Variaciones de un arrepentimiento vacío


Pepe Alas

Si hubieras seguido, yo habría ido
Pero no llegaste.
Si hubieras comido conmigo, yo habría comido contigo
Pero comiste con otro.
Si hubieras cantado mi canción favorita, yo habría bailado
Pero lloraste.
Si hubieras leído mi mente, yo habría sentido vergüenza
Pero me hiciste atrevido.
Si hubieras vivido en mi alma, yo habría sido patriótico
Pero me dejaste.
Si hubieras parecido como yo, yo habría sido alguien más
Porque no me sé
Y no sé lo que escrito yo
Ni hablo.
Y si yo hubiera compuesto una canción
Sin duda que nadie la habría cantado.

Si hubieras llegado, yo habría ido.
Así es yo habría terminado mi canción.

Derechos de reproducción © 2010
José Mario Alas
San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna
Todos los derechos reservados.
Originalmente publicado en ALAS FILIPINAS.

Al igual que madera flotante

Imagen: ShutterStock

Pepe Alas

Me voy flotando

Al igual que madera flotante
Pudriendo en el río de mis
Muriendo en un bosque alegre
De mis esperanzas
Riendo, languideciendo
Por atención
De las aves de colores
Burlándose de la manera
Que me voy flotando.

Derechos de reproducción © 2016
José Mario Alas
San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna
Todos los derechos reservados.
Originalmente publicado en ALAS FILIPINAS.

Él Sin Rostro

Pepe Alas

Tuve un sueño gris de la tarde:
tenía un pescado viscoso
para los feligreses.
Un desconocido sin rostro
me instruye sobre lo que debo
hacer con el pescado:
me dijo que lo rompiera por
la mitad
y lo hice.
Tomé un pan de sal tan redondo
y mordí un pedazo pequeño
antes de dárselo a un alma a
mi lado.
Todo esto lo hice con la guía
del Desconocido sin rostro
que me instruyó a despertar después
del ritual.

Derechos de reproducción © 2017
José Mario Alas
San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna
Todos los derechos reservados.

Krip Yuson’s “Dream of Knives” in Spanish

Some time last year, I translated Alfred Yuson’s well-known poem Dream of Knives into Spanish as part of my “self-medication” from literary barrenness.Image result for dream of knives krip yuson

Yuson, popularly known as Krip, is one of the most important personages in Filipino Literature in English today. He has authored several books in various genre and is also a founding member of the Philippine Literary Arts Council. Those who want to keep abreast of the latest news in the local literary scene follow his weekly column KRIPOTKIN which appears in The Philippine Star.

Dream of Knives is a usual staple in literary classes. It tells the story of a dreaming man who was excited to go home after a long journey to gift his son (that never was) with —of all things— a knife. The poem won for Yuson a Palanca Award (first prize) in 1985. It was also hailed by no less than National Artist Cirilo Bautista as one of the most beautiful poems in the English language. I thought it best to translate it into Spanish in order to give the essence of the poem a much wider readership (and, to my Hispanically inclined mind, make it more Filipino).

While Soledad Lacson-Locsín wrote that “the sparse clarity of English often robs translated Spanish of its original ambience and precision”, I thought that translating Dream of Knives to be rather undemanding not because it is not a work of prose (Lacson-Locsín was referring to prose translation when she wrote that observation) but that the poem was written in free verse. Had it followed the strict rules of versification (meter, rhyme, and all that poetic jazz), there would have been a compulsion from my part to do the same with my translation so as to at least reproduce the musicality of traditional verse (see Tarrosa Subido’s skillful English translation of Florante At Laura by Francisco Balagtás). Also, the poem’s style is rather prosaic. And since Dream of Knives is verse that is meant to be read like prose (rather similar to Nick Joaquín’s intention to have his celebrated play A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino to be read as a novel), Lacson-Locsín’s translational fears didn’t matter a bit because the dreamer’s story here was versified.

