Merlie Alunan Oct 10, 2008 16:00:47 GMT 2
Post by thepoetslizard on Oct 10, 2008 16:00:47 GMT 2
Merlie M. Alunan earned her Masters Degree in English at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, majoring in Creative Writing and studying under Edilberto K. Tiempo. She was a writing fellow of the Silliman University National Summer Writers Workshop and the UP Creative Writing Center. Most of the poems on her blogsite are from her first book collection, Hearthstone, Sacred Tree; the other poems there have been published in local newspapers and other publications. Merlie has also graciously shared three newer poems with us for this section.
"Cleft Flesh and Bone"
One more birth of no account, the midwife must have mumbled
at her birth, noting the cleft flesh of the infant struggling for her
first breath. Born with the cleft, and not the bone, “Just a girl,” her
father said, grumbling into his drink as her mother sank into the
sleep of the unrewarded. Many years later, her mother, pulling at
her hair to bind it, said, “You’re a girl, you should always be clean
and neat,” binding her to her fate with more words, adding, “remember
you’re of no account, that’s the best you can do.” By sheer example
of other women’s lives, she learned patience, how to bear without
rancor the arrogance of father, brother, lover, husband, those born
with the bone—the harsh love that tore her open again and again
and left her raw and naked. As is proper to all those of no account,
born with the cleft, she grew up meek and humble, generous and kind,
true to all expectations.
She remained—as she would always remain to her mind—of no
account. She married as tradition goes, kept a clean house, and slaved
and scrimped. She was true and faithful, and was everything a wife
should be. Her husband, coming home late sometimes from a night
with his friends, would find her in front of the mirror, feeling the
contours of bone on her face. Still hot with the thought of women
he’d met outside with their bright painted faces and gay laughter, he
would tell her, “You’re of no account, no matter what you do,” and
laugh to her face. She had the usual children to deck her marriage
as is only proper, and she did everything for them that a mother
should, because their need of her made her believe she was of some
account at last on this earth. But they grew up soon and did things
on their own while she herself grew old and was back to being of no
account again, losing her usefulness with her strength. Was she ever
beautiful? Did she ever have dreams of her own? Did anyone ask her?
Did she ever ask herself? Perhaps not, since such privileges were
conceded only to those born with the bone.
In due time, of course, she died. And when they buried her, this
woman of no account, cleft flesh and all, the engraver asked the
usual question, “What name shall we put on her stone?” By this
time no one remembers exactly her real name, and so they marked
it with her husband’s....
"The Perfect Line of Poetry"
(For Ana Neri)
A wind of August has shaken the leaves off.
The garden fills with their litter.
Thinking of you, words swarm my mind.
Try as we may to dream its possibility,
or craft it into being with all zeal, out of the kindness
we feel for all things tender, needing our care,
there’s no perfect line of poetry, dear Ana,
Both of us, we’ve stood watch
through long nights, waiting for the flood to still
into music, the true words to fall to a measure
close to perfection. Mornings always find us
bleary-eyed, dry-mouthed, still gabbling like birds
or mice or apes, our throats sandy with winter cold—
as much to say, my Ana, no perfect love exists,
ravished we might be by men whose hands
tear and burn our flesh a hundred thousand ways.
And though our kisses sear hearts
beyond a million years’ oblivion, there is still
the final silence no word can fill but death,
to which we are pledged, you and I, sweetest Ana.
In this garden on a day in August, thinking of you,
I see butterflies, wind-blown blue wings down
among the cracked stones. I step upon leaves
turned gold and red, mottled brown with death.
I hear them hiss and crackle underfoot.
Someone has piled them and lit a fire.
Smoke fills the air and stings my eyes.
You see how I bungle things.
Picking my way through the garden,
I think of loose feathers in the wind—
who can say when they will land or where or how?
Words, words, dear Ana. So much litter in the mind.
The perfect line of poetry is hard to write.
(September 27, 2007)
"Woman of Many Words"
She loved him with words, extravagantly, torrentially.
She threw the words down from the tops of skyscrapers,
cathedral spires, belfries of country churches, thatch eaves
of peasant homes. The words tumbled and clattered and
zoomed and slithered and flew over tin roofs, tops of trees,
umbrellas, they tickled the ears of children and dogs
and elephants in the zoo, and made them dance and wriggle
and prance, they rained down on rivers and ponds and oceans
and rode on the backs of porpoise and seal and whales—
yes, the whales, who echoed them back to their mates
in the different ends of the world. And some words fell
on the sand and the crabs and snails nibbled at them
and dragged them off to stash in their secret lairs.
