Ghost Month 2.0
“Make melody to our God on the lyre” by TheRevSteve is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Apparitions have started to falter
though it is still inside of me
buried like a dead lover’s last kiss
an aftertaste around the wine glass’ tarnished lips
now that winter is undressing its usual
cloudy days in between bright, bright mornings.
There are dawns I am awakened not by longings
or that blurry grief but a haze of who I had
a conversation with. Was it heavy, like the waves
of drunkenness? Was it light, levitating, like a giggle
of child? Was it about a fragment of a previous memory
from a previous life, a sojourn to meditate deep in a forested
dream, or while the city rouses up from this lingering
pandemic? Was it that beautiful trembling string
plucking a deep nerve, between fingers and purple words
and the smell of lemon peel, medicated balm, and boyhood?
Ghosts are now real, haunting new memories, alerting the gut
feeling that there is something wrong, strange, chilling
in this search of a conduit, in telling that it is more scary
to be alive, seeing yourself and someone disappearing briefly
as two faint bodies, cloudy and spectrally delicate, away from this all
but briefly in the depth of this unfathomable second before midnight.
Before, it was for animals and any unwanted and pathogenic life form between borders and demarcations. Now, it is about us, the distance between anyone who can breathe and disperse droplets of aerosol and infection. We are bound by this fear, by the absence of an inoculation, by this obsession to flatten all that is bound to rise beyond ventilation as lungs collapse and our ability to defend our sanity ceases in the form of disassembly. We are dwarfed and coerced to go insular, to abandon travel plans, self-isolate in sanitised hotel rooms, forget the wedding dates, attend funerals in zoom view, or never at all, shop without the glee of browsing the logic of canned goods and beaming catalogues, attend our wounds as if they are less gangrened, watch a horror flick in real-time through our screens about the piling tower of graves as death toll and decay continue to bloom, in this world war z, in full throttle. We are ripped, and some do grieve, in various fashion and ways to explore filters, shades, pivots and touch-typing talent as all our intimacies become long-distance relationships, like writing love letters in short digital scripts, HTML Unicode, ones and zeroes bifurcation and broad bands or turtle speeds; expected to join watch parties for about ten seconds or more, gallivanting to see the other side, the other person, the other end of the screen in full Toto, not in synecdoche, thinking we are fucked enjoying this extended holiday in the discomfort of our pyjamas, home workstation or while on an unemployed hunger/benefit. We blame it, the bat’s echolalia to a pangolin and our endangerment, now that we hesitate touch and pander our naïve existence, now that we posit distance as a meter and half precaution, now that we breathe dis/infected air and wash, and lather, and untangle 20 seconds of hygiene for this cataclysm. Look after, yourself, and your neighbourhood, your parents, and grandparents, your octogenarian pre-school teacher, your uncle who is a smoker, your father who went for a cruise after being widowed and now on a ventilator, your shadow, ageing and getting more and more vulnerable as you collect the last pack of toilet paper. In other worlds, where umbrellas and storms and ills are everyday apocalypse, death from this contagion comes with hunger, the lack of sanitation and sanity on chambers and palaces, the proclivity to beg for miracles and urgency, the dwindling providence and potable resilience, and limitless capacity to disco and socialise at this end-of-the-world-party screened live and wide.
Book: Ilang Sandali…Makalipas ang Huling Araw ng Mundo, University of the Philippines Press, 2019
As we witness and experience an unprecedented global event brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought of my poem from my book above, about the plight of daily wage earners in my poor country and the privilege of a young kid as he himself was having breakfast and being told to be careful of going outside. The following is a lose translation of the work that reflects what seems to be a desolate scene of this ongoing apocalypse.
In a room a child was listening to the radio
while her mother prepared for his lunch at school:
rolls of pandesal with cheese and fruit juice in tetra pack.
He might be lucky, he got a lunchbox, but he was thinking
of his luckier classmates. Instead of bread and cheese and sugary
drink, they got some coins for their small wishes: salty junkfood,
a colourful toy gun, a bunch of hogplums, or boiled plantains.
