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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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Monday, March 30, 2009

entry arrow7:46 PM | Touch Me

By Stanley Kunitz

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that's late,
it is my song that's flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
                                and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

from Passing Through: The Later Poems, 1995

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

entry arrow3:04 PM | Le plus beau et le plus triste paysage du monde.

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entry arrow11:57 AM | Jimmy Abad Needs Your Help

Gemino H. Abad needs to contact the following authors (or their heirs) whose permission he needs to include their stories in his sequel anthology to Upon Our Own Ground, this time covering the period between 1973 and 1986:

D. Paulo Dizon
Lina Espina-Moore
Clovis L. Nazareno
Azucena Grajo Uranza
Jose San Luis
Alfredo O. Cuenca Jr.
Jose Ma. Espina Jr.
Mario G. Lim
Freda Jayme
Rosario A. Garcellano
Luning Bonifacio-Ira
Letty Salanga
Carlos Cortes
Maria Aurora Agustines
Fanny Haydee B. Llego
Eli Ang Barroso
Cesar Felipe R. Bacani Jr.
Dennis Arroyo
Mary Agnes P. Guerrero Levin
Hermel A. Nuyda
Armando R. Ravanzo
Rosa Maria Magno
B. S. Agbayani Pastor.

Kindly get in touch with Dr. Abad directly at his e-mail address at jimmyhabad(at)yahoo(dot)com.

I helped a little in terms of research for Dr. Abad for this project (published by UP Press), providing him with a bibliography of stories published by Silliman University in The Sillimanian and Sands & Coral. The result is simply amazing. (I saw the two-volume product during Taboan 2009, and wanted to buy it -- but it was kinda mahal, hehehe.)

Upon Our Own Ground: Philippine Short Stories in English, 1956 to 1972 is Dr. Abad's groundbreaking anthology of the best of Philippine short stories in English covering that period. (He is basically doing for the short story what he already did for Philippine poetry in English in three volumes: Man of Earth [co-edited with Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz], A Native Clearing, and A Habit of Shores.) He is following in the tradition of the late Leopoldo Yabes who had compiled the best short stories in English by Filipinos since the beginning of the last century in three volumes, but stopped at 1955. (Butch Dalisay writes about this project here.)

This is an excerpt from his Introduction:

I should now say something about the process of selection.

It struck me at the end of my research, how apt, how fateful it is that, without prior design, Upon Our Own Ground should begin and end with Gregorio C. Brillantes (1932 - ): from “The Distance to Andromeda,” 1956, to “The Apollo Centennial,” 1972. Over that 17-year period, it can justly be said that Brillantes is – without intent of invidious comparison – the major figure among the young writers of his generation. Others who were no less skilful, innovative, and moving as storytellers – among them, Gilda Cordero-Fernando (1930 – ) and Wilfrido D. Nolledo (1933 – 2004), Linda Ty Casper (1931 – ) and Jose V. Ayala (1932 – ) – cleared new paths for fiction in a field of imagination which had already been richly tilled by the old masters who continued to write over the same period: N.V.M. Gonzalez (1915 – 1999), Nick Joaquin (1917 – 2004), and Bienvenido N. Santos (1911 – 1996), Edith L. Tiempo (1919 – ), Kerima Polotan Tuvera (1925 – ) and Aida Rivera Ford (1929 – ), to mention only a few. There were, of course, other writers even younger than Brillantes, a number of them still collegiate students, who came up with fine stories and would, after 1972, forge ahead and enrich the same literary terrain, among them, Ninotchka Rosca (1946 – ) and Alfred A. Yuson (1945 – ), Joy T. Dayrit (1944 – ) and Renato E. Madrid (1940 – ), Norma O. Miraflor (1944 – ) and Erwin E. Castillo (1950 – ).

My chief aim in the present Anthology is to highlight what we might regard as the robust advancement of the art of fiction from English ten years after the second World War, and in the process, acknowledge our debt of gratitude to other writers who today, for lack of a vigorous critical tradition, are hardly known despite their accomplishment, among them, Socorro Federis Tate (1916 – ) and Nita Umali Berthelsen (1923 – ), Rony V. Diaz (1932 – ) and Benjamin Bautista (1937 – ). Whatever theory of literature or the human psyche or society holds water (though never quite the ocean), whatever reading or interpretation of the stories appears well-grounded and plausible, the stories will always be there now as the heart and crux of our own clearing. Indeed, many authors in the present Anthology might have published only a few stories, or were hardly recognized even during their time, and yet, their literary endeavors did enrich the short story’s field of imagination: among them, other than those I have already mentioned, are Eugenio Alexis R. Baban and Vic Groyon, Jr., Lilia Pablo Amansec and Dolores N. Martir. So many writers in the field! – Leopoldo N. Cacnio, Jesus Q. Cruz, Jose T. Flores, Resil B. Mojares; Albina Manalo-Dans, Noralyn Mustafa, Almatita Tayo – but the trouble is, for economic or whatever reason, most (at whatever period, in fact) do not persevere.

I have made a liberal selection of eighty-six stories so that the present Anthology had to divide into two volumes: I, 1956 to 1963, and II, 1964 to 1972. As a rule of selection, a story must have passed the author’s own judgment of its worth by inclusion in the same author’s collection of his/her stories; concomitantly, a story’s version in the latest collection must be regarded as definitive. Still, the anthologist may well be surprised by a story or two outside the author’s own collection; e.g., Nita Umali Berthelsen, “Help Is a Fear,” 1961. In fact, though, many authors (Socorro Federis Tate, Benjamin Bautista, etc.) have no individual collection, which is as telling a factor in our literary milieu as the dearth of critical reviews. One then cannot simply depend on other anthologies that may well have other aims, or lightly dismiss writers who are not regarded today as “canonical.”

While it is farthest from my intention to establish a literary canon (which, I believe, changes over time anyway), I had wanted the present Anthology to be a treasure-trove of our rich literary heritage. Thus, I did not hesitate to include even the most anthologized stories by Gonzalez, “Bread of Salt,” 1958; Brillantes, “Faith, Love, Time and Dr. Lazaro,” 1960; Santos, “The Day the Dancers Came,” 1960; and Kerima Polotan, “The Sounds of Sunday,” 1961. Neither did I consider the length of any story a bar, e.g., Cordero-Fernando, “A Wilderness of Sweets,” 1964; indeed, especially among the young writers of the period, story length as well as exuberance of language seem to have been a test of the writer’s mettle.

Of course, in a historical anthology, where you also have a gathering of masters of the art like N.V.M. Gonzalez or Kerima Polotan, not all the works are of the same high caliber, as it were. It is historical, after all: that is to say, the anthologist aims to show a kind of broad sweep of the field where young writers do not slay their fathers early in the day, and not all persevere in the art. Since, too, even two volumes are still narrow space indeed, the anthologist is constrained to select in light of certain criteria that ineluctably, in their specific application, turn out also to be in part subjective. One can only hope then that another anthologist would cover the same field in light of his or her own criteria in order that other expectations might be met. Only to illustrate my point: Gloria Garchitorena-Goloy (1927 – ), who is also a poet, may not today have, as a short-story writer, the same high and well-deserved critical stature as Gilda Cordero-Fernando, but her story, “Paper Doll,” 1957, is I think (so finally a critical opinion) a fine story. Besides, our Appendix B may also be construed as an addendum that in effect completes our Anthology for the period.