Without further fuss, here’s my Cervantine version:



Anoche soñé de un cuchillo
que había comprado para mi hijo. De raro diseño,
era más barato que su verdadero valor — daga corta
con pomo lujosamente redondeado, y una funda de madera
que milagrosamente revelaba otras navajas de miniatura.

Oh qué contento estaría él a mi regreso
de este viaje, pensaba yo. Qué éxtasis
seguramente adornará su cara de principito de diez años
cuando abra por primera vez el regalo. Qué placer
tembloroso será desatado definitivamente.

Cuando desperté, no había regreso, ni viaje,
Ni regalo, ni ningún hijo a mi lado. ¿Dónde puedo buscar
este cuchillo entonces, y cuándo empiezo a sacar
felicidad de la realidad, y por qué sangro tanto
de las puntas afiladas de los sueños?

Derechos de reproducción © 2016
José Mario Alas
San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna
Todos los derechos reservados.

Of Space And Psyche

My only claim to literary f̶a̶m̶e̶ worth. And it was way, way back in college. Enjoy if you must.


Pepe Alas

At the forefront
The scraggly surface collected
A small pool of quiescent glaze
Pulsating a history of
A thousand graves singeing
This placid pool reminiscent
Of Romulus mending walls
In the eyes of a storm
The Watcher.
A hyperbolic scream:
A worm interposing
Squished in the warmth
Embrace of this Deluge
In minute form
Yet with that same idiotic form
Until this drop drops
And like glass
Came crashing, shriveled, screaming
smiting and cutting
The wherewithal of things to come.
Here comes finality
Simulating this broken image
To that of tap water
And next door neighbors quarrelling
And crying engines, horns, laughs
Here comes the
Ululation of the urge
The urge and imprisonment.
Get out of here
Swim through the air
Resolute of nothing
But finality
Therefore the clarity
Still shrouded in misery
The urge to trap
The stillness of this all
Ripping it…

View original post 145 more words

Filipinas, España: more than friendship

Today, June 30, marks the fifteenth time that we celebrate the annual “Día de la Amistad Hispano-Filipina” or Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day. Former Senator Edgardo Angara, a Hispanista, sponsored the bill which later on became known as Republic Act No. 9187 (An Act Declaring June 30 of the Year as Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day) which was approved on 5 February 2003. As stated in section 1 of the said law, the aim of the celebration was to “strengthen the relationship between the Philippines and countries with which it has shared history, values and traditions.” In this case, Spain —the country that, as observed by National Artist Nick Joaquín, gave Filipinos “the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy,”— was a good choice especially since it is that country alone that “did give birth to us — as a nation, as an historical people”.

Continued Joaquín: “This geographical unit of numberless islands called the Philippines — this mystical unit of numberless tongues, bloods and cultures called a Filipino — was begotten of Spain, is a Spanish creation.”

June 30 was chosen since it was a historic event that put that friendship to a test. On that day, then President Emilio Aguinaldo commended the few remaining Spanish soldiers who were holed up for almost a year inside the Iglesia de San Luis Obispo in Baler, Tayabas (now a part of the province of Aurora which used to be a territory of Tayabas) for their loyalty and gallantry in battle. After their defeat, instead of arresting or even executing them, Aguinaldo sent them home. They were accorded safe passage to Manila en route to their return voyage to Spain. To mark this memorable event in our history, Angara thought of a national holiday to give honor to the act of benevolence which has paved the way in bridging better relations between Filipinas and the former mother country.

But I respectfully question the use of the term “friendship” because Filipinas and España were more than friends. They are in fact blood relations by virtue of history, faith, and cultural dissemination of which our country benefited from, not the other way around. Spain never became wealthy at our expense. And throughout Filipino Literature, Spain has been immortalized and personified as our mother. As already shown earlier, no less than Joaquín, the greatest writer and Filipino thinker our country has ever produced, expounded on this subject. “For three and a half centuries we lay within the womb of Spain”, wrote Joaquín.

