Introduction by Andrea D. Lim
March is the National Women’s Month Celebration for the Philippines, a country that has been annually taking an active part in the worldwide recognition of women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievement in various forms. Moreover, the eighth day of the month is Women’s Rights and International Peace Day—a special date of further acknowledging and appreciating the role of women in world history.
Many studies, reports, and figures have already revealed that women today are still facing various forms of violence in most environments, hence the already given significance of being in solidarity with them all over the world who are still fighting for gender equality. Even in the world of literature, the literary history and present culture of many countries, including the Philippines, show that sexism is prevalent. US-based feminist organization VIDA: Women in Literary Arts has published an annual count that presents how little female writers’ works are featured and reviewed in anthologies and journals compared to their male counterparts, a fact that is similar to scholars’ findings in the early development of Philippine literature. According to writer and critic Erlinda Kintanar-Alburo in her paper, “Towards a Feminist Perspective: A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Philippine Literature by Women,” the women’s literature in the country “does not fall consciously within the feminist agenda” except for the last decade. Early female writers have written from the margins, either submitting to it or subverting the dominant patriarchal order.
Nonetheless, the interest in women’s issues in the country is continually growing and empowered female writers strive as they aim for gender sensitivity, challenging the male-dominated literary canon that has been established through the years through workshops and conferences where panelists critique with a feminist perspective as well as the production of more literary writings and critical essays written by women themselves. Female writers currently write not solely on being a woman in general, but also about women facing contemporary concerns regarding identity, sex, human rights, nationalistic awakening, among others in a postcolonial setting. For this month’s issue, Cotabato Literary Journal joins in the celebration by featuring the literary works written by women and female-identifying individuals in the region. Most of the writings are from writers who are published in the journal for the first time. The editors have also selected some works that are published on zines featured during the SOX Zine Fest last November 2017 to be included.
Two fiction pieces written by Rossel Audencial and Hope Daryl Talib narrate surreal encounters with strangers. Audencial’s “The Road” is a short horror story about a young woman’s encounter with a strange co-passenger and their shared sentiment regarding their respective mothers in a late-night tricycle ride home that takes longer than the usual. The driver’s escape route from men who are assigned in one of the checkpoints at GenSan is unfamiliar for her, hence the escalating anxiety and confusion—all due to an expired license. The empty back seat upon reaching home adds to her peculiar experience. “Dead Lazy” by Hope Daryl Talib is a flash fiction piece that shows how a life that must be lived can present itself as a catastrophe if it must awaken one who is merely existing. The main character, Mitch Cabrera, is a college dropout who inherits enough money to survive after her parents died and chooses to not live beyond her bed, favorite movies, cheese puffs with cold mayonnaise, and the comforts of her house. As “life happens” in the form of a stranger who provides a tragic event for her to make the choice between saving herself and falling for her demise, she answers for herself if she is already a lost cause.
It is difficult not to succumb to bitterness when “the taste of tears and sweat are the same.” “Amalia,” Jerome Cenina’s heart-wrenching yet hopeful poem, presents a mother who remembers her childhood dream of exploring what is beyond her parents’ restrictions and the opportunity to experience freedom that she has grabbed. With the harsh realities of the present and the narrow path she sees as she carries her child, all she can do is embrace her choices and its seemingly irreversible outcomes. To face life head on may be its poignant, positive answer. In Maguindanaoan writer Merhana Macabangin’s poem “Timpo Saguna,” the persona challenges the claims of Filipinos in general that violence is absent and peace is enjoyed in the country. The first lines are written as sugarcoated lies that will make readers think twice about how people—either blind from the truth or refuse to see it—talk about the current times. After every human right defender and peace advocate whose lives are sacrificed for the country’s betterment, the ongoing wars prove that nothing has changed.
The woman as a lover who looks at the concept of desire as a two-way, give-and-take construct is also explored in the poems of Marie-Luise Coroza Calvero and Joana Galila. In Calvero’s romantic poem in Spanish titled “Quiero estar” (I want to be), the persona desires to claim its beloved’s heart as home: a place for growth where deep love is nurtured and a place where it is impossible to fully be away from. On the other hand, Galila’s balak “Inig Kita Kanimo” is a lament for the one that got away despite the persona’s attempt to save the person she truly loves from setbacks; even the healthy relationship, as presented in the poem, does not turn out as an assurance that an individual will be saved from a difficulty that consumes it. The lover can only do so much when love is not enough, and one step is to not get lost in the process of coping with heartbreak.
