Category Archives: Fragments and Moments

I don’t need a greeting card for my dad

There are far too many celebrations used to justify spending on things one doesn’t need or really want, thanks to consumerism.
I don’t like celebrating Father’s Day. Not since my father passed away. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever did anyway even when he was around. It just wasn’t part of any family tradition, I guess. One can argue making such a day special can be seen as superficial. Each day should be celebrated with the ones we love, for, as with everything, all this is temporary. We’re all just passing. Yeah, others have said that before and probably in better ways.
The youth are often uninterested in what the generation before them lived through – what made them happy or sad, what they wished before they ended up with a particular job that wasn’t their first choice, what their favorite shirt was, and other details that seem inconsequential.
I only know a few things about my dad before I was born. He was a good soccer player and was offered a scholarship to keep playing. He had to refuse it so he could work and support his brothers and sisters. He joined the military. Imagine if he had chosen just for himself?
He passed away when I was on the other side of the world. My sisters put the cellphone close to him as he muttered various sounds no one could make out. I doubt he knew it was me on the other end.
I was with my wife and our twin daughters who were too small to have any memory of that day. We were at a function organized by parents of twins and multiples. There were farm animals in the stalls being petted by laughing children not far away from where we were sitting in the grass.
He never got to read the following poem (which I may have shared here or elsewhere before).

Paper Skin, Bone of Bamboo

These were all we needed:
an old pair of scissors,

two pieces of sturdy
but pliant bamboo, split
to the width of a finger
the span of my young arms,

newspapers, the gray skin
rubbing off on my palms,
a fistful of cold rice
to glue everything together.

Last was the longest string
I could steal from my mother
as she lay in restless sleep.
Then there had to be time.

All these things grew useless
without time. They waited
to be gathered, to be touched,
pieced together with patience.

They waited for father.
Those newspapers could have told me
scraps of stories, something
about his absences, nights

and days on end. Curfews, arrests,
insurgents, offensives,
puppet masters, empires.
Back then words mattered less

to me. All I wanted to see
was that kite defying claws
of TV aerials and rusty roofs,
the grasp of remaining trees.

From both our hands
that kite took off and saw
the sprawl of lives made intimate
by a common silence and struggle.

It took on the wind and sang.
Blurred all words on its skin.
Stillness in between mad search
for balance became its dance

to its very end.
Although those rare afternoons
never lasted long enough,
that kite was relentless, fierce

in its defiance of wind
and ground, everything
that dared to take away
all that fragility,

all that majesty.

-o-

from Alien to Any Skin, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011.


Burying a Dictator

My country of birth has an incoming president who won by garnering less than 40% of the votes. It can be said that over 60% of the voting population did not choose him, and when he gains control of the country this many people will be watching his every move, hoping all their fears be proven wrong. More than a month away from being sworn in, he mouths the same things during his notorious campaign. The ghosts of those killed by the so-called Davao Death Squads (documented by international agency Human Rights Watch and the country’s own Commission on Human Rights) will continue to haunt him until justice is done.
One thing that seems to have forced even his own supporters to declare disagreement with him even this early has to do with the remains of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. The incoming president apparently sees him as worthy of being buried at the Heroes’ Cemetery. The public – perhaps more aware of that dark part of the country’s history – has started various campaigns to fight this utter disrespect for the countless victims of Martial Law. One of the campaigns is on Change.org. Here is the LINK. Please consider signing it and then sharing the petition link.
In showing my support, I am posting this poem which appeared in my book ALIEN TO ANY SKIN (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011). My poem is nothing compared to what the people of the Philippines suffered under the rule of the dictator, his family, and various cronies.
 

Tracks on Grasslands

It begins with that one step. A boot
on the slenderest blade
of grass. The faintest
crunch of bright green veins
nearly invisible to your eye.

But it happens. That breaking.

It happens again and again
as you move on, forcing down
other blades of grass,
leaving your tracks,
making a path of near
silent destruction
to somewhere
you think is yours
to claim.

And when you encounter
thicker grass that dare
to keep you out,
you make them sing
with that sharpened edge.

You do this in the dark.
You do this mostly in the dark.

October 2007
-o-


The tap was left running – or “Oh, I got featured on the Ploughshares blog!”

My country of birth just had major national elections. I wasn’t there to participate, to feel all the excitement, the dread, the many and varied hopes that gushed out of people I know and many I will never meet. So it feels almost selfish that I share this bit of personal news. Someone felt my work was worthy of being read and gave me some room to express myself.

I don’t really know what to say most times when asked highly personal questions. Nichole L. Reber threw some really tough ones and I hope I didn’t sound like a tap left running until the bucket overflowed. Please visit the Ploughshares blog and maybe try to leave a message here or there if you have any feedback – complaints, curses, blessings, or whatever reaction you may have.

Mostly I really just want to thank each reader who has given my work a chance. Maraming salalamat, sa inyong lahat. Nichole, I hope I didn’t disappoint with my long-winded answers.

EDIT… In the interview a particular poem was mentioned, “Ghosts of Sweaty Air,” which was originally published in GUD Magazine. The GUD website allows you to read the first few lines. The whole poem is in my book Alien to Any Skin. If you’re interested and nice (hahaha), then leave a note here, I’ll shoot the poem to you.

HERE IS THE LINK TO THE PLOUGHSHARES BLOG

my favourite jeans cropped


Hooks, Boundaries, Feathers

This post will only be up for the last weekend of January 2016. Congratulations if you managed to read it. The poems are what I intend to read at the Central Library in Cape Town to as yet an unknown number of people (perhaps just the librarian and myself!). If you like any of the poems at all, it would be nice to get some feedback. The reading is at 2pm South African time.