In his narrative poem Filipinas a España, Manuel Bernabé (1890—1960), a well-known littérateur, academician, Premio Zóbel awardee (he won the prize twice: in 1924 and 1926), and politician from Parañaque (former Mayor Florencio M. Bernabe, Jr. is a descendant of his), described the motherly bond that Spain had with our country:

¡La dulce Hija, postrándose de hinojos,
dice a la Madre, a tiempo que sus ojos
leve cendal de lágrimas empaña:
—Dios ha impuesto el término del plazo,
y ya es la hora de romper el lazo
que nos unió tres siglos, Madre España!

The sweet daughter (“La dulce Hija“) referred to in this poem is Filipinas; the mother is already conspicuously addressed. Although the poem may have started on a sour note (“ya es la hora de romper el lazo que nos unió tres siglos” refers to the Tagálog rebellion of 1896), Bernabé extolled the deep love between mother and child —Spain and Filipinas— through the centuries, and even longed for that love to return: “En el curso del tiempo desenvuelto, / tú, España, volverás. ¿Qué amor no ha vuelto / presa en la red del propio bien perdido?” Bernabé ended his masterpiece by giving eternal praise to Mother Spain: “¡Gloria a la Madre España en Filipinas! / ¡Loor eterno a ti! Tú, no me olvides.”

Jesús Balmori (1887—1948), famous for his poetic jousts with Bernabé and for his prize-winning poems, including a Premio Zóbel in 1926 in which he was tied with his rival, described an even deeper bond between Mother Spain and her daughter Filipinas in his poem Canto A España: “¡Oh, España! ¡Porque en tu alma nos enlazas, / que te troven su amor todas las razas!

In an effort to rally the campaign for independence from the US imperialists, Rafaél Palma (1874—1939), the fourth President of the University of the Philippines, one of José Rizal’s early biographers, and elder brother of poet José Palma (the one who wrote the immortal poem Filipinas which eventually became the lyrics of our national anthem) wrote an essay that was published in 1900 which underlined the profound influence Spain had in our country in spite of the glaring presence of US troops all over the archipelago. In that essay entitled El Alma De España, Palma went as far as to say that Spain’s blood has been transfused into our veins. We merely took away from her her queenly cape so as to metaphorically use for a merry banquet to celebrate of our freedom:

Se nos ha trasvasado en las venas la sangre de aquella España decadente que nosotros despojamos aquí con un supremo de esfuerzo de ira, de su ancho manto de reina para tendernos sobre él a disfrutar del anchorozado festín de la libertad.

Realizing the debt of gratitude that we have towards Spain, the great Fernando Mª Guerrero (1873—1929), “el Príncipe de la poesía lírica filipina” (Prince of Filipino lyric poetry), wrote a laudatory poem entitled A Hispania.

¡Oh, noble Hispania! Este día
es para ti mi canción,
canción que viene de lejos
como eco de antiguo amor,
temblorosa, palpitante
y olorosa a tradición…

Guerrero’s daughters, themselves accomplished poets, also personified Spain as our mother. Like their illustrious father, Evangelina Guerrero de Zacarías (1904—1949) also wrote a laudatory poem to Spain entitled A España (“veinte naciones bravas, en concierto armonioso, / con los brazos del alma tus playas buscarán”) while her sister Nilda Guerrero de Barranca wrote ¡España, Madre Mía! (“Noble España, madre mía Desde estos mis patrias lares brindo a tu santa hidalguía la oración de mis altares.“).

In A España, Emeterio Barcelón y Barceló-Soriano (1897—1978), another internationally acclaimed poet in the Hispanic world, described Filipinas as a confused daughter who taught that she was enslaved by her own mother. But upon departure, Mother Spain made it known to her daughter Filipinas that she was leaving everything behind for her:

La hija se emancipó; sintióse esclava
de su madre que, al irse, le decía:
“Ahí te dejo entera el alma mía”
Y su habla y religión aquí dejaba.