In the selection process, as I read through all of 760 stories and made summaries of each one as aide-mémoire, I also considered the story’s “social relevance,” no matter what the social or economic class of the author or fictional character, and chose those stories that in some compelling way speak to us and interpret us to ourselves as Filipinos. This is one important factor why the criteria I speak of, although formal or artistic, turn out in their specific application to be partly subjective. The interpretation of our experience as a people – or rather, as individual members of a national community – varies of course from story to story, from one fictional character to another, and from reader to reader as well; and while the reader may not always agree with an imaginary character’s attitude or the story’s (or presumably, the author’s) stance or outlook, still someone’s experience as there imagined in the story does enhance the sense of one’s own world or humanity in one’s own historical present. In a number of stories, for instance, the presence of foreign characters often serves as a foil to a central character’s consciousness: e.g., the American wife in Luis V. Teodoro, “The Undiscovered Country,” 1968; or Cresencio’s American companion on a bus trip to Cresencio’s hometown in Benjamin A. Dia, “Inday Lupeng,” 1969.

As you might already have noticed, whenever I cite a cluster of instances, it comes as a pair or series of Adams and Eves. There are, in fact, as the Anthology’s selection stands, 36 male and 27 female authors. This was not deliberate; it was only afterwards that I added them up. I suppose that we are initially human at birth rather than a larva, and that being Filipino, as a dynamic process, is a continuing delineation of our humanity. My main concern then, to stress it again, remains the short story as an artistic representation of the human being in our own scene and circumstances: the short story as work of imagination and object of art; otherwise, if our interest is other than literary, why go for it rather than other texts in sociology, economics, history, political science, etc. where social and political issues that some stories touch upon are critically examined in light of concrete and material evidence. You will notice in the summaries of stories in our Notes that the imagined action and characters there may well be the stuff also of objective reports and interviews and historical documents; but those oral and written pieces are simply a world apart from fiction: that is to say, the short story is, first and last, a work of art. The “facts” in fiction are imagined and are not offered as evidence; they are there only as a way of enhancing our sense of reality that pertains only to the story’s imagined world; that enhancement, in turn, sharpens our sense of the real and the human in our workaday world. We might add that our précis or comment on a story’s content is not a surrogate for political action or advocacy; it is meant only as a prod for the reader to discover for himself the story’s artistic merit and insight: all the writer’s energy of imagination was poured into its poiesis in order that an insight might be given some recoverable form, and we but pay our respect to him when we regard what he has accomplished as an artist rather than as a social scientist or advocate of some political agenda.

This is Sir Jimmy's retirement project. Everybody should retire like this.

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entry arrow11:15 AM | This Guy Maligns Us and Calls It Satire

The War At Home

27 March 2009
Published in HK Magazine

The Russians sank a Hong Kong freighter last month, killing the seven Chinese seamen on board. We can live with that—Lenin and Stalin were once the ideological mentors of all Chinese people. The Japanese planted a flag on Diàoyú Island. That’s no big problem—we Hong Kong Chinese love Japanese cartoons, Hello Kitty, and shopping in Shinjuku, let alone our round-the-clock obsession with karaoke.

But hold on—even the Filipinos? Manila has just claimed sovereignty over the scattered rocks in the South China Sea called the Spratly Islands, complete with a blatant threat from its congress to send gunboats to the South China Sea to defend the islands from China if necessary. This is beyond reproach. The reason: there are more than 130,000 Filipina maids working as $3,580-a-month cheap labor in Hong Kong. As a nation of servants, you don’t flex your muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter.

As a patriotic Chinese man, the news has made my blood boil. I summoned Louisa, my domestic assistant who holds a degree in international politics from the University of Manila, hung a map on the wall, and gave her a harsh lecture. I sternly warned her that if she wants her wages increased next year, she had better tell every one of her compatriots in Statue Square on Sunday that the entirety of the Spratly Islands belongs to China.

Grimly, I told her that if war breaks out between the Philippines and China, I would have to end her employment and send her straight home, because I would not risk the crime of treason for sponsoring an enemy of the state by paying her to wash my toilet and clean my windows 16 hours a day. With that money, she would pay taxes to her government, and they would fund a navy to invade our motherland and deeply hurt my feelings.

Oh yes. The government of the Philippines would certainly be wrong if they think we Chinese are prepared to swallow their insult and sit back and lose a Falkland Islands War in the Far East. They may have Barack Obama and the hawkish American military behind them, but we have a hostage in each of our homes in the Mid-Levels or higher. Some of my friends told me they have already declared a state of emergency at home. Their maids have been made to shout “China, Madam/Sir” loudly whenever they hear the word “Spratly.” They say the indoctrination is working as wonderfully as when we used to shout, “Long live Chairman Mao!” at the sight of a portrait of our Great Leader during the Cultural Revolution. I’m not sure if that’s going a bit too far, at least for the time being.

Chip Tsao is a best-selling author and columnist. A former reporter for the BBC, his columns have also appeared in Apple Daily, Next Magazine and CUP Magazine, among others.

Not funny, Cheap. I mean Chip. Heck, I mean Cheap.

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entry arrow10:01 AM | Creative Writing with Lawrence Ypil

Calling all creative writing enthusiasts! This summer, Little Boy Productions will be offering a workshop to be led by Palanca award-winning writer Lawrence Ypil. This workshop is designed to introduce students and interested professionals to the art of creative writing. Through writing exercises, mini-lecture seminars, and on-site writing projects, the workshop aims to dispel the notion that writing is a difficult, serious endeavor, and to approach writing in a fun and
imaginative way.

The workshop leads the participants through the different stages in creative writing: from the elusive art of finding a topic, to the challenge of choosing an appropriate literary form, to undergoing the delicate process of revision and publication. It hopes to also introduce participants to the primary literary genres: poetry, fiction, and the essay. While it is encouraged that participants have experience in creative writing, this workshop encourages beginning
writers and interested students who have had no previous experience. In fact, it is especially open to those who have always wanted to write a poem or a story but has not had the chance to do so.

Patterned after the popular workshops for painting and drawing, the workshop for creative writing is built on the premise that the art of writing is a skill that can be discovered, developed, and mastered. We usually like to think that the gift of writing is reserved for those special few--that one is either born a writer or one is not. The writing workshop, however, runs on the belief that the writer is made, not born. That writing, especially imaginative writing, is a skill
that we all have, and that all that we need to do is develop and nurture this hidden skill.

The writing workshop will be led by poet and essayist Lawrence Ypil. A First Prize Winner in the Poetry Category of the 2006 Palanca Awards, his poems and essays have been published in various publications both here and abroad. He teaches creative writing at the Ateneo de Manila
University and is a regular panelist in many notable writing workshops. He keeps a regular column at Sun Star Weekend called "Dog-ears in the Wrong Notebook," and his first book, The Highest Hiding Place, will be published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press later this year.

