Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tragedy for Little Johnny

The following piece came to my inbox unsolicited, like so many promotional materials. Whoever is the originator of the piece, I applaud him/her for the subtle sense of humor and the audacity for circulating it. Rather than forwarding it in the manner of many "chain" letters which tends to be unwieldy more often than not, I decided to post it here in an attempt to augment its circulation. Have fun and enjoy the ride. Feel free to leave a comment if you must.


Third Grader Li'l Johnny Meets Barack

Barack Obama was visiting a primary school and he visited one of the classes. They were in the middle of a discussion related to words and their meanings. The teacher asked the President if he would like to lead the discussion on the word "tragedy."

So our illustrious President started by asking the class for an example of a "tragedy."

One little boy stood up and offered: "If my best friend, who lives on a farm, is playing in the field and a tractor runs over him and kills him, that would be a tragedy."

"No," said Obama, "that would be an accident."

A little girl raised her hand and volunteered: "If a school bus carrying 50 children drove over a cliff, killing everyone inside, that would be a tragedy."

"I'm afraid not," explained Obama. "That's what we would call a great loss."

The room went silent. No other child volunteered. Obama searched the room: "Isn't there someone here who can give me an example of a tragedy?

Finally, at the back of the room, Little Johnny raised his hand. In a quiet voice he said: "If the plane carrying you and Mrs. Obama was struck by a 'friendly fire' missile and blown to smithereens, that would be a tragedy."

"Fantastic!" exclaimed Obama. "That's right. And can you tell me why that would be a tragedy"?

"Well," says Johnny, "It has to be a tragedy, because it sure as hell wouldn't be a great loss . . . and you can bet your ass it's probably not an accident either."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


OF LOVE SUSTAINED [New York City, 04/25/81]

(To Nancy in a Delayed Greyhound Bus)


How sluggish do the minutes trickle by!

Why, every moment seems to hesitate

Adjourn its reckless sojourn and deny

That next succeeding moments consummate

The trivial glory of their precious prime!

Yet boredom would not even dare impose

Its wrathful claim on unapportioned time;

Nor patience need recruit and hint propose

On the clock's chore to venture intervene

And hasten your arrival's joy proclaim

No floodgates can love's rapture's flood restrain

When you in treasured nearness grace my dream:

That you will come is all I need to know;

And knowing thus makes waiting pleasure true!!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

On "The Storm"

To Jacqui [On "The Storm"] (09/01/80:)

  1.     [1]                         

You, who with stroke of genius can reveal

That spangle of existence 'neath the veil

And tangle of confusion which enfold

The human understanding of the Well

Of Life through generations from of old,

Would you with lead and canvass yet unfold

The secret that you see beyond "The Storm"

So wretched mortals may with love behold

Both truth and beauty in more lucid form?

Or does it lie beyond the visual norm

Of revelation that needs genius show

Why love is in itself both calm and storm:

And Life but luster in its afterglow . . .

Too strong to waive, too flimsy to pursue?


(II)            [2]                        

Through corridors of wicked circumstance

With cross I wandered and stole a glance

Of your sublime creation, and, in me,

The blessings of that momentary chance

As moment of condensed eternity

Burst forth like movement in a symphony

Aspiring to the highest notes transcend

Before it consummates the melody . . .

Perflext the least of what the notes portend,

Not heeding the beginning nor the end,

To inspiration did my cross transform!

Oh! Bliss from pain! Need I yet comprehend:

What magic did your work of art perform,

What pow'r bestowed in your "The Storm"?


If contemplation can perforce impart

An answer: 'tis the artist not the art

Who fills my being, and with keen insight

Hope subtly kindles in my aching heart.

True, unbeknownst, yet capture me quite

Like force of dawn comes to displace the night;

A force which proves with power absolute

The wrongs to right, vanquish with mean and might

The fear which doubts myself to sin impute –

The fatal weakness that can bring to naught

The strength, which is the mind's heritage.

