Crawling out of the slump

The lockdown seems to have dug me a creative ditch, and I’ve been slumped there ever since. I realize that the last thing I blogged about here was something I wrote pre-quarantine, but it’s not like I’ve not written anything else since mid-March—I even contributed one article to an online lifestyle magazine. Still, I feel like this is the driest of the dry spells I’ve ever had. I tried picking up novels to read for inspiration, but even that I didn’t have the energy to do.

One night when I was having trouble sleeping, I randomly revisited a playlist of music I used to obsess over back in college. I couldn’t remember which Arctic Monkeys track came up, but hearing it made me want to…create something. It’s not even the lyrics that pushed me, though I was a huge fan of Alex Turner’s (and Miles Kane’s!) writing back in the day. It’s the feelings that the track dredged up. They weren’t very pleasant emotions, but they were fuel nonetheless. So lying on my bed with nothing but phone in hand and Turner’s vocals flooding my ears, I opened my Notes app and began translating those emotions into actual words. It’s the first poem I wrote in a long time, and it’s about grief.

Perhaps I’ll be able to post the whole thing here soon, when I’ve chiseled enough personal rawness off the edges for it to be understood by other people. But writing it was cathartic. It made me want not only to write more, it also urged me to return to my other creative pursuits, like drawing. Since I couldn’t publish the poem here yet, I posted here a quick sketch that complements it: kintsugi.

Here’s to hoping I get to produce more soon! Art, whether writing or drawing or painting, can really be therapeutic, especially this time.

Phantoms in Mama’s Lungs

(as published on The Manila Times’ Sunday Times Magazine (Literary Life) on 26 January 2020)

Whenever I am away and a sharp longing
for Mother stabs at me, I will buy a stick
of cigarette, light it in the dark, and watch the embers
chew it up. Pa used to sigh her name, “Anita, hay Anita,”

and crack in loving jest that her mouth’s a tunnel
for steam locomotives, to which she would laugh
a response in hot clouds, in the ghosts of stillborn
thoughts she incinerated in her lungs.

Sometimes I wish she would tell me what
they whisper to her, instead of engraving them
as unreadable creases in the corners of her eyes.
Sometimes, the smell would jostle me between

wakefulness and sleep, her stun-gun chuckle
rumbling in my head. My senses clung onto her
and I hear scrawls of chalk against wall planks
for her abakada graffiti branded in my

five-year-old’s head (or were those forks on plates
when we only have shadows to eat?); I re-feel
the friction of linoleum on my skin as I grunt, crawling
out of a forced afternoon siesta (or were those creeping

days of numbness that I mistake for catnaps?); I relive teary
tug-of-wars at school gates, where I refuse to let go
of your long, leathery fingers. All that and a handful more—
my adult mind a child again, roiling in Past Tense

until, after I burn, in her nicotine hold, I will be home.

#

Note: I never thought this would ever see print. I remember keying these words onto my phone’s Notepad app late last year. I was away from home for some event I can no longer recall, caught a waft of a lit Philip Morris, and remembered Ma. It was my way of wrestling homesickness then, musings that I think would be best kept in my journal. The Sunday Times magazine Literary Editor Alvin I. Dacanay has my utter gratitude for believing that this is worthy to be shown to the world. I know you won’t be reading this, but thank you so much, Sir.

Review: The Silence of the Girls

Revisionist fiction or retellings still fill bookshelves to the brim these days—old fables pop up with shocking twists, we see fairytales shed their Disney-fied formula to give newer nods to their darker roots, and we even come to know stories of antiquity thrown in with “cyber” sensibilities. With the unremitting creativity of writers today, the possibilities are endless. Readers may clamor for something “original”, of course, but I find that there is charm in revisiting familiar narratives refashioned for the modern eyes.

Personally, I enjoy reading reimaginings of classic myths. I was rapt, for instance, while leafing through the story of the tragic Greek hero Achilles and his bosom companion Patroclus in Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. I devoured Circe, a feminist take on a classic character from Homer’s The Odyssey by the same author, with equal fascination. There is also Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, spun from the decades-long wait of Penelope for her husband Odysseus from the Trojan War. None of these felt old to me. In fact, they gave substantial and refreshing heft to the original materials. Since then, I’ve been on the prowl for modern narrations of old legends.

That’s why when I heard about Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls—events of The Iliad, but told from the perspective of a significant female character—I just know I have to grab a copy.

Continue reading “Review: The Silence of the Girls”

I, writer

(as published on The Philippine Daily Inquirer Young Blood column today, December 8, 2019)

Half-baked characters from my half-written stories have this habit of lingering precariously on the peripheries of my undemanding days. Not always, of course, but they are frequent visitors at hours they think they are most welcome. With their sinews and bones molded from printer ink and several unfinished drafts several folders deep in the corner of my laptop, they would say hello when a certain scene in my day would trigger their presence.

For instance, when a shaft of sunlight poured from the blinds straight through my clear mug of coffee one morning, it reminded me of the color I gave the eyes of a Little Prince-sque kid in a fairy tale I abandoned. I took a sip of the beverage and he was there, slumped on the chair beside me.

“Have you ever thought of coming back?” he asked, cradling his face in his cupped hand. “You know… of opening my story again and giving it a happy-ever-after?”

Continue reading “I, writer”

Scarlet

(as published on The Philippines Graphic magazine)

akin to the shade that has incarnadined the bruises
of a lone oceanid choking at the rocks of Manila Bay—
she of soiled fingers combing through seaweed-tresses
matted with oil, excrement, with a balm of something
foreign, like a smear of leftover hope

or was it vermillion, the splash that punctuated
a cough of a barrel in an alley lit only
by the unblind eye of a gas lamp? Bespattered
little Totoy’s frail pallor until he is no longer
as white as the stones he did not know he carried

tantamount even to the carmine dark that dripped
from our fountain pens one November in the South,
ebbing, flooding headlines and *58 shallow
graves (32 of whom are of our brothers), drenching
the faded mourning clothes we still wear a decade later

a hue to drown out lazuli Rosco in our flag
to be one solid blood, crib of great men in the Song—
its notes we can still exhale audibly with our fallible
mouths; for as long as we are breathing
there are grieving and living for the aggrieved to be done