The Creative Writing Workshop will run for two weeks from April 27 to May 8, 2009. The class will meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 2 to 5 pm at the old campus of Sacred Heart School - Jesuit on Mango Avenue. Students, aspiring writers, young professionals, 13
years old and above, are encouraged to join. Workshop fee is 2,500 pesos. For more information, please call 254-9320, 233-0452 or 0922-820-8298 or visit Little Boy Productions at Exams Advantage, 3rd Floor Manros Plaza, across Fooda, on Mango Avenue.

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entry arrow9:32 AM | Summer Reading (and Coeli Barry's The Many Ways of Being Muslim)

I love Sunday Inquirer Magazine's annual roundup of books, which it releases at the start of every summer. It often contains the most honest book reviews this side of the world -- pithy, to-the-point, sometimes brutal -- which is amazing, given the usual observation that in the Philippines, nobody really writes honest-to-goodness books reviews because everybody is a friend of everybody else. (Unless, of course, you are the amazing and fearless Adam David, now a Philippines Free Press book reviewer, who will tear you apart if your lazy work deserves it, friend ba kayo o hinde.)

Here is the magazine's latest edition of its summer review...

... but I'd like to highlight one book I kinda helped in its inception: Coeli Barry's The Many Ways of Being Muslim. This was a project that took years to put together. (I still had my Survey of Philippine Literature website when Coeli asked me for help locating Muslim authors.) The short review, by Pennie Azarcon-dela Cruz, goes:

The Many Ways of Being Muslim: Fiction by Muslim Filipinos. Edited by Coeli Barry (Anvil Publishing, Inc.). As this long overdue collection of short stories by Muslim Filipinos shows, there is no simple way to capture the complexity of life as a much maligned minority in one’s country. To the credit of the nine writers who penned these 22 stories over the past 70 years, no chest-thumping or kris-wielding underlines the everyday joys and grief in these engrossing tales. Instead, these tales show how much we have in common and how similar and universal is our font of pain. The boy Rashdi might well be any rash adolescent, intent on crushing a wayward crab to prove ancient superstitions wrong. New engineer Odal blushes with embarrassment and guilt, as would any OFW hailed as the town’s sole hope on his first homecoming. And there’s the first wife who bats down feelings of resentment while eyeing the youthful second wife. At the same time, the stories reflect distinct Muslim sensibilities and we feel for these ordinary folk chafing under the cultural constraints of rido or clan wars, the Mindanao conflict, arranged marriages and outdated traditions. To well-known Muslim writer Ibrahim Jubaira, add Noralyn Mustafa, Elin Guro, Loren Lao, Pearlsha Abubakar, Arifah Jamil, brothers Mehol and Said Sadain, and Calbi Asain.

The roundup also includes other books by Dean Francis Alfar, Edgar Calabia Samar, Ellen Sicat, and others.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

entry arrow8:38 PM | Call for Submissions to Likhaan: The Journal of Contemporary Literature Issue 3

Likhaan: The UP Institute of Creative Writing announces that it is now accepting submissions for possible inclusion in the third issue of Likhaan: the Journal of Contemporary Literature. Likhaan, the country's leading literary peer-reviewed journal, is funded by the Office of the UP Diliman Chancellor, and is published annually. The ICW fellows and associates take turns serving as its editor. The initial issue, released in December 2007 during the Institute's traditional Writers' Night was edited by Jose Dalisay, present ICW director. Issue No. 2, released in January 2008, was edited by National Artist Virgilio Almario, the present dean of the College of Arts and Letters, and a former ICW director. Likhaan 3 will be edited by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, also a former ICW director and presently UP Vice President for Public Affairs. Associate editors will be Roland Tolentino (for Filipino) and Charlson Ong (for English).

The guidelines follow:

1. For its third issue, Likhaan: the Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature 3, will accept submissions in the following genres, in both English and Filipino:

• Short stories ranging from about 12 to 30 pages double-spaced, in 11-12 points Times Roman, New York, Palatino, Book Antique, Arial or some such standard font. (A suite of short prose pieces will be considered.)

• A suite of four to seven poems, out of which the editors might choose three to five. (Long poems will be considered in lieu of a suite.)

• Creative nonfiction (essays, memoirs, profiles, etc.), subject to the same length limitations as short stories (see above).

• Critical/scholarly essays, subject to the same length limitations as short stories (see above)

• Excerpts from graphic novels, or full short graphic stories, for reproduction in black and white on no more than 10 printed pages, 6” x 9.” (Excerpts should be accompanied by a synopsis of the full narrative.)

2. All submissions must be original, and previously unpublished.

3. All submissions must be accompanied by a biographical sketch (no more than one or two short paragraphs) of the author, including contact information (address, telephone number, e-mail address).

4. Submissions may be e-mailed to likhaanjournal(at)gmail(dot)com, or posted to The Editors, Likhaan Journal, UP Institute of Creative Writing, Rizal Hall, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, 1101.

5. All submissions should be received (whether by e-mail or post) no later than May 31, 2009.

6. All submissions will undergo a strict pre-screening and blind refereeing process by the editors, and a panel of referees composed of eminent writers and critics from within and outside the University of the Philippines .

7. Writers whose work will be accepted for publication will receive a substantial cash payment and a copy of the published journal.

8. The editors reserve the right to edit any and all materials accepted for publication.

9. The editors may also solicit or commission special, non-refereed articles for publication outside of the aforementioned genres and categories to enhance the editorial content and balance of the journal.

10. Please direct any and all inquiries to the editors at likhaanjournal (at) gmail (dot) com.

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entry arrow7:01 PM | Kwento

A good friend, the film director and Palanca-winning screenplay writer Jun Lana, has a screenplay-writing clinic with a kick-ass incentive. Read all about it in his blog.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

entry arrow4:23 PM | Stop!

Will you people just please just stop taking these stupid quizzes in Facebook? This is spam of the worst kind. Just stop. I try to "hide" all these quiz results from my feed, but like a virus, they mutate and can't be stopped! So, please, people, just stop. Nobody really cares if your actual age is 12, or your true color is blue, or your heart is colored red, or your inner bomba star is Stella Suarez. Just stop!

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entry arrow1:33 AM | I Know Him So Well, With a Twist

The great John Barrowman and Daniel Boys give the classic duet from Chess a new twist. This song is about two people who love the same person, but at the end they know that they both cannot have him. It is such a lovely, sad song -- and one that I feel so deeply, now. Just because.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

entry arrow4:59 PM | Dark Blue Southern Seas 2009

Great God. I'm finally done with the layout! (Well, almost. There's still the copy-editing, and tying up some loose ends...) But what a great battle it has been with InDesign CS4. Dark Blue Southern Seas 2009, which is dedicated to Dr. Edith Lopez Tiempo, is edited by F. Jordan Carnice, with yours truly as adviser and layout artist. The new issue features the literary works, art, and photography of...