If from "The Storm" respite vainly sought,

Then love reduced to futile escapades

Till lost in pain of selfdestructive rage!


(IV)            [4]                         

It is with thanks that I indulgence pray

Of you to take these words not with dismay;

Though ourselves strangers we both find

Each other, and forever we may be,

The fait accompli that you touched my mind

In ways unique and apprehensionblind

Ignites a flame of wild obsession bred

To brave the tide that fate and time entwined,

The flood to take on from the fountainhead

And not just drink of your canvassinlead;

Unworried on the wherefores, nor ask how

To paint a picture, you may deem proceed . . .

The Tide is you, the moment may be now!

This Storm in me is sin to disavow!

[* * *]

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tales of my Grandmother

Nostalgic Remembrance of Grandma Simpron-Asumen

At the outset I express my deepest apologies to my venerable ancestors if by writing about them I, ipso facto, violate one of the hallowed axioms of Asumen-hood. Namely, common decency demands that the family laundry be kept under wraps inside the family closet. It just so happens that I don't find anything disgraceful in what I have written so far and what I intend to write about henceforth.

Should any member of the clan find it offensive or hurtful that I delve into the history of the clan which might be deemed most private, I plead guilty. If there be any such parties, to them, I also apologize. In my defense, let me invoke the insightful inklings of Thomas Gray (1716-71), thus:

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

If you looked up "obstinacy" in any picture dictionary, any descendant of my grandmother's should find her picture as the definition of the concept. She was the quintessential meaning of the word. It is precisely for this reason that her story demands to be told. Her descendants can learn and be proud of her, even of those quirks which arguably may be construed as character flaws. She purportedly acquired, after all, the reputation of being the meanest lady in the township.

So if you carry some of her DNA signatures in your genes, it can only help to be somewhat aware of what you might have inherited. It certainly should serve to dispose of some of those bad hair days which may happen upon you every once in a while. Keep in mind, obstinacy is deplorable only to the extent that you are wittingly clinging to an attitude with the full knowledge that you are in the wrong.

A most prominent feature of the house that grandpa and grandma occupied in my earliest recollection of childhood was the imposing bushes of lemon grass surrounding the house by nearly three-quarters of the perimeter. It was a commonly held belief that lemon grass repelled the lethal poisonous variety of tropical snakes. Nanay Orin (short for Florentina), as we called grandma Asumen, tended her lemon grass with the pride and preening satisfaction that an English aristocrat accorded the roses in the ancestral garden.

Bear in mind that then there was no market value for lemon grass. In a farming/fishing community every household was expected to have at least a bush of it in the yard. Nevertheless, grandma had the well substantiated reputation of not parting with a single stalk of lemon grass without giving the recipient a lengthy lecture on the virtues of planting your own.

Consequently she always gave away cuttings which included the roots with the admonition to plant the roots before cooking the succulent stalks because she could not tolerate any body asking for handouts a second time around. So a demure neighbor would very well suffer not having lemon grass in the supper stew than endure grandma's notorious lectures.

Where I spent my earliest childhood, the proximity of a neighbor was reckoned in terms of number of hills and dales away, or so many bends of the meandering nearby creek away. The measure of whether or not you were a neighbor was how well you were reached by the sound of the blown tambuli, the traditional means of calling the attention of neighbors. The message was transmitted by a pre-established pattern of long and short notes, some primitive macro Morse code of sorts.

As a pres-school little boy I only learned the pattern for alarm as in summons for help and for jubilee as when there was an unexpected bounty to share, e.g., when you had a bountiful catch for the day, fishing-wise. Each household's tambuli, made from either a water buffalo horn or the shell of a giant conch (as was my grandfather's), had a signature sound so there was no mistaking who was sending the message.

Our house was located two valleys bookending a longish diamond back ridge away from grandma's house. Their tambuli was faintly but unmistakably audible from our house. I always treasured the afternoons when I could spend in their house for one excuse or another, under the pampering tolerant watch of my grandfather.

