Thursday, June 11, 2009
2:55 PM |
Frankie and Tessie in the Clair de Lune
By Elizabeth Lolarga
Tuesday was one of those crazy-daisy days. But its staccato beat went andante when I ran into Frankie and Tessie Jose on the ground level of the Shangri-La Plaza. He had his cane. I had mine. He wore a transparent plastic eye patch over his right eye. The ever solicitous Tessie said, “Let's have coffee,” our code over the years for “Let’s catch up.”
The Joses have always been Frankie and Tessie to me. They never made me feel that I had to address them with honorifics like “Sir” or “Ma’am,” “Mister” or “Missus.” We met when I was a college sophomore who’d occasionally pop in uninvited at the top floor of their Solidaridad Book Shop in Ermita, Manila, whenever I read a newspaper announcement about a visiting writer. The first time I climbed the stairs to that floor was when a Russian poet blew into town. On the way to the book store’s literary soiree, Rolando Tinio, who accompanied the visitor in a car, rapidly did an on-the-spot translation from English to Filipino of the poet’s work. With hardly a rehearsal, Tinio read the poem feelingly as only a poem ought to be read.
Back to the Joses. Because Frankie and I were hobbling with our canes and a cataract had just been removed from his right eye, Tessie offered to join the Starbucks queue to get our orders—he for an espresso, me for regular. His first question was: “What have you been writing?” I rolled my eyes and said, “Potboilers here and there.” He smiled, saying, “No matter, you’re still writing, and that’s good.”
“Any new poetry?” Frankie asked as a waiter brought our orders. As I poured milk into my cup, I answered, “A few, all fits and false starts.”
He told me to get a copy of the latest Free Press magazine. He read a poem, he wasn’t sure of the poet, by a certain Sunico. “You must be referring to Rayvi,” I said. “Raul is the pianist, the dean of the UST College of Music.”
Frankie got the little jug of remaining warm milk and poured the contents of his espresso paper cup into the jug, then re-poured the new mixture back into the cup. He was sure it was Raul the pianist, not Ramon the poet-book designer, who wrote the poem. Frankie praised the poem's innate musicality. It was like reading something by W.H. Auden, he added.
He has always watched out for rhyme, including interior rhyme, meter, alliteration, assonance, etc., in the poems that he reads. He is frustrated with a retired Ateneo professor’s books of poetry. I played Devil’s Advocate, saying that the prof is a musicologist. I told Frankie of once dropping by the prof’s modest Quezon City apartment in the 1980s and hearing a Beethoven concerto playing full blast in his stereo.
“Nevertheless, he is tone deaf when it comes to his poems!” Frankie insisted.
He admires certain Filipino poets in English, prefacing his remarks with “But this is only as far as the boys are concerned.” Topping his list is Cirilo Bautista followed by Krip Yuson, Gemino Abad and “that fellow from Davao,” Frankie shook his head, trying to recall Ricky de Ungria’s name which I uttered.
“Don’t you read any of the guys who write in Filipino?” I asked.
Frankie’s answer was whenever he listened to Bienvenido Lumbera speak in Filipino, he would tell this other National Artist that he (Frankie) couldn’t understand him. “I tell Bien, how come when it’s Jun Cruz Reyes who’s talking, I get him? And Bien would only laugh.”
Frankie struggled with reading Lope K. Santos’ Banaag at Sikat but thoroughly enjoyed reading Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ’70. He once asked a Liwayway editor in the ’60s or ’70s to compile the best short stories published in the magazine for a number of years, and he'd publish them.
Frankie was disappointed with the compilation submitted to him. “They all had O. Henry type of endings! Was that what Filipino writing was all about?” he asked. He continued, “You must remember, Babeth, that I arrived in Manila from the province in 1938 with no knowledge of Tagalog.” He learned his Tagalog along with way.
He hectored on other topics still close to literary shop talk until we drained our coffee. Tessie stepped out to buy load for her cell phone so she could call the driver. Before long, we said our goodbyes, and in my mind, as Frankie walked with his cane toward the waiting car, was a memory of him taking young reporter Babeth in a midnight spin in his sedan with him at the wheel singing along to the soundtrack of The King and I
.Photo of F. Sionil Jose by Julio Sambajon from Howie Severino’s blog
Labels: philippine literature, writers
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