Thursday, October 15, 2015


One is the sunlight that breaches the silence of daybreak, like a whisper shaking off the muteness of the dark, urging you to awaken to the nascent fog because another gentle day is at the cusp of your dream. The past summer has been harsh, unforgiving in its tropical heat, but your kindness delivers the comfort that can dampen even the driest of hearts, famished in so many ways by willful solitude, yet cured on so many mornings by the touch of your hand. Life was only a dream, until you happened. Now, I can open my eyes to how real everything has become. If only I can, I do not wish to sleep. I cannot afford to blink in the midst of this happiness.

The days are different, but one is Sunday becoming everyday. So it must be: you are my endless Sabbath. You are the rest that I deserve in this weary existence. I can taste the flavor of life in your lips, so I nourish myself with you, breathe you as though I am drowning. But the waters are tranquil and I find myself ashore in the safety of your embrace.

One is presence neither encumbered nor interrupted by episodes of momentary separation. We cannot be together all the time, but space hardly breaches the continuity of your memory. It lingers in me. It fills me like a river emptying itself into the high seas. And in the abundance of you in my mind, I see everything in you. I see you in everything, too, the way a compass would always point to where you are. The north that you have become is the south that I will be. We are not polar opposites, because in the grander scheme of things we are the same direction we both need. Wherever we may travel, we are bound to find ourselves: you in me, and I in you.

One is the absence of doubt. This is clarity, and it demands neither public recognition nor approval. It is complete in its own right. What we have does not depend on the appraisal of the world. What we have is the world. We are what we have.

One is the antecedent of nothingness, and it presages truths as ancient as the language of prayer, and through your lips my world begins the moment you speak. When you say stories I have yet to hear, I let my mind commune with your words, for there is nothing more divine than the acceptance of the thoughts you hold dear, and I receive them like a gift that validates the worth of the only life I will ever have. Should fate be kind enough, I will live the rest of my days with you and your thoughts. Nothing more, nothing less, and I am satisfied.

One is a story of twelve months and two lives accompanied by the kind of music that only the heart can hear, of songs turning endless long after the night has shushed half of the world, and of our hands held tight in a world where nothing stays, because truth be told there is just the two of us in the oneness of it all.

For Kae.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The View From Here

from Latin con-, “together with,” and dominium, “right of ownership.”

The concrete frames, like bones, remain exposed to the sun. There is no sign of breathing, but it arrests the wind by standing in its way. It does not move hither and yon; it is inanimate. But the structure is not dead. Far from being lifeless, it is on the brink of becoming alive. Which is strange, because it bears the unrelenting patience of a carcass. For months now, the condominium awaits its motherless birth.

At night, it towers like a beacon appended onto the ground, its scaffolding beaming its light across the terra firma where I live, as though the illumination is an attempt to vindicate the secrets it conceals in the darkness. Opulence that is yet to take form, they say, is perennially susceptible to failure. Should its unrealized grandeur cast a long shadow on it, the splendor it promises must end on a sorry note. The condominium might hold itself together physically, as it should, but its image will collapse under its own weight. Yet the workers who toil day and night to make that dream rise from the din of the earth will not be allowed to let their creation weather the years and elements unfinished and naked. In the name of something that will one day impose itself on the skyline, they will brave the rain. They will risk life and limb, often unwillingly, for the corporate cause. They will spend countless hours building something that they will never own. And when all has been said and done, they will walk away like disposable soldiers with a heart heavier than anything they can carry, never to set their weary feet on the polished floors of the lobby again. From my window, I stare at the incomplete condominium as it looms ahead with what feels like a grand gesture of avarice: it upends the illusory mantle of social equity and reveals the poverty that surrounds it. What I realize is that there is no safe distance from here to there. The beacon may well be a watchtower.

Lately, the weather has been unforgiving. The sky seems to be in a catharsis, as though it has been wronged for a long time and it has now come to release its grief, washing down the city of its accumulated grime. Where I live, the mornings have been cold, the nights more so. The exit of summer has been unceremonious. I do not know what to make of it. The monsoon made its way without warning. Like a thief. I patched some of the holes on the roof to stop the water from leaking. Some others I barely managed to cover, so I resigned myself to putting a basin on each spot where the water would drip, all to no avail; the wooden floor would still be drenched. On those many occasions when I would be marooned in my room, I would look out the window and observe the building standing proud and defiant in the midst of the thunderstorm. Each time, I wish I could destroy it before it could complete its transformation. I dream of felling it with an ax the way one would smite the last surviving timber in a land so defiled there is no more use for anything. I imagine ridding the city of that phallic eyesore, clear it with the same vengeance that the rain carries. But then I would snap back to reality and realize that there is no stopping its construction now. There is nothing heroic about being late.

