig up potatoes.
They used a blade to maim my genitals,
Castration first, severing the rest.
I screamed all the while.
My father, arms held fast,
Was forced to watch.
Stabbed 33 times in my torso,
I drowned in my own blood, gurgling like a sink.
A wash of emotional anguish...terror...disbelief...incomprehension...
I am going to die! In front of my father!
I may have known anger,
But I have never raised my arm against another
To disable or to disfigure,
Or to kill, certainly not!
Why is it my time now?
Swinging a hardwood bat, a soldier
Popped my skull, loud crack inside your head
You hear when you split hard candy.
This time I felt no pain.
Only 16 years old,
I had not lived at all, or hardly,
I barely knew who I was.
Who will remember me when even I hardly knew myself?
Will nothingness be the remembrance of who I am?
Now I am become a harvested fruit, disconnected forever.
Murdered, I was not yet a man.
In Memoriam Liliosa Hilao
I was the first murder victim under Marcos’ martial law regime.
I will not be the last casualty of political repression.
What was my crime?
I exercised my freedom of speech and expression.
They were guaranteed under our constitution.
I exercised my freedom of the press.
Associate editor of Hasik, our university student publication,
I wrote articles like “The Vietnamization of the Philippines,” “Democracy Is Dead in the Philippines Under Martial Law.”
The year I died I was 23 years old, about to graduate with honors from Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.
Soldiers forced their way into my home, looking for my brother.
He was a Communist, they claimed.
Not there, they ate our family’s lunch, like wolves, no fairy tale.
Arriving home with my sister, a high school student, I asked for a search warrant.
They slapped me, forced me into a room, attempted gang rape.
They beat my sister, damaging her hearing and eyesight.
Nighttime, they hauled us both off to a military camp.
They pummeled me like a live chicken before it’s stewed.
Bruised all over, I resembled a ripe blackberry bush.
Injected with “truth serum,” I turned into a tender, swollen orange punctured multiple times.
Indentations, gun barrel points, inscribed my flesh like seals of the Antichrist.
Ringed by a bracelet of cigarette burns, my mouth hung open, a door about to shut.
Old hempen bag, I collapsed in the cell I shared with my sister, middle of the night.
Powerless to prevent further abuse, handcuffed by circumstances, my brother-in-law, an army officer, visited me.
They are my last witnesses.
Next day, I was gang-raped in the men’s bathroom.
To destroy my testimony, they poured muriatic acid down my throat
And then alleged I had committed suicide.
Some compassionate man, they said, attempted to save my life by stabbing my throat so that I could breathe.
Hole in my throat says otherwise.
I was butchered like a pig, by pigs.
They excavated my internal organs to destroy any evidence of rape.
They divided my body, top of skull down to pubis, same purpose.
Again, I ask, what was my crime?
I had spoken on behalf of freedom, using my intellectual gifts from God.
My brain was returned to my family in a pail.
I had drawn courage from my heart, my deepest entrails, so to speak.
My entrails were also returned in a pail.
I had opened my mouth in protest.
My tongue was cut in half.
I was the poster girl for the fate of all those who dared to oppose the regime.
I am the first. I will not be the last.
In Memoriam Archimedes Trajano
We are born inquisitive. Even in the womb we ask questions. We are sentient creatures, agog at our sensible experience of life—darkness, light, color, sound, softness, a mother’s bosom, sweetness, her fragrant milk. Time passes, a flock of birds. We learn about rocks and knives—bitterness of boiled vegetables, raw agony of skinned knees, sudden terror when we are abandoned. We discover how to step around dangers, deftly avoid them.
We do not use language all at once. When we do, we ask questions like, Where does the wind come from? Why is the sky blue? How do birds fly? Our teachers ask us, Any questions? We are encouraged to think critically, taking apart the world the same way you disassemble an electric fan.
Questions grow green everywhere. Waiters smile, nodding. Anything else? Broadcast journalists badger their respondents, angling for the sound bite. You said…? Medical doctors probe, detective work. How long has this been going on? Scientists set forth hypotheses. Engineers detail specifications. Creative writers forge plots. Artists conceive works of art. Thinkers of every stripe, philosophers, theologians, children, naïve as newly washed fruit—all ask questions.
Some questions you do not ask, ordinarily. How much do you weigh? Are you pregnant? What sins did you confess to the priest?
Twenty-one years old, I asked one question too soon, too late—too soon to confront the daughter of a tyrant, too late to take it back. Must the National Youth Council be headed by the president’s daughter? Bodyguards forcibly detained me, beat me, tortured me. Tossed me out a second-story window. I no longer ask questions.