Gémino H. Abad
Dean Francis Alfar
César Ruìz Aquino
Kris Dave Austero
Jan Paulo Bastareche
Lawrence Bernabe
Eliora Eunice Bernedo
F. Jordan Carnice
Ian Rosales Casocot
Darwin Chiong
Phillippe Credo
Carlomar Arcagel Daoana
Michelle Eve de Guzman
Marguerite Alcarazen de Leon
Rodrigo dela Peña
Jean Claire Dy
Mariekhan S. Edding
RV Escatron
Marvin Flores
Ralph Semino Galan
Deil Jossaine Galenzoga
Gilbert Agustin Ganir
Carlos Arsenio Teves Garcia
Christine Godinez-Ortega
Cristine Pantoja Hidalgo
Luis Joaquin Katigbak
Marie La Viña
Susan S. Lara
Gabriela Lee
Francis C. Macansantos
Katherine Macaroy
Robert Jed Malayang
Timothy R. Montes
E. P. Ortega
Ned Parfan
Myrna Peña-Reyes
Michael Regalado
Danton Remoto
Celeste June Rivera
Raszceljan Luiz Salvarita
Zakiyah Sidri
Sonia SyGaco
Ramon Yasunari Taguchi
Anthony Tan
Yvette Tan
Marianne Tapales
Mia Tijam
Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas
Janet Villa
Miguel Ybañez
Ernesto Superal Yee
Lawrence Ypil

The book should come out by next month.

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entry arrow9:52 AM | Departure

We count out
Our sadness,
bit by bit,
by the shrinking days.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

entry arrow12:32 PM | How to be a Lintel

By Sid Gomez Hildawa

Marjorie said, “Let us visit the sage
of poetry at her hilltop home in Dumaguete
from where you can observe the ferries
crossing the sea to Cebu, and from her
learn the art of transporting words
from shore to shore one sense at a time.
Like traversing the distance between two columns
With your own body bearing the weight
of all your future children jumping up and down
the springboard of your spine.” And so we went.

The sage said, “The lintel cannot be too unforgiving
or it breaks; let poetry bend and let your span
be measured the way one approximates
the height of a tree by the length of its shadow
at sunset, so that you do not buckle
under the stress of your own body stretching
to touch the other end.” She lay flat on her back
like a beam, almost weightless, afloat on air
with her head and ankles held up by two acacias,
one on each end, and though there was ample headroom
in the opening she cleared up for us, we bowed as we passed.


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entry arrow11:26 AM | Remembering Sid Gomez Hildawa, 1962-2008

By Ed Delos Santos Cabagnot

(The following email was written 1 April 2008, 1:16:34PM from the Widdhayawinet Residence Hall, Chulalongkorn University)

Sawat dee krup from Bangkok!

Little did I know that when I left the Philippines seven months ago for an Asian Cinema fellowship grant that I would be returning with an empty seat in front of me during our regular CCP Artistic Programs Committee [meetings]. And an empty seat at the buffeteria as well. The passing of my dear, dear friend Sid is, to say the least, a shock. Just last week I received a text asking for prayers because he was in the hospital for dengue and typhoid, as well as the stressful news that some of his internal organs have collapsed. Right away I texted my CCP friends and they all promised to update me regarding Sid's progress. Then during the end of last week, I received word from Hermie that Sid was rallying. This was echoed by Tess in a text. I was relieved... The last thing I needed during the last week of my stay in Thailand, as well as the end of my great, grand API (Asian Public Intellectuals) adventure was sad news. Last Saturday, my Pinoy friends in Bangkok wanted to give me a send-off. Very untypical of me, I did not attend. My excuse was that since I started swimming at the Chulalongkorn pool, all my aging muscles were aching. But to be frank, I was just feeling out of sorts -- for the past two weeks, I have been semi-depressed about leaving my seven-month life as a traveling film researcher, and returning to my "real life" grinding away at the CCP. But a part of me wanted to go back to family, friends and co-workers... for I have missed these people a lot also.

Yes, that's how crazy my past weeks have been. And then Sunday evening I got the text that my dear Isidro has flown the coop.

Sid Gomez Hildawa and Ed Cabagnot

... I haven't put a handlle on this thing yet. To be honest again, I can't give in to mourning. It is my last week in Bangkok, and I have still have a lot of loose ends to tie up. I have two last major interviews to accomplish -- tomorrow with director Ekachai of Beautiful Boxer and the next day with director Nonzee of Nang Nak and Jan Dara. Plus, I have given myself the ultimate gift of inviting my two nephews to Bangkok to help my last days as an adventuring scholar more meaning and to keep me from falling into a pit of darkness...

Despite the above, Sid is always in my mind and my heart -- yes, I feel he is surrounding me now that he has become less physical and just more... akashic!

The CCP Trio -- Ed Cabagnot, Sid Hildawa, and Hermie Beltran -- plus one.

When folks shuffle off their mortal coil, the ones who are left behind usually have their tales of "significant" portents during these final days. I, too, have mine. Last weekend, I was playing around with my brand new Nikon Coolpix digital camera. A blue-grey dove alighted on my balcony. Quickly I knew this would be a Kodak moment. And I knew that if I made sudden moves the bird would instinctively fly way. To my surprise, the dove stayed. And allowed me to take one shot of him. Again surprisingly, the shot came out blurred -- strange, this was a great camera, everything in the background was clear but the bird was a bit out of focus.

Birds have always been my portents of death ever since. I could write a book about all the instances a bird would fly into my room at home or at my office and then soon after I would get the news of the passing of a friend or relation.

Again, this has been the case with Sid.

Of all his colleagues at the CCP, I guess I count myself as Sid's oldest (underline the "old" part) friend. I met him in 1983 or 1984 when we both used to participate in the, now looking back, zany impromptu art happenings organized by art folks back then. Yes, my dear friends, I, too, was a performance artist at the now-disappeared landmark, the Pasay Art Center at the corner of Taft and Buendia. I remember one of these gigs which I participated in along with Jean-Marie, Cesare, Ronnie Lazaro... and this shy, soft-spoken visual artist named Sid Hildawa.

Try to imagine me and Sid, twenty plus years ago... We were both on the move, aggressive and excited about new possibilities. We both had an eye of beauty, et cetera. In other words, I think (I know) that we had a instant liking for each other. We got each other's telephone numbers (no cells back then!) and found ourselves talking a lot about shared interests.

"Wow, pare... ang galing ng mga chicks at Penguin last night!" -- you get the drift. This was the mid-80s, give us a break!

I distinctively remember Sid coming to my house one night. We bought two bottles of Tanduay lapads. Talked about life, God, art, love, et cetera... But to cut to the chase, I sent him home after a couple of embarrassed silent moments, haha! Sid and I still used to laugh at that incident. And we usually roll on the floor laughing at the "what if's" of that night.

When Sid joined CCP, I was happy that our friendship would be rekindled. And it was. This time we were joined by a fellow poet and intellectual, Herminio Beltran. Those who see us carelessly laughing ourselves away at the CCP buff would know what I mean...

I don't think I can continue... I feel very sad at this point.

Let me just say that Sid is one of the best things that happened to me at the CCP. He was graciousness personified. When I get hot tempered and foul-mouthed, he has always been my soothing, calming force.