To begin with, Nanay Orin was the sweetest little old lady a little boy could ever hope to have for a grandmother. She had the habit of taking afternoon naps, probably a relic of the Spanish siesta. While she was taking a nap, grandpa used to help me steal from her stash of chocolate tablets, i.e., tablea, usually kept in a basket suspended to the rafters. Grandma, on discovering the mischief, would grandly announce that there was a rat infestation problem in the household because no matter how she safeguarded her stash of tablea, she still would be missing a few.

Even from a little boy's perspective, grandma was definitely diminutive in stature. She was an accomplished midwife without the benefit of formal training. All three of her children, were very skilled at giving a massage, particularly the anma variety. I am the fifth of eight siblings. All of us were delivered at home with the sole assistance of a midwife. I was the last one to have been delivered with grandma as the attending midwife. The rest of my siblings were delivered by Aunt Isabel (Nanay Abeng) as the midwife.

This was not only because grandma was too advanced in age to adequately do the job. My younger sister, sixth in the order, ended up being officially named Turtlelita. That was because when mother was pregnant with her, my parents were not in good terms with grandma. Grandma generated the rumor in town that she had put the curse on mother's pregnancy and that mother was pregnant not with a human fetus but with a turtle.

In defiance, when my sister was born, father named her Turtlelita. Her first grade school teacher took pity on her and she just decided to change the name to Tortellita. Much later on, somebody pointed out that it sounded like the diminutive for fried eggs, tortella. I think when she got older she just decided to drop the pseudo-prefex and became just plain Lita.

I can't exactly recall what triggered the quarrel between my parents and grandmother. I do recall that during that time grandpa was still on speaking terms with my parents. This led to the well held consensus that it simply was an instance of grandma's mean streak. On hindsight, I consider it a simple instance of the proverbial conflict between female in-laws, well documented since biblical antiquity.

So there you have it. These are selective tidbits of what is readily retrievable from my bank of selective memory. Feel free to pick and choose, if you can, which personal trait to inherit. As for myself, I deem it a fitting tribute to her memory by altering the third person plural pronouns to third person singular and quote a stanza from Thomas Gray, thus:

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Her sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
She kept the noiseless tenour of her way.




A Posteriori

* * * A P O S T E R I O R I * * *

(After Seeing You but Once NYC/12/28/80)

(V)                 [1]                         

If sweet suspicion but sustain

The chance which all suspicions breed

Suspecting truth, would truth remain

That unsuspected dormant seed

Whence bloom those dreams we seldom dare

For fear that but frustration prove

The daring fruit that dreamers fear

When dreams appear to be of love

And love bedeemed illimmature

By matured silence venture speak

May unbespoken long endure

Injured to heartbreak give and take:

Silence is for the faint at heart

As daring speech is Virtue's art!


(VI)            [2]

Let askance dwell ere you with contempt fling

Into some rage that may perdition bode

Of our acquintance in its early spring

Which rapturepregnant, threatens to explode

Of passions akin to a summer storm;

Try selfcomposure but in vain contain

The havoc which, you, unbeknownst, perform

Beyond what prose may venture to explain

To this, my poor and unsuspecting soul.

Thou, tide legend of Shakespearean fame

Which in affairs of men the flood control,

Oh how! and why you set myself aflame?

Sweet Angel born of living poetry,

Grant me the right to sing thee night and day!


(01/04/81: After Seeing You Home)

(VII)             [3]                     

Live courage by sweet mem'ry of a kiss

With nonchalance to me you hastened throw

So made courageous boldly dreams cherish

And hope the memory will chance renew

Ere burden of your answer negative

Myself annihilate beyond redeem

And languish in the poignant thought as grieve

As liking you be but an empty dream.

If your kiss were but protocolimposed

Let selfdeception Purgatory be

Regrets bereckoned most deserving cost

When sin is but default's own legacy!

I'd rather grab the harvest of a sin

Than wonder of: If but, what might have been!