Thanks to all my friends who are in various parts of the world and cannot attend.

 

UPDATE. 4 February 2016.

I’ve deleted the file. But for those who missed the reading or would like to read the said poems, you may contact me here and I’ll gladly share with you.

Thanks to all those who made the effort to listen to my poetry. I had fun and met some new friends. I’m not gonna lie, I like reading to an audience. Something I really miss since I moved to South Africa. It doesn’t matter whether it is at a formal venue or just with a group of friends. I remember those crazy days back at university with people I may not always agree with but who were nonetheless open to hearing what I had to say. Then years later at various poetry reading venues – small smokey pubs, or at launches and some academic gathering. Or a handful of friends who manage to find time despite work commitments.

I guess I can come out of my shell and look around here where I am now. Making new connections is never easy, but that’s the only way one keeps growing.

Hmmm. I’m not drunk. Just blabbering like I had a few bottles. Sleep deprivation does pretty much the same thing to me. 🙂

 

 


Reading to an Imaginary Audience

I’ve been invited as feature poet at the Cape Town Central Library’s Poetry Circle this Saturday, 30 January 2016. They even put up an invitation on their Facebook page, which made me nervous.

Here is the LINK to the public announcement.

I told my online poetry critique group my fear of facing an audience that might not know me. Worse, what if nobody turned up? Well at least there’ll be refreshments. “More for me!!!!” (hahahaha). One kind member of the group said this:

Time for one of my favorite stories. I tell it all the time. People start nodding their heads finishing off the lines because they know it so well. But here goes anyway. I’ll probably tell it again.

It’s about Abbott and Costello, the famous comedy team. Bud Abbott cheated on his taxes and was in trouble with the IRS for owing back taxes. Lou Costello at this time was dead. So Abbott sent out a nationwide request to his loyal fans to help him out with donations. After all that trouble, he only got about 2 hundred dollars. A wise-ass reporter asked him to comment on his so-called fans donating so little. Mr. Abbott said, “It was damn nice of them.” So it’s damn nice of those 7 people or however many finally do show up.

Seriously, though. I do love reading my work out loud, particularly those that work better that way than just flat on a piece of paper. I know most people who read this little blog are not even in Cape Town – or South Africa, for that matter. So feel free to give me a shout and wish me luck. Yes, I’m nervous but I’m also very excited. I hope not to waste anyone’s time at the very least.

If you’ve ever read and like any of my poetry, it would be nice to hear which ones you think I should include for the reading. Makes the whole effort less solitary.

Thanks for accompanying me on this journey.


Aerodrome publishes “Wood and String” and “End of 2010: Another Science Fiction Year has Come and Gone”

It’s great to see two more poems appear on the fantastic site AERODROME. I wrote “Wood and String” after a video prompt from an international competition at Poetry International. It received honorable mention. Now it has its own page shared with another poem that has been around since… 2010. 🙂 I hope you enjoy both of them.

HERE IS THE LINK

250px-acacia_march_2008-2

image from wikipedia

Thank you to the editors of Aerodrome!


The Poem version of “Mass Murderer on World Tour”

from wikimedia modified

Yesterday I shared a news article on a former world leader. I didn’t know I’d end up with a poem of the same title. Well I’ve put up the first draft for critique on one of the websites I sometimes visit. You can read it and comment while it’s up HERE.

I appreciate each and every feedback. You may not agree with my work and I certainly don’t want you to just accept what I say. Goes both ways, this thing called respect.

Thank you.

The original image (which I then fiddled with) is from wikimedia.


New Friends in a Day

plane tickets low res

I need to tell you how everything went on the night of 4 November 2014 at the Goethe Institut in Johannesburg. But it’s going to take me some time. I also want to tell you a lot of other things that made the brief trip way better than I ever expected.

For now, I want to congratulate my new friends and fellow winners of the 2014 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award – Rochelle Jacobs and Thabo Jijana! You guys are amazing people and I hope to meet up with you soon again.

Here is a LINK to the press release from the fantastic people of Jacana Media.

group photo awards night

And this was my home made pin for the event, up close.

shirt close up


A day before the day

Jacana Media has generously made available the three poems up for the 2014 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award. HERE is the link. My poem, “Illegal, Undocumented,” is part of my manuscript SKY FOR SILENT WINGS (or OSAMA, YOU ARE NOW OPEN COUNTRY… or THE MAN WHO WISHED HE WAS LEGO… yup, I still haven’t made up my mind which title to use, and neither has my fictitious publisher decided to accept it or not… maybe I should dream of another publisher?).

ladder from wikimediaoriginal image from Wikimedia


Jumping up and down at Checkers

Checkers is one of the big supermarket chains here in SA. They must have to deal with massive numbers of people who come to their premises – mainly to do their shopping, one hopes. Security, a word that means the opposite in some (most?) cases, has become a major concern to most businesses in this country, particularly as the holiday season approaches. The rise of armed robberies at shopping malls is a disturbing reality that shoppers here now face. In fact, one such incident had taken place just a few weeks ago at the particular mall we frequent.

This post has nothing to do with that. It has to do with the way I must have looked to the personnel monitoring the security screens at a Checkers when my beaten up cellphone notified me of an email. My daughter who was standing next to me thought her father had gone bonkers. I was trying very hard not to jump up and down. I was also beaming at every stranger who walked past. I was, to put it mildly, overwhelmed by a most unexpected news.

The official announcement has just been released, so I am posting it here. I have been warned that maybe I am blowing my own horn… sometimes a little too loudly. I want to think of it as sharing some good news. Here it is. Books LIVE has the same announcement up.

-o-

 announcement

announcement page 2