Sid's passing during my absence has one bright meaning -- I was spared seeing his physical decline. That means, in my mind and heart, I shall always remember Isidro Gomez Hildawa, my precious Sid, at his glorious and his most beautiful best!

Kindly send his family and loved ones, my deepest, deepest condolences. I share in their grief. But I also share their good fortune of having a fellow like Sid grace our brief time on this planet.

Sid, until our next meeting my friend!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

entry arrow10:07 PM | On Being Censored

By Auraeus Solito

When I received the email telling me that Singapore's censors would not allow my new film Boy to be screened, I felt it was almost like a joke. This has happened to me before.

Boy is my ode to a phenomenon in Filipino movies, the "macho dancer" genre. In the film, an unnamed boy is smitten by a macho dancer – or male stripper – and decides to buy him and bring him home for the New Year. It's like a cross between a coming-of-age film and an erotic one, and it was supposed to have its premiere in competition at the Singapore International Film Festival, which opens on April 14. A week ago, I was so happy to see the Festival had put the film on their website. And now suddenly it has been banned.

According to Zhang Wenjie, festival director of the SIFF, the censors will usually issue a one-line reason for disallowing a film. (Last year, they wrote of one title: "the film promotes terrorism".) I am still waiting for their statement on my film but I predict it will have something to do with its gay erotic nature. Zhang Wenjie proposed that it remain in competition just the jury watch it. I replied that I make my films for my audience, not for a jury, and withdrew it from the Festival.

Three years ago, something similar happened to me in the Philippines. My second feature film, Tuli (Circumcision), which was in competition at the CineManila Film Festival, got an X-rating from the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, meaning it could not be screened to the public. Without my permission, my producers cut the film to allow it to be shown. As I told the Philippine Daily Inquirer at the time, it’s the worst thing that can happen to a filmmaker. It’s like your baby being disemboweled. I insisted the jury watch Tuli uncut (no pun intended) and, after a long fight, I got my way. The film won the awards for Best Film and Best Director. I felt so vindicated after that.

Back then, being censored really hurt. But now, the second time around and in another country, I felt more angry than hurt. I was looking forward to seeing my film with an audience. I guess it wont happen.

In Singapore, when one’s film is banned, there are no other venues that the film can be freely screened. In the Philippines, when a film gets an X-rating, one can still show the film in the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI), which has an academic mandate and is censorship-free zone, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), which has a cultural mandate that makes it censorship-free. I remember seeing Derek Jarman's Caravaggio at the UPFI. It was my first viewing of a totally beautiful queer film. I also saw the banned film Orapronobis, by the great Filipino filmmakaer Lino Brocka. Ironically, the film was banned after the dictatorship, when Corazon Aquino was president. It shows the irony of the post-martial-law Philippines. Things have not really changed.

Recently in Manila, there has been great debate on what one writer describes as "gay porno” being shown at the UPFI. These are films that usually get an X-rating from the MTRCB. A string of queer films have been made the past year, attracting large gay audiences to the UPFI. Thanks to digital technology, independent films can be made very cheaply in a few days. But with this empowerment comes mediocrity and exploitation – some films were being promoted online as featuring 12 full-frontal male nude scenes! Now MTRCB wants to monitor the UPFI, which is frightening but I doubt the progressive University of the Philippines will allow it.

Censorship in the Philippines is based on the whim of whoever is in power. In the era of martial law, a lot of so-called “bold” – i.e., erotic – films were allowed to be screened in mainstream cinemas. But films with strong political content were mostly banned. In the 1990s, for a time there was an absurd rule that women could just show one breast, so there were a string of one-breasted erotic films! Under President Estrada, who was later impeached, censorship was almost abolished, ushering in a string of films with full-frontal nudity. When one, Sutla (Silk), had a close-up of female genitalia, the Church became angry and censorship was returned.

Today, censorship in the Philippines has again become ultra-conservative, almost as if we were back under martial law. That’s why, after my new film was banned by the censors in Singapore, I decided not to go through the MTRCB at home. Boy will screen to a public audience in the censorship-free UPFI and Cultural Center of the Philippines. I have had enough of being censored!

Auraeus Solito's first feature, The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, won 15 international prizes, including three at Berlin. His second and third films, Tuli and Philippine Science, were also recognised with awards on the international festival circuit.

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entry arrow1:29 PM | Sign Language Has Never Been This Hot

Britney Spear's "Womanizer" ...

... in American Sign Language.

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entry arrow12:55 PM | Archived Fiction: Cruising, Part 4

[read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here]

The cold sea air blasts my face as I exit the heavy doors out of the darkness and the music. I need a little air, I needed a little smoke, Curly Hair be damned. Dumaguete at night looks like a flirt. The street outside crawls with night traffic. The scooters roam in moaning whir, like ants sniffing for stray food: blue, red, black… but they all look pale gray and lifeless under the orange glow of sodium light. So are the cars, the jeeps, the occasional Volkswagen. The night sky is cool and dark, but I do not see the stars. I only notice the bright lights of neon springing at me with an enticing punch. I notice the little throng of badly-dressed young men, eyes roaming, crowding the little cigarette-and-candy stalls beside the street. I walk to one with an old woman in flowered prints, my legs striding cool, noticeable.

I walk like sex.

When I get to the old woman’s stall, I take my pick of nicotine sticks.

“Excuse me, manay,” I intone.

Philip Morris. Light. The old woman hands me my cigarettes, my change, and a matchbox. The first matchstick breaks in my fingers, and I hear myself saying “Shit.”

“Excuse me, manay.”

She nods, and I light another matchstick. My cigarette burns.

Nice inhale. I can feel the smoke massaging my lungs in a menthol hug. Very nice.

I walk a little to the crossing of San Juan and Cimafranca Streets. And there you are under a lamppost, a lean boy looking at me with intentions barely buried under traces of teenage pimples. You seem nervous. You look away, twice, which irritates me.

“What do you want, kid?” I ask.

You stammer in answer. “Sorry, sir. I... I didn’t mean to disturb you. I just wanted to ask if... if...”


“If... if you happen to know where… Ever Theater is. Do you know where it is, sir?”

“Ever Theater?” I grin, quickly sizing you up.

Ever Theater is notorious for its sexy Tagalog movies. I look at you again. You’re only a little boy. You are thin, boy-thin, your cheekbones prominent on your angular features. You fidget, your hands carefully tucked away in the secret pockets of your khaki pants.

“I’m sorry if I snapped at you,” I tell you.

You breathe more easily. You even try a little smile.

“Come on... See that road?” I take you around gently by the shoulder and point down the Cimafranca Street. “You go straight down ahead for two blocks. Then turn left. The movie house is right there. But, hey, it’s almost nine o’clock. You might be late for the last full show.”

“Uhh, thank you, po.”

You do not go away.

“Aren’t you a little too young to watch ST films? You in high school?”


“Never mind... Anyway, the theater’s just down that way. “

You cough.

I repeat, “It’s down that way, kid, like I told you.”

You cough again.

“Come on, what else do you want?”

“I... I... I just wanted to ask sana, po, if... if... you know...”