(VIII)            [4]

Hence contemplation boldly will proceed

More questions pose, to thenceforth answers seek

For questions are to conscience healthy bread

To nourish on, as hubris feeds on risk.

Should I be rest content with your first "No"

And to the verdict of harsh fate resign

Myself would be my most dangerous foe

And reason would to wretched farce consign.

Should I at all the path of danger brave,

The consequence to face sans bitter tears,

Let forfeiture not be that path conceive

Else all my days be litany of fears.

Virtue misplac'd there seems in arrogance

Misplacing virtue's reason's temperance!


(03/04/81: On Your Smoking)

(IX)        [5]

Oh yes, that I am burning so within

Although unlike the cigarettes you take

With hesitation of a conscious sin

(Before commission its repentance seek)

Should be no secret; least of all to you,

Who set this heart aglow, should I disguise

The hunger for your touch which you construe

As tendency to preach and moralize!

If know you should, sure, should I truth reveal

And misconstruance henceforth not admit

Even the echo of my envious tale:

That but I tip holding your cigarette

So fire within me can your lips devour,

For cigarettes you shall crave nevermore!!!


(03/11/81: Beyond A Title)

(X) [6]

If but I can love you a little less

Than I have loved you since and love you now,

To such proportion would perhaps some peace

Or stolen comfort settled thoughts allow

Some more resourceful means with more success,

Uncharted avenues venture explore,

Unearth those as yet undiscovered ways

Or unimagined Gods' power implore

To brave the door of favor to your grace.

And yet, Alas! Each day I love you more!

Behooved beholden be of your caprice

As billows beating on the passive shore:

Though loving you meseems the greater need,

Of you beloved be, the cause I plead!!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

On Roses (for You)

O N R O S E S*

(XI) [1]

Pray, query not why I should roses send;

Too well you know, for you what I do feel.

Fulfilling feeling fails itself to spend

In selffulfilment to silence prevail.

As potent verses I do fail compose,

Nor selfcomposure ample strength conjure

The which would match the measure of my cause

Or cause a measure to content endure

My aspiration's furtive mutiny,

These roses bring to you the muted tune,

By fragrance whisper love's sweet litany,

And prithee, hear their prayer as my own:

The withered petals did not bloom in vain

If blooming once, breathe they my soul's refrain!


(XII) [2]

Roses can only bloom, and fade, and die

If not for them who they with love behold

To whom their blushing radiance signify

The glory of life's story left untold:

Perhaps remembrance of good times remote,

Perhaps exuberance of wild desire,

Perhaps the forbearance of chance unsought,

Perchance the vengeance of unquenched fire;

Whether the mem'ries of stolen kisses

Or the faint traces of elusive dreams,

The agony of unfulfilled wishes

Or tyranny of once frustrated schemes,

To flowers that you find in every rose

Let blooming be of joys: fading, of woes!


(XIII) [3]


If in the roses flowers find you not

But malice on the tip of every thorn,

As thorny fetters are of mind begot

When fettered shutters shadowcast the dawn

To grace the night with gloomy corridors

Of wicked circumstance, then might the rose

Breathe forth the treasure of its silken purse

To shower fragrance for such mournful cause.

That yet the fragrance, thus diffused, may be,

Invigorate the air with force to thwart

The poignant langour of your apathy

And stir warm ember in your cold, cold heart:

Let roses fade, they're but token of love;

They, fading, feed that which they're token of !!!


* [New York City, 02/28/81 (1); 03/07/81 (2); 03/15/81 (3)]

{* * *}

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In Retrospect

    I N R E T R O S P E C T

    (Ode to Love's Labors Lost Unperceived)

    [New York City, Summer/Fall 1980]


1    If wisdom's strong, to reason may suffice

Should that be wrong, some charm to mesmerize

This soul to ease the pain. If not,

The great and near-great's words may plagiarize!


2    In vain sought comfort in philosophy,

Or comfort sought in others' company;

In verses crude, can I venture erode

Love's burden's Hell, Life's poignant agony?