Her words would not stop coming, and now his ears
were full of them, they clogged his nose, they crammed
his pockets, ballooned his shirt, they squished in his shoes,
they littered his bed, the carpet, the table where he works,
every cup in his kitchen brimmed with them.
They fell from the trees when he took a walk,
every flower he passed called them out to him,
even the birds would not stop chattering,
the red dragonflies spelled the words in the wind,
and the fireflies blinked them tirelessly all night.
Still her words came, an endless joyous rain,
and he swam in its flood, and he filled his mouth with them,
and still she loved him and loved him with her words
and the words rose to his mind and stole his sleep.
(July 19, 2008)
"Fallen in battle in the mountains
of Santa Catalina, Negros Oriental, 1987 A.D.,
a hill warrior talks to his daughter, three years old,
from the trail where his bones lie unburied"
Sure I had them in my backpack,
the piyaya, just as i had promised,
and the baye-baye from 'Nay Asyon.
She was asking about
the grandchild she'd never seen.
Also a comb for your mother.
The road from Siaton blew up.
Crossing the valley to our hut
to see you for the last time,
I left no footprints anyone could find.
So many things I couldn't
bring with me-- my gun, my boots,
left behind forever in the hidden trail.
Unseen, I watched your mother
waiting while you slept,
combing her hair by the gaslight
with slow patient fingers.
If they ever come
and cut your mother's hair
and bind her to bed,
run and hide.
Whatever you see, do not cry.
You will grow up, little one,
bearer of this vicious bond--
anger of your daughters,
revenge of your sons.
"Late wind, leaf and moonlight"
Tonight I spread thin moonlight
on a young leaf and leave it
at your door.
It may be that while you sleep
Wind will blow it away
Leaving no trace.
The wind's a fickle bastard, though.
It may forget, and then the leaf
Will stay. Waking.
You may find on your doorstep,
Sunlight, the moon gone,
And a leaf fading--
To the fire, to the fire with it,
Lest the late wind returns
To haunt your sleep.
Your womb described my earliest space--
Terse measure in pulses of our one blood,
The flow and turning of my fetal days.
I took from you more than shape of chin,
Span of bone, a cast of shadow in the eyes,
Accents of your speech, tone of tour skin.
It was your law whipped my conscience
Recalcitrant as hair loose in a wild wind
To strict conformity and terrible obedience.
Your unrepentant fears cower inside me
Shivering their dread of birth, danger
Ancient as the grave's wait for its fee.
It is your shelter I had yearned to fly,
Startling to the doom written in the blood,
The statement of our common destiny.
Watching you now inside this shrunken room,
Your skin a loose bag over your brittle bones,
I think how flight would only bring me home.
"We Kept a Jarful of Keys"
We kept a jarful of keys
on a forgotten shelf
in the house.
What doors they opened,
or what they kept forever locked,
before they came by accident
or chance into our little jar,
we never learned.
"Let them stay there,"
you said, your eyes on mine
saying, take all I have.
Since I had let you in
to share my little feast
and you'd not wish to leave,
I nodded, "Yes, there let them stay."
We hadn't reckoned how
the years would wear love thin.
And now your pained eyes
search my face for all
I shouldn't have taken, and I,
I ache for all I should have kept.
We hammer the doors of silence,
bruising with words we could not speak.
How did we ever think
we had no need of keys?
You hideous fatal monster
I have fled you long enough,
scared of your sleepless snakes
writhing without end, your stare
stone-cold, mortal and afraid,
fleeing your bones endless craving
for a song's magic rage.
Medusa, how should I know
I would be driven instead,
back to your lair,
clasping to my bosom,
my sharpest fear--love or doom,
how could I tell?
But yes, you old crone,
I will sing your beauties yet
your dark lays of guilt,
of joy or despair.
Medusa, fatal sister, I will.
"Amina Among the Angels"
July 29, 1994,
Three years after the Flood.
Not by your old name I address you,
no, not by the one you went by
when living in the midst,
Mamang, name that kept you bound
to cradle, washtub, sink stove and still
your back bent and all your singing
caked into silence, your dreaming crushed
like fishbones in the traffic of daily need.
Your own name, then. Amina.
Cold letters etched on stone in Ormoc's
graveyard hill, the syllables gliding still
all music and glod upon the tongue of memory.
Amina. Back here, no news you'd like to hear,
or that you wouldn't know: One day at noon,
in a year of war and famine, of volcanoes bursting
and earthquakes shaking the ground we stood on,
floodwaters broke the mountains.