You look away. The traffic drones around us, and little by little, beer bottles litter the paved walk beside the Boulevard’s beach. You look at my face, into my eyes—and, like a cosmic joke, God turns and pushes the mute button on his universal remote control: I am dimly aware of my own shallow breathing, the lapping of distant waves, the fall of cigarette ash on my silk shirt, the trample of asphalt beneath my leather shoes.

You look at my face.

Oh my God, is all I can think.

“You can’t afford me, kid,” I say in a low voice.

I can talk! I try to sound angry, to scream against this bullshit slapping my face.
“You can’t afford me. Not with some high school allowance you might have. Besides, I don’t go for kids.”

Something catches at my throat. You are silent.

“Look at me, kid. I’m 19 years old. What are you? Fourteen?”

You rummage through your pockets, the stain of sweat showing through your gray shirt. A varsity shirt. Like the one I used to wear in high school. “I have seven hundred pesos here, sir,” you speak slowly. “Just for one night. Tonight’s Friday. Wala’y klase ugma.”

I laugh out loud. “Jesus... Are you really serious about this? You’re so young...”

“I saved for it po.”

You tell me that in a firm, polite voice.

Yet later, I find myself sitting back with you in the darkness of Ever Theater, wondering what I am doing here. You sit uncomfortably on your seat, which reclines backward when you push forward with your thighs. You look at the projector lights punching the darkness, and then you furtively watch my face, as if waiting for cues, for signs. I tap your hand. I gesture to the back where the anonymous faces are, where there are the constant shifting of walking, preying feet, and the quick looks, the groping hands, the pretentious travels to the toilet door. The door is on an eternal swing—in, out—the hinges already worn out like the tired red light above the door spelling the word Men.

“Do you want more Mr. Chips?” I ask you. “I like nacho cheese.”

“Aren’t you afraid of getting caught, sir?” you whisper.

I do not understand why I laugh.

“Caught?” I shake my head. “That’s how they, the theaters, make money... show all these sexy films to entice these men who never really watch the movie.”

On screen, Rosanna Roces runs almost naked through a deserted street pursued by good-looking thugs, her breasts popping out from behind her crossed arms.
You say, “A friend once told me things happen in the parks, too.”

“In the park...,” I say. And then, after a while, “Listen, is this your first time to... you know...?”

You nod.

Rosanna cries for help.

“Look at me.”

“Sir? What?”

“Look at me.”


“Give me your hand.”

I take your hand and lead it to my crotch. I did not expect your fingers to grip my groin like that, and suddenly—without knowing where it comes from—I feel violated.

“There... You feel that?” I say, an edge to my voice.

You nod.

“Now, kiss me.”

Po? Here?”


Your lips are soft and small, nacho cheese and Coke clinging to your tongue. I feel like crying, but I don’t.

Rosanna screams.

Music. Suddenly, there is music. Frank Sinatra warbling a tune, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin…” I breathe deeply, standing as the lights go up, and then braved the long walk to the door into the night outside. You run after me, but I do not hear or see you. There are no theories to explain this. I run a quick litany in my head. Foucault, Sedgwick, Altman, Butler, Halberstam, Weeks, Garcia. All the saints in academic heaven are suddenly mute to my violation. The last thing I see on the glass of the revolving theater balcony door is my face on your face, reflections quickly blurring together—burning in my mind the way memory lurks and deepens the more one struggles to forget.


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Monday, March 23, 2009

entry arrow1:38 AM | Kanlaon

Fictionist Marianne Villanueva now blogs.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

entry arrow11:39 PM | Genoveva Edroza-Matute, 94

Aling Bebang died in her sleep last night. She was 94. Fondly read for her award-winning stories and essays, the great writer Genoveva Edroza Matute was born on 3 January 1915. A devoted educator, she spent many years as head of the Philippine Normal University’s Department of Filipino. In 1992, she was conferred the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining (Panitikan) by the Cultural Center of the Philippines. She has won the Palanca multiple times for stories written in what critics have called "very accessible" Tagalog. These stories include "Kuwento ni Mabuti," "Paglalayag sa Pusa ng Isang Bata," "Parusa," "Maganda Ang Ninang Ko," and "Pagbabalik." Her books include Mga Piling Maiikling Kuwento, Tinig ng Damdamin, Katipunan ng Kanyang mga Piling: Sanaysay, and Sa Anino ng EDSA. Ang Kanilang Mga Sugat is Matute’s first novel.

Read her story "Bangkang Papel" here. Read the article on her passing from the Philippine Daily Inquirer here.

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entry arrow8:07 PM | The Last Four Months

People have been asking me how I've been. "Are you okay?" they would ask, by email, by text, by comments in this blog, by phone calls. Sometimes by postcards. I tell them I am. But often I feel there's a big sense of doubt attached to the way they accept that answer -- as if my own happiness is not separate from the life I used to live. Today, I attended the graduation of some of my friends I used to call my students. There was something about their going out to the world that felt nostalgic, that gave me pause about my life. And so I asked myself, How have I been? Am I okay? I felt that I was. I felt that life had somehow taken on this grand feeling of adventure, and that there was more of that to come. So much possibilities. So many kinds of loves and lives still to taste. And so I made this little "scrapbook" of the past four months, just to remind myself again of the little moments that happened since that December 23, when my whole life suddenly changed.

This was me -- all 174 pounds of me -- that December 23 night.

With Jean Claire Dy in Hayahay. Hours later, everything changed.


New Year Party at Boston Cafe with my old friends (in this photo, Joey Alar, Patrick Chua, Gideon Caballes, and Clee Villasor), people I haven't really partied with in years. This was one of the best nights I've ever had in my life.

During a poolside post-New Year party at Patrick Chua's.

Dinner with some Dumaguete artists at Sharon Dadang-Rafol's.

During the farewell party for artist Razceljan Salvarita, who was Bali-bound, at Boston Cafe.

After dinner with visiting poet Danton Remoto, a whole-night karaoke with Gabby del Prado, Alvin Clyde Gregorio, Marianne Tapales, Jordan Carnice, Eliora Bernedo, and other students at Gabby's Bistro.


Drinks in Manila with Thai writer Prabda Yoon.

With poet Larry Ypil and playwright Glenn Sevilla Mas during Taboan, the first Philippine International Writers Festival.

At Mag:Net with Jean Claire.

At Mag:Net with fictionist (and gorgeous babe) Ginny Mata and Rock Drilon.

Karaoke somewhere in Tomas Morato with singer/actress Bituin Escalante, poet J. Neil Garcia,
and other writer/friends.

During the Luv Sux Valentine party at El Camino, here dancing with punk poet Jan Paolo Bastareche.

During Balak ug Balitaw sa Tempurahan in the Dumaguete Boulevard, which I directed for Dumaguete's First Arts Week Festival, here with my LitCritters and other participants.


During the cast party at Escano Beach, after the play date of Auraeus Solito's Esprit de Corps, directed by Claudio Ramos. Here with Carlo Regalado, Anna Espino, Claudio, Ramuel Reambonanza, Wowie Remata, Aiken Quipot, and Natasha Reambonanza -- almost all of them former students of mine. What can I say, I have the brightest and most talented students in campus, hehehe.

