Tuesday, May 11, 2004
2:30 AM |
Notes From the May Madness
Friday, May 7, 9:30 a.m.
I drank my brewed coffee -- French vanilla-flavored -- fast to make way for another day in this summer. May has been both lovely and dark. I wrote in my notebook: "In the summer, the days run into each other."Monday, May 10, 11:59 p.m.
There was a body between the pavement and the asphalt street in the corner of Scooby's and Silliman when I passed by, riding my pedicab to purchase my dinner of sandwich and peanut butter in Sted's, in the early evening. Seeing it felt like a stopover to a day of boredom.
The night was beginning to drizzle, and I was tired. The day had been a burden of utter nothingness, with only the quick visit to the nearest precinct the only consolation; and for the fulfillment of my electoral civic duty -- my first in so many years -- I had ink all over my hands. But nothing a good rubbing of ethyl alcohol could not get rid off. After that, the
descent to non-expectations, body slowly falling prey to snoozing, the quickly gathering coldness of the day like a blanket to a tired soul.
That was how I was when I first saw the body, noticing it only with half an interest as I mentally dismissed the quickly gathering crowd surrounding the figure on his side, frame still straddling a Honda motorcycle. There was also the male companion doing a Pieta. I thought -- dismissing the blood -- that it was another one of those
. You know, the ubiquitous motorcycle accidents that characterize the hidden madness of an outwardly staid city.
Soon I got my bread.
Later, Mark would text: "Hey, are you home? Tried calling you, but you weren't answering the phone. Am getting worried. The news on TV just broke. Somebody on a motorcycle just got shot in the corner of Scooby's and Silliman."
I quickly called to reassure him that I was all right, that I was, at present, having my fill of Coke Light in a can, and peanut butter sandwich, and Madonna singing pop tunes. Ray of Light.
Mark's dog just died, too. "Bonsai," he had named the little furry thing, like an Edith Tiempo poem... To scale all love down/ To a cupped hand's size...
Earlier in the day, just as lunch was breaking to break, his mother found the dog on the porch, limp to the touch. There were no warnings, just the suddenness of a little animal dropping dead on a May day. The funeral, in the backyard of their house, was quick. "Remember your dream two nights ago," I told Mark over the phone, "of your tooth getting loose?" I imagined him nodding in his sadness. I continued: "Bonsai. We never thought of Bonsai."
Death is too quick, and always stealthy. Which is not new to anyone. Now I found myself dead to it, too: dogs dying, people getting shot on the road in broad daylight, a country sliding into the graveyard of circus politics. Deaths, deaths everywhere.
It was a saturation. I felt myself go numb.
Before turning in for the night, I catch another news bulletin on my TV. FPJ now leads GMA by a few thousand votes. Roco is last. (Doubly dying, too: from voter apathy, and a cancer that will not go away.) I quickly turn the television off, like the condemned hearing a hangman's news.
It was starting to grow cold, and the small rain of the evening had petered out to a drizzle again. I thought: the heat of the summer had just succumbed. It was tempting to see the metaphorical: refreshing rain after a dry spell? Or a warning for the great deluge?
No one is sure of anything, and the future has yet to be counted and canvassed in the trickle of fortunes birthing and dying in the next few days.
My last thought as Monday gave way to Tuesday was this: I liked rain more than summer heat, but that was not what occupied me right now. I could not celebrate the easy breathing of my body welcoming cool vapors from the sudden breezes. I could only think of that body in the early evening. And then it was Tuesday again.Tuesday, May 4, 9:00 p.m.
We knew we were participating in paradox. Or in oxymoron. Celebrating the birthday of one already dead. Recently dead
, to be exact -- our writer-friends in Manila just buried National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin over the last weekend, to widespread woe and disbelief. The Bard was old, yes
, but I had always thought-the way we think of our gods-that he was indestructible. Immortal, even. The morning he died, the poet Marjorie Evasco quickly texted me the news: "Nick Joaquin died in his sleep early this morning." I quickly messaged Krip Yuson to confirm. Yes, it was true.
By afternoon, the whole of literary Philippines felt the passing of an era.
Sir Nick died a few days short of his 87th birthday. May was becoming too full of deaths. (Less than a week later, National Artist for Music Jose Maceda, too, would leave us.) I have never met Sir Nick, but I knew of his genius quite well. I was a college sophomore when I first felt the stirrings of literary longings after reading his short story "May Day Eve," that fascinating experiment with perspectives and twists in time. He was someone to emulate for any budding writer. One of my early efforts at fiction -- an embarrassing piece of juvenalia titled "The Halved Oedipus" -- tried to approximate his genius, and failed miserably. Later, I would learn there could only be one Nick Joaquin and that I should only too glad to thrive under his shadows. Without having met him, he proved to be one of my enduring teachers, which is a testament to his greatness. The week he died was also the week Nick Joaquin edited and published my short story "Cruising" for Philippine Graphic
. My literary career begins and blooms with him.
And now we were in South Seas Resort, together with poets Sawi Aquino, Jimmy Abad, and Krip Yuson, film director Butch Perez, Cosmopolitan
editor-in-chief Myrza Sison, and the rest of this year's batch of fellows in the Dumaguete Writers Workshop. We were drunk with San Miguel Beer in Sir Nick's honor, laughing and dishing it out and calling the whole thing a poetry reading, emceed by the beautiful and charming Ginny Mata.
Cebu's young poet James Iain Leish read Sir Nick's "Six P.M." which is my favorite of all his poetic oeuvre. The others that night also did something -- all blurred, of course, in our vodka and beer talk -- and I remembered myself stumbling through a reading of "Let Death Be Proud" in a beery haze. It wasn't inebriation, exactly. Just tipsy fun. The poet Niccolo Rocamora Vitug delivered a powerful reading of Bitoy's last soliloquy in Sir Nick's seminal play Portrait of the Artist as Filipino
-- the famous seduction scene of which was also freely translated and acted into Cebuano by National Commission for Culture and the Arts's Glenn Maboloc (as Paula) and Mr. Leish (as Tony).
Krip Yuson wrote of this scene in Philippine Star: "And so it was that at nine that night we welcome the fellows at the pleasant poolside garden at South Seas Resort, to engage in merry Joaquinesquerie: San Miguel beer, Absolut vodka and Jack Daniel's bourbon, over oysters and kinilaw
and crushed chicharon
"Celina [Cristobal] sang the songs, with Sawi droning in when his version of Alzheimer's allowed entry to certain lyrics. Jimmy recited 'Crazy Jane Talks With the Bishop' by William Butler Yeats. Climaxing the informal program was a rendition of the Tony-Paula seduction scene in Portrait...
-- with Glenn and James extemporaneously translating most of the dialogue into Bisaya. It was brilliant and uproarious, and [Nick Joaquin] would have loved it and boomed along with laughter."
The night was long. It was also a lesson in celebrating death, and birthdays, with cheer -- especially if the life to commemorate was full of genius and love.
That night, we were also waiting for the promised lunar eclipse to happen. It took a while. We were still waiting by 2:30 in the morning, already too lunatic with alcohol and big talk to keep our date with the eclipse seriously. Then the night clouds came and blocked our sight of the moon. One does not argue with heaven.
So we went home in merry stupor, disappointed, but also happy. We could only imagine how the sight would have been like, to see shadows killing the moon for part of the night, and then as suddenly giving way to its brightness again.
If we had seen it, we would have seen -- again in metaphor -- what life was like.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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