When it comes to Rizal, our country’s most acclaimed national hero, there is a different take on how our country was referred to. In the first stanza of José Rizal’s famous A La Juventud Filipina, the word patria alluded to is Filipinas, not Spain:

¡Alza tu tersa frente,
juventud filipina, en este día!
¡Luce resplandeciente
tu rica gallardía,
bella esperanza de la patria mía!

It should be noted that during Rizal’s time, the concept of patria meant two things: the patria chica and the patria grande. The patria grande immediately refers to Mother Spain. On the other hand, the patria chica denotes one’s locality: this may refer to the barrio, province, or region of one’s birth. For example: the Basques, the Valencians, the Catalans, etc. all considered their respective provinces/regions as their patria chica. The Mexicans, Peruvians, Filipinos, etc. all considered their respective overseas provinces as their patria chica. But for all of them, there was only one patria grande — Spain.

How then do we know that the patria in this poem referred to Filipinas and not Spain? The answer is in the final line of the fourth stanza:

Ve que en la ardiente zona
do moraron las sombras, el hispano
esplendente corona,
con pía y sabia mano,
ofrece al hijo de este suelo indiano.

“Suelo indiano“, or native soil, is self explanatory. Nevertheless, the fourth line of the same stanza refer to the Spanish friars, those indomitable warriors of Spain, who were in charge not only of the Filipinos’ spiritual matters but also took care of their education and well-being. The “pía y sabia mano” (pious and learned hand) refer to the Spanish friars. And to those with an ear for history, it is easy to catch Rizal’s allusion to the escuelas pías, our country’s first public schools (it is not true that the US introduced public schooling to our shores). One such escuela pía, located within the walled city of Intramuros, even became the forerunner of the Ateneo Municipal, the hero’s alma mater which is now known as the Ateneo de Manila University.

While Rizal’s patria in this poem may point solely to his patria chica, i.e., Filipinas, it should be noted that his patria grande was not left out. In the final stanza of A La Juventud Filipina, Rizal used a common nickname for Spain, particularly its monarchy, during those days — Potente which means powerful. Here Spain was described as sincerely desiring the happiness  and comfort of Filipinas:

¡Día, día felice,
Filipinas gentil, para tu suelo!
Al Potente bendice,
que con amante anhelo
la ventura te envía y el consuelo.


And in his homage to Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo for having won international recognition for their paintings, Rizal called Spain point blank as our mother:

“Si la madre enseña al hijo su idioma para comprender sus alegrías, sus necesidades o dolores, España, como madre, enseña también a Filipinas…”

Even our bards in Tagálog were aware of Spain’s status as our mother country, as evidenced by poet Hermenegildo Flores’s Ang Hibic ng Filipinas sa Inang España (Filipinas’ Lament to Mother Spain). In this poem, Filipinas was speaking as an oppressed daughter, complaining and appealing to Mother Spain to get rid of those whom the poet, being a propagandista, believed were the cause of his patria chica’s deprivations: the friars.

España y Filipinas by Juan Luna (oil on canvas, 1886). Even in the visual arts, the deep regard that our forefathers had for Spain as a mother was not wanting.

I could go on and on with several other Filipino greats who all paid their respects to Mother Spain in spite of the Tagálog rebellion of 1896. But the point is this: whatever the results of that rebellion, we have to get rid of this warped view that Spain, or España, was merely a former colonizer, and that España is now just a friend. We were never colonized. Before the Spaniards arrived, there was no Filipinas yet. It was they who made us into becoming the three-stars-and-a-sun-loving people that we are today (Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo wouldn’t have been united if not for the Spanish advent). Between España and Filipinas lies a much more deeper bond than international relations, something that is beyond friendship. As has been clearly sung by our time-honored artists (“the antenna of the race”, said Ezra Pound), España is our Mother, not just a friend. Ella es sangre de nuestra sangre y carne de nuestra carne.