With Ram and Roy Lim, who seems amused by something we're discussing.

Taken only last Saturday. After drinks in Hayahay with Manila-based lawyer Richie Ybanez and fellow teachers Bing Valbuena, and Karl Villarmea, I headed straight to the Graduation Blast Party at El Camino, here with Wowie Remata, Michelle Eve de Guzman, Zusabel Digaum, and Claudio Ramos.


So yeah, I'm fine. Thank you for asking...

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

entry arrow11:19 PM | Call for Entries to the 2009 Maningning Miclat Trilingual Poetry Competition

The Maningning Miclat Art Foundation is calling on young poets aged 28 and below to submit entries to the 2009 Maningning Miclat Trilingual Poetry Competition in three divisions: Filipino, English and Chinese. The Maningning Award, handed out yearly since 2003, honors China-born Maningning Miclat, a poet in three languages, a published essayist, and a prizewinning visual artist who was also a teacher, translator and interpreter. Her collection Voice from the Underworld (Anvil, 2000) is the first book of poetry in the world in Filipino, English and Chinese written solely by one author. Some of her poems were included in a book of top international women poets in Chinese published in China. She passed away in September 2000. The Maningning Miclat Art Foundation was formed in 2001 to carry on the artist/poet’s legacy, encourage creativity, and support outstanding young poets and artists. The trilingual poetry competition is held during odd-numbered years, while the painting competition is held during even-numbered years.

An entry must have at least eight but not more than 15 poems. Authors may join all the divisions but can submit only one entry in each division. All entries should be original in any of the three languages and not a translation of another entry. Four copies should be submitted, with the poems printed double-spaced on regular bond paper with one-inch margins on all sides, using Arial or Times New Roman size-12 font. Only a pen name must be printed on an entry, with the real name and pen name submitted in a separate sealed envelope together with the entrant’s biodata, birth certificate copy, and a notarized declaration of originality and authenticity of authorship.

Entries must be addressed to the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation, Inc. (MMAFI), 2nd Floor, Mile Long Building, Amorsolo St., Legaspi Village, Makati City (Tel No. 816-7490 to 91) not later than 5:00 p.m. of April 15, 2009. Entries sent by mail should be postmarked/invoiced not later than April 1, 2009.

Grand winners in the divisions of the Poetry Competition will each receive P28,000 together with a Julie Lluch trophy and the special collector’s edition of the books Voice from the Underworld, Beauty for Ashes: Remembering Maningning and Beyond the Great Wall: A Family Journal, which won a 2006 National Book Award for biography.

Past winners of the Maningning Poetry Awards are Naya Valdellon and Joselito delos Reyes in 2003; Allan Pastrana, Joseph Saguid and Ye Cai-sheng in 2005; and Raymond John de Borja, Erica Clariz delos Reyes and Chen Si-yuan in 2007.

For more information on the 2009 Maningning Miclat Art Competition, e-mail maningningfoundation (at) gmail (dot) com or amiclat2008 (at) yahoo (dot) com. You may also log in to the official website.

[from krip yuson]

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entry arrow10:53 PM | Facebook Comment on My Status Update That Kinda Made My Day

Status Update: Ian is looking for Jigglypuff... Where is Jigglypuff?

Jai Molina Dollente: Is Jigglypuff some sort of live, bouncing cotton candy?


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entry arrow2:52 PM | Love Poem

I could -- if I could -- take your hand
and put it against my chest,
to tell you without the noise of words
how much I hate you.

But you know, of course, how my eyes dip
when I lie.
They are now the color of the stars asleep.

Sometimes, just sometimes,
and often on Thursday nights
when there is so much of time
receding and renewing,
the weekend ahead a threat:
we begin failing in
our grasp of new certainties --
that the sun sets in the east,
that the flower blooms under the moon,
that it is easy to forget and let go --
all things easy and steadfast like stone,
the way bright lies keep a kingdom
of happiness. And want.

My heart beat does not spell anything.
It does not even know the scarlet hum
that is the universe singing.
There is only a tinge of a sound,
something small and secret,
that only your ears could hear.
Or your hands --
if your hands can only be
where it should be,
even in the midst of all these beautiful lies
we have learned to believe.
Or fall like the dimming stars.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

entry arrow6:56 PM | The History of Forgetting

By Lawrence Raab

When Adam and Eve lived in the garden
they hadn't yet learned how to forget.
For them every day was the same day.
Flowers opened, then closed.
They went where the light told them to go.
They slept when it left, and did not dream.

What could they have remembered,
who had never been children? Sometimes
Adam felt a soreness in his side,
but if this was pain it didn't appear
to require a name, or suggest the idea
that anything else might be taken away.
The bright flowers unfolded,
swayed in the breeze.

It was the snake, of course, who knew
about the past—that such a place could exist.
He understood how people would yearn
for whatever they'd lost, and so to survive
they'd need to forget. Soon
the garden will be gone, the snake
thought, and in time God himself.

These were the last days—Adam and Eve
tending the luxurious plants, the snake
watching from above. He knew
what had to happen next, how persuasive
was the taste of that apple. And then
the history of forgetting would begin—
not at the moment of their leaving,
but the first time they looked back.

[lifted from kael's multiply]


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entry arrow12:22 PM | A Time for Dragons

I can't wait for this book, which certainly took a long time in coming -- but here it is at last, A Time for Dragons: An Anthology of Philippine Draconic Fiction -- Vin Simbulan's dream project of gathering together "new dragon stories by Filipino authors to present the dragon in new and inventive ways, and renew and refresh the dragon for a more sophisticated and mature audience," published by Anvil's Fantasy imprint. Andrew Drilon's fantastic cover is simply a delight -- and other publishers should take note how exactly to do a fantasy book cover. (Like this! Just hire Andrew!)

The list of contributors are a bunch of great writers, including Nikki Alfar, Cyan Abad-Jugo, Elyss Punsalan, Vincent Michael Simbulan, Alexander Drilon, Alexander Marcos Osias, Paolo Chikiamco, Elbert Or, Apol Lejano-Massebieau, Joseph Nacino, Gabriela Lee, Kate Aton-Osias, Oscar Alvarez, Angelo R. Lacuesta, Dominique Cimafranca, Yvette Natalie U. Tan, Dean Francis Alfar, and Charles Tan. (The list with titles can be found here.)

The book launch will be on 29 March 2009, Sunday, at 3:00 pm, Shangri-la Mall Grand Atrium.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

entry arrow11:38 AM | Archived Fiction: Cruising, Part 3

[read part 1 here and part 2 here]

I am in Why Not Disco. Inside, the crowd is milling: jeans-clad people on a bored Friday night, dancing to a beat, or raving mad to the guitars and deafening microphones of the band on the little stage, the band doing a little April Boy Regino, doing a little Natalie Imbruglia. Old, corny pop songs to cringe from. It used to be a good crowd, the A’s and B’s of the town with the designer shirts and skirts. But time and new places to go to have caught up with the tinsels and dusty vinyl records hanging from the smoked ceiling. Why Not Disco is grimy like an abandoned whore, and looks its age.