This coffee is cold. Bland. Somewhat rusty. The bitterness is gone. It tastes like it is complicit with the lethargy of the wet evening. I wonder if coffee tastes different when you are ten floors above the earth. Or eleven. Twelve. Perhaps thirteen. Maybe more. It must be nice. The aroma must be more stimulating. The coffee granules must be ecstatic to dissolve in hot water, like planets racing to a black hole, eager for their eternal extinction. I can imagine myself. An overwhelming sense of comfort might touch my lips after each sip. If I gorge it down like a thirsty sonofabitch, I just might feel like a nobleman, a distinguished fellow ensconced in his seat of wisdom, hand holding the cup, little finger pointing away, mulling over the ways to fatten further his paycheck and trim his waistline, letting out a sigh of relief after realizing that the condominium has a gym where he can work his ass off the way a yuppie desiring the muscular physique of the hardworking proletariat would — which is to say, the body of the same men who built the condominium. What irony. Such conundrum. But the yuppie might jeer at the thought and simply cover his mouth in a manner that one might mistake the mouth for the anus. I wonder. But I stop imagining. I train my eyes on the distant structure. Then, lightning cleaved the sky. In its wake, complete darkness as the lights went out. Lighting a candle, I figured out what was wrong with my drink. Alas, this is not coffee. This is a cup of rainwater that leaked from one of the holes on the roof.

I remember. Not too long ago, I sold the only electric guitar I owned. Unaware of the exact route I must take, I rode a cab. Some of the roads along the way were impassable. Stranded cars, some partially submerged, took up the stalled traffic where the floodwater ran deep. I arrived an hour later and waited at the condominium lobby. Ten minutes after, the buyer emerged from the elevator. He was about fifty, on the heavy side, and had an easy smile on his face. His balding head somewhat reflected the yellow ceiling lights as he approached. Having disposed of the unfamiliarity with the perfunctory courtesies, we went to his room, the guitar in the bag slung on my shoulder like the spoils of the war I just had as offering to his majesty and his insatiable appetite for trophies he did not break a sweat for. It was a room enough for a family of four, but judging by the way the furniture looked — one table, one chair — the man was living alone. On the far end of one of the walls, there stood a line of five guitars: three Stratocasters, and two Les Pauls. Beside them, three guitar amplifiers. I unpacked the guitar in my bag. It felt like I was about to sell my only child. In haste of inspecting the pickups, he disassembled the guitar with eagerness, as though he was a doctor dissecting then disemboweling a patient without the benefit of anesthesia. Convinced that it was what he wanted — and god knows what else it is that he wants in his affluent life — he got up and fished from his wallet. “In case you still plan to sell stuff like this again, just call me. You have my number,” he said. Transaction complete. He handed me a bottle of Coke, but I refused and told him I should be going. I left the room, money in my pocket. I stayed in the lobby for a while, waiting for the rain to let up, until I decided to barge into the open. Finally, I thought, I can pay half of my school tuition. My socks and shoes were drenched when I got home. To this day, I still wonder if it was all worth it.

I look at the unfinished condominium and ask myself how long it will stand the test of time. Anything that grows from the earth is assured of its mortality, but the ones that rise on artificial foundations and without the benefit of life cannot hold on to the promise of a natural death. Even utter disuse and subsequent disrepair can neither will nor lull concrete structures into nonexistence. The condominium will still be there, abandoned or otherwise. Yet I realize that my question is one that takes a stab at the future. For now, I only have to worry about the rain and the city that owns everything that can be found in it. Everything except, perhaps, the condominium. Because in theory, saying that having a condominium unit goes together with the right of ownership is a mistaken proposition. It is the other way around: the condominium owns the city.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Camera Obscura, Because None of This Makes Sense

Look out the window. Glare at the contemptuous state in which the world presents itself before your inquiring eyes. Witness a feeble empire sprawled on top of the dying and the innocent, those who crawl despite the weight, or precisely because of it, pretending to be alive, their eyes trained to the sky, arms aiming for the last drop of sunlight. They call themselves professionals. Of what, exactly, nobody knows. Dusk settles slowly like a velvet curtain, its urgency lost in an irreversible decay, preaching the darkness as though the city is a church anchored on the bedrock of godlessness, the skyline its pulpit perched on defiled ground, all ears, deaf as it is from its own noise. There is trepidation, and it foams in the mouth of those who wish they could speak their own voice in the absence of words.

I am no longer sure if this is a massage. The masseuse gathers her woes, balls them in her fists, and presses them on my skin like a punishment long overdue. There is no permanence in sorrow, but the way her hands pummel my shoulders seems as if her agony is forever, or that the terror nesting in her heart is about to spawn the hatred that will transform her nails into talons. There is neither modesty nor caution in the force of her palms. None of it is my fault. I blame her father. Men who are womanizers deserve more than the excessive flailing that a vexed daughter can inflict within the reach of an uppercut. I feel some of her tears land on my back the way a drizzle would usher the heavy rain — without warning, unstoppable. I say nothing. My lips are busy cringing.

