Marjorie Evasco is Professor Emeritus of Literature at De La Salle University, Manila. Her poetry collections include Dreamweavers: Selected Poems 1976-1986, Ochre Tones: Poems in English and Cebuano, and Fishes of Light (Peces de Luz): Tanrenga in Two Tongues. Her poetry has been translated into several Philippine and world languages. Recipient of the S.E.A. Write Award, Evasco has received literary accolades from the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, the Philippine Free Press, the Manila Critics Circle, Book Development Association of the Philippines, the Writers Union of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Commission on Culture and the Arts. She represented the Philippines at the Poetry Parnassus festival during the 2012 London Olympics.
"The silence after, once the theatre has emptied
of bewilderment after the glacier,
the species, the star."
—Jane Hirshfield, Another Universe
What they saw were not the ghostly tracks
Of several hundred hooves, wings, and fins
Disappeared by their factories, open pit mines,
Testing sites. When the pathogen leaped from one
Lung to another with the speed of near-invisibility,
Everything had to shut down, every one of them house-
Bound. Everywhere city streets were emptied—
Townhalls, churches, theatres, shopping centers,
Schools—closed down as hospitals spilled over
With the sick and dying. When the April moon rose
Full over the city, she looked out of her balcony
And saw how it could look like this when humans
Disappeared entirely by their own undoing. Wild
Animals, displaced by civilization, puzzled by
A strange silence, would slowly saunter into vacant
Lots, as if at last reclaiming their lost shelters,
With no humans to break the rhythm of the round.
(Ritual cycle in harmony with Rosalina Rara’s Panaad)
Five small girls in a row sat at the prow
Of our boat following the small sacred
Icon, the miraculous Virgin of Guadalupe,
Down Loboc River on the eve of her feast.
They were playing angels, their wings
Of pliant cardboard stuck with white
Feathers taken from the chickens
Dressed for the fiesta vispera dinner.
It was a hot late afternoon of May,
Lit candles on both sides of the river
Glimmering in the water at sundown
While people on the banks prayed.
As our boat neared the swaying bridge
Of Camayaan, a dozen young girls
Stood still on it, palms folded in devotion,
Their stance like a highdiver’s preparing
To jump for holy joy! I held my breath in fear
They be leapers of faith, their zeal breaking
Through iron mesh railings, plunging head
First in their white lace dresses into water.
Still following the miraculous virgin’s boat
Turned upriver, something caught our eye:
Specks of white wings against the sunset sky
Strayed from the dawn resurrection drama.
Two little girls, strung from their tiny waists
Were flying below the bridge of corruption,
The one the national government would have
Built straight through the heart of Loboc church,
Splitting it apart even before the earthquake.
There, on their harness with metal lines, hook,
And tackle, these angels tried to keep their
Grace aloft, their small legs poised high as they
Scattered fragrant petals on the virgin’s boat
And the fluvial procession passing beneath.
I was told their sweet voices were singing
The Salve Regina, the final hymn they sung
Daily at the Flores de Mayo, offering
Blooms of the hot season before the river
Swelled with the annual monsoon rains.
But as our boat passed under their flimsy
Legs, I heard only my own ragged breath,
As though my heart was sundered open
By the peril and beauty of their act of faith.
I was fish caught by the lure of their belief.
So the story goes: in 1876, in the worst
Flood that devastated their town, the swollen
River rose to the height of the Virgin’s pedestal,
Stopping right below her feet. Her miracle
Was the sign she would keep the rest
Of her believers from drowning in the waters.
From that year, the people fed their lives
With miracles and the promise to dance around
The Virgin’s statue to the beat of base drums
Sounding the rhythm of their hearts: bolibong,
Bolibong, bolibong, while the cymbals struck
The high notes of leaping joy: kingking, kingking,
Kingking. Rosalina, a Lobocanon through her
Mama Urba, who also used to dance in church,
Made that promise. And as she lifted her arms,
That fiesta morning, swaying on small steps
To kiss the Virgin’s sacred feet, a fleeting flutter
Of white wings brushed against her shoulders.
At last she wiped the sweat from her brow,
Flushed cheeks; smiled as though finally waking
From the trance of her dance, an old babaylan
Ready for the rites of healing all through the year,
In the repeating cycles of sun and rain. Next
May, the angels shall have grown new wings.
Catherine Candano has published poetry in Asia Literary Review, Get Lucky: An Anthology of Philippine and Singapore Writings, Asian Cha, Anvil Publishing’s Crowns and Oranges: New Philippine Poetry, and Philippine PEN Center’s At Home in Unhomeliness: An Anthology of New Philippine Postcolonial Poetry. She has been invited to read at 2020's Poetry Festival Singapore with poets from London, Kenya, Canada, Singapore, and the Philippines. Professionally, Cathy contributes to Google Asia Pacific partnerships.
Grace—we rarely met—
but in my third country, island—
I watched you in admiration,
in your many guises. I’ve always seen you
at Airport Passenger Terminal #1.
Last March at boarding gate 3, we met
a delirious man in his 70’s, on the arriving flight.
He wanted the purser to get him a phone booth, quick
to call his only daughter. You and I saw the neatly
written numbers seem like letters smudged together,
on a slip of paper, tea-logged with turbulence
from the flight over. You helped him
with patient permutations
of numbers, while he prayed,
that led to her voice
on the other end of the line.
Do you remember in June—the tiny wanderer
found at boarding gate 10, alone,
desperately trying to reach the water fountain by herself.
When you met the sobbing girl—you dashed down
to the only boarding gate
that would soon ‘see snow’ as she said.
Her parents, and elderly aunt clasped her in arms,
three travelators down at gate 14,
before they sealed up the plane’s metal door.
In September, do you remember the threadbare family of 8,
their fuel stop sent them here,
on detour instead of onto Dubai,
and having only dirhams at midnight
when money exchangers were closed—
you and I fished for change, we emptied our purses
with remnant coins, enough for 7 curry pastry
at the only open stall at the staff cafeteria.
You coaxed milk formula,
from a 24-hour convenience store manager
closing up her night shift,
for the baby.
Yesterday, on my last flight from Manila,
I saw you at the customs stop, unmistakeable.
You were helping a curly-haired woman from my flight
who spoke no English, gently understand
why her box of home-cured sausages
could not make it past the x-ray machine,
and fried up onto a plate in her son’s apartment—
while comforting her gentle cries
through a colleague who spoke her dialect,
and tapping a soothing palm
on her lower back.
Arriving back on the island, waiting
for the airport train to take me back to the city,
I remembered your face,
and being myself, I trusted in cycles—
and being back home now
in a manner of speaking,
it wouldn’t be too long
before you and I would circle by,
at this crossing at Changi,
past immigration lines,
I still watch for you,
patient and unafraid.
Imaginary Landscapes to Novena
the skein flew
and women prayed
a city canvas
variations on canvas
if Luz were on this train
it would be
a dark roaring tube
and a single handrail
we held—as firmly
as a child’s slim
another deft hand
moves in wordless
on each rosary bead
and stop to Novena.
“Imaginary Landscapes to Novena” was first published in Get Lucky: An Anthology of Philippine and Singapore Writings, edited by Manuelita Contreras-Cabrera, Migs Bravo-Dutt, and Eric Tinsay Valles (Ethos Books, 2015).