Gumapang ang mga oras
patungo sa iisang itinakda. Itinupi ko ang liham
hanggang lumapat ang mga dulo ng papel
sa isa’t isa. Dito, sa binansagan kong hintayan
hindi sinasadyang mapansin
ang paglipas ng mga bagay: paglamig
ng kape sa tasa,
ang pag-upos ng sigarilyo,
ang pag-alis ng nakaupo sa kabilang mesa.
sa mundo mo ng mga sinadyang pagtingin
sa orasan (nahuhuli ka na)—ang tawag mo sa lugar na ito
Sa isip ko, paulit-ulit mo nang inilaladlad ang aking sulat.
Sa handang paraan mo ng pagbukas
ng anumang para sa ‘yo. Nang walang pagpansin
sa pagkatisod ng mga pangungusap
sa bakas ng tiklop
na likha ng sarili kong mga daliri
Mahal kong _____________,
Marinig mo kaya ang paghinto ng panulat
nang sandali kong pakinggan
ang alingawngaw ng pambating binitawan
sa kahungkagan ng pag-amin?
Damahin mo na lamang ang alinlangan ng tuldok
na bigyang-daan ang kawalan
matapos magwakas ang bawat talata.
Sa itaas na kanang bahagi, malapit sa iyong kamay;
ika-19 ng Oktubre, Kitaan—
ang tanging petsa at lunan na paghahanapan
kung iyong pasyahin.
Sa dulo, kahanay nito ang aking pangalan
sa ilalim ng mas nagmamahal.
Nang buksan ang hawla,
hindi umiimik ang makulay na ibon.
Kinailangan pang bugawin siya
Bahagya niyang ikinampay
ang mabibigat na pakpak
bago tuluyang sumalimbad.
Muli, sabik siyang lumipad
patungo sa mga dating katulad
at nagulat sa kanilang
pagsalubong: matutulis na tukang
tumungkab sa estrangherong kulay.
Sa pandinig ng mga dumakip,
bitak-bitak ang awit ng pinalaya.
Dumami ang mga ibong
sumalakay sa kaniya. Pinalilibutan siya.
At sa malayo, nangingibabaw ang iisang kulay
ng kanilang mga balahibo.
Nilakasan niya ang pag-awit
(waring umaasa na makilala pa
ang kaniyang tinig)
ngunit patuloy sila sa pagpunit
sa kaniyang laman.
Sa paningin ng mga nagpalaya,
kinukulayan siyang muli.
*Pagkatapos ni Jerzy Kosinski
MR –Then we have the story of Manang Lihing who was 60 years married to that foremost hardworker, the most rural of men, Old Arturo. Who singlehandedly dug wells, during the seasons of tropical prudence, always striking water before the men who began digging their wells a week earlier. Old Arturo, who raised ducks on a backyard of shells, successfully resisting the ancient seductions of the cockfight by avoiding chickens and tobacco and superfluous friendships at all costs. Whose wife, Manang Lihing, never ever undressed before him, not once in all that life of grass and cloud and tree.
MRS –Sounds like I’m signed in for some town.
MR –Remember what they say about a boy leaving town, the man never to be exorcised of the town.
MRS –What I’ve taken down is everything they ever said about children marrying their parents.
MR –My mother should be flattered.
MRS –Yet, there is no such mother blushing in my presence. Now, okay you. Stop it, for I smell hormones clogging the flow of your story.
MR –Me, I’d go for a daughter. You? A son stands only to inherit an immense trouble with this present Jocasta. I can only imagine the intensity of his internal struggles. I can only sympathize. Can I help him? Maybe I can only chastise.
MRS –This endless flirtation stretches endlessly between me and the horizon. The horizon being your narrative. Feed me the sun.
–Never to have known the pigmentation of her nipples
–Which must have been idiosyncratic like thumbprints
–Always to have gazed at the clothesline and the underwear
–Likewise the wind
MRS –You mean that’s all there is to it? A poor old man – what? a farmer? blue fisherman? – who just never got any?
MR –We get to the fun part. He gets a lot, she gets a lot. They live in a fantastically spare old hut, neck deep in children. Nine, last I counted.
MRS –They’re still alive then? Are you acquainted with anybody from that household? Can we go and cook for them, knock on their door, see their photo albums? Do you think they’d appreciate adobo with lemon grass and Worcestershire?
MR –If they’re alive, they’re probably still at it. This very minute, I bet. If she’s alive, she’ll keep getting laid to her dying day. Night, that is, in their case.
