Marjorie Evasco

Contributor Biography

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.

Rehearsal

"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.

Sumad

(Ritual cycle in harmony with Rosalina Rara’s Panaad)

1. Sambat

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.

2. Hugos

    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.

3. Bolibong-kingking

       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

Contributor Biography

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.

In Transits

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

for touchdown

at wingtip

a city canvas 

we expected 

in scaffolding.

 

variations on canvas

 

#1

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 

arm—

another deft hand

moves in wordless

finger exercises

on each rosary bead

and stop to Novena.  

Author's Note:

“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).