Our city drowned in an hour's rampage.
But you've gone ahead to this hill earlier,
three years, you weren't there to witness
what we had to do among the leavings of the water,
mud, rubble, debris, countless bodies
littering the streets-- your husband among them, a son,
his wife, their children--how in a panic,
we pried and scraped and shoveled from the ooze
what had once been beloved, crammed them
coffinless without ritual without tears
into the maw of earth beside you up on that hill.
Amina, what have the angels to say
of that gross outrage?
You must know I keep my own name,
times, I feel myself free
to chosse the words of my singing, though
in my own woman's voice, cracked
with too much laughter, or anger, or tears,
who's to listen, I don't know,
admitting as I do no traffics with angels.
I htink of your beauty fading and this,
what's left for a daughter to touch-- your namestone
mute among the grass greensinging,
your name i raise to the wind like a prayer.
If you hear it among
the lift and fall of angel wings,
oh please send word somehow.
Please let me know, have they given you back
your voice? Safe among the angels,
what can a woman sing?
"Duwa-duwa, Wititk-Witik sa Hangin"
Sa bata pa ta, ato ang kalibotan sa dula.
Tanang matang sa dula.
Ginokdanay. Bulan-bulan. Siatom. Tatsi.
Luto-luto. Pusil-pusil. Tagol-tago. Munyika. Yoyo.
Gikan sa pagsidlit sa adlaw ngadto sa pagsawop.
Bisa’g sa atong damgo nagduwa lang gihapon ta.
Sa kita nagkahamtong, magaduwa lang gihapon ta.
Basketball, football, tennis, ug unsa pa diha.
Sa nagkagulang na, mausab ang atong pagaduwaan,
unya usahay di ta kahibawo kun tinuoray ba gyud
ang atong mga gipangbuhat o duwa-duwa ba hinuon.
Tungod sa kalisod sa kinabuhi, tungod sa mga kakuyaw,
kasakit, kabalaka sa mga panghitabo sa inadlaw-adlaw,
makalimot na tang mokatawa. Di na ta kahibawo makighagwa.
Sa atong kaugalingon ug sa atong mga minahal.
Moaslom ang atong pagbati, masakit ta.
Ang makatambal niana usahay, duwa.
Di nato hikalimtan nga naay gamayng bata
nikuyog gikan sa atong kagahapon, ug karon
nagpahipi luyo sa mga kunot sa atong nawong,
nagtago ilawom sa atong mga uban.
Kining bataana mangita gyud ug lingaw,
Ug kun malingaw siya, malingaw sad ta.
Ang arte usa ka paagi sa pagduwa.
Kuris-kuris sa papel, witik-witik sa hangin,
Duwa-duwa ni Kiti ug ni Merlie.
"To Play, To Shoot the Wind"
(translated by the author)
When we were children, our world revolved in play.
All kinds of games.
We played chase.
From first light to last light we played.
We played even in our dreams.
We never stop playing even as grew older,
The games changed.
And sometimes we cannot tell
When were doing serious things
Or we’re just playing.
Life is hard. We face all kinds of fears,
all kinds of pains, so many things to worry about
every minute of the day.
So we forget to play.
We forget to pleasure ourselves,
even those we love.
Love sours. We become sick.
Sometimes the best cure is play.
We must never forget the little child
Who traveled the years with us, who now
Is hidden behind our lined faces,
Secreted under the white hairs on our head.
That child needs to play,
And when that child is happy
You’ll be happy too.
Art, too, is a kind of play.
The leap of the dance.
A whistled song.
Lines on paper.
Shooting the wind.
Kiti and Merlie, at play.
"Bringing the Dolls"
Two dolls in rags and tatters,
one missing an arm and a leg,
the other blind in one eye—I grabbed them from her arms,
“No,” I said, “they cannot come.”
Each tight baggage
I had packed
only for the barest need:
no room for sentiment or memory
to clutter with loose ends
my stern resolve. I reasoned,
even a child must learn
she cannot take what must be left behind.
And so the boat turned seaward,
a smart wind blowing dry
the stealthy tears I could not wipe.
Then I saw—rags, tatters and all—
there among the neat trim packs,
the dolls I ruled to leave behind.
Her silence should have warned me
she knew her burdens
as I knew mine:
her clean white years unlived—
and paid my price.
She battened on a truth
she knew I too must own:
when what’s at stake
is loyalty or love,
hers are the true rights.
Her own faiths she must keep, not I.