MRS –I thought it was a trickster tale. Something that goes like The Night He Peeked. Maybe, Small Moon over Manang Lihing. Or, The Night Old Arturo Turned the Lights on Suddenly, Much to the Consternation of Manang Lihing who Expected from Him Noble Demeanour Particularly on the Merry although Solemn Occasion of their Golden Wedding Anniversary.
MR –Why can’t it be, plain, an old school didactic-type tale of a man rewarded for his titanic patience? Possibly a forbearance of such superhuman proportions that it would ultimately eschew any reward or even thought of reward? I can think of the first two parts. The first installment being The Night Manang Lihing Lay Naked but Smiling under Three Sheets. Or something of that sort, yes. The sequel would then be The Long Summer of Old Arturo Contemplating Celibacy. Something to that effect.
MRS –But speculations, darling man. Acknowledge, acknowledge that we wake in a world where rolling meadow stories are not wholly improbable.
MR –Here is a fact for you. Manang Lihing or Old Arturo, one of them – don’t ask me who, I don’t know who – is the second cousin of my Lola Fe.
MRS –Father side.
MR –Father side.
MRS –Fantastic. Do you have pictures? Of either? Even one picture?
MR –If we do, they’re filed at the Quisao home.
MRS –I see, Quisao. Town oh town. Your father’s and your mother’s. There, the place where the photographs are stashed. Three hours, four including traffic.
MR –That’s where they’d be if we had any. Of that old Arturo, of that Manang Lihing whose body never saw light.
–Never to have cleaned the navel of the other with baby oil and ear buds
–Pruned the pubic hair of the other with little black folding scissors of glee
–Monitored the development of stretch marks
–Egged on the inevitable process of whitening
MRS –What’s in a box on top of the closet, a closet that’s less than a minute away? What if not three albums chock-full of exes. Exes upon exes. Stuffed toys with velvet cards inscribed with all the love of silver ink, cards tied to the collars of these stuffed toys of various sizes, phyla, genera, and marble eye-color. Bubble wrap, now get this, bubble wrap from Poly Corp Bubble Sheet, said the receipt, the bubble wrap having been purchased separately. There is a date on this receipt tucked among other receipts in one photo album which is also, interestingly, an album among other albums. It is a married date, a married date atop a closet less than a minute away. What if not these things are contained in a large. Airtight. Plastic. Box. Fully-preserved. Against–
MR –Without any padlock. It’s neither a locked nor a hidden box.
MRS –Elsewhere throb cockroaches. Under the sink, for example, throb cockroaches.
MR –They’re old, you know. It’s our duty to leave our parents as much room for their years, whether they resent it or not, they’re better off not looking out for these things, dusting these things by themselves. I had to pull everything out of there, a costly affair considering the distance and the toll gates, yes, but it’s a pure gesture of willful independence. A gesture that was, I recall, stamped with mutual approval. With laughter and good will even, I recall.
MRS –Likewise, both of us signed this lease. Having centralized expenses, we both pay the rent. Equally we own the sink. Equally we own the closet. Equally, the vermin.
MR –Therefore, you may burn one album and a half. Choose wisely. Especially regarding your selection of bears. With this, as in everything, I advise an exercise of wisdom.
MRS –Bears? What bears? What could bears be possibly doing between us at this hour?
–No sight of birthmarks the shape of Norway
–No awareness of the wounds amassed by late childhood games or the cuts that preclude cancer of the breast, except maybe where the finger runs, stops, asks the keloid of its shape and circumstance
–A tongue would so run but never notice, for such is the nature of tongue
–Save where it runs over what is fresh, long before scar tissue, right after the clotting, and of course the liquid time before that
MR –How could I possibly know what’s true or false about them? Do you understand? Is that okay with you, can you tolerate what I don’t know? They were giggle stories between Titas, Titas who never considered they were within earshot of a nephew manning the grill, fanning away. Who was budding and interested with grown-up bedrooms. Who – yes, maybe, but just only barely maybe – should not have listened. Kept his ears to himself. But is that even possible, turn your ears off at a whim? I was not even grade six, and it was lore, lore, for crying out loud.
MRS –Am I being treated to a bona fide retraction?
MR –Nobody even lives in a hut anymore. When Tito Carlo asked Tita Menchie if he could borrow money, Tita said, there’s not much left after your niece’s enrolment. The steep sharp price of education exacted all it could, thereby leaving little. Never mind, dear brother, that you have a standing loan of two years which continues to hang a heavy air over my pantry. Now, why don’t you stretch those legs, round a couple of corners, and knock on Old Tio Arturo’s door, that nice dark man, our dear slim relation, he’s bound to have envelopes of loanable cash in store for you, and a smile. Then Tito Carlo said, but I do not believe that he’s in as sweet a mood as everybody says. To which Tita replied, well if he’s not in a sweet mood, nobody else in this idiot of a world has any right to any happiness! Which Tita Menchie said in a tone that discouraged, once and forever, any renewed attempt from the camp of Tito Carlo to borrow money.
