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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

entry arrow12:07 AM | The Bells Count in Our Blood

Merlie Alunan's "The Bells Count in Our Blood" remains one of the best poems written about Martial Law. First published in 1988 in the pages of The Sillimanian Magazine, it tells us about the horrors of those dark days and the disappearance of one activist priest. But it is a poem that also takes the Filipino to task about forgetting, admonishing us that even if remembering is painful, it is vital because it "keep[s] us from decay." It is also very personal for me because the locale of the poem is Dumaguete -- but it might as well be any other city in the Philippines. Here's the full poem, including the epigraph about the disappeared Father Rudy Romano:

“Every night at 8:00 we shall ring the bells for Father Romano, 
and we shall continue to do so until he is found.” 
~ The Redemptorist Community,
Dumaguete City, September 1985

Every night just as we settle
To coffee or a mug of cold beer,
They ring the bells—
A crisp quick flurry first, then
Decorous as in a knell, ten counts.
Into the darkness newly fallen
The cadence calls for a brother lost.

At home as we try to wash off
With music and a little loving
The grime of markets from our souls—
The day’s trading of truth for bread,
Masks of honor, guises of peace—
The clear sounds infusing the air
Deny us the salve of forgetting.

We know for what they lost him,
Why expedient tyrants required
His name effaced, his bones hidden.
As we bend over the heads of children
Fighting sleep, not quite done with play,
The bells vibrating remind us how
Our fears conspires to seal his doom.

We could say to the ringers:
Your bells won’t bring him back,
But just supposing that it could,
What would you have?
A body maimed, perhaps, beyond belief—
Toes and fingers gone, teeth missing,
Tongue cut off, memory hacked witless.

The nights in our town
Are flavored with the dread
The bells salt down measured
From their tall dark tower.
It falls upon our raw minds wanting sleep.
Shall we stop them?
Though we smart
We know they keep us from decay.

Shared in this keening,
A rhythm beating all night long
In our veins, truth is truth still
Though unworried. The bells
Count in our blood the heart of all
We must restore. Tomorrow, we vow,
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

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