Listen: the Kulintang muffles whispers and whimpers, sounding off its protest at the artifice of the overhead speakers, as though an unseen musician is making a mockery of the incoming silence. There is a missing note in the song. One more, and then another. Mistake them for the faint coughing from behind the wall as it signals the onset of a tubercular symphony. Find them hanging at the edge of an ellipsis, or a comma, or a coma, because the difference between deep unconsciousness and pause between phrases is an arbitrary letter. Search where organized oppression tastes like the food that minimum wage can never afford, where demands for reinstatement are met with the iron fist of the capitalist, where fire safety is in perpetual absentia even at the unceremonious end of seventy-two lives roasted amid rubber slippers, where workers in liquor factories stand against someone intoxicated in his own wealth and power, and where progress treats human labor as a dispensable commodity. The machine prohibits the celebration of life. It loathes music, improvisation most of all, precisely because it worships the dullness of repetition. The Kulintang stops.

I sit on the foam bed. She positions herself behind, holds my shoulders with her arms, and extends my back sideways, almost to the point where my hips are about to jut out of my torso. I am almost tempted to say, “I am not your father. I do not deserve this.” But then we lose balance. She staggers, plants her arms on the floor, saves herself from further humiliation. I lie down. She laughs. Briefly. “Sorry sir,” she says. I realize how strange this place is, a Thai spa in the Philippines that offers Swedish massage coursed through the hard hands of a laughing and crying, bespectacled masseuse. After a while, she stops, stands, and leaves the room. She returns with a glass of cold water and a warm towel. She places both items on the floor, and, in a rush, leaves a second time. She does not return.

I lie on my back, feeling sore, wondering if I should leave now while I am still able to walk, or at least crawl.

I remember the birds zigzagging beneath the rust of the clouds, and the vanity of the concrete landscape as it continues to refuse to pray for the rain, knowing that the only sin that heaven would allow it is that of foolish pride. No one in this city keeps tab of humility. Certainly not the condominiums racing to meet the sun, their tenants notwithstanding. Everyone is his or her own messiah, or at least that is how they present themselves, and in their eyes all others are sheep in wolf’s clothing. This place is a jungle urging the summer to rush forth, except that everyone is prey and no one is a true predator. And so I remember the birds. The vultures. Circling above. Waiting. Their patience is humbling. Such is the clarity of the law that governs the modicum for survival among scavengers. I call it avian verba legis.

So I stand, weak on my knees and toes, my strength gone to some crevice I do not know, perhaps leeched out of my skin and into the earth way beneath my feet. I leave the place with the weight of her woes on my body, like a phantom limb that I have to carry as my cross, which is the only penance I can afford for all of the sins that still pelt my conscience to this day. Middle-class guilt, they call it. Which is strange, because I am not even middle-class.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I, The Living

To you I offer my life the way a river empties itself to the sea: calm and deliberate as the water that runs deep on days that never seem to end, assured that the only path that lays before it leads to nowhere else but the shore where it properly belongs, a place where the waves glide along the surface like my fingers on your shoulders when a touch is all that it takes for us to affirm that we are alive. And when all has been said and done I will bow before the sky and you, and earnestly say, with the purest of intentions that my innocence can muster, that I would have had it no other way, for I am with you now and there is no yearning in my soul to return to where I came from, simply because my heart is where you are, and rightly so. Your kindness is as boundless as the open ocean, and in your vastness I find you, my destination. This I say with nary a mote of regret: the journey has been worth the sun and moon and wind and rain and the days that the calendar forgot to count. I guess the universe was not strong enough to stop me.

To you I surrender my body. The skin and scars that make the man that I have become procure what heaven and earth cannot afford to create in most others just yet: a dauntless and doubtless human being emboldened by the errors that cripple the meek, fueled as I am now by this just desire to conquer the troubles that have, for a time before, beset my mind. There is neither arrogance nor blindness in this. My audacity springs from my singularity of purpose, which is to live this life with the choices I must take, to which the frail at heart might only find madness by design. But I do not blame them for I understand where they are, or where they are coming from. I, the living, have resurrected myself from an extended repose, away from this metropolis that thrives on the negation of aspirations, this ominous terrain of concrete and smoke that muffles our woes as though they have not been spoken of. My return has been long overdue, and I am now as alive as I have never been. So to you I surrender my body, and let it be the ultimate proof that some dreams we can hold.

To you I devote my time. I wager it with the confidence of one who has earned his keep. Yet, the past I cannot abandon, for it is impossible; I carry it with me wherever I go, like an ambulant darkness that trails my footsteps where there is light. The future I can only promise, for it is not yet mine to give. But the present I can deliver, cup it in my hands like a seed yearning for the goodness of the earth, protect it so that it may grow into the great things that you and I are more than prepared to see through, until each today overwhelms every yesterday and tomorrow, and I find myself the least bit surprised that today feels just like one of those days. I understand that there is no forever, but there is everyday. So it must be said: you are my everyday.

I say this, proclaim even, not as a gentle reminder but as my way of reaffirming, even if only in print, that resurrections are possible: I am alive again because I am yours.

For Kae
XIII: Resurrection