MRS –Where do you store the matches?
MR –I quit, it was one of your primary accomplishments. A stubborn little item finally ticked off from your To-Do, one down, 477 to go. And if, after everything – down rickety go the closets of night – and hey, when it does happen, when you do change me, will I thank you?
MRS –No one’s asking for a lighter. There must be a way you get the charcoal going. There must be matches.
MR –I can ignite any grill through sheer force of will, honey. It’s native to me. Let’s sleep this one off, okay? Tomorrow morning, let us drink many glasses of water.
MRS –Okay then, this should be easy. I’ve got sheer force of will. Enough for me, enough for every child I will bring kicking into this world.
–Never to have counted the moles of her body
–Fostered hope of ever counting, ever
–Begun to count, just to begin it and maybe also to abandon it, an enumeration with or without the intention of arriving at exactitude, with or without an attachment to the dim numerals
–Or remarked, as the case may be, on the magnificent absence of moles
MR –Come to think of it, maybe that’s how things went. The women thought it was true, the men thought it wasn’t. Who’s to know? I never met those two. And if I did, I would not jump in to ask anything of that sort. Not me. I’m not type who lunges at old folks sitting innocently atop the comfort of their closets.
MRS –Furthermore, you will not stretch your legs to gather labuyo and vinegar for the surprise dish you will not cook for them. No quail egg curry for the old folks, sorry. You will not, I know you. See how I know you?
MR –Neither Tita Menchie nor Tito Carlo would go so far as solicit the intimate details. And why oh why would the couple volunteer that kind of information, except – I’m not sure, let me see – by way of, maybe by way of fiction?
MRS –You were about to say joke, weren’t you? You were about to say except by way of joke. As a matter of fact, that was precisely what you meant. You know I know you.
MR –The matches are in the left drawer of my study, somewhere among the All Saints’ candles. You can have everything.
MRS –It’s a true story.
MR –We ought to want a story like that to be true. A man who never saw his wife naked likewise means a woman who never had to see her husband’s eyes gazing up at her nakedness. A woman should possess the right to keep what she wants to herself. It’s sovereign, inalienable, the very stuff that necessitates constitutions. Gods must be instituted to safeguard that right. I would believe in such Gods. Wholeheartedly. I’d go out of my way to love them.
MRS –The story does not require my belief. This story of a woman completely naked with a man completely satisfied in the 60 odd years of their conjugal darkness is a story entirely unaffected by my faith, or lack thereof.
MR –This is a story coming from Quisao, remember! Straight from there, a story right through the window, sleeping with us. By my invitation!
MRS –It’s a true story. Haven’t you heard? It’s historically accurate and verifiable by both insight and instrument, each to each, whether taken together or separately. That’s what the story is.
MR –It better be! At this point, it better, better be!
MRS –Why love, haven’t you heard? It’s exactly the actual story of Manang Lihing and Old Arturo who shared many a night and died, right about–
MR –They died?
MRS –Just now, honestly–
–In a blind embrace, like pink mice
–Yes, they are smiling
Tinurnilyo ko ang iyong mga
mata upang manatili ang pagtingin mo
minartilyo ko ang iyong isipan,
kinandado ang dibdib at maseselang
kinadena ang mga bisig at mga binti,
binihisan ng baluting pananggalang sa ‘yong
tinikladong programa ang mga dapat at hindi,
haram at halal, heretiko at
at nilagusan ng bakal ang laman, ng kurdon ang
ugat, ng algoritmo ang kukote. Minakina ang
Matutunghayan ang mga dibuho’t sulatin ng may-akda sa The Carcosite.
Maingat at mainam, sinasaulo kita.
Sinasaulo ko ang iyong tangkad at tindig,
ang bawat lubog at umbok:
dito ang mga tungki, dito ang mga kanto,
dito ang pinakapusod ng iyong likot, at likaw, at libog.
Sinasaulo kita upang hindi ko mapagkamalang ikaw
ang mga estranghero sa daan,
upang sa pagkakataong magkasalubong muli,
makilala pa kita. Sapagkat nagbabago lamang ng pangalan
ang mga kalsada, riles at tulay, ngunit hindi ang mga landas
na binubuksan nila sa mga pagdating at paglisan. Pasikot-sikot
ngunit paikot-ikot lamang. Umiikot, umiikot
ang lahat. Sana makilala mo rin ako
sa susunod nating paghaharap.
Unang nailathala noong 2009 sa What Voices? sa pamamatnugot ni Carlos M. Piocos III