Everybody talks American. Too much movies and Sidney Sheldon pulp—sometimes it is a slurred, swallowed up gurgle, the way these people speak, but it’s all mutant forms of Alicia Silverstone-and-Marky-Mark-talk.

Somebody asks me something. “Whatever,” I mutter, to test the waters. I sound ancient.

Tonight, the gathering crowd sports tsinelas and fake Penshoppe polo shirts. “Bakya crowd,” Rita growls beneath her breath, as if she does not belong. She tugs at my silken shirt, and gives me a pinch. She wants to go to Happy Days where the waiters are cuter, and the Budweiser is cheap.

“Shhhh,” I pinch her back. I look around, ignoring the croak of the lead singer with the baseball cap—he is pock-marked, pony-tailed, and full of attitude. The overhead camera pans his face, and his sweaty nose breaks into the huge TV screen behind him. He shrieks, he strums “Born to Be Wild” on his electric guitar, and the drunken crowd goes wild.

It feels embarrassing.

I scan the crowd and then I see you sitting in the bar stool a few feet away, alone, stiff collars on the neck, drinking watered-down vodka at the bar. Everything in Why Not is watered-down. Your hair is a bit curly, framing your Gaelic face in a nice mop. You look thin, you seem tall. Fuckable. I like you. You eat creamed sauerkraut, and munch slowly. You stare, and I stare back. I suddenly remember my brother, who prostitutes himself in Switzerland, an “assistant” to an old businessman; he had told me once that if one wants a guy, the only way to communicate, “to negotiate,” is through the eyes. Look at him, look at him hard, he had told me, look at him and mentally undress him. He will feel you undressing him. If he looks at you, bingo, you smile. If he smiles back, bingo, you smile back some more, and then you slowly get up from your sweaty seat, and go to the toilet, or to the empty seat near him. Simple rules for the hustle.

So I stare hard. You stare back, too—but suddenly you are talking to mustachioed Marlboro Man with the muscles and tacky red-plaid shirt. Shit.
I look around. I tell myself I’m looking too hard.

“Will you be all right tonight?” I finally ask Rita, her hair streaked with blond dye. She is nursing her Cali, and fiddles with her maroon lipstick. Baby Tsina I had called her when she emerged into the dancing floor, her new ‘do angling her small tulippy nose. She had smirked, and swished her red miniskirt in my direction.

“Yeah, sure,” Rita smiles. “I’ve got a cigarette in my hand, I’m all dressed up in my favorite red miniskirt... Baby, I’m all dolled up.”

She laughs, hollow, like a hyena in menopause.

“Come on, Rita. You just got well from that fever you had. You sure you’re all right?”

“No shit, Manolo. It’s night, and you know I gotta do what I gotta do.”

I shake my head, slowly, because my neck feels cramped.

That’s when Rita snaps. “Aw stop that. How else am I supposed to live? I just can’t lie down on that bed, sick, and do nothing.”


She downs her Cali, and then rifles quickly through her handbag.

“I worry about you. That’s all,” I say.

No shit.

I turn back to you. You are alone again. And staring. I call you Curly Hair in my mind. Marlboro Man is nowhere in sight. I stare back, but I add a little flirtatious smile. For once, there is an equality to both our being objects of desire. That keeps me interested, sated. You smile back, your curls glinting in the shower of crystal light flooding the disco bar. My heart leaps.

Rita takes out her compact mirror, and retouches her rouged lips. “I know...,” she begins, “But you...”—she peers from behind the mirror—“you don’t look too hot, either, Manny.”

She lightly dabs her lips with one last touch of maroon, and smacks her lips, once, twice, thrice. “How’s school? Did you get your mother to pay the balance of your tuition? Because if she didn’t I could lend you some, you know.”

“Yup, she did.”

Rita looks at me, watches my face intently, and then shakes her head.

“What was that?” I ask her.

“Nothing,” and then she sighs. She taps her fingers on the bar and sways her head to the music. “You know, sometimes I still don’t know why you bother even to be friends with me.”

“You make me laugh, that’s all,” I grinned.

She playfully slaps my biceps. “Oh, do I, huh?” She smiles. “But still, you know… you knowing what I do…” She looks up to me, and lays it down, “Thanks.”

“Sure, no probs.”

I met Rita once, two years before, when I was doing a paper for Sociology 34, for Prof. Andrea Martinez, on Japayukis from Dumaguete. Rita was recommended to me by a cousin’s friend’s friend. She had arrived to our interview in Scooby’s Snackbar wearing short shorts, tight white spaghetti-strapped shirt, and bangles, a lot of bangles. She looked out of place—but never noticed it. She flaunted her difference, absorbed the stares people gave her, and tossed them off with a shrug of hair. I liked that about her—her nonchalance, her acceptance of self, her clipped high school English. “How come you’re not in Japan anymore?” I had asked her when the interview ended. Rita only laughed, and said, “Never again.”

She has never told me what she meant by that.

We met regularly after that, always unplanned, always in Why Not Disco—where she is always in her element. We do not meet anywhere else. In Why Not, I study Rita like a hawk. She walks to any white man and gets what she wants: I figure it is her exotic appeal—the post-colonial Other to a white man’s lust. She defies my feminist theories.

Now she leans towards me, serious all of a sudden. “Manny, listen to me, okay? Me, I understand why I do what I do. But what about you? What are you doing here?

The crowd roars as a Lighthouse Family rendition comes on. “High.” The crowd sings along with the band.

I laugh. “What do you mean? It’s a nice night out in the Boulevard. Did you see the nice moon outside? Romantic night. Might find a girl.”

“Bullshit,” she says. “I’ve seen you hustle.”

I catch my breath. She touches my arm, and I flinch. Putang ina.

Rita’s voice growls as she lowers to a whisper. “Tell me, Manny, how much do you cost? What do these men do to you?”

I cannot think.

I fall silent for a while. “The orange juice is making me tipsy,” I finally say, smiling benignly. I close my eyes to stop her stare, and I panic for the music to crash into my ears. Rita’s lips were tight, agitated. She is silent, like a snake waiting for her prey; her waiting eyes are venomous.

“Sometimes, Rita,” I say, after the song dies away and the clapping and the hooting starts, “sometimes, there are things in life best left—unsaid.”

She shakes her head. “Too dramatic. Try harder.”

“Can’t you get it past your stupid head? I… I don’t want to talk about it.”

She takes her hand away. She still has that smile.

“It’s all right.”

I do not say anything.

“Listen,” she finally says, “I have to go. The Welcome Area waits for my beauty.”

She says things too theatrically. I can only nod.

“Will you be okay?” she asks.

I nod again. “Yeah, I guess.”

When Rita leaves, I turn to look at you again. But you are gone, and I do not even remember if you were real or if you were an imagination, a Freudian mirage. I catch myself in time before disappointment comes, and then I believe nothing matters really. For now, I decide happiness cannot be you. Happiness is a cigarette stick. I check my pockets for change.

[to be continued]


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich