Joaquín’s translation of Rizal’s “Mi Último Adiós

A few years ago, Señor Gómez and I were discussing the last poem that Rizal wrote, as well as its several translations. When we got to the part about Nick Joaquín’s translation, I could never forget his words: Joaquín’s English version of “Mi Último Adiós” is one instance wherein the translation is far more superior compared  to the original. I never gave it much thought until then. So off I went to review both poems later on. I also compared Joaquín’s version to other well-known English translations (Charles Derbyshire, Encarnación Alzona, etc.). I could say that Joaquín’s has more depth and mystery. But since I’m not exactly a fully bloomed poet in Spanish, it’s hard to tell if I could agree on Señor Gómez’s observation.

People who read this now will argue that it’s really just a matter of opinion. However, it should be noted that Señor Gómez is a poet in four languages: Spanish, English, Tagálog, and Hiligaynón. Furthermore, it is no secret that he tends to be more leaning towards the Spanish language compared to English. Nevertheless, a website dedicated to José Rizal and his works seems to agree with him: “In many translated Rizal works, one writer stands out: Nick Joaquín”.

Without further ado, here is Joaquín’s English rendering of Mi Último Adiós…

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Joaquín’s translation of “Mi Último Adiós” is included in this book.

JOSÉ RIZAL’S VALEDICTORY POEM

Land that I love: farewell: O land the sun loves:
Pearl of the sea of the Orient: Eden lost to your brood!
Gaily go I to present you this hapless hopeless life:
Were it more brilliant: had it more freshness, more bloom:
Still for you would I give it: would give it for your good!

In barricades embattled, fighting in delirium,
Others give you their lives without doubts, without gloom.
The site nought matters: cypress, laurel or lily:
Gibbet or open field: combat or cruel martyrdom
Are equal if demanded by country and home.

I am to die when I see the heavens go vivid,
announcing the day at last behind the dead night.
If you need colorcolor to stain that dawn with,
Let spill my blood: scatter it in good hour:
And drench in its gold one beam of the newborn light.

My dream when a lad, when scarcely adolescent:
My dreams when a young man, now with vigor inflamed:
Were to behold you one day: Jewel of eastern waters:
Griefless the dusky eyes: lofty the upright brow:
Unclouded, unfurrowed, unblemished and unashamed!

Enchantment of my life: my ardent avid obsession:
To your health! Cries the soul, so soon to take the last leap:
To your health! O lovely: how lovely: to fall that you may rise!
To perish that you may live! To die beneath your skies!
And upon your enchanted ground the eternities to sleep!

Should you find some day somewhere on my gravemound, fluttering
Among tall grasses, a flower of simple fame:
Caress it with your lips and you kiss my soul:
I shall feel on my face across the cold tombstone:
Of your tenderness, the breath; of your breath, the flame.

Suffer the moon to keep watch, tranquil and suave, over me:
Suffer the dawn its flying lights to release:
Suffer the wind to lament in murmurous and grave manner:
And should a bird drift down and alight on my cross,
Suffer the bird to intone its canticle of peace.

Suffer the rains to dissolve in the fiery sunlight
And purified reascending heavenward bear my cause:
Suffer a friend to grieve I perished so soon:
And on fine evenings, when prays in my memory,
Pray alsoO my land!that in God I repose.

Pray for all who have fallen befriended by not fate:
For all who braved the bearing of torments all bearing past:
To our poor mothers piteously breathing in bitterness:
For widows and orphans: for those in tortured captivity
And yourself: pray to behold your redemption at last.

And when in dark night shrouded obscurely the graveyard lies
And only, only the dead keep vigil the night through:
Keep holy the place: keep holy the mystery.
Strains, perhaps, you will hearof zither, or of psalter:
It is IO land I love!it is I, singing to you!

And when my grave is wholly unremembered
And unlocated (no cross upon it, no stone there plain):
Let the site be wracked by the plow and cracked by the spade
And let my ashes, before they vanish to nothing,
As dust be formed a part of your carpet again.

Nothing then will it matter to place me in oblivion!
Across your air, your space, your valleys shall pass my wraith!
A pure chord, strong and resonant, shall I be in your ears:
Fragrance, light and color: whispers, lyric and sigh:
Constantly repeating the essence of my faith!

Land that I idolized: prime sorrow among my sorrows:
Beloved Filipinas, hear me the farewell word:
I bequeath you everythingmy family, my affections:
I go where no slaves arenor butchers: nor oppressors:
Where faith cannot kill: where God’s the sovereign lord!

Farewell, my parents, my brothersfragments of my soul:
Friends of old and playmates in childhood’s vanished house:
Offer thanks that I rest from the restless day!
Farewell, sweet foreignermy darling, my delight!
Creatures I love, farewell! To die is to repose.

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A year after

Exactly a year ago, I was hospitalized due to tuberculosis (TB). It was the third time I suffered from the disease: the first was as a toddler (for kids, they call it primary complex); the second was a few weeks before college graduation. I wasn’t admitted for the first two. Medications did them in. But the third was the most frightening: I was coughing up too much blood I thought I was the victim in some slasher film.

A few days prior to that, we really thought that I was going to die because no hospital would admit us: no pulmonologist was available because of Christmas break. The medications prescribed by a clinic didn’t suffice as they didn’t deter the bleeding (I started coughing up blood before Christmas Eve). I was weakening up so fast, and the burning night fevers were numbing.

Finally, I was admitted in a hospital in Alabang. I thought that I only had TB. But when the doctor read out to me the findings, I was shocked when I was told that I also had pneumonia. Two killers were murdering my already weakened lungs. And there was already a hole in my right lung. But there was no pain, only severe weakness and high fever. I just wanted to drift off, do nothing, and watch the ceiling from my sick bed. What really frightened me were the surgical needles. I contracted trypanophobia ever since my bout against dengue when I was in Grade II. It was embarrassing each time I had to face nurses who were out to get my blood sample, or who regularly had to apply intravenous medication. There was one time when my visitors had to restrain me while a nurse was getting my blood sample. Arnaldo witnessed it and was having a good laugh at the way I squirmed and shook and cried like a sicko strapped a straitjacket. 😝

ASIAN HOSPITAL

A view of my room. The only view that I had of the outside world for two lonely weeks.

I thought my hospitalization would last for only a few days, and that I’d get to celebrate New Year’s Eve with my family. I was mistaken. I celebrated New Year’s Eve alone. My wife had wanted to accompany me, but I said she had to be with our children. Nothing should spoil the little ones’ Christmas feasts.

Even after the Christmas revelry I was not given an exact date on when my release would be because they were still monitoring the severity of my TB, i.e., if the bacteria were resistant against the medications given to me. I prayed and prayed for my immediate release. Finally, I was given a clean bill of health on January 9, or thirteen days later, on the Feast of the Black Nazarene of which I am a devotee. Me and my wife attended afterwards to give thanks, even when still weakened. I had not missed a single traslación ever since becoming a devotee in 2011.

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The closest I could get to the Black Nazarene of Quiapò. And the first time I didn’t get to touch the ropes pulling its carriage due to weakness from two weeks of hospitalization. I almost fainted here because of the crowd. This was also my wife’s first time to join the procession.

How does one contract TB? From what I have gathered, almost everyone has TB bacteria. Healthy people are unaffected. But once the immune system has weakened, that’s how TB bacteria start to affect the lungs. My immune system weakened due to lack of sleep and missed meals. That is why after my third bout with TB, I took it easy. I haven’t been reading and writing that much since. I stopped blogging for several months (resuming only in June). It’s difficult continuing to do so anyway, considering the sad fact that I’m a nocturnal corporate slave commuting several kilometers nightly on polluted highways.

TB may no longer be as deadly as it was nowadays compared to a few decades before (some of its most famous Filipino victims were Graciano López Jaena, Marcelo del Pilar, José María Pañganiban, and Manuel L. Quezon; Rizal almost had it, but survived). But it is deadlier the third time around, especially when it has an accomplice (pneumonia) to assist it in its hushed killing spree.

And it’s a real pain in the pockets because of the six-month medication. The following people, however, made it easy for us to survive the ensuing months: thank you so much to Gemma Cruz Araneta, former Mayor Calixto Catáquiz, Mama Beth Córsega and her daughter Jonafel, Señor Guillermo GómezNonia Tiongco, my mother-in-law, and my dad. Special thanks to Ate Christina Capacete and Riah Ramírez (Chief Nurse, City of San Pedro) for assisting my wife on the treatment side of things.

Now, because I live in a place where the air is polluted, I could no longer afford to go out of our apartment without wearing a face mask. And I usually experience shortness of breath whenever I do strenuous physical activities. I long for the day when I get to live in a place surrounded by nature, where it’s safe for my lungs.

Thank you to all those who prayed and showed concern for me during my fight against tuberculosis and pneumonia. May God bless you all!

 

Señor Gómez appears in Inquirer 990 Television

Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, multilingual author, historian, poet, educator, Spanish dance choreographer, and linguistic scholar, made a guest appearance yesterday in Inquirer 990 Television’s “Everyday Goodwill” hosted by María Teresa Cancio (owner of Goodwill Bookstore) and journalist Ricky Brozas where he discussed the language problem in Filipinas. He also peppered the discussion with tidbits about the real score behind our country’s history under Spain. Click on the screengrab below to watch the interview.

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Inquirer 990 Television is a free-to-air television news channel owned by Trans-Radio Broadcasting Corporation, a subsidiary of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It is the television counterpart of DZIQ 990.

El lanzamiento suave de la Sociedad Hispano-Filipina

¡Hoy es un día maravilloso! Por fin, la página web Sociedad Hispano-Filipina ha sido lanzada el día de hoy por el joven hispanista Jemuel Pilápil.

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Jemuel ha estado trabajando en esta página web durante los últimos meses. El lanzamiento de hoy es sólo un lanzamiento suave ya que hay varias pestañas y enlaces/secciones que necesitan ser desarrollados. Pero hace semanas le sugerí que la lanzara justo a tiempo para el Día de la Hispanidad de este año. Y para este lanzamiento suave de hoy también contribuí con un artículo sobre la que se puede leer aquí.

la Sociedad Hispano-Filipina es una creación por Jemuel, un estudiante autodidacta de la lengua castellana (nunca se matriculó en ningún instituto de idiomas), y comenzó el año pasado como un grupo de Facebook. Los primeros miembros de la sociedad son de su círculo de amigos que también son amantes del idioma español, y sigue creciendo la membresía. Pero ¿de qué se trata el grupo? Aquí están los objetivos y los deberes jurados:

  • Divulgar, difundir, promover, y mantener lo vivo el idioma español.
  • Animar a los filipinos que aprendan español.
  • Crear oportunidades para practicar y disfrutar el idioma como por ejemplo viajes, reuniones, lecturas, deportes, conferencias, o cualquier actividad interesante.
  • Celebrar la existencia de la cultura hispana en Filipinas.
  • Vincular a todos los grupos hispanohablantes.

Debe recordarse que hace muchos años, tres compañeros míos (Señores Guillermo Gómez Rivera, Arnaldo Arnáiz, y José Miguel García) y yo planeamos lanzar una página web similar (pero con una gama mucho más amplia de alcance que incluye una “propaganda” para contrarrestar la leyenda negra) pero nada se materializó. Carecíamos de fondos, tiempo y los conocimientos técnicos tan necesarios. Es por eso que estoy muy feliz de que Jemuel la haya hecho por nosotros. Sin duda, Jemuel Pilápil es el “Isagani de El Filibusterismo hecho carne”. Con su Sociedad Hispano-Filipina, el idioma español tiene un futuro muy promisorio en Filipinas.

Enrique Zóbel, el renombrado filántropo, fundador del Premio Zóbel, y miembro del famoso Clan Zóbel de Ayala, dijo una vez esta memorable frase: “No quiero que el español muera en Filipinas”. Con la apariencia de la Sociedad Hispano-Filipina en el ciberespacio, la tecnología más utilizada hoy en día, tal muerte nunca sucederá, y más especialmente, siempre y cuando que tengamos la Madre de la Hispanidad como nuestra guía y patrona.

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Nuestra Señora del Pilar es la Madre de la Hispanidad. Esta es su imagen en la Catedral de Imus en la Provincia de Cavite.

¡Feliz Día de la Hispanidad! ¡Viva la Virgen del Pilar! ¡Felicitaciones a la Sociedad Hispano-Filipina! ¡Celebremos esta victoria con cervezas y rosarios!

Ople on the Spanish language

Having been founded in 1922, the Premio Zóbel is considered as the country’s oldest literary award open to all Filipino writers in the Spanish language. Among those who had won the prestigious prize were poet Manuel Bernabé (1924), diplomat León Mª Guerrero III (1963), and renaissance man Guillermo Gómez Rivera (1975). But in the late 1960s to the early 1970s, it was put to a halt because the number of participants dwindled. In 1974, the Zóbel de Ayala clan changed the rules of the contest so that anyone in Filipinas who promoted the preservation of the Spanish language could become an awardee. Nineteen years later, in 1993, Senator Blas Ople, a non-Spanish speaker, became a consequence of that 1974 decision.

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“80 Años del Premio Zóbel”, a compendium of Premio Zóbel’s history, was published in 2000. The book’s author, Lourdes Castrillo Brillantes, was herself an awardee in 1998.

This is not to say that the choosing of the then neophyte senator was nothing short of a scandalous matter among Filipino writers in the Spanish language. He received the award “por sus relevantes méritos en pro de la cultura hispano-filipina” (for his relevant merits in favor of the Spanish language). One such merit was the following essay that he wrote in his column “Windows” which used to appear in Panorama magazine (a supplement of Manila Bulletin’s Sunday issue). The essay was published on 30 August 1992, a year before he was awarded a Premio Zóbel medal.

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Blas Ople (1927–2003).

Our Spanish past lingers in Iloílo with subtle charm
Blas Ople

Having sat down from the rigors of an obligatory speech on current issues, I thought I would sip my coffee in peace, mentally braced for an evening of pleasant boredom.

This was Iloílo City, and the Lions clubs from all over Panay and some from Negros Occidental had filled the vast hall of the Hotel del Río by the river, for the 42nd anniversary of the Iloílo City Host Lions Club. Then magically, the grace and charm of our Spanish past rose before our eyes.

Dancers in full Spanish costumes, platoon-size formations, materialized on the floor. They called on a vast repertory, not just one, two, or three, but many numbers, turning an otherwise banal dinner into a bewitching hour redolent of history. It was only in Iloílo, I thought, that simple housewives, many of them now grandmothers, could be formed into flamenco dancers of such charm, on demand (I was told later they rehearsed for a month for this show).

I gathered that Iloílo and nearby Bacólod are just about the last places where sizable remnants of an elderly Spanish-speaking generation may be found, though this, too, is slowly fading away. But the rhythms of Spain will probably long outlive the Castilian speech in these parts, judging from the authentic passion of those movements we watched that night.

Compared with these, the rigodón de honor danced by the elite in Tagálog cities and towns has to be judged a pale initiation.

Few Filipinos are of course shedding a tear on the waning of our Spanish past, except as this has been subsumed in native speech and customs. The memories of those early centuries still rankle.

This is the revenge of Rizal and del Pilar, whose works have molded, through generations, our impressions of the era of Spain in the Philippines. But when recently, all the countries of the Iberian world met in México, as though eager to repossess their common heritage from their Spanish past, I felt a certain pain to realize that the Philippines alone was not present, for the reason that we have disinvited ourselves.

I should reveal this now. In the Constitutional Commission of 1986, I fought until the end to have Spanish retained in the new Constitution as an official language, together with Filipino and English. I wanted at least an explicit recognition of Spanish as such a language until the wealth of historical material in our archives, most of this in Spanish, can be fully translated into English or Filipino.

But the real reason was that I wanted to preserve our last formal links with the Iberian world, which includes most of the countries in Latin Américas with a population of about 400 million. I remember Claro M. Recto’s sentimental journey to Spain, which was aborted by a heart attack in Rome. If we lost that final strand of solidarity with the Spanish-speaking world, we, too, would never get to Spain.

It was as though both sides had agreed on a policy of mutual forgetfulness.

The “radicals” in the Con-Com strongly advised me not to press the provision on Spanish, because this would have the effect of reopening other controversial issues in the draft charter. It could delay the framing of the Constitution beyond an acceptable deadline.

My worst fears have been realized. We have expelled ourselves from the Iberian community of nations. The rift is final, and will never be healed.

But I felt the charms of our Spanish past will linger longest in places like Iloílo, and during that enchanted evening, I was glad for the opportunity to savor them. We may have left the Iberian world of our free choice, but the hold of Spain will never really cease in the Filipino heart.

To those who are unfamiliar with the issue, it was former President Corazón Aquino’s Constitutional Commission of 1986 (the one mentioned by Senator Ople in his column) that decided the fate of the Spanish language in Filipinas. It should be remembered that Spanish had been our country’s official language beginning 24 June 1571. It may had been unceremoniously booted out from the 1973 Constitution by pro-Tagálog politicians during the 1971 Philippine Constitutional Convention under Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency, but the former strongman, realizing its worth, issued Presidential Decree No. 155 two months after the 1973 Constitution was ratified. Believe it or not, this forgotten Marcos decree recognized Spanish (alongside the English language) as one of Filipinas’s official languages. It thus absolves his 1973 Constitution of any culpability when one wishes to point an accusing finger at the “killer” of the Spanish language in our country.

All index fingers will of course lead to the present constitution, the progenitor of the Constitutional Commission of 1986. No wonder Ople was devastated: he was its member, he fought for the Spanish language’s preservation in the present constitution, yet he was blocked by those radicals from doing so (they were probably those whom Hispanistas and non-Tagálogs today derisively call as “Tagalistas“). That is why, out of disillusionment (or anger?), he wrote that painful statement that we Filipinos have expelled ourselves from the Spanish-speaking community of nations.

But that was 1992. It’s 2018 now, and attitudes toward the Spanish language and our country’s past under Spain for that matter have drastically changed. The enlightened Filipino youth of today will surely disagree with the late Senator’s statement that the rift done by the present constitution’s non-inclusion of Spanish was final, and that it will never be healed. Already, we have several groups in social media, particularly in Facebook, that advocate the return of the Spanish language to Filipino mainstream society such as the SPANISH language should be back in the PHILIPPINES!Oficialización del Español en Filipinas (this one has more than eleven thousand members!), and Defensores de la Lengua Española en Filipinas. Outside of Facebook are blogs that extol the virtues and blessings of our country’s Spanish past: we can cite With One’s PastHecho Ayer, and the Hispanic Indio just to name a few. Then there is Jemuel Pilápil who organized the Sociedad Hispano-Filipina together with other Hispanists to safeguard and promote the language, thus inspiring me to label him as the new Isagani (watch out for his group’s website to be launched very soon!). The presence of Instituto Cervantes de Manila with its monthly cultural events is a great boost in the efforts to “reintroduce” the Spanish language and culture to our country. Not too long ago, renowned Spanish-speaking Filipinos launched a documentary citing the importance of the Spanish language as part of our national identity and heritage. Even our country’s premiere historian today, Ambeth Ocampo, already revealed himself as far removed from the usual anti-Spain mold of historians by producing very impartial write-ups about our country’s Hispanic past. Says Ocampo in one of his writings:

The concept of Filipino began not with pre-Hispanic indios but with Spain. Individuals known as Filipinos cannot be traced beyond 1521 when Magellan sailed into the Philippine archipelago. Filipino was mainly a geographic term to begin with, and the notion of Filipinas, a place, a nation, cannot be pushed beyond the first Spanish settlement established by Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565.

I could go on and on, but the point is clear: the rift done by Tita Cory’s flawed constitution is not final. Ople’s fight for the Spanish language’s rightful place in the Filipino cosmos didn’t go for naught. We are healing!

The amistad between Nick Joaquín and Guillermo Gómez Rivera

This newspaper clipping was published on 16 May 1992. It appeared in the now defunct Newsday and was written by Jorge Seurat (pen name of priest-poet Fr. Gilbert Luis R. Centina III). The column explains the least-known friendship as well as the converse similarity between writers Guillermo Gómez (whose birthday falls today) and National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquín.

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The great Nick Joaquín, proclaimed “National Artist” during the glorious years of Ferdinand Marcos, has turned seventy-five. Three-fourths of a century. And as he ages into immortality and mythology, the English language appears to be on the way out in the Philippines. Overpopulation, lack of funds, and diploma mills are seeing to that.

This is so, because English has not taken root as Spanish did take root. And if the English language has a Filipino writer like Nick Joaquín, it is because Nick Joaquín’s real language is Spanish. By Hispanizing English, he has succeeded in Filipinizing it. And lo, in the very Filipino works of Nick Joaquín, English has become Filipino! After 92 neocolonial years of deception and bitterness, we only have this writer who can be considered significant in what we may call “Philippines Literature.”

But Nick Joaquín had to will this Filipinization of English. Rizal and Recto did not have to Filipinize Spanish through their writings. Spanish was already the Filipino Language when they wrote in it without having to choose it from English or “Filipino.”

Nick Joaquín,s merit according to his ardent follower, Don Guillermo Gómez Rivera, is his having been able to pour into English a good part of the essential message of what has been Filipino since 1571. No other writer in English has done this.

Gómez Rivera, a generation or two younger than Nick Joaquín, is the Nick Joaquín of contemporary Filipino literature in Spanish. Were Gómez Rivera to write in English as he does in Spanish, he would sound almost, if not exactly, like Nick Joaquín. If Nick Joaquín is a continuation of Claro M. Recto, who wrote in Spanish in local English letters, Gómez Rivera is the continuation of Nick Joaquín back in the same language of Rizal and Recto.

This is so because both Nick Joaquín and Guillermo Gómez Rivera actually belong to the same Filipino tradition even if they don’t write in the same language. Of course, if Nick Joaquín were to write in Spanish, he would in turn sound almost, if not exactly, like Guillermo Gómez Rivera. Don Lorenzo Marasigan’s portrait for his two daughters, Cándida and Paula, has become alive, both artistically and literally. The young man, Anchise, is Guillermo Gómez Rivera, and the old man is Nick Joaquín, and the burning city that both are leaving behind is our country, ravaged and ruined in almost every sense of the word by this despicable galungóng-brained “democracy” that would condemn our people with the Bataán Nuclear Plant. And, possibly, vacuum of power after frustrating so brazenly the national elections without our people really knowing about it until after a few months, or years, later.

And Guillermo Gómez Rivera wrote a poem in homage of Nick Joaquín after the latter had dedicated to him a copy of his play, Portrait, in book form, saying in Spanish, “A Guillermo Gómez Rivera, el nuevo Colón de la música filipina…” this was so, because Gómez Rivera, after recording his third long-playing of Filipino songs, in their original Spanish versions, asked Nick Joaquín to listen to them. Nick Joaquín obliged and enjoyed listening to Gómez Rivera’s singing of “El collar de Sampaguita” with Bert Buena’s rondalla. He went to Gómez Rivera’s office library, that of Solidaridad Filipino-Hispana, Inc., at the third floor of the Citadel Bldg. on Bonifacio Street, way back in 1969. Since then, Gómez Rivera has held Nick Joaquín in utmost reverence and, as a member of the Academia Filipina, he has suggested to the Fundación del Premio Zóbel, to adjudicate, one of these years, the said prize to Nick Joaquín.

The poem titled “Nick Joaquín prismático,” is worth transcribing and translating here:

Traductor de la historial por toda una / generación perdida en inglés./ Maestro / que enseña la verdad: / —luz opurtuna / para los que no tienen / ni alma ni estro

(“History’s translator / for entire generations / lost in the English language. / A teacher who teaches / the truth, that pertinent light / needed by those / who misplaced / their soul / and their poetry of life.”)

Pues,  el candor y el arte. / La sapiencia de toda una cultura: / —la cultura que es la de Filipinas— es la ciencia; / es la gloria; / es toda la emvoltura / de este gran hombre prismático — trazluz / del madero / que alzamos hoy en cruz.

(“Because candor, art / and the knowledge / of an entire culture / which is Filipino / is the science, the glory, and the whole shroud / of this great and prismatic man / who stands / as the background light / for the planks of wood / we’d now lift into a cross.”)

Ese es  / Don Nicolás Joaquín, / flamante / fragua de este país / de sordociegos, / tabla de salvación / del ignorante / que perdió sus estribos / y sus pliegos.

(“That man is / Nick Joaquín, / the burning torch, / over this country of deaf-mutes… / He is the phalanx / of redemption / for those that ignore / what is truly Filpino / because they have lost / their documents / and the running board / upon which they could have stood.”).

¡Feliz cumpleaños, Don Guimò!

First published in FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES, with slight edits.

Heart Anatomy (a heartrequiem, not a literary critique)

Because justice is the hip word today, I thought it best to render one to a now-forgotten collection of poetry written by Amelita Málig, née Cuala, a native of Luisiana, La Laguna. The book, entitled Heart Anatomy, was published in 1973, six years before I was born. It didn’t receive much fanfare. It didn’t catapult the author to literary stardom. Copies were very limited and were given only to a select few, mostly to friends. But the book had served its purpose: it released the author from her “promethean / sea of agonized / red”, putting her “putrefied heart” and “blasted brain” and “broken body” at peace with the God she once doubted.

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Mrs. Málig (1934-2000), as most students used to call her, was my literary instructor at Adamson University. Her only son Christian was a batchmate who became a dear friend of mine (he, myself, and Yeyette who is now my wife once formed a faction; we called ourselves “The Triad” although that silly faction was really meant to be a joke on my then girlfriend). Naturally, I first knew about Mrs. Málig through Christian but never had the chance to talk to her. I only got to meet her two years into college. To my observation, Christian seemed to be apprehensive in introducing his friends to her. But perhaps rightly so because to us students, there seemed to be a touch of eccentricity in her (a usual trait of writers, anyway). Her Bohemian appearance (it’s difficult not to remember her large circular earrings, loose and wild-colored blouses, and heavily made-up face) and booming voice shook fear in the hearts of youngsters who had had traumatic experiences from terror teachers during their high school years. These same kids called her names behind her back (one such memorable tag was “Mrs. Maligno”).

But Mrs. Málig was no terror. She just had a peculiar way of dealing with people. This I found out when she became my teacher in one of the subjects she had handled (Essay and Essay Writing if I remember correctly). She entered the class with aplomb despite her small stature, immediately instructed a student in front to lead the prayer, and off she went with a fun rhetoric that seemed to have been delivered many times before but nonetheless still effective. Not once did she look us in the eye, her scrutinizing iris always gazing at the ceiling as she spoke. And she spoke only English, but her witty one-liners drew down the whole class of mostly provincial kids who rarely use this language in everyday speech, even in English subjects.

After the obligatory introductions, she then bid us to write an essay, any essay. Almost the whole class winced, even myself (believe me, writing is not an enjoyable task). She didn’t explain, but it seemed to me that what she was doing was some sort of a diagnostic test. After several minutes of contemplation, I jotted down a list of pet peeves in sarcastic fashion, ending each item with a “blast it!” exclamation. I then counted the number of students: around 30. There’s no way for her to read all our essays, I thought back then. I was sure that she will not read everybody’s work.

Two or three days later, Christian reported to me about that essay I wrote. He said her mom was all into it. I couldn’t remember if I had laughed. All that I remember was that I was able to grab hold of her attention, and it excited me of course. It was the first time I have submitted a written work to be read by somebody. I immediately got praise although to my mind, even at that early stage of my life, I have always thought that all my writings were mediocre.

On the second day of class, me and my classmates stood up to greet her and to prepare for the mandatory prayers. But she ignored the courtesy and called out my last name instead. In a loud and seemingly angry voice, she boomed:

“Where is Mr. Alas?”

I could feel the blood streaming up to my cheeks. What happened this time? Was Christian playing jokes on me? Slowly, I dragged my feet towards the front of the class. I walked down the aisle, with all my classmates looking down at me as if I was to be sent to the gallows. When I was a few feet from the poetess, she interrogated me… without even looking at my face!

“Since when have you been writing? What books do you read? Who are your favorite authors?”

I didn’t know if I should feel proud or embarrassed. I was sweating profusely as I answered her rapid-fire questions in a low voice. I could feel my classmates inquisitive eyes, wondering what in the world was happening.

She didn’t mention anything about the essay. She lavished no praises. After questioning me, she simply bid me back to my seat. After the day’s lecture, she called me again and asked me to accompany her back to the faculty room. She had some packages and books. I carried them for her.

It was the start of a weird friendship. She rarely talked about her son to me (I never bothered to ask anyway, haha). We didn’t even talk about literature at all, nor about the day’s lectures. She never taught me anything, never recommended any authors. I simply accompanied her from time to time, doing small talk. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t even remember the things we had talked about during those times that we had trod the aisles of the university.

It was during one of these walks when we bumped into Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, a colleague of hers in the College of Liberal Arts. She introduced me to him as a fine young writer. I was embarrassed because Señor Gómez already knew me as one of his naughty students who never paid attention in his Spanish class, in fact was always absent; he later on gave me an incomplete grade (humorously enough, I later became a lifetime advocate for the return of the Spanish language in Filipinas). In response to Mrs. Málig’s introduction, the jolly Hispanist looked at me from head to foot and exclaimed in his thick Spanish-accent: “Admirable!” Señor Gómez has since become a close associate and a friend.

But there was this one time when me and Mrs. Málig walked home together that I will never forget. I was accompanying her towards the LRT station in United Nations Avenue. It was nighttime and there was a light drizzle as we hurried toward the covered Falcon Walkway. I’ve been having problems at home, so I involuntarily made a comment about the rain, and how it makes me lonely all the time (up to that point, I had never liked the rain). But I stiffened. I couldn’t pour out my heart to her, and she wouldn’t let me. She never probed. But she had said something about the rain, about its connection and non-connection to whatever I was feeling at the moment. About being and seeing. It was not the rain who’s at fault. It’s how I perceive the rain to be.

She had made me love the rain in an instant. Since then, I’ve become a pluviophile.

Mrs. Málig became my instructor again in another subject: Introduction to Literature. It was there where she introduced us to José García Villa’s poetry, paying more attention to his work than any other writer I could remember from that class. She pronounced Villa’s name as “Hosey Garsha Vila” (for all I know, Doveglion must have had pronounced his name in that manner when he was still alive in the States). It was obvious that she was an admirer of Villa’s uncanny poetry. Inadvertently (or was it purposely?), she made me an admirer, too.

Almost nobody in our class paid her much attention. What I mean is that the few others who had excelled in that subject did it for the sake of grades, not for the sake of learning the craft of versifying. I remember her instructing me and Christian to photocopy pages from her book of poetry to be given away to the rest of the class. The book contained techniques on how to master allegory, metonymy, imagery, alliteration, consonance, and a lot of other stylistic devices. We had it photocopied for days because the book was thick. After it was given away, nothing happened afterwards. We never discussed about literary devices. Nobody from the class bothered to ask. But I have always wondered.

(Fast forward to 2001, or a year before Mrs. Málig’s unexpected demise: On top of the mountain ranges of Abra de Ilog, my wife’s hometown in Mindoro Occidental. I was studying the contents of those photocopies. I studied and learned the literary devices she had given to us on top of a cloudy mountain, all by myself. Sometimes, I’d like to tease myself that those photocopies were really meant for me and not for the whole class).

Life had shown to me its rather unfriendly side when, in late 1999, I allowed immaturity to take over reason. Yeyette became pregnant, and we haven’t even graduated yet. Christian and her mom were one of the very few people whom we divulged our predicament to. Me and Yeyette got to talk with her in front of the SV Building. She gave us moral support by telling her lifestory. She was once a freethinker during her days in UP Dilimán, prompting her disappointed father to transfer her to St. Theresa’s College Manila (which has become a part of our alma mater since 1980). During her inquisitiveness, she had suffered a nervous breakdown, then went on a retreat with a group of religious to find herself. Along the way, she had met Jesuits as well as famous literary critic and poetess Josefina Constantino. She then took pen and paper and focused all her strength into creating this book that I now speak of  (Constantino gave it positive reviews).

She later invited us to her house. Actually, it wasn’t a house but a cramped up, studio type room in an ageing condominium near the expressway. There were three of them living there: she, Christian, and her husband who was suffering from colon cancer. Much of the small room was taken over by their large, double deck bed and a shelf filled with Mrs. Málig’s books and a TV set (Christian says she didn’t have any liking for it, calling it an “idiot box”). The shelf also served as a divider, creating a make-shift room for their dining space. There were boxes underneath the double deck bed, filled with more books and other papers. The room was dank and lonely, blighted even more by artificial light. Little did I imagine that a fashionable poetess like her would be living in such a cramped condition. But then again, she’s a writer, not an office worker.

We had dinner and small talk that evening. I remember it to be a cold one as Christmas was fast approaching. Before we left, she gifted us with a blanket, some pillow cases, and a ladle with her nickname etched on it. Something for us to start with, she said. We still use those items to this very day. And Yeyette is now a very excellent cook.

PEPE ALAS

That was the last time we saw Mrs. Málig. A few weeks later, we confessed the pregnancy to our respective families. Life soon followed, a life that ached the heart.

Yeyette gave birth to Krystal in July the following year. We were already on our own, living in a basement somewhere in Villamor Air Base. And a few months after she gave birth, Christian gave us the shock of our lives when he brought news of his mother’s demise. It practically stunned us since we were all expecting Mr. Málig to go first. We regret the chance of not being able to show Krystal to her in spite of our place’s proximity to hers.

Without mincing any words, Heart Anatomy is the story of Mrs. Málig’s poetic journey from agnosticism to Catholicism, and her newfound devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s divided in two parts. The first is about her spiritual struggles, her “heart transmutation”. The second is a new insight on the world, using her heart (instead of just her senses) from her newfound devotion. All her poems on this book are short. But it doesn’t matter. Just like what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay “The Poet”:

It does not need that a poem should be long. Every word was once a poem. Every new relation is a new word.

And like Villa, she was nontraditional. Almost all her verses were experimental, dictated not by tradition but by the heart.

Ever since I became active on the Internet, I have always planned of publishing Heart Anatomy online as a token of gratitude for the literary inspiration she had planted in me and to a few other kindred souls (Palanca Awardee Joe Bert Lazarte, award-winning essayist Imee Rabang, and award-winning poet Radney Ranario) in one way or another. I feel bad and guilty because when I was still an active blogger (I was more active before than now), I’ve never given time for that plan. But two years ago, when I unceremoniously freed myself from writing constraints, I was able to snatch enough time to convert my only copy of her book into PDF form. I then uploaded each PDF page into my Facebook account as an album format, even changing its privacy settings to public in the hopes that it would reach many people. But the endeavor only proved how terrible I was when it comes to online marketing. Only four people “liked” it, and the only other person who left a couple of comments other than myself was Mrs. Málig’s daughter-in-law whom she had never even met.

About an hour ago, I received a chat message from Joe Bert (Mrs. Málig was much closer to him compared to myself and the other writers I mentioned on this blogpost). He told me of his plan to republish our teacher’s only collection of poetry. It excited me because exactly a year from now would be Mrs. Málig 85th birth anniversary (today’s her 84th, which is also the feast day of Saint Augustine of Hippo). It would be the best time to relaunch her book. I then thought of changing that PDF album to private, choosing only a very select few who can access it. It will do her justice if littérateurs would get to read her poetry collection in book form. Nevertheless, to honor her on her 84th natal day, I included below seven of her sensory-filled verses from her book’s poem one: you. You will, at least, be treated to witness a few steps of her versified journey from barrenness to a Land of Promise.

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