3    Heaven, elusive "vision of fulfilled desire,"

Hell, looming "shadow of a soul on fire"

Of love begot by cruel Destiny

Sooner than born is sent off to retire!


4    'Twixt right and wrong, how easy to define,

'Twixt love and hate is harder drawn the line.

Mistakes are made before we even know

That worst of them is one's will to resign.


5    Anger and rage, brute children of illusion

When deigned to reign bring fetters to emotion.

If it should be that we shall not be one,

What gain is made by wrathful condemnation?


6    Prithee, is it that never blooms so sweet

The rose as from where mournful tears are let?

The joys that from few fleeting moments sprung

Are mem'ries true, no justice to regret!


7    Not all the roads we take lead us to Rome,

Nor all the sins we dared commit bring doom;

Will all the blossoms we may yet behold

Be sweeter made by picking them in gloom?


8    As breeze caressing but few blades of green

With dewdrops feed the grass ere dawn sets in,

Few words that never meant to touch the soul

With vehemence precipitate the pain.


9    The glance that was stolen with a pause

Did fire not the anger which broke loose,

Search deep beneath the veil of pleasantries

Peradventure you'd still find the cause.


10    "A hair divides the false and true," they say,

A giant leap from "thee-and-me" to "we""

It takes no less than all that one is worth

And more to spare for cares along the way.


11    If one needs but few moments to carouse

Will-o-the-wisp would serve no worse spouse.

Take better heed, it hurts to be deceived,

Save fools, none heed for such half-way-house!


12    One moment in premeditation's haste

One argument for mortal wisdom quest

One moment which to love's perdition prove

Wild vengeance of annihilation's waste!


13    Can silence with proverbial eloquence

Set council for the heartache's recompense

To heal the wounds that only lovers know

And teardrops wash some error's insolence?


14    No Bacchal cure of legend potency

Nor pastime pure, not sheer obstinacy

E'n sweet Oblivion's comfort but in vain

Recapture love's life-giving rhapsody.


15    Come, Nightingale from thine throne divine

Come, bring the tune to soothe this heart of mine

In woe begone, in stormy tide adrift,

Come, sing thine song so shoreward may recline.


16    Indeed, indeed, not hither bring thy rhyme

Sweet Serenade to her dear heart sublime

To her dear ears, sweet nothings in my name

Pray, whisper till beyond the end of time.


17    For mine voice rings venom in her ears

And mine birth deemed shameful to her peers;

My ways and loving entreaty provoke

In her torrential flood of angry tears!


18    This selfsame storm of my predicament

Abates to calm at her commandement;

The ebbs and flows, she holds, she surely knows

The key to predetermination's vent.

9    Ere predetermination's book was wrote

How oft the Well of Life to some has put

Forth hope, and yes, some inspiration so

Love's toil need not be reduced to naught?


20    How oft, indeed, that we, so hoping fall

Ensnared in Love's deep intermeshing thrall?

Whence in the wake of heartbreak's undertow

Shall start to walk and not content to crawl?


21    Lest be content with what is coming forth

Befits to ask what self-reflection's worth.

Why! vanquished dreams, as dreams, remain untrue

If not for new beginnings and rebirth!


22    Out from the whirlpool of that turbid wake

Arise questions dare I not answer seek

Those lovely lips that I life-treasure kiss

Who else, whose lips, they kisses give and take?


23    Oh, let you kiss them, what have I to do

With what you will, or say, or where you go?

Much as I care, I am aware I may

Wreak havoc on the world but heed not you!


24    How odd it seems that Logic negative

Can blissful dreams dismiss to make believe

All would be well; and why not, if you please,

Sing Requiem: a living soul's reprieve?


25    Oh, yesterday, how we with passion kissed

In love's embrace your arms were heaven's nest;

Same nest today you eagerly prepare

To welcome one yet-better favored guest!


26    Of love possessed, consumed by jealousy

Abandoned reason for some fantasy

Of better days that some tomorrow may

Bring back the warmth of by-gone ecstasy.