His mother told him not to talk to any stranger and never, must never
go out of the classroom up the time he will be picked up.
Satanists are said to be kidnapping children for their blood
to be spilled on a bridge being constructed in Dagupan. He was told never
to buy anything from the streetside vendors though in fact he was given
a five-peso coin, the foods there are dirty, her mom told. Oh well,
what’s the point of this coin, the kid thought. So he was thinking of siopao,
later from Aling Paring, the school’s unofficial food vendor
every nine am’s recess, who roamed around to sell her meals.
He was hoping Aling Paring would have Chinese pork bun that day. He then
imagined in his palm that lightweight heaviness and moist heat from that bread.
In that vendor’s house, her four children had their breakfast, boiled sweet potato.
They were all given two-peso coins each in addition to their lunch of rice
and fresh carabaos’s milk. All the children bid goodbye to their mother
without the usual smile though with respect as they would need a five-kilometer walk
towards San Miguel Elementary School. Upon leaving, their mother would feel
her stomach churning and the white parts of her eyes reddening as if a dust piercing.
In a few minutes, she would feel dizzy and lethargic. Thinking though
of her daily income and to provide food for her children, she would need to go through
despite this ill feeling. In a rush, she dropped one of the buns on the floor. She picked it up
and put it a single-use plastic bag and felt that her skin was warmer than the bread,
and her heart had that stabbing pain like a golden dagger piercing it while
she looks away at her four children walking slowly from their small thatched hut.
Sa isang silid nakikinig ng radyo ang isang paslit
habang inihahanda ng kanyang ina ang baon sa paaralan:
pandesal na may palamang keso at juice na nasa tetra pack.
Maswerte sya, may baon sya, ngunit inisip nyang mas maswerte
ang mga kaklase. Imbis na pinalamanang tinapay at maasukal
na juice, me barya silang pambili ng kung anuman: maalat na chichiriya,
makulay na laruang baril-barilan, o ‘di kaya’y sinigwelas o nilagang saba.
Pinagbawalan sya ng ina na wag makipag-usap sa estranghero
at wag lalabas ng paaralan hangga’t hindi sinusundo.
Laganap na naman ang Satanismo, nangunguha ng batang
iaalay sa bagong ginagawang tulay sa Dagupan. Wag na wag siyang
bibili ng anumang pagkain sa bangketa, kahit pa meron syang dalang
limang piso dahil marumi ang mga iyon, bilin ng ina. Para ke anupa’t
binigyan sya ng barya sa isip-isip nya. Kaya’t naisip nyang bumili ng siopao
mamaya ke Aling Paring, ang maglalako na umiikot-ikot sa paaralan
tuwing alas nuwebe at recess upang magbenta ng mga kakanin.
Sana ay may siopao na benta si Aling Paring. At tila naramdaman nya
sa mga palad ang magaang bigat at mamasamasang uri ng init ng tinapay.
Sa bahay naman ng maglalako nag-agahan ang apat niyang anak ng nilupak.
Binigyan sila ng tig-dadalawang piso ng ina pandagdag sa baong kanin
na sinabawan ng gatas ng kalabaw. Nagpaalam ang mga anak sa ina
nang walang ngiti sa mukha ngunit may galang dahil limang kilometro ang lakad
pa-San Miguel Elementary School. Pag-alis ng mga bata, mararamdaman ng ina
ang pag-ikot ng sikmura at pamumula ng puti ng mata na tila may pumupuwing.
Maya-maya pa ay makakaramdam siya ng pagkahilo at panghihina. Kailangan
pa rin nyang maglako at buhayin ang apat na anak kahit masama ang panlasa.
Sa pagmamadali nahulog ang isa sa mga ibebentang siopao. Dinampot nya iyon, inilagay
sa plastik na supot at naramdamang mas mainit ang kanyang balat kaysa sa tinapay
at sa kanyang puso, may tila isang ginintuang balaraw ang tumarak, habang masid niya
ang apat na anak na naglalakad palayo nang palayo sa kanilang munting barong-barong.