This month’s featured essays present the young women’s perspective in the environments they live in and their profound observations in life. Ira Shayne Salvaleon’s “Twenty-Two-Hectare Treasure” is about a senior high school student who reminisces the beautiful farm his family owns in a village in Carmen, Cotabato Province. As she thinks about the place that she has always loved and has not outgrown and how life’s challenges should be traversed through, she wishes to be a child whose happiness she considers as the most innocent kind of joy. Full of local color, the personal essay connects true love and the wonders of nature through the eyes of a young person. “Ice Candy” by Jhessa Gales is about a young girl’s love for eating ice candy at another store that may taste different than her mother’s own ice candy sold in their sari-sari store, but still “gives the same feeling.” Together with her friends after school, she would walk to the village instead of obeying her mother and riding the tricycle on her way home just to buy one. After encountering an accident, the young survivor contemplates in the middle of eating the hard-earned treat whether she should have listened to her mother, the closest source of her favorite food. The essay subtly delves into the mother-child relationship, resonating with readers who have vivid memories of their hardworking mothers.
Nobel Prize Winner in Literature and feminist short story writer Alice Munro writes in her book The Progress of Love that “the girl herself will have to say more if anything is to be done.” Mariz Leona indeed says more in her essay, “First Aid,” as she recounts her bleeding toenail and a personal encounter with a vehicular accident that makes her ponder about how prepared Filipinos are in helping those who get into an accident. Her work also serves as more than a social commentary on the importance of learning how to give first aid; it questions humanity’s willingness to help others even if it means active involvement.
These writers have written about the human condition with a combination of feminist, local, and postcolonial perspective. It is remarkable to see that female writers in the region are active in contributing to the rich and diverse literature of Region 12. Aside from these featured works, the promising entries submitted in BalakBayi poetry contest (The deadline is on March 15, 2018!) that I spearhead—in partnership with the journal and Aklat Alamid—are proof that women’s literature in SOX is thriving. It is my hope that the local women and women-identifying writers will produce more works to further cultivate a gender-sensitized readership.
Andrea D. Lim
General Santos City
By Rossel Audencial
There is a checkpoint ahead.
“Expired akong lisensiya,” mutters the driver before he swerves the tricycle to the right, away from the waiting men in uniform along FilAm Avenue of Brgy. Fatima. The passengers are silent. It has been raining hard since that early afternoon and most of us are drenched from the trip downtown. Good thing, I brought a jacket with me.
Even before the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, checkpoints already scattered in relative areas along the major roads in General Santos City. Blue or Yellow Boys wave at tricycle or single motorcycle drivers to stop at the roadside and examine faces, licenses, and vehicles.
I am sitting at the two-person back seat to the right. In front of me is a woman in her late twenties who keeps on swiping and tapping her cell phone. Beside the driver are two teenagers my age, male and female, their hands intertwined.
The tricycle continues to a two-lane cemented street with residential houses along the way. This street leads to the former public cemetery which has been privatized. Light posts stand in a distance from each other. The lights only cover a little area around their posts. The houses are cast into shadows.
After continuing on a straight road for a while, the driver takes a turn to the left. A woman stands alone beside a light post, its light only a faint glow above us. The driver stops for her. She whispers something before embarking at the back and sitting opposite me. We leave the cemented street and move on to a narrow dirt road. At first, the way is illuminated by the bulbs of the houses we pass by; fences enclose us on both sides. I feel the tricycle strain as the driver navigates it through mud holes, moving to the left or to the right as the road allows, the tires squirting mud. Single motorcycles overtake us and speed away. Another tricycle tails us for a while but it turns to a lone street. Gradually, the houses thin as we go on until we arrive at a crossroad. All we can see are tall grasses on both sides of the two roads. The driver takes the one on the right, and if it wasn’t for the headlight of the tricycle, we would have been plunged into complete darkness. I also notice that we are going uphill as the engine seems to roar louder.
And we turn to the left. We reach level ground and we are now travelling on sand. The tricycle seems heavier. There are no more houses in this part of the road, just more grasses and darkness. I have never been in this area before. I never knew that there are still unoccupied lands within the barangay where I live. The drone of the tricycle echoes through the night, blending with the constant chattering of the crickets.
Another turn to the right. The beam of the tricycle’s headlight only reaches to a few meters of the way. No other vehicle is following us at the back. It’s like we are alone in the vast darkness. We follow the curve of the road as it comes to us through the light, not really knowing where it leads.
We turn to the right again. I feel like an hour has already passed without sign of a house or the highway. I’m starting to feel uneasy. I should have not listened to my friends. They said we won’t stay long when they invited me to have dinner with them after we roamed around the malls the whole afternoon to try dresses for our upcoming Junior’s Prom. Mom will surely get angry at me again. For a week now, I have been going home at almost midnight.
“Katuod ka asa na ni, Kuy? Mura’g kaganiha pa man ta galibot-libot.” utters the woman who is directly behind the driver, her cell phone in her hand.
“Gasunod ra pod ko sa dalan, ‘day,” the driver answers with his eyes locked on the road. We hit another curve. Only tall grasses are visible.
To the right again. The road continues on straight then curves to another crossroad. It is pitch black all around us except the front. The woman behind the driver has her head turned towards the front, too. The woman beside her has her head bowed, perhaps sleeping.
The driver turns to the right. Again. I do not know where the crisscrossing roads lead to. And it hit me, the idea that we are lost. Lost inside a dark maze with no way out. But mazes have traps. What if?
“Balik na lang ta?” the same woman asks, her voice on edge. We all look at the driver.
“Dili na makaya sa akong gasolina. Duol naman ‘guro ta sa highway.” he mumbles in a low voice. The rest of us remain silent, but a palpable tension is starting to build inside the tricycle. The lovers in the front seat huddle closer to each other.
The tricycle follows another curve and – a loud bump. The engine sputters and stops. The front light snuffs out. A surge of blackness envelops us all of a sudden that no one reacts except the driver who pushes the starter as swiftly as he can. One. Two. The engine comes to life again together with the front light. We catch our breath in unison. And we move on through the night.
The driver takes on a narrow pathway and is too late to realize that the puddle ahead is deep. We are stuck. The tricycle can’t move forward, its wheels grinding and splashing mud all over. The driver tells us all to step out. He and the male teenager shove the vehicle away from the watery mush.
“Gabii na gyod,” says the woman who was the last one to ride with us. She is standing a little farther from me. Her voice is clear enough for me to hear despite the loud whine of the tricycle. Her face is turned towards the darkness behind us.
“Lagi, kasab-an na gyod ko ni Mama ani,” I say, looking at her. Whoosh. A chilly wind sweeps through us. I feel it creep through my bones although I’m wearing my jacket. She seems not to notice the cold and continues peering at the dark void.
“Sayo na lang unta ko niuli, magkauban pa unta mi ni Mama. Kamingaw diri,” she says.
Her words arrest my attention. I’m about to ask her but the driver calls us at the other side of the wide puddle. We tiptoe at the grassy side of the path to avoid the mud and jump across to dry ground. One by one, we return inside the tricycle.
When we are all settled back to our seats, the tricycle begins to move again. I look at the woman but her head is bowed again. I wonder what she means.
The road goes straight this time until we pass along small huts amidst the grasses here and there. Then come walls of concrete at both sides of the way, and out into the familiar highway. A few vehicles parade before us in quick succession before we touch the cemented ground. For the first time, I’m glad to see the four-lane concrete Fil-Am road again. I feel relieved to know that its sure point of destination is the General Santos City International Airport. But Mom will surely castigate me; it’s already 11 pm. I’ll just face her wrath when I arrive home.
The lovers are the first ones to leave. I transfer to the front seat. Next is the woman with her cell phone.
“Pag-renew na sa imong lisensiya, Kuy, ha,” she says as she hands in her fare before stepping out. She stands at my side of the vehicle.
“Oo, ‘day,” he replies as he gives her change in front of me.
We continue through the highway. The whole span of it is bright because of the tall light posts at each side street. The establishments at both roadsides are closed, but their incandescent lights are on. But now I know that the darkness is out there, far beyond the artificial brightness. Always there with the grasses and the crossroads. I shiver at the thought of being there earlier.
“Asa man ka, ‘day?” the driver asks me.
“Didto lang sa may Julie’s bakery.”
“Hay salamat, makauli na gyod ko.” The driver smiles.
“Naa pa man ka pasahero.” I stare at him. He must be joking.
“Ha? Ikaw na lang man nabilin.” He looks at me, questioning.
What about the woman? I turn my head around to look at the back seat.
By Hope Daryl Talib
Nineteen-year-old Mitch Cabrera was lying in her bed while waiting for the day to end. It was a beautiful day, she admitted to herself, with bright blue clouds and flowers blooming everywhere on the street, but she was too lazy to go outside, even to move, for that matter. She had even hired a personal assistant to prepare her clothes, comb her hair, and even to brush her teeth.
“Lina!” Mitch shouted. “Turn the TV on!”
Lazy ass! Lina thought as she rushed to Mitch’s room. She can’t even turn the TV on herself. She did what she had been ordered to do and then handed the remote control to Mitch. “Here!” Lina said louder than she had intended.
“Wow,” Mitch said. “I think someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I would’ve slapped you, but it takes too much effort.”
Mitch was unaware that a stranger was watching her closely from a window. Lazy, lazy, lazy. Why are you like that, Mitch? You might regret it someday. Who knows? It might even be today.
Mitch dismissed Lina with a wave of a hand so she could watch TV alone. She turned it to Star Movies and settled in her bed, watching one of her favorite movies, Confessions of a Shopaholic.
Mitch had dropped out of college so she could spend more time watching TV and eating cheese puffs with cold mayonnaise. School was too much work for her. All the writing and moving was too much. Finishing the drink with one loud gulp, she threw the can of soda somewhere, knowing her paid hand would clean after her.
She watched TV and ate cheese puffs for the rest of the day. Not much happened in the house, and she didn’t have to worry about money either, because her parents, who had died a month ago, had been rich enough to provide for her. Now Mitch just had to mooch off her inheritance and never had to lift a finger. Mitch got money, Lina, and the entire house. What more did she need?
To live, thought the stranger watching Mitch. To totally live her life. Not just to exist.
“See you tomorrow!” Lina told Mitch before leaving her. As soon as Lina closed the door, Mitch sighed and continued watching a TV series and feasting on pepperoni pizza that her assistant had ordered for her. The TV later showed a boring documentary about starving children in Africa. Mitch wanted to change the channel, but the remote was too far from her. I’ll get it later, she thought, and she continued to eat. Why is chewing so tiring?
Little did Mitch know that the stranger watching her was already pouring gasoline around her house.
“Hurry up!” Mitch shouted to the TV. “I’m trying to watch my soaps!” The documentary was taking forever, and she didn’t give a rat’s ass about the subject. What am I supposed to feel? Pity?
The stranger lit a match and dropped it into the gasoline. Fire instantly ignited, swallowing Mitch’s house in flames. If she moved, she could live. If not, she would be a human barbecue. Mitch coughed and looked around her house, with red and orange flames surrounding her. The only exit was the window.
But Mitch couldn’t get up. Or she wouldn’t. Whatever her choice was, the stranger left her there to decide.
By Jerome Cenina
Mahirap tukuyin sa mukha ni Amalia alin ang pawis at luha. Bakit pa tutukuyin kung pareho namang lumalabas na maalat kahit mapait man ang kaloob-looban?
Ang tiyak lamang, karga niya ang kaniyang sanggol habang nakatayo sa makitid na daanan ng mga tao sa tulay. Sa kanan, naghihintay ang ilog ng mga buwaya sa sandaling piliin ang tumalon. Sa kaliwa, humaharurot ang mga sasakyang sasagasa sakaling piliin ang tumawid.
Mula sa isang sasakyan, nabigong mahantong sa ilog ng isang batang marahil kasinggulang niya ang itinapong sitsirya.
Sa kaniyang kaloob-looban, tumatakbo ang alaala ng pagkabata: pinapangarap lamang na magalugad ang labas dahil pinagbawalan ng mga magulang hanggang sa nakahanap ng pagkakataon ng paglayang humantong sa kaniyang kasalukuyang kalagayan.
Hinawi ng hangin ang kaniyang magulo nang buhok, tila kinukutyang nasa labas na siya at hindi na makababalik sa kinalakhang loob. Nawalan na siya ng loob.
Hahakbang na si Amalia nang umiyak ang sanggol. Walang luha. Hindi nga naman laging magkasama ang pag-iyak at ang mga luha. Napangiti siyang naluluha saka humakbang papunta sa itinapong sitsirya.
By Marie-Luise Coroza Calvero
en lo más profundo de tu corazón
que cada latido
te recuerde a mí.
en lo más profundo de tu corazón
que mis raíces
se aferren a tus venas
porque tú vives;
en lo más profundo de tu corazón
que sea imposible
y que arrancarme
un pedazo de él
… o tal vez,
incluso todo de él.
I Want to Be
I want to be
so deep in your heart
that every beat of it
reminds you of me.
I want to be
so deep in your heart
that my roots
cling to your veins
and that I grow
because you live;
so deep in your heart
that it is impossible
to uproot me,
that to take me away
that I take away
a piece of your heart with me…
even all of it.
By Joana Galila
Inig kita kanimo sa tindahan,
nakalitok ko og, “Ikaw na!”
Sukad niato, dugay tang nag-uban
ug ikaw akong
giampingan. Ikaw pud kanunayng
anaa ra; kon ako masakitan,
ikaw akong daganan.
Apan usa ka adlaw, nakit-an takang
naglisod, sama sa usa ka kandilang hinay-
hinay og kalanay.
Gihuyop-huyopan ug gipitik-pitik taka
hangtod sa mibuhi ka
sa akoang kamot.
Nawala na dayon ka.
Misulay ko og pangita og lain
apan dili ka mawagtang
sa akong hunahuna.
“Asa na ka?”
Sa kaluya, miduko ko
ug nakit-an ang usa ka payat
nga lawas. “Ikaw!”
Mipahiyom ko ug militok,
“Daghan pa tang isulat.”