27    Sweet mem'ries dwell in shadows of a kiss

You blew my way by a moment's caprice

My heart beguiled, too drunk to but guess

Not all of sweet things made are lovers' bliss!


28    Yesterday' kiss and promise did provoke

Today's despair, resentment, chain, and yoke;

The hope tirelessly nurtured by the hour

So late discovered yet so soon forsook


29    Yet bewitched by your magical power

Condemned to long endure love's endeavor

To what may yet be proved the better end

And sweet reward for teardrops shed so far.


30    So oft methought deserving ridicule

That I continue wanting you, and all

Of you, knowing you're not even aware

What Hell you wrought to my tormented soul


31    The wheels of life do roll, and having rolled

May yet some sweeter tale of love unfold,

Or better yet, as past wont to repeat:

Some bitter wrath in aggravation's mold!


32    Indeed, indeed, 'tis not for me to blame

You and your ways of playing Cupid's game;

You sample all the options -- that I know

And I resent; but want you just the same!


33    And so, sweet lady, whom I love so true

You brought my life in this world much woe,

Condemned my prospect as but so much dirt

For you to brush off and to bid adieu!


34    I must resolve this by myself, I must!

How long can someone in agony last?

Oh what a pity -- the spectacle:

Of Love reduced to Desire in the Dust!


35    No, knows no measure, oh, the misery

When lovers make resort to beggary

Knowing that both the beggar and the begged

Of love's devotion make a mockery!


36    You, who with well-intentioned malice win

Away the peace I used to wander in,

Can you but place some stakes into the odds

And not foreclose the chance that ought begin?


37    Oh, questions, and more questions, yet no more

Do answers come than mermaids come to shore

To build a rainbow bridge across the gulf

So broken dreams may blissfully recur.


38    Born to lose! You hinted e'er so often

Are they who dreams conceive to be broken.

For all the troubles you took to conceal

That epitaph, of me was oft spoken.


39    Yet you won't break with an opinion's force

A life which knew the better and the worse

Of all, else, incidental circumstance

    For which the will, at least, is half the source.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Translations from Francisco Balagtas Baltazar's Florante at Laura

        For Celia (Kay Selya)

(1) If I should venture from my thoughts peruse

Those days of love, bygone and deeply mourned,

Be it obscure, could I a word disclose

Except of Celia, in my heart enthroned?


(2) The selfsame Celia did always provoke

Wild apprehensions that she might betray

Our love betrayed, perforce endure the yoke

Of fate to sink in endless misery.


(3) Could I have strength to such perusal waive

Such poignant annals of broken romance:

Her tender loving care, to me she gave,

The which I paid for with perseverance.


(4) Sweet days are gone, those days of bliss replete,

With nothing left save love's unquenched fire;

Within my heart shall love reverberate

Until this soul from carcass shall retire.


(5) Now that I find myself in state forlorn

I summon strength to countermand my grief,

In recollecting days when love was born,

Else in your portrait find grief's sweet relief.


(6) That portrait which by love's own pencil writ,

In my own heart and soul do I engrave;

The treasure which to me did love bequeath,

With me remains until beyond the grave.


(7) This selfsame soul did frequently adjourn

And tarry at locales you would frequent:

At the Beata river made sojourn,

At Hilom shallows many visits spent.


(8) My recollection oftentimes would seek

Our rendezvous beneath the manggo bough:

You would a manggo bunch attempt to pick;

While I, by you, a Hedonist enow!


(9) When you with serious illness stayed behind,

My being was reduced to helpless sighs.

To heaven's grace my heartbeat I consigned,

Your room bedeemed a treasured paradise.


(10) With mine own, I lavished with caresses

Footprints you left on the rock platform shore

Of the Makati which we both cherish

Your image did I worship evermore.


(11) There often I returned in search for some

Illusive whims of happy yesteryears:

A bather waits not for the splash to come

But to the water heads, lest bath forbears.


(12) I hear it still, your words reverberate:

"Full three days now, each other we've not seen",

And my reply to you without regret:

"For each, how many times prepared we've been!"


(13) Indeed, there's not a stone that's left unturned

Brooding on fate of sweet rapture faded.

"Woe is me!" so groaning, myself I scorned

Torrential tears with mine moans cascaded.


(14) Where is Celia, the sunshine of my heart?

Why did we fail to nurture our romance?

Whither the days when life and soul were part

Of that heaven begotten of her glance?


(15) I wonder why, now that we are apart,

Should not this wretched life of mine expire?

Since, Celia, from my heart you must depart

Death's sweet relief is my one last desire.


(16) Lacking the strength to endure injury

From joy's desertion you on me impose,

I venture sing this life of misery

My verses may my suffering dispose.


(17) Surfeit of silence, Celia, I beseech

Thee to hear me with ears and open mind

My muse, if ignorant and faint of speech,

Pray, grant that she should your indulgence find.


(18) Bereft may be of lettered elegance

These first buds of my prudence immature,

My dedication take with tolerance,

Your faithful servant does of you implore.


(19) Should any line thereof be deemed offensive

My humble efforts find worthy excuse

That if resentment should its reading give

Pardon the author, pray, without abuse.


(20) To merrymaking nymphs of Bai Lake,

To mermaids with sweet enchanting voices,

My humble muse does her petition make

That all their charms and talents may possess.


(21) Mother Nature, hear my supplication:

Your lyre's tune may to my lyrics lend,

Lyrics which speak of love's aspiration

To transcend Time's ruins through to life's end.


(22) Dear heart, flower of my meditation,

Celia with the initials M.A.R.,

May the Virgin Mary his petition

Grant who for your welfare prays Baltazar.


To the Reader

For reading, love, accept my gratitude

That you, this, my endeavor worthy find.

Virtue if lacked, as my solicitude,

Reward may yet bestow the searching mind.


A quick glance may deem it bitter and raw,

Its peel may some unripe looks exhibit,

But if tasted past the external hue,

Indulgent readers may yet find it sweet.


Neither that you should this poem treasure

Nor do I ask that you should scorn disguise.

Do as you will and fulfill your leisure,

But pray, the verses you should not revise.


If you should find many a verse obscure,

Before your stamp of condemnation put,

If you but pause, between the lines explore,

Perchance you find it clear and right to boot.


Betimes you'll find markers for notation

Applied on some language of subtler breed,

Consult the footnotes for explanation,

Renders the meaning clearer as you read.


And here I pause, genius of a reader,

Lest Segismundo's fate might inherit

Nor platitudes make my verses clearer,

Revisions can its self-defeat commit.


Of Words Replete


(1) Amidst a gloomy forest desolate

With thorny underbrush so thickly grown,

The which so rough as hard to navigate

Even by him who is of Phoebe born.


(2) Huge stately tall trees the scene's offering,

Air of affliction, anguish and sorrow,

Birds sing not but a tune so depressing

Even for one with cheerfulness thorough.


(3) Each tree branch does sport its own adornment

Of twining vines richly wrapped treacherous

With hairy fruit and sharp thorns as garment

The lightest touch would mortal pain impose.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tales of My Grandfather

Tales of My Grandfather

Grandfather was the quintessential champion of self-reliance. One of his more than a few axioms was never outsource anything that you can do yourself because you are the best judge of the quality of workmanship that you need to put into a product to ensure its excellence. Therefore anything that is worth doing is worth doing well because the character of a person is embodied and exhibited in the quality of his handiwork or product. His descendants, as we endeavored to abide by this axiom, later affectionately and reverently referred to it as the Asumen code of integrity.

Under this philosophy, he managed to singlehandedly hack out a coconut plantation out of virgin forests homestead acreage. He built all the houses he lived in. He handcrafted most of his farm implements and fishing instruments, including his personal boat, a bandong, which consisted of one solid hulk carved out of a huge tree trunk as opposed to something constructed from component parts. (Its navigational advantages and logistical properties are delved into later below.)

The inventory of accessories he made himself reads like the items list in the village bazaar or an ethnic museum. He made his multi-season monsoon hat sarok from the nito a dwarf rattan-like vine that thrived as weeds in his land and the buli a stately variety of palm tree he planted and became a hallmark product of one of his land parcels. He made his smoking pipes both from the clay in the nearby creeks/marshlands and the various species of bamboo in his land.

He planted his own tobacco. Harvested the crop and treated the leaves for storage. He rolled his own cigar with his personal methods of aging them. He smoked the cigars to the last half-inch and saved the stumps to be chewed later mostly as pure tobacco chew and sometimes mixed with other ingredients in a Betel Chew (mamah), a concoction consisting of quartered nuts of the areca palm (mam-on), homemade lime from burnt choice sea shells (apog) wrapped in a leaf of betel piper vine (bodsyuh, boyu), a specialty plant grown or harvested in the wilds specifically for this purpose.

Grandpa Insoy, who has never seen or heard of a dentist all his life, uncompromisingly and proudly attributed his chewing prowess to this dental regimen. He sported a fully functional and healthy set of teeth until a full three days before he signed off from his mortal coil.

His strength was legendary. He could wrestle to the ground a young water buffalo bull. The main qualifications being that the horns should not be grown enough to have acquired the pointed tips and before they begin to assume the curvature manifested when the animal is a fully grown bull. Imagine the giant bodyguard to the hostage princess Lygia in the 1951 movie Quo Vadis.

A narrative usually told as a mild attempt to somewhat downsize his reputation for courage or a penchant for not backing out of any adverse situations but inadvertently celebrated his physical prowess, went as follows: one night he was fishing alone with hook and line in a bandong. This boat is constructed with relatively flattish bottom proportional to the cross-sectional diameter, shape and girth of the tree trunk it is made from. As such it is inherently bulky and traditionally used for group fishing activities and heavy haulage. A crew of three would barely comfortably handle an average size bandong in wavy waters.

Because of its bulk and size it is relatively stable and can be sailed through moderately wavy waters without the benefit of side ballasts. Sans outriggers gives it the added advantage of better maneuverability to go through narrow passages obtaining in mangrove forests and nipa swamps. Its flat bottom makes it most adaptive to shallow waters, as obtains in estuaries punctuated with transient silt deltas. Normal people would not use it for deep sea fishing, an operation which routinely drops anchor at low-lying reefs of fifteen to thirty fathoms deep.

While grandpa Insoy was fishing away, a heavy storm began to brew and the phenomenon of St. Elmo's fire happened unto his vicinity. In catholic superstation St. Elmo's fire is believed to be associated with a condemned soul with scores to settle on earth before it can proceed to Purgatory. Deciding not to tangle with the supernatural, Insoy Asumen proceeded to paddle his bandong shoreward before pulling anchor. He only realized he was dragging his anchor the entire way when he was safely at berth.

Legend has it that in his prime, he was an accomplished eskrimador, i.e., a practitioner of the Filipino martial arts of Eskrima, particularly of the defense-oriented weaponless variety. This version of the tale I heard mostly from my father. Grandpa's workout routine to hone his skills and reflexes was to lie down on his back at the bottom of a bandong wearing only his g-strings. He would have a half gallon of corn kernel freshly dyed with achiotes
a.k.a. lipstick tree sprinkled onto him. The object of the exercise was to prevent a single kernel of corn from touching his torso, using only his four limbs for a weapon.

It is indeed regrettable that to the best of my knowledge and belief, none of his descendants had inherited the talent or endeavored to acquire the skills. Hopefully some generations hence that particular property of the genes would show up somehow. That shall have been a fitting tribute to the memory of Tatay Insoy, as we all called him.

(He was born in Calape on the north western coast of the island province of Bohol about 41 km from Tagbilaran, the provincial capital which is within 75 to 90 